Mass Strandings Of Humboldt Squid In California
December 11, 2012

Humboldt Squid Stranding Themselves In Santa Cruz County

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Several hundred Humboldt squid washed ashore Sunday afternoon along the Santa Cruz County shoreline and marine biologists are working to uncover the cause.

Some observers speculated that the high tide may have something do to with the sea creatures essentially committing mass suicide. Conservation of the Humboldt squid off the coast of California is not a major concern because the squid can reproduce in mass numbers.

Hannah Rosen, a graduate student at Stanford University´s Hopkins Marine Station, told San Francisco´s CBS affiliate that she saw some witnesses try to bring some of the squid back into the sea, only to watch them return to the beach.

“They don´t see the shore very often,” Rosen said. “So it might just be that they don´t understand what´s going on around them, and they´re just trying to get away and don´t realize that if they swim towards the shore, they´re going to run out of water eventually.”

Scientists from Stanford said the squid were predominantly juveniles as adult Humboldt squid can grow up to six-feet long and 100 pounds. They added that the squid were probably conceived and born in Monterey Bay, but were unable to navigate their way out to open waters.

Sunday´s phenomenon marks the third squid stranding in the past six weeks, from Santa Cruz to Pacific Grove. Marine biologists are currently analyzing the contents of the animals´ stomachs to see if they ingested something that might have disoriented them.

Humboldt squid have not been observed in the Monterey Bay waters for a few years, making recent events all the more suspicious. Some scientists attribute the phenomenon to this year´s El Nino weather patterns, which could have attracted them to the cooler environs of Northern and Central California´s coast.

William Gilly, a biology professor at Stanford, said mass strandings are frequent when squid begin to occupy a new area. He said the strandings along the West Coast have historically stopped if the squid successfully establish themselves or evacuate the new area.

"My theory is that when the squid invade a new area -- they are returning to Monterey Bay for the first time in nearly three years, and the squid are only 8 or 9 months old -- they follow an algorithm (which is to) swim and find productive areas, especially by investigating anomalies, until you run into trouble," he told the Monterey Herald. "That mission takes some of them onto the beach. The question I can't answer is why they stop doing this after they successfully colonize an area. Perhaps the real pioneers are selected out, or maybe the survivors of a stranding go back to sea and warn the others."

Also known as the jumbo flying squid, the Humboldt squid typically grows to about five feet long. The squid is capable of changing its coloration and fishermen have dubbed it, “Diablo rojo”, or red devil because its skin flashes red and white colors while hunting. They have been known to eat up to 60 different species of fish, and will change their size from generation to generation–depending on food availability.