Humboldt Squid Hit The Tabloids
    By Danna Staaf | August 30th 2010 06:04 PM | 5 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Danna

    Cephalopods have been rocking my world since I was in grade school. I pursued them through a BA in marine biology at the University of California...

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    First of all, yes, I know not to expect any better of the Express. But it's coming up on a year since Squid Says: What's for Dinner? Probably Not You, so it must be time for another rant.

    I just can't help taking the bait, even though this is clearly trolling:

    Millions of killer giant squid are not only devouring vast amounts of fish they have even started attacking humans . . . Hunting in 1,000-strong packs the giant squid can out-swim and out-think fish.
    Dear Daily Express, did you know that commas can make your sentences clearer? It's true!

    Also, did you know that Humboldt squid remains are commonly found in the stomachs of tuna, marlin, sailfish, and sharks? Those are all fish, fish that were somehow able to chow down on squid despite all that swimming and thinking.
    Marine biologists wear chain-mail to protect themselves from creatures that can measure 8ft, weigh 100lb and carry an armoury of more than 40,000 fearsome teeth along two “attack” tentacles.
    Let's get our anatomy straight here! The tentacles are not, in fact, lined with teeth. Or suckers. The only suckers on the tentacles are at the very end, where the thin tentacle broadens into a club or "manus." And each manus has maybe a few hundred suckers.

    More importantly: yes, each sucker contains a ring of chitinous teeth. Want to see what they look like?

    On the left is a toothed ring taken from a small sucker. In the middle is a toothed ring taken from a large sucker. On the right is a penny.

    I may have pointed out before that I've taken worse damage from my cats' claws than I ever have from Humboldt squid "teeth," but it's worth saying again.

    I don't know any marine biologist who has ever worn chain-mail for protection from squid. Dr. Brad Seibel reported after a dive (wearing an ordinary wetsuit):
    "Based on the stories I had heard, I was expecting them to be very aggressive, so I was surprised at how timid they were. As soon as we turned on the lights, they were gone," he said. "I didn't get the sense that they saw the entire diver as a food item, but they were definitely going after pieces of our equipment."
    To sum up: Humboldt squid don't eat people, the story of those fishermen being chewed to death has never been verified, and the Daily Express editors need remedial grammar lessons.

    Or maybe they wrote this magnificently ambiguous headline on purpose?



    The chain mail thing comes from Scott Cassell, who "wears a specially made suit of chain mail and aluminum panels over his wet suit when he dives with the squids."

    Danna Staaf
    Indeed! Mr. Cassell is an interesting character, and he has done some cool stuff (like stick a camera into a squid's mantle cavity while it's still alive), but he is not a scientist.
    I am continually amazed at the recurrence of stories about how this or that predator is depleting fish stocks. Seals, dolphins, whales, squid...
    When will people get it through their thick skulls that in, say, the North Atlantic, when Europeans first described the cod fishery on the Grand Banks they used terms like 'cod so thick you could walk on their backs'. I'm not quite ready to buy into the hyperbole, but it seems plain as day that the natural predators of the sea hadn't been affected yet by human predation and were present in huge numbers. They were not 'depleting' the fish stocks, for all their unharvested numbers.
    If we're not going to take responsibility for these problems, we're not likely to find solutions to them.

    A way of controlling Humboldt squid numbers :-
    Given their cannabilistic ways , construct a 'star' of 5 or so high-tensile steel wires (strong enough to resist squid beaks) with hooks. Put Tuna/sardine etc as bait on the end of each and throw it into a pack of these animals ; a few , 5, squid will ingest the bait and attempt to swim away , the wire will then cut into them causing blood loss ; the other squid , sensing weakness will then devour the first 5 , also ingesting the wire.And so on , in a sort of chain reaction.
    This isnt very kind , but given that we have overfished their predators then we have some sort of responsibility to balance things again.

    Danna Staaf
    A clever thought, but unnecessarily wasteful (as well as cruel). Humboldt squid are already the largest squid fishery in the world. At the moment they are only fished commercially in South America and Mexico, but if they continue in abundance in California, a commercial fishery is probably not far behind. Humans are very, very good at turning seafood into protein and money.

    But no one has started seeing them in California yet this year, as far as I know, and it's already later in the year that they've shown up before. It will be interesting to watch how the "invasion" progresses . . .