Humboldt Squid overtaking the Pacific Coast!
Recently I have been watching various documentaries that at first would appear to be unrelated, but each of them have left a small impression on me about a certain topic. Overfishing seems to be a wide-spread issue that has gotten out of hand, and that has lead to the population decline of many species over the last few years. One species which seems to be immune to the current epidemic is the Humboldt Squid.
The Humboldt Squid, also known as the jumbo squid or the diablo rojo (red devil), got its name from the Humboldt Current in the Pacific Ocean where it is commonly found. In past years, the known range of these creatures did not travel far from the coasts of Baja California is the Sea of Cortez. Lately in the most recent years, reports of large populations of the Humboldt Squid have been reported as far north as the coasts of Alaska, and as far south as the coast of Chile. What would cause such a large spread of range for a predator like the Humboldt Squid?
It seems that the likely reason for the increase of Humboldt Squid populations is not the increase in its natural food supply, but actually a decrease in the number of fish that compete with it for food. Overfishing has lead to the world wide decrease of the Tuna and Salmon population, fish which share waters with the Humboldt Squid. The lack of presence of these large predators has left a void in the food chain where the Humboldt Squid seems more than happy to fill in. The Humboldt Squid is a well equipped predator that typically lives and hunts in large packs, sometimes as large as 1,200 animals per pack. They typically feed off of schools of small fish, and appear to hunt in coordinated attacks though little is known of their social behavior.
Up until recently little was known about the behavior of any squid in the wild. Even attempts to study the animals in captivity had been widely unsuccessful, due to squid being highly sensitive creatures. Most squid that have been captured for study die within minutes of oxygen starvation and begin to decompose quickly. Because of this, very few survive the short trips back to laboratories where further study could be conducted. This leaves little exposure to the animal’s natural behavior for scientist and university researchers. What little we can seen of the squid’s natural behavior tends to be associated with their feeding behavior, as that affords them a little interaction with mankind. Typically the squid live at such depths that divers cannot easily film them due to a lack of ambient light at the depth, and exceeding atmospheric pressure.
Many questions remain as to how this animal has adapted its behavior to extend it’s reach from such an isolated existence a few years ago, all the way to being a top level predator in the Northern and Souther Hemispheres. By examining the lifecycle of the squid, some answers have come forth to shed light on this remarkable creature’s ability to dominate the food chain.
Squid have a remarkably fast reproductive cycle, and a relatively short lifespan. The Humboldt Squid will generally live for only one to one-and-a-half years, or roughly 450 days. That is such a short lifespan for such a large creature, as most other ocean predators can live for decades on average. What gives the Humboldt Squid its advantage over other predators is that within 10 days of conception they become a predatory animal, and within 1 year they grow to be around 100 pounds in weight. So, from the moment that their sperm fertilizes a females egg it only takes 10 days for a Humboldt Squid to enter the food chain (albeit a very small predator at that point). But the 100 pounds in a year growth rate puts the Humboldt Squid right on track to be one of the fastest growing creatures. Once they are up to full-grown size one of these squid will typically consume around 10 pounds of fish per day just to stay alive. If you do the math you can see where they can quickly go from being a fisherman’s nuescance, all the way to being an dangerous infestation in the Pacific Ocean.
At the current rate that the Humbolt Squid is spreading its territory, many marine biologists are left wondering how long it will be before this species starts to reach out to the Atlantic Sea, and further beyond. Most ecosystems around the world are not prepared to deal with the unwanted introduction of such a hungry and efficient predator. Their devastating effect on an ecosystem can quickly cripple the food sources of larger predators such as sharks and whales, and even schools of larger fish.
What is the answer to this problem? Have we unknowingly created this problem by overfishing the Humboldt Squids competitors? Is this just a case of Darwinism, or is this the cause of mankind?
One thing is for certain, squid or no squid, the world fish populations need time to grow. Regulations on fishing should be tightened and more strictly enforced on a global scale. Commercial fishing as well as illegal fishing has caused the decline of popular fish populations all around the globe. Perhaps fishing should take a cue from the farming world and learn to leave regions or population fallow for a period of time. By fishing the populations in cycles, species would be given time to grow in numbers and in size, thus resulting in a healthier fish supply. Maybe as a world we need to make regulations to cease fishing of certain species for a period of time, and rotate that schedule so that no type of fish can be openly fished year round season after season. Would the halting of a particular type fo fish for a 1 year period really have a dramatic impact on the fishing economy around the world?
Would this rotation of fishing that I am proposing allow enough time for the declining populations of fish to recover? What if we focused our time for a little while on catching squid? Would that help reduce their populations back to a normal level, and also allow Tuna and Salmon populations to bounce back? What are your comments on either the Humboldt Squid, or ways to stop overfishing?
To learn more about the Humboldt Squid you can visit this informational page over at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humboldt_Squid
Image courtesy of allmoviephoto.com