Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Killer squid

1st image) Illustration from the original edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869) by Jules Verne, who wrote, "But my bold companion was suddenly overturned by the tentacles of a monster he had not been able to avoid. Ah! how my heart beat with emotion and horror. 2nd image) Close-up of the tentacles of a Humboldt squid caught off the coast of California in 2007 (image source: KQED Quest). 3rd image) Scott Cassell armored up for a dive with the "Red Demon."

British author Roald Dahl warned us about "vernicious knids." Now American diver Scott Cassell is trying to raise awareness about the dangers of voracious squids: " For most people, the word 'squid' probably conjures images of deep-fried appetizers, not flesh-eating carnivores. But the truth is, Humboldt squid have approximately 1,200 sucker discs, each one lined with 20 to 26 needle-sharp teeth. This allows the Humboldt to attack its prey with more than 24,000 teeth at once. And nestled in its bed of 8 muscular arms and 2 feeding tentacles is a disproportionately large, knife-edged beak similar to a parrot’s. But the Humboldt is much larger than a parrot: they have been found as large as 14' in length and weighing more than 700lbs. In addition to the Humboldt’s enormity and impressive array of weapons, this magnificent mollusk possesses a legendary ferocity." The Humboldt squid (a.k.a. jumbo squid or diablo rojo) hunt in coordinated packs 1,000-strong. A single female can lay 30 million viable eggs and a single adult can eat 13,000lbs of fish in a year.

It was reported last summer that Humboldts were attacking scuba divers off the coast of San Diego. A female diver was hit from behind, grabbed at, and pulled sideways in the water. The beast tore off her buoyancy hose and knocked away her light: "I just kicked like crazy. The first thing you think of is, 'Oh my gosh, I don't know if I'm going to survive this'. If that squid wanted to hurt me, it would have," she said. A male diver is simply avoiding the depths altogether: "I wouldn't go into the water with them for the same reason I wouldn't walk into a pride of lions on the Serengeti, For all I know, I'm missing the experience of a lifetime." They made the news recently for killing 2 Mexican fishermen by dragging them from their boats and chewing them so badly that their bodies could not be identified even by their own families.

Cassell, a filmmaker and undersea explorer, explains, “They shred you when they grab you. The fishermen in Mexico would rather fall into the water with a feeding frenzy of sharks than Humboldt squid.” On Cassell's 1st dive with the squids, they pulled his shoulder out of its socket, ruptured his eardrum, and cut him so badly his wetsuit was shredded. He now wears armor made of chain mail and aluminum panels. “Their message is one of the sea's fragility, mystery and power. Their power is to rule one of the most inaccessible and hostile places on earth. They are masters of living in crushing pressure, low oxygen, terrible cold and darkness. Demons? Perhaps, but more so they are the ambassadors from the other earth: the great deep abyss,” says the man who warns that the Humboldt squid are not out to scare you or necessarily to kill you, but just to eat you.

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