Sigh. Just let a few fishermen catch a few hundred Humboldt squid, and suddenly the headlines are blaring: GIANT SQUID INVADE CALIFORNIA ZOMG!1!!
Tonic gets a prize for biggest species mix-up, though:
Mostly popular as a source of food along the European Mediterranean coast, the giant squid is starting to catch on in restaurants and fish markets in other parts of the world. We suspect that in southern California right now, one will not have to look very hard to find a great blue plate special on some very fresh, and very large calimari.If you can't spell calamari correctly, can you at least fact-check your squid fisheries? Humboldt squid are fished extensively on the Pacific coast of South and North America, and consumed primarily in Asia. Giant squid are not fished anywhere at all--they are very hard to find, and apparently don't taste very good if you do manage to cook one up. A variety of different (non-Humboldt, non-giant) squid and cuttlefish are fished in the Mediterranean and consumed throughout Europe.
As long as we're globetrotting, some surfer in Hawaii found a really big squid too, and it was quickly labeled another giant squid and compared to the "giant squid" being found in California. Could this one be a real giant squid? Nope! It's probably a cousin of the Humboldt squid called the purpleback flying squid (but I think I'd better take a field trip to confirm).
Not only are the media getting their species all mixed up, but apparently they don't remember covering this exact story last summer. The only source that made any connection to the excitement of Summer '09 was a moms' blog, which also created some entertainingly gender-confused squid by failing to match adjective to noun in the nickname "diablos rojas." (About which I have already whined at length.)
The Daily Breeze did better in language skills, properly matching their Spanish and remembering a nice big word from English class:
Humboldt squid are very aggressive creatures with more than 36,000 teeth and a huge beak used to tear into their prey. Their bellicose character has earned them the nickname diablos rojos (red devils) by Mexican fishermen.
But telling people they have 36,000 teeth makes absolutely no sense unless you're going to take the time to explain that these teeth are on tiny rings inside their suction cups. (As I did here.)
And hey, LA Times, I may have to take back my label of "awesome." At least in your second post (must have been a slow news day!) you correctly identified them as Humboldt squid, but then you quote scientific information from a non-scientist . . .
"The light causes the plankton the squid feed on to shine, which causes the squid to rise to the surface to feed, making them easier to catch.". . . with predictable results: it's wrong. These squid don't eat plankton, they eat medium-sized fish and shrimp and other squid. As far as I know, no one is really sure why light seems to attract squid to the surface.
More interesting scientific theories from the Daily News:
The jumbo-sized predators may be a sign that the ocean is dying deep inside as chemicals from heavily industrialized coastlines deplete the oxygen. As a result, scientists believe, more jumbo squid have surfaced in the last few years to oxygen-rich zones, where more of their food source is available.
So, it's cool that they're doing more than just a "fishermen catch lots of squid" story, and it's cool that they're going for the oxygen minimum explanation, but it's too bad that they got it exactly wrong. Humboldt squid actually do extremely well in low-oxygen conditions. They normally migrate daily between oxygen-rich surface waters and oxygen-poor deep waters. As the oxygen-poor deep water has expanded and gotten shallower, that shortens their commute time and makes their lives easier.
Researchers are still learning about the squid, their migration and breeding patterns. So far there is evidence of them spawning off in California waters, releasing millions of eggs, Sweetnam said.
What!? That is crazy news! How come I don't know about that? Oh wait . . . I think it's wrong. We have no evidence of them spawning in California waters, although it is true that wherever they do spawn, they release millions of eggs. I'm guessing this is a misquote, because Dale Sweetnam generally knows what he's talking about.
But, you know, I'm not completely despondent over the news coverage of Humboldts in California! Here's a really good article, and here's a video clip with me in it, so that is basically awesome. In fact, I learned something new from this video! I didn't know that squid ink is "carcinogenic to human flesh"! Wow! Okay, /sarcasm . . . Technically, I guess it could be--I'm not sure anyone's really studied it--but I rather doubt it. Squid ink is mostly just pigments and amino acids.
Anyway, as you can tell from the video, last weekend I headed down to San Diego (with intrepid labmate Julie) to check out the fun and collect some mama squid, so I can fertilize their eggs in the lab and find out whether California water is too cold for their babies to develop. Taking care of embryonic squid has kept me rather frantically busy over the last week, but I couldn't resist taking a little break from the lab to dissect the media coverage of this whole kerfuffle.
(Thanks to Ali, John, and Julie for links to news stories, and Lou for the "commute time" analogy.)