Friday, July 17, 2009

Humboldt Squid: the "red demon" moves into Southern California

Like something from Disney's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the humboldt squid is a formidable predator typically found in deep Pacific waters off of Mexico and Central America. Reaching up to five feet in length and as much as 100 pounds, it is fast and aggressive with a voracious appetite.

And it is beginning to appear in shallower water off of Southern California. In San Diego, during night dives, scuba divers are encountering groups of humboldt squid, and several have moved too close into the shallows and been washed up on the beach.

According to a recent AP news report,

"Research suggests the squid may have established a year-round population off California at depths of 300 to 650 feet, said Nigella Hillgarth, executive director of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Divers this summer have been encountering them at about 60 to 80 feet down, they said. No one knows how many squid are in the shallow waters, but one biologist estimated they could number in the hundreds, or possibly thousands.

'Usually where there's one squid, there's a lot of squid, so I would assume that there's a good number,' said John Hyde, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in San Diego."

Scientists are not sure why the squid have moved further north or are entering shallower waters. Explanations range from global warming to loss of prey to a reduction of natural predators. On this last point, I have read studies that have explained the bio-dispersion of various species based on the predators that feed upon them. When the predators are gone, then the species in question is no longer "corralled" as it normally would and changes in bio-dispersion or migrations can occur. In the case of humboldt squid, sharks are one of its key predators.

Whatever the explanation for the squid's movement north, there is reason for some concern. They can pose a serious risk to unsuspecting divers and their voracious appetites can severely impact local fisheries. Scott Cassell, CEO of the Undersea Voyager Project, who has spent many years studying and filming humboldt squid, recently told me that in his studies he had predicted the potential for this danger as much as ten years ago.

Another possible example of the ramifications either climate change, overfishing, or loss of apex predators - or all of the above.

Care for a calamari ring the size of your dinner plate?

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