Giant squid again on Orange County beaches

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Posted by on March 18, 2005 at 06:38:20:

DANA POINT, Calif. - Dead jumbo squid are again mysteriously washing up along Orange County's coastline, baffling scientists who are trying to find out why.

The Ocean Institute in Dana Point has conducted some of the research, shipping specimens to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Stanford University for further study.

Scientists at the institute this week dissected a 5-foot-long, 15-pound female Humboldt squid that was filled with parasites and sand. More than a 100 squid have been spotted since Sunday between Dana Point and San Clemente.

Still, there are no answers.

"We still don't know what's killing them," said Linda Blanchard, lab director of the Ocean Institute who has dissected about a dozen squid since they first washed up ashore in January. "All we have right now are theories."

Scientists believe the squid are swimming north from Mexico to follow food sources, forcing them to come closer to the surface and shore. Squid normally live and hunt 3,000 feet below the water's surface.

Eric Hochberg, curator of invertebrate zoology with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, said an active fishing industry in Mexico may be depleting the squid's diet, causing them to migrate into Southern California.

He said the squid possibly are discombobulated by sand churned up by tides.

Meanwhile, William Gilly, a biologist at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, is studying their stomach contents to determine whether the squid are being poisoned.

Even if scientists cannot discover why the squid are washing up ashore, they hope to learn about the mollusks' diet, where they spawn and the biology of their beaks.

"Before the squid were found dead on the beaches in the quantities that they have, we weren't studying them as hard as we are now," Blanchard said.

In January, about 1,500 Humboldt squid washed up on the Orange County coastline about a week after an oil spill from an undetermined source coated more than 1,000 seabirds off the Southern California coast. The squid were found on the sands of Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Crystal Cove State Park. Some were spotted in northern San Diego County, at San Onofre State Beach.

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