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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#569: Squid Run, Part II: Caught in a Snow Storm

Last week I wrote about my White Christmas... diving with squid egg clusters covering a good part of the ocean floor at Hen Rock. It was so nice to be warm and toasty (at 59 F) and not have to shovel any of the "snow." After opening my presents on Christmas Day, I decided to do a late morning dive in the dive park and adjacent Descanso Bay. I didn't see a single live squid for the first time in about two weeks. In fact, there wasn't even a dead squid to be seen. Mother Nature had done a great job of cleaning up after the incredible orgy of the past few weeks.

On my previous dives during daylight the past two weeks, I had seen dozens to hundreds of live squid. They were in small, scattered groups of a dozen or so each and swimming close to the bottom. While most people think squid mate only at night, I have filmed them doing "the wild thing" right in broad daylight. Yes, they have absolutely no shame! However, to really get the feel for a squid run, one has to dive at night. Daylight activity resembles snow flurries while at night you may feel you are caught in a blizzard! Yes, I realize most of you who live in southern California can't relate to that!

I did one night dive in the park and was surrounded by thousands of squid, but they kept a respectable distance from my video lights... perhaps confusing me with a hungry sea lion who had adopted new technology. Fortunately, great whites are smarter than that and can tell the difference! Once the Cousteau team arrived and we were out on Catalina Divers Supply's (CDS) boat, the blizzard began in earnest. On our night dives we would sit just off the dive park in Descanso Bay, and hang a bright light off the boat. Soon the waters would fill with so many cephalopods I couldn't count them on my toes even if I were a millipede!

Before descending, I captured video footage from the surface of this incredible sight. Once under water, the squid were so thick that it was quite difficult to film. Hopped up on hormones (or sex pheromones), they frantically swam around looking for a mate. They'd even attach to my camera housing before realizing their mistake... perhaps they saw their reflection in my glass port. On one dive I even ended up with a squid "candle" (capsule of eggs) attached to my wetsuit. They must have thought the torn and tattered neoprene was suitable substrate!

Of course next to the squid, Jean-Michel Cousteau and Holly Lohuis were the stars of the filming. As a mere scientific consultant, I had to try to stay off camera. I guess the film crew didn't want the audience to see me in my "well-worn" thermal protection next to Jean-Michel and Holly in their beautiful blue Jean-Michel Cousteau/Body Glove wetsuits! Of course I don't even try to portray myself as "the talent" in my own productions, so I understood. However, the swarms were so dense that sometimes it was hard to see where the film crew was despite their bright video lights!

Since the holidays are upon us, and the kiddies are out of school, I'm going to hold off describing the mating frenzy itself until they are back in class. One year a mother complained to the publisher of the newspaper that she had to explain what an "orgy" was when she read one of my columns about squid mating to her five year old! I'll be sure to post a warning on the column that deals with such a lubricious, libidinous and licentious subject. I assume you also used Word Power Made Easy in school so you know what those "L" words refer to! Instead I'll stick to the basic (and hopefully not too controversial) facts about squid for the rest of this column!

The market or opalescent squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) is a nearshore species found within about 200 miles of the coast from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico. They undergo daily migrations which involve going further offshore and deeper during the day, presumably to avoid some predators then back closer to shore and the water surface to take advantage of the increased food supply there. My only food-related migrations are down to Vons and back for my groceries (sometimes more than once a day if I forget my shopping list!).

Adults can reach a total length of over 10 inches with males slightly larger than females. The head is not fused to the rest of the body which is called the mantle. The mouth is referred to as a beak. Like their octopus relatives, they have eight arms with two alternating rows of sucker disks. There is also a pair of longer tentacles with club shaped tips that are used to capture prey. Being invertebrates, squid have no real skeleton. However, they possess an internal, chitinous structure known as a gladius or pen. Near the head is an opening in the mantle referred to as a siphon or funnel. It is used to shoot water out, propelling them backwards away from my camera (and potential predators).

When filming in a "blizzard" like this squid run, it is often difficult to focus in on the specific anatomy of individual squid. Next week I'll do a little of that when I write about the second "M" word, Mating. I'm saving the first one, Munching, for the last article in this series. Until then, I'll just wish my readers a HAPPY NEW YEAR! What is my New Year's wish? Yes, of course... meeting my ultimate dive buddy is an obvious one I've repeated every year (without success). In addition to that, after the "snow storm" of the past two weeks I hope to find myself in warmer waters for the rest of the winter and early spring. The Red Sea, the Galapagos, Brazil, Hawaii and Jamaica are all on my short list. So is robbing our local bank a few times for the funds to pay for that!

© 2013 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. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). 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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Blizzard of squid seen from boat and underwater; view of smaller group and Jean-Michel Cousteau
rinsing Dr. Dick Murphy off with warm water after the night dive.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2013 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia