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Danna StaafRSS Feed of this column.

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, Santa Barbara, followed by a PhD dissertation at... Read More »

At the end of 2011, the second season in a row of a suddenly and mysteriously booming market squid fishery, Michael Vincent McGinnis of the Santa Barbara Independent offers a thoughtful commentary. He makes a particular point of the holistic value of market squid:
The presence and abundance of the squid in California marine areas are of paramount importance to the millions of fishes, birds, and mammals that compete for this resource with human beings. The market squid is a principal forage item for a minimum of 19 species of fishes, 13 species of birds, and six species of mammals. . . .
The California market squid fishery is about to be closed for the second time in its entire history.

That may sound bad, but it's actually a sign of a booming business. The annual quota for market squid is 118,000 tonnes, a number so high that for years no one was sure it would ever be reached. But just last year, an abundance of squid led the fishery to be closed on December 17th, and this year it's due to close a month earlier: November 18th.
I've been to Tasmania a couple of times; it's certainly a hot spot for squid research. And also, it turns out, for the squid themselves.
(That's glue made by squids, not glue made from squids. Don't be mean.)
Yesterday I explained that the little pygmy squid Idiosepius' glue gland produces two different oozes, and so it must be either a duo-gland or an epoxy gland. (By the way, "duo-gland" is a very scientific term. "Epoxy gland" I just made up; glue scientists will probably look at you weirdly if you use it.) 

And then I quoted some data from a paper arguing that it is probably an epoxy gland--that is, the two different oozes mix together to form glue.

I've mentioned the Littlest Squid before: the genus Idiosepius, which contains only a handful of very small, very adorable species. And I commented that they have this habit of gluing themselves to seaweed, to hide from predators.

Well, today I'm here to explain how they do it, because a new paper just came out on the topic of itty-bitty squids and their glue organs.
Ambergris is a weird and wonderful thing. It has been tremendously valuable throughout human history, but its creation and functionality have been shrouded in myth and superstition. To this day, no one has ever seen a whale actually excrete the stuff.

But we know for sure that ambergris comes from sperm whales, because it's been found in their stomachs as well as floating freely in the sea. And since the waxy blobs are always full of squid beaks, we think they're probably the whale's way of dealing with these uncomfortable hard parts.