Scientists are trying to determine why hundreds of red Humboldt squid have washed ashore in Santa Cruz County this week.
According to researchers at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station research center, there a couple of reasons why the 18-inch-long squid -- more commonly found in warmer waters near the Sea of Cortez -- are beaching themselves along the coasts of Central and Northern California.
"We have two main theories," graduate student Hanna Rosen said. "The first is that the strandings seem to occur when the squid invade a new area."
The squid that have washed ashore on beaches around Monterey and Santa Cruz since October appear to be adolescents, and they were likely following atypical warm currents and prey to the region, Rosen said.
"When the squid have come up here in the past, it has correlated with El Nino," she said.
Once the squid establish themselves, the beachings will likely decrease, Rosen said.
The second explanation for the strandings is related to the squid's food supply, which could have become temporarily contaminated by a harmful algae bloom.
Red algae secretes a toxin that can affect the squid's central nervous system and "cause them to become disoriented," Rosen said.
Scientists from the Hopkins Marine Station and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have collected beached specimens and will be working to find out exactly why the squid are in the area and why periodic strandings occur.
Humboldt squid, which are not endangered, can grow to a length of seven feet and weigh up to 100 pounds.