humbolt squid seen in Alaska for the first time

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Posted by on October 15, 2004 at 12:49:04:

(10-14) 19:01 PDT SITKA, Alaska (AP) --

A large Humboldt squid caught offshore from Sitka is among numerous sightings of a species seen for the first time in waters of the Far North.

The 5-foot Dosidicus gigas, or jumbo flying squid, was shipped this week to California to be kept for research at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

The squid was one of a number caught with a dip net by Petersburg fisherman Alan Otness and his crew on Sept. 18 as they baited longline gear at night. They brought back some of the creatures for examination by experts.

Eric Hochburg, curator of the Santa Barbara museum, said the species is usually found off Baja California and farther south. They make their home deep in the open ocean, rising to the surface at night to aggressively feed on small fish using barbed suckers.

"It becomes sort of newsworthy when they move out of Mexico into California and farther up," Hochburg said.

The farthest north the species has been reported until this year was off the coast of Eugene, Ore., in 1997, said James A. Cosgrove, manager of natural history at the Royal British Columbia Museum. Before that year, the farthest north the jumbo squid was seen was near San Francisco, Cosgrove said.

Until this summer, there have been no other sightings in the north, according to Cosgrove.

"It's unprecedented," he said. "It speaks of a fundamental change in the ocean along the coast."

The Canadian museum is keeping a 6 1/2-foot, 44-pound Dosidicus gigas in a formaldehyde tank. The animal -- a purple-bodied cephalopod with two eyes, eight sucker-covered arms and two curly tentacles -- was caught Oct. 2, the first of the species recovered from British Columbia waters.

Since news of that discovery was made public, Cosgrove has received seven additional reports of other sightings since late July of jumbo squid in northwest waters from Oregon to Alaska. Beside the Sitka catch, the squid were spotted near Yakutat and Kodiak Island.

Hochburg, with the Santa Barbara museum, is researching the northern distribution of the species. He has collected other specimens this summer and has data on them dating back over 100 years.

Hochburg plans to compare Otness's squid with the others, and hopes to determine its origin.

"We'll try to get a handle on are they moving north with warmer waters, and then do they die out as they head north, or does the cold water constrain their northward movement?" he said.

The 14-pound squid caught off Sitka is one of several marine species usually found in warmer climates that have been seen or caught in Alaska this year.

The first thresher shark to be caught in 14 years in Sitka Sound was caught last month. Two rare great white sharks were spotted in Southeast this summer, and the carcasses of a hard-shell turtle and a jack mackerel were also recently found in this region, far north of their usual habitat.

Bruce Wing, a biological oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Juneau, attributes the presence of warm water species to an increase in ocean temperatures.

Wing said water temperatures throughout the Pacific Ocean have been higher than usual all summer. The latest figures for Sitka, he said, show the sea water is 2 degrees Celcius above average.

Currents also are a factor. Wing said that if an animal moves beyond the border of the North Pacific Transition Zone it will get caught in a northerly current that could bring it far beyond its usual range.

Otness, who has fished in Southeast Alaska for more than 30 years, said the squid he caught was part of a school that may have numbered in the thousands.

"They were hissing and spitting," he said. "One of them even tried to bite my deckhand."

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