In the 19th century, H.G. Wells, the father of modern science fiction, wrote a short story called “The Sea Raiders.” His description of the physical appearance and numbers of the sea-monsters of fiction reflect those of a true-to-life marine creature, the Humboldt squid.
The hefty squid, growing up to nine feet long, are massing in thousands off the west coast from LaPush and north, even crowding into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island and Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. They seem to be feeding on one of the largest runs of pink salmon to come in off the west coast in several years.
The squid usually travel in shoals of about 1200 individuals, but fishermen from the Makah town of Neah Bay report their boats are plowing through a coastal sea of the giant invertebrates.
Gary Willmett, of the troller boat "White Eagle," out of Neah Bay, reported that for the last two weeks he he has been pulling up nothing but salmon-heads and tentacles.
Ric Polumbo, of Clallam Bay's Jack Mackerel Fish Company, obtained one of the squid for photographic purposes.
"He squirted ink all over my salmon," grumbled Polumbo, while washing off more of the black liquid from the animal, six feet long with its tentacles.
“We get one or two a year, washing up on the beaches,” said Polumbo. “Nothing like this in the last 40 years. Nothing this thick.”
Polumbo said that local commercial fishermen are accustomed to unusual incidental catches, including the great white shark and the blue shark. He added that the appearance of the squid is very unusual.
Lee Hoines of the Department of Fisheries, who is in charge of local commercial fishing and interprets the law for the local wardens, is researching the regulations for catching the squid.
Since the sea animals in Washington waters legally belong to all the people of the State, any unlawful possession or use of the large mollusks is a federal crime, defined as “trafficking in illegal wildlife.”
Greg Bargman, of State Fish and Wildlife, said he was unaware before this that the squid were eating the salmon. He reported that the department is now focused on writing an emergency regulation allowing the squid to be caught and resold.
Bargman said that commercial fishermen would be able to keep or re-sell only those squid which are part of an incidental catch. Sports fishermen may keep five squid, but not sell them.
Customers are already interested in obtaining the squid for processing as calimari, either fresh or smoked.
Usually deep-water animals, Humboldt squid have recently been rising to feed in water levels where they may come in contact with humans. Aggressive feeders on krill and small fish, larger squid have been known to attack human divers, possibly mistaking them for food.
In one instance a group of squid grabbed world-class diver Scott Cassell in their tentacles and attempted to drag him into deeper waters while biting with their sharp beaks. Battered, he managed to escape the voracious animals, but the next time he went into the water with them he was wearing home-made body armor.
In Mexico the giant squid are nicknamed diablos rojo, or “red devils,” because they flush red and white while struggling on a line. The squid possess a hard cutting beak much like a parrot's and sharp bony hooks on their tentacles, making the larger specimens dangerous when hauled into a boat.
The squid are the prey of sperm whales, seals, sharks, swordfish and marlin; sea birds and large fish feed upon the juveniles. Humans find Humboldt squid steaks a tasty dish all over the world, in Asia, Spain, Russia and increasingly in the Americas.
Recipes recommend tenderizing the steaks with a kitchen mallet, and marinating them in an acidic liquid such as lemon juice or vinegar. The ink sacs are removed and used to prepare a black sauce in dishes popular in Spain and Italy.
Is the appearance of the millions of squid the result of the consumption of world-wide ocean populations of their natural predators, or the consequences of the loss of their usual deep-water prey to pollution? The answer is that more than one factor could be at work.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study that described how ocean acidification lowers the Humboldt squid's metabolic rate, forcing the animals to retreat to shallower waters to obtain more concentrated oxygen levels.
Major extinctions have been followed by a fossil record that showed a majority of cephalopod and jellyfish species in the seas, and far fewer fish. The present loss of species on the planet earth is being called “The Sixth Extinction.”
A retired local fisherman said he'd been sitting on his front porch watching Clallam Bay fill up with bait fish, and in his opinion all those squid were chasing bait fish.