Scientists Puzzled Why Squid Washing Up in Santa Cruz County

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Kim Bollinger
    Giant squid washed up on Santa Cruz coastline. Dec. 10, 2012

    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.