The new squids in town
Posted July 31, 2007
It's nice to see cephalopods getting their due today from no less than the New York Times [registration required]. There's a new article out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (aka, PNAS) by Robison & Zeidberg telling the tale of the Humboldt or jumbo squid. It's already gotten some advance press in California, where sportfishermen have been hauling in squid for the last two seasons. After decades of overfishing, many pacific rockfish are scarce and enterprising charter boat captains saw the swarms of squid as a good new target. Word on the dock is that hauling two squid up from 100 feet down will turn your arms to jelly, but the calimari steaks are excellent grilled.
But back to the science: there was a nice synergy between researchers who wanted to study the squid invasion and fishermen who were willing to turn over squid for science. Here's the scene out of CSI:Santa Cruz as described in the NYT:
On a recent day, wearing a green rubber apron and gloves, Dr. Field sliced open the glistening belly of a dead, 4-foot-long, reddish-brown squid laid out on a steel table. The beast’s tentacles were studded with suckers, each bristling with tiny sharp teeth. “When one of these things grabs onto you, it’s not likely to let go,” Dr. Field said.
With something this big and hungry, one of the first things you want to know is "What is it eating?" And the answer seems to be "anything it wants," from birds to other squid to the aforementioned rockfish. Mostly it's eating hake, a fish you may know best as the fake crab in your California roll. And that's a problem because not only do we eat hake, but so do lots of other fish and birds.
Whether the Humboldt squid are now breeding in Monterey Bay because of overfishing or climate change (or a combination of both) they appear here to stay. Small changes in the temperature of the ocean make a big difference to fish and we expect to see more of these range expansions in the future, as once occasional visitors decide to move in and settle down. We'll continue to keep an eye on them, and in case they decide to move onto land, we're ready.