California Squid Invasion Threatening "Fish Stick" Species

Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
July 27, 2007

A species of 100-pound (45-kilogram) predatory squid previously confined to more tropical climates has taken up residence in coastal California waters, scientists say.

And the invasion of Humboldt squid seems to be making a noticeable dent in the local population of hake, experts note in a new study.

Hake, also known as Pacific whiting, is used to make imitation crab, fish sticks, and other minced-fish products.

Scientists noted a potential threat to hake fisheries when an unusual influx of Humboldt squid along the Pacific coast received widespread media attention in the spring.

For the latest study, published this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers examined video from submersible dives in Monterey Bay spanning 16 years (see a California map).

They discovered that the squid have been steadily abundant in the region since 2002.

"A top predator has moved in," said study co-author Bruce Robison, a researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing.

"This hardly ever happens in terrestrial or marine habitats. Usually, if you get an invading species, it's a snail or crab or something like that."

And the squid's sustained presence, the scientists note, coincides with a documented hake decline.

Squid vs. Tuna

Humboldt squid, also called jumbo squid, are voracious hunters with razor-sharp beaks and powerful tentacles.

"They are amazing animals," Robison said. "They are big and aggressive and often hunt in packs."

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