SAN DIEGO -- "Oh my gosh, I don't know if I'm going to survive this." So thought Shanda Magill when a jumbo squid attacked her earlier this year.
Magill was scuba diving in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego one night when the squid surprised her from behind. It grabbed her with its arms and pulled her sideways, then ripped off her buoyancy hose and flashlight. "I kicked like crazy," Magill told The Associated Press.
Magill's wasn't the only close encounter with a jumbo squid. Other divers have reported being struck by the animals or having their gear yanked away. Thousands of the squid have turned up in the waters off Southern California this year, and dozens of dead ones have washed up on local beaches.
The jumbo squid is officially known as the Humboldt squid. But some prefer to call it the red devil for its rust color and aggressive nature. The 2-meter (7-foot) carnivore has 10 appendages. Eight are arms for swimming and grasping. The other two are tentacles covered in suckers lined with teeth. The squid approaches its prey with all 10 appendages extended forward, then grabs with the tentacles and drags the prey to its razor-sharp, parrot-like beak.
The Humboldt squid is named after the Humboldt current, a cold, lightly salty current that flows north along the western coast of South America. The squid is normally found near Mexico. In recent years, though, it has turned up in more northerly waters, sometimes as far north as Alaska. No one knows why, though some think global warming or food shortages may be to blame.
Humboldt squid hunt in schools of up to 1,200. They don't bother swimmers or surfers, because they prefer to live deeper in the water. Only deep-sea divers such as Magill have come into dangerous contact with them. Other divers have kept their distance. "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," says diver Mike Bear.
Scuba divers are encountering more jumbo squid as the species has expanded its range as far north as Alaska Jumbo squid are distinguished by these traits:
* Spend 95 percent of their time living at depths shown in dark blue (left)
* Weigh about 50 kilograms (110 pounds) in adulthood
* Prey on small fish and krill
* Are preyed upon by marlin, swordfish, and sperm whales
* Have two tentacles covered with roughly 1,200 suckers lined with sharp teeth
* Can rapidly change their skin color--from deep purplish red to white
* Swim at speeds of up to 24 kilometers (15 miles) per hour
Powerful arms and tentacles
Source Citation:"Jumbo squid invade socal." Current Science, a Weekly Reader publication 95.4 (Oct 16, 2009): 15(1). Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 18 Oct. 2009
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