The Exploding Squid Population

Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) off the coast of California
Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) off the coast of California; ocean, pacific, sea life, fish, fishing,

It's been said there are plenty of fish in the sea, but not so many as there used to be. However, John Blackstone reports on a proliferation of Humboldt squid that is even more than enough for modern fishing boats to handle:

Aboard the charter fishing boat "Huli Cat" the hunt is on for a sea monster … one that's showing up in huge numbers off the California coast.

It's called the Humboldt squid.

This big tentacled creature can grow to 6 feet long and weigh up to a hundred pounds … quite a haul for fishermen, says Captain Tom Mattusch.

He showed us one recent catch, which features a jet that takes in water: "This is like the big super soaker; when we bring 'em up, these things will expel one to two gallons of water."

But what you really have to watch out for, he says, is the squid's dangerous beak.

"This thing is a little bigger than a golf ball, slightly smaller than a tennis ball, very hard," Mattusch said, "and it's capable of taking your finger off."

Its tentacles are particularly menacing, too.

"It isn't just suction; they've actually got little devices in these cups that have a barb that will stick to you."

While many fish species have been declining in the Pacific, there has been a population boom in Humboldt squid.

(AP Photo/Kathy Quigg, Daily World)
(Left: Matt Finley of Westport, Wash., tosses beached squid at the Westport boat basin, Oct 13, 2008. Many dead and dying Humboldt squid clogged the basin's waters, prompting state wildlife officials to remove fishing limits.)

Biology professor William Gilly of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station is trying to figure out why the squid seem to be taking over.

"If you're a betting man, I would bet on the squid and not on the fish," Gilly said.

He puts electronic tags on squid so he can track their movement. The tag will record temperature, depth and light once a second for about a month, and then pop off.

Scientists say the squid's exploding population may in part be the result of overfishing other species that eat young squid.

(Clayton Gilly, Nancy Burnett)

William Gilly and Julia Stewart (left) attach a tag to a Humboldt squid in the Sea of Cortez. After collecting data, the tag automatically pops off and floats to the surface, where it transmits data to a satellite receiver.

They think global warming is playing a role, too.

"It has a lot to teach us about what predators will be here in a time of climate change," Gilly said of the study. "The squid is super-adaptable."

Dr. Bruce Robison of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute describes squid as "big, aggressive, pugnacious animals," and says part of the squid's success is its taste for almost everything.

"Tiny little crill," said Robison, "or great big fishes … They can eat whatever they want whenever they want."

The huge appetite of these giant squid could be a problem, because off the California coast, they're eating a lot of the fish we eat. There's even a suspicion the squid could be part of the reason salmon are disappearing.

"If I was a Humboldt squid, I'd be knocking off salmon!" Robison laughed.

While scientists say there is no proof the squid are threatening salmon populations, they say the balance is shifting …and that will be reflected in what we eat.

"You will get accustomed to eating less salmon and more squid," Gilly said. "I can guarantee that."

Fact is, no matter how much the Humboldt squid eats, the guys with the fishing poles are still at the top of the food chain.