KINGSTON, R.I. July 23, 2009 News reports last week about scuba divers off San Diego being menaced by large numbers of Humboldt's or jumbo squid have raised the ire of University of Rhode Island biologist Brad Seibel. As a leading expert on the species who has dived with them several times, he calls the reports "alarmist" and says the squid's man-eating reputation is seriously overblown.
For years Seibel has heard stories claiming that Humboldt squid will devour a dog in minutes and could kill or maim unsuspecting divers.
"Private dive companies in Mexico play up this myth by insisting that their customers wear body armor or dive in cages while diving in waters where the squid are found. Many also encourage the squid's aggressive behavior by chumming the waters. I didn't believe the hype, but there was still some doubt in my mind, so I was a little nervous getting into the water with them for the first time," Seibel said.
Scuba diving at night in the surface waters of the Gulf of California in 2007, Seibel scanned the depths with his flashlight and saw the shadows of Humboldt squid far in the distance. After he got up his nerve, he turned off the light. When he turned it back on again 30 seconds later, he was surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of the squid, many just five or six feet away from him. Most were in the 3-4 foot size range, while larger ones were sometimes visible in deeper waters. But the light appeared to frighten them, and they immediately dashed off to the periphery.
The URI researcher's dive was more than just a personal test. It was part of a scientific examination of the species some call "red devil" to learn more about their physiology, feeding behavior and swimming abilities.
Humboldt squid feed in surface waters at night, then retreat to great depths during daylight hours. "They spend the day 300 meters deep where oxygen levels are very low," Seibel said. "We wanted to
|Contact: Todd McLeish|
University of Rhode Island