© NOAA/MBARI 2006
Humboldt squid have overrun the waters off the coast of Southern California, and the area's fishermen have taken to the sea en masse - catching boatloads of the ultra-fresh calamari.
One report noted a fishing boat that had caught more than 200 squid in an hour, leading the captain to return his ship to port early.
"I have enough for a whole year," John Plaziak, one of the fishermen, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"We saw a few of them last year, but nothing in fishable quantities," part-time fisherman Rick Marin told the newspaper. "It has probably been two or three years since we've seen a lot of them."
The squids were first spotted as "dark blobs" near the surface early last week and the fishing boats began hauling in large numbers of the sea creatures over the weekend. Some speculated that tidal forces in the eastern Pacific drove scores of krill into the region. The overabundance of the squid's favorite prey likely attracted the cephalopods.
According to reports, the majority of the squid have been found 3 to 4 miles from Dana Point Harbor, located in southern Orange County. Large groups of the animals were reported as far south as the Mexican border with the U.S.
Conservation of the Humboldt squid off the coast of California is not a major concern because the squid can reproduce in mass numbers.
Also known as the jumbo flying squid, the Humboldt squid normally grows to about five feet long. The squid is capable of changing its coloration and fishermen have dubbed it, "Diablo rojo", or red devil because its skin flashes red while it is on the hunt. They have been known to eat up to 60 different species of fish, will change their size from generation to generation, and are capable of defensively squirting ink
- which they often do when being hauled onto a fishing boat.
They latest reports of Humboldt squid follow reports from last month by beach visitors who spotted several hundred of the animals washed ashore
along the Santa Cruz County shoreline.
The reports puzzled marine biologists who could not determine the cause for the mass suicide. Some observers speculated that the high tide may have something do to with the sea creatures' self-culling. Scientists from Stanford University
said that the dead squid were probably conceived and born in Monterey Bay, but were unable to navigate their way out to open waters.
The Santa Cruz stranding marked the third time such an event happened in California over a six-week period this past fall. Marine biologists are still analyzing the contents of the animals' stomachs to see if they ingested something that might have disoriented them.
Humboldt squid have not been observed in the Monterey Bay waters for a few years, making the strandings and 'mass invasions' all the more suspicious. Some scientists attribute the phenomenon to this year's El Nino
weather patterns, which could have attracted them to the cooler environs of Northern and Central California's coast.