Creatues on the shoreline?
By Terry Rodgers
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
July 20, 2002
In May an invasion of tiny red crabs that looked like dwarf lobsters covered some area beaches.
Now 2-foot jumbo squid are washing up by the dozens along the shore from Imperial Beach to Encinitas.
Annette Henry, a marine biologist for the state Fish and Game Department, said the squid
strandings were first reported Thursday by an Encinitas lifeguard.
Photo by DON KOHLBAUER / Union-Tribune
"I don't know why they are dying," she said. "They seem to be perfectly healthy squid."
They have been identified as jumbo flying squid, Dosidicus gigas, a species found in the eastern Pacific Ocean from Oregon to Peru.
While scientists aren't certain what's causing the sea creatures to beach themselves along Southern California this summer, El Niño is a leading suspect.
El Niño occurs when warm waters from the tropical Pacific migrate farther north than usual, bringing with them unusual marine life and fodder for powerful winter storms.
The weather phenomenon is forecast to return this fall but in a milder form than its last appearance in 1997-98.
Eric Hochberg of the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum has been studying jumbo flying squid and has authored a paper on the species' strandings north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Typically they are thought to move up from Mexico in advance of an El Niño or in relation to tropical disturbances to the south," he said in an e-mail to the Fish and Game Department. "However, it is still difficult to pinpoint the cause."
According to Hochberg, jumbo squid often become stranded on the beach when they chase beach-spawning grunion ashore.
He believes it's unlikely the squid are being poisoned by domoic acid, a plant form of plankton that becomes toxic when it accumulates in small fish and shellfish.
The naturally occurring toxin caused thousands of common dolphins and sea lions between Santa Barbara and Ensenada, Mexico, to become ill earlier this year. Hundreds died.
Bill Decker, a veteran surfer and board fisherman, found a few dozen of the 11/2-foot-long squid yesterday at La Jolla's Windansea Beach.
Decker, 54, said he's never before seen this type of squid in La Jolla. He's talked to older fishermen and they say the same thing.
"We usually see the smaller squid here, but nothing this big," Decker said. "Some of these are 11/2 to 2 feet long."
Matt Rimel, a commercial fisherman and owner of two La Jolla restaurants, said commercial fishers working off Mexico last week observed sharks, marlin and swordfish preying on the squid.
When Rimel spotted the squid about 13 miles offshore this week, he saw a striped marlin estimated at 250 pounds jump out of the water while feeding on them.
Patrick Healey, a construction worker, said he first spotted the squid in small numbers earlier in the week. But yesterday he noticed at least 100 at La Jolla's Children's Pool.
Staff writer Ed Zieralski contributed to this report
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