March 27, 2007
Call it the revenge of the calamari.
Humboldt squid — those tough customers that can grow up to seven feet long and seize their prey with hook-lined tentacles — are expanding their range up and down the eastern Pacific coast. For the fishing industry, this is not happy news. Judging from this LA Times story, it isn’t such hot news for people, either:
In fact, very little is known about Humboldt squid because they spend most of their lives at depths of 650 to 3,000 feet.
But when they rise, they can provide some big surprises.
Four divers found that out when they tried to document the squids’ behavior in the Sea of Cortez 17 years ago. While a non-diving passenger battled to land a 14-foot thresher shark on rod-and-reel, Alex Kerstitch of Arizona and three friends submerged in the nighttime sea, carrying cameras. The divers settled near the dim fringes of the boat’s lights. They could see the weary shark being pulled toward the boat. Below, dozens of squid began flashing iridescently, red-white-red.
The flashing is carried out via millions of chromatophores within the skin, opened to reveal red, closed to reveal white; it is believed by some scientists to be a means of communication.
A five-foot squid flung itself onto the shark and tore an orange-sized chunk from its head.
Another squid zoomed forth, tentacles clasped before its beak, and snatched a long needlefish, leaving in its wake a trail of blood and scales.
The frenzy built and Kerstitch, as the lone diver shooting still photographs and with no bright movie lights to deter the predators, was set upon.
A squid grabbed his right swim fin and pulled downward. He kicked it away but another grabbed his head. The cactus-like tentacles found his neck, the only part of his body not covered with neoprene.
He bashed the squid with his dive light, far less bright than the movie lights, and it let go, but it swiped both the light and the gold chain he’d been wearing.
Another squid wrapped its tentacles around his face and chest. Kerstitch dug his fingers into its clammy body.
It slid down and around his waist and pulled him downward in pulsing bursts. Then it suddenly let go, but made off with his compression meter.
For whatever reason, the attack ceased and Kerstitch got to the surface dazed and oozing blood from neck wounds, thankful to be alive.
The incident became legendary among divers, the first of many painful but, so far, nonfatal encounters by divers with Humboldt squid.
And because you know I’m not going to let this post end without showing something scary, savor this:
In 1982, Nelson Ehrhardt, a professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, embarked on a project aboard a purse-seine vessel and, in an interview three years ago, described what he saw when the boat’s large net was hauled up:
“The biomass of Dosidicus was so large that the animals could not swim or pump water through their respiratory systems, suffocating them. What was terrifying was the frenzy that this situation created . . . Cannibalism took place as a natural reaction and certainly if any animal of any type, including humans, would have fallen into the net, it would have been consumed in a matter of minutes.”
Yum! Hey, anybody up for a little night diving? Hello? Anybody?