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Large groups of longfin squid in Gulf of Mexico


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#1 seagrant

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Posted 03 May 2006 - 05:41 PM

I thought some of you all might be interested in the numerous large groups of near one hundred and more of the atlantic longfin squid (Loligo pealei), that are being seen here by divers off Clearwater, FL.

Because I am so very behind at most things at this time I'm going to copy an email I sent out and paste it below with info on these unusual sightings.

More data on our Gulf to follow soon as I'm involved in Gulf Recovery Surveys in conjunction with REEF, the Florida Aquarium and others. For those of you who don't know, our Gulf off Clearwater here, and parts north and south in places out to 30 miles offshore suffered the worst red-tide in recent memory last year, 2005. Usually the red tides don't hit us badly as far north as Clearwater, but '05 was a tragic year for many of us, including here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where we had many (over 100 in one week alone, including a couple of female Kemp's Ridley critically-endangered turtles that week), female nesting turtles who had to swim through the red tide wash up dead on our beaches. Also most likely all of the turtle hatchlings from last year didn't make it, plus the red tide claimed many dolphin, manatee, fish that couldn't outrun it and pretty much all of our sponges, crustations and slugs (don't cringe Leslie, we had a bunch, but none now, until they return...), and even some of our previously very healthy hard corals died. This red tide hit throughout the water column due to a quirky thermocline that it got caught under and spread along the bottom, then throughout the water column, creating a "dead zone" in some areas. (And that was a tragedy cause pre-red-tide '05 I used to see in excess of 100 large gag grouper and 12 huge, endangered goliath grouper at some of the sites hardest-hit).

But it is extremely interesting observing what is coming back in our Gulf!!! A rare experience to see what life returns and is first! These squid are one anomaly, we NEVER see these large groups of them, especially as divers!!

Hope you find the email and pics interesting. I can't stress how rare it is for scuba divers to get to see and photo these squid, most likely the were in the early stages of mating when I took these pics. These aren't like the squid in California that come to one spot to mate. The atlantic longfin squid is very hard to catch mating and as far as I know only several (3?) researchers have actually witnessed the mating activity off the New England Coast. And as I understand it they netted a group of the squid and then videoed it mating while on scuba.

More info here:

"I've sent or cc'ed this to those I thought might be interested in developments in our "red-tide-05" ravaged Gulf here off Clearwater, Florida.

Fortunately Joe at REEF did his thesis on the longfin squid (Loligo pealei) and has given me some insight on just how unusual it is to run into large groups of these just out in the open as a diver.

Of note, yes we do see the longfin squid offshore here in the spring from time to time, but from what I've been told we usually see only very small groups, maybe 5 or so individuals and they are not seen often, maybe someone will see one small group once during the spring. This year throughout the first part of April many scuba divers were seeing groups of these longfin squid, numbering 75 to 100 individuals and more, at many of the dive sites off Clearwater. The sites they were seen at were from 8 to 15 miles offshore at both natural limestone ledges and artificial sites. My photos only show a few together, but if you look you can make out some more shadows in the background, plus they tended to "split-up" when I got close to photo, then re-joined as a large group when I moved off.

I saw these large groups of squid on three occasions and I tried to get out more but was unfortunately blown out. These photos were taken on April 15th, in the afternoon at Indian Shores Artificial, appx 11 miles off Clearwater, but there was an even larger group later in the afternoon on a natural ledge, about 8 miles offshore.

Plus I've gotten it from good sources that the fishermen are commenting that the grouper they have been catching have their stomachs full of these squid.

We have theorized as to why so many longfin squid, rather close inshore (for us), this year? I did note that there were almost no "predator" fish at the sites where these squid were seen, there usually would have been "predator" type fish there but because of last year's devastating red-tide it is taking some time for fish to return. Also it is possible that the longfin squid's food-source is coming further inshore and is more abundant for some reason. Note, the photos show algae. Yes this is a seasonal algae we get here and it should be gone in a couple of weeks, even with that viz has been excellent (80 feet), if you can look through the algae. I thought we had more algae than previous years but was told that it is actually normal amounts and will die off soon.

I'll have more pics to follow, including damage to our hard corals and some growth that has survived, etc."

Best, Carol Grant
REEF AAT/NOAA Scientific Diver




Posted Image
These squid are much, much harder to get close to than caribbean reef squid!
I never saw them "resting near the bottom" as the Reef Creature book states, they
were always swimming actively in groups. And once I even saw them before noon
swimming, so it wasn't just cause it was late in the day.



Posted Image
I'm told the "white-patches" may have some significance. These pictured here were
the larger and longer ones that would sometimes break off from the grouping of the
larger ones and swim next to a smaller squid and yes they did change coloration from
light to dark again and again



Posted Image
Shows a little larger chunk of the actual 100 or so grouping near an upside-down barge, appx 11 miles off Clearwater.



Posted Image
And a spottail pinfish for size, he was about 8 inches.



Posted Image
The algae is quite thick in spots but may be one reason the squid are here??



Posted Image
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#2 seagrant

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Posted 05 May 2006 - 04:36 PM

For those who are interested in this species of squid I ran into and photoed, (Loligo pealei) - rarely witnessed by divers - I'll attach an email below with data:

Best, Carol

"Hi Carol,
Thanks so much for the pics and I would love it if you burned me a cd with images and I can take a closer look at testes and ovaries and such. You have a mixed aggregation of males and females. the longer, slimmer profile individuals are all males and most of the shorter, more rounded squid with the more rounded posteriors are females. You can also see most of the squid "flashing" their testes and ovaries, intersexual communication. These squid all look like they are ready to engage in mating and ovipositing. All you would need is a stimulus to get them going such as a small egg mop with multiple egg fingers.

Also have to remember that squid have excellent visual acuity, as good as really any fish. An amazing accomplishment for what is a highly evolved mollusc. There is some evidence that they may see polarized light, not sure what the last few years of research has uncovered. But the ability to see directionality of light helps on several fronts such as breaking the countershading of potential predators, shading themselves to attack prey, and conspecific communications. My point is that what we are seeing with our limited visual capabilities is likely only part of a complex communication aria or sorts. What looks like a hodge-podge, messy school (jag) of squid is actually a quite organized association in which at a moments notice, males and females will pair off and sneaker males will school together, and mating will begin.

Anyway, all of this is very cool and I definitely miss diving with the squid in the spring in New England. Inshore season is probably really getting going now but the weir traps that I used to dive will probably only be in the water for another couple of weeks. Soon the Bluefish arrive and begin to eat all of the squid in the weirs and the fishermen pull the traps.

Have a great weekend, Carol!

Joe
-----------------
Joseph Cavanaugh
REEF Field Operations and Intern Coordinator"

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#3 MikeVeitch

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Posted 06 May 2006 - 09:05 PM

Cool stuff Carol! Thanks for posting.. great to see things are bouncing back after the bad red tide

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#4 CamDiver

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 11:13 PM

Hi Guys,
Well I'm no biologist yet I must point out something I learned last year regarding certain proliferations of Squid and the potential danger related to their appearance.

I was fortunate enough to be filming in the Sea of Cortez last year for a project relating to Sperm Whales. Whilst most of our efforts were centered around the the whales as a by story we also documented the Humbolt Squid fishery based from the town of Santa Rosalia in the Baja Penninsula. During the course of the project I had the opportunity to meet with a selection of differing biologists working alongside the Lindblad Expeditions vessels who were plying those waters on itineraries to introduce eldery vacationers to the natural history of the region. Lindblad were also one of our sponsors for the work we were conducting down there.

Basically the scientists / naturalists on the boats mentioned that such a huge abundance of squid, enough for them to be targeted as the main fishery, pointed a very disheartening finger at the state of the food chain in the region. What used to be a sea full of larger predatory fish, sharks, marlin and yellowtails (mahi mahi) has since been reduced to a shadow of its former self. The blame can be laid, in part, at the far eastern fishing fleets who were momentarily allowed access to the sea however once their methods were witnessed the locals soon demanded their licenses be revoked as they were in the process of pretty much emptying the area. In a very short time they had created enough damage in the natural balance of life in the area to allow the Humbolt Squid to take on the auspicious position as one of, if not THE, apex predator of the region.

In my short time visiting this fishery I can attest to witnessing in excess of 300 local "pangas", wooden fishing vessels, leaving the marina of Santa Rosalia every evening at around 4.30pm. They would then return some four to five hours later with EACH boat laden with almost one ton of squid. Thats every boat in a fleet of just over 300. We also had a local hire boat captain for our forrays for the Sperm Whales. He was also a squid fisherman but welcomed the break from fishing as it is back breaking work to fish these squid. He mentioned that in a good year the squid will be around for 6 to 8 months.

During the whole project we never really saw any prolonged evidence of predatory species in that specific area. We would see a Marlin from time to time but being in the water all along the coastline of the Pennisula during three months of filming we were pretty dismayed at the lack of larger fish species.

Has the Humbolt taken over the Sea of Cortez?? I guess we'll just have to keep our ears peeled for that one.

Cheers,
Mark.

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