Welcome, Squid Overlords


[T]he nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh ... was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults . . .
—H. P. Lovecraft,
The Call of Cthulhu

While we can't tell if we should be preparing for the second coming of Cthulhu, we do know that jumbo squid up to 7 feet long and weighing more than 110 pounds are invading central California waters, and preying on local anchovy and other commercial fish populations, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) is an aggressive predator that used to be found only in the warmest equatorial stretches of the Pacific Ocean, but the past 16 years have seen the squid expand its territory throughout California waters. They've even been found in icy waters off Alaska, say researchers."Having a new, voracious predator set up shop here in California may be yet another thing for fishermen to compete with," says the study's co-author, Stanford University researcher Louis Zeidberg. "That said, if a squid saw a human they would jet the other way." (We know otherwise—they're just biding their time.)

The first jumbo squid was spotted in the Golden State in 1997, says Zeidberg's co-author, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute senior scientist Bruce Robison, when one drifted past the lens of a camera mounted on a submersible fathoms below the ocean surface. More were observed through 1999, but then they fell off the local radar until the fall of 2002.

With the squid's return, scientists have noted a corresponding decrease in the population of Pacific Hake, a whitefish often used in fish sticks, Zeidberg says.

Local marine mammals are safe from their vantage point higher up in the food chain, but lanternfish, krill, anchovies, and rockfish are prime feasting, he says. A fishermen's organization says they have their eye on the new cephalopod in town. "In years of high upwellings, when the ocean is just bountiful, it probably wouldn't do anything," says Zeke Grader, the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "But in bad years it could be a problem to have a new predator competing at the top of the food chain."

Humans are advised to watch their backs. Fight, flight, just pick one. Discovery News

See also: ::Animals of the Ocean, In Particular the Giant Squid and ::"All Aboard"—Two New Invasive Species Per Year Entering US

Tags: Biodiversity | California

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