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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#421: Mating Orgies... and Woes

My diving has been much too infrequent the past few months, but last Saturday I heard news that enticed me to submerge the following day. Previously, several of my mainland dive friends had reported seeing mating squid in shallow waters up our coast, most recently near Hen Rock. The news Saturday was that the squid were running right in Descanso Bay, with clusters of eggs and live mating squid observed by a group of divers near the Valiant. Even within the Casino Point dive park itself there were reports of both scattered squid egg "candles" and even clusters of them out towards the Suejac.

Saturday night I prepared my video equipment, charging my video lights, the batteries for my LCD and my HDV video camera while I went down to karaoke. Sunday morning after downing several cups of coffee in front of my computer, I packed everything onto the Dr. Bill Mobile and drove down to the park. Sadly there were only a dozen divers there (including me), but half of them were friends I already knew. They reported seeing the squid eggs as well.

I donned my wetsuit and checked my underwater housing to ensure it was correctly sealed. My descent off the stairs was into rather green water and I had a mere 10 feet of visibility. Once on the bottom at 60 feet, things cleared up a bit increasing to a hazy 25 feet in some places. Almost immediately I began seeing single "candles" or clusters of squid eggs encased in a white protein coating. They were scattered about the bottom. Normally when a squid run occurs, the females lay these individual "candles" in clusters that are attached to the sandy bottom.

I filmed several of the individual "candles" but didn't see a single cluster. Perhaps these had drifted into the park from the mating orgy occurring just outside it in Descanso Bay. I never made it that far since I hadn't requested a permit to dive outside the park.. Therefore I didn't get a chance to film any of the concupiscent calimari (look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls). Good thing, since the last time I wrote about filming squid mating, the editor of the paper received a complaint from a mother who tried to read the story to her five year old! I think Mother Goose would have been a much safer choice for the little one.

Squid runs are somewhat unpredictable. Those off Catalina, like the ones divers often visit in Redondo Beach and La Jolla, usually do not occur in the same place every year. In addition, they may move along the coast as the run progresses. While many believe that squid die off immediately after mating (makes one want to remain celibate!), and a number of them do, some live longer and reproduce again. One run here on Catalina a few years ago seemed to start on the leeward side of the West End, run all down the leeward coast, round the East End and work its way up the windward coast back towards the West End. I'm hearing the run this year has been pretty spectacular based on the harvest by squid boats... which may not represent a good year for the squid themselves! The market squid fishery is one of the most important ones in California based on dollar value and tonnage landed.

Adult market squid were classified scientifically as Loligo opalescens for many years, but my cephalopod specialist friends tell me they are now known as Doryteuthis opalescens. Most Internet sites I searched still use the older name. Whatever you call them, this species is known from Alaska to the tip of Baja, and are most common from southern British Columbia to central Baja. Adults live to depths of at least 1,600 feet while the youngsters are said to remain above 300 feet. They probably don't have the advanced certifications for deep diving yet.

During mating season, the squid come into shallower water above 130 feet to mate and lay their eggs. Although most people, including divers, believe this only occurs at night, there are many observations and a few studies that indicate it occurs during daylight as well. I've filmed them during the day mating in large numbers off Hen Rock and Yellowtail Point, and the ones in Descanso Bay last weekend were also observed during daylight. My guess is once those hormones get active, there is no stopping the boys! The only drawback to daytime mating might be the easier time predators would have in locating them.

The male will grasp the female in his tentacles or arms and use a specialized tentacle, the hectocotylus, to transfer a packet of sperm into the female's mantle cavity. She then moves them to a receptacle where fertilization occurs. The female will lay as many as 30 capsules or "candles," each with up to 300 eggs. Each candle is inserted into the sand and has a sticky substance that helps anchor it there. She may continue laying her capsules in the same area for a week, and in other areas for several weeks or even months before eventually dying. The eggs hatch in two to thirteen weeks depending on water temperature (2-4 weeks here off Catalina), and the young emerge as tiny miniatures of the adults.

In previous columns about the market squid, I've talked about their eating habits and other characteristics. I'll add one amusing story from my dining experiences with them. While back in Chicago during the early 1980s, I invited several of my friends from high school, Harvard and Catalina to my parent's house for a gourmet dinner. I spent the entire day stuffing dozens of squid with cheese, vegetables, crab meat and other goodies. Of my friends that night, the only ones who would even try my culinary masterpiece were the two from Catalina... Allen Hubble and Linda McHugh! I guess the Midwestern and East Coast palettes of my other friends just weren't as well refined! But then all three of us had eaten many meals at Toyon Bay during the days of the school there. Need I say more?

The sad consequence of my dive to film the squid was that my video camera stopped working halfway through the dive. I missed some great shots, especially of a moray eel sticking its head out of a pipe. I assumed the batteries in my LCD screen had drained because I left it on twice before I sealed the housing. When I got home and opened up the housing, water "poured" out of it. Somehow, despite my best efforts, the housing had leaked... the worst such incident I've had in 10 years. Fortunately I mount my camcorder on a quick release which raises it well above the bottom of the housing. The camera stayed dry. Apparently the printed circuit boards inside the housing didn't, and were fried. No new video until I scrape up the funds to repair that... or buy the new housing I need for my new HD camcorder.

© 2011 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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Individual "candle" and cluster of egg cases; large mass of clusters on bottom and
mating squid off Hen Rock filmed several years ago.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2011 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia