While shorter days and colder weather move many of us to hunker under the covers, researchers who spent their summers in fieldwork are more likely to be hunched over microscopes and curled over keyboards, scrutinizing samples and crunching data from their summer's labors.
One such researcher is marine biologist William Gilly, who spent a month last summer in Mexico's Sea of Cortez tracking the sometimes-elusive Humboldt squid. Researchers from several universities were on the voyage. Gilly is in the second year of a quest to understand the surprisingly strong impact on the squid from an El Nio weather pattern during the winter of 2009-10 and, perhaps more important, how they are faring in their recovery.
In May 2010 Gilly was in the Sea of Cortez one of the biologically richest marine environments in the world with a biology class of Stanford undergraduates when they discovered that the squid, usually present in such large numbers that they are a staple species of the local fishing industry, were largely missing from their usual haunts.
"There were far fewer of them than normal, they were spread out over a huge area and they were very small. But they were also sexually mature and spawning at a ridiculously small size," Gilly said.
"It was obvious that the squid were pretty screwed up."
Normally Humboldt squid spawn when they are 12 to 18 months old. But the precocious little spawners Gilly and his students found were less than 6 months old and weighed all of a pound apiece, compared with the usual weight of 20 to 30 pounds at maturity. One of the larger squid species, Humboldt squid are sometimes referred to as "jumbo" or even "giant" squid.
Searching the Sea of Cortez a month later on a research cruise, Gilly and two of the students eventually found large squid in an area about 100 miles farther north than usual, near the Midriff Islands, where Gilly suspects they had migrated in search of food.
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|