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Squid invasions signal changes in the Pacific Ocean

In the Pacific, jumbo squid have moved to new waters, signaling changes in the ocean, scientists observe.

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A diver photographs a Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) in its native waters off the coast of Mexico. The jumbo squid, which can grow six feet long, has been appearing as far north as Alaska. Scientists theorize that changes in oxygen levels in the Pacific Ocean have allowed the squid to flourish in new waters.

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When large numbers of jumbo squid first showed up in California’s Monterey Bay in 1997, scientists weren’t sure what had brought the cephalopod that far north. An unusually strong El Niño event had warmed the eastern Pacific. But the squid, dubbed el diablo rojo – the red devil – in its native waters off the coast of Mexico, didn’t typically venture farther north than Baja California.

And indeed, within two years, the Humboldt squid – Dosidicus gigas – had disappeared from central California waters.

But in 2002 – another El Niño year – they reappeared. This time, they took up permanent residence and pushed even farther north – past Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, until, by 2004, fishermen near Sitka, Alaska, were hauling them in.

When scientists dug through historical records, they discovered that the squid’s northward advance wasn’t entirely unprecedented. There were accounts from the 1930s of the creatures in Monterey Bay. But never in numbers comparable to what scientists observed now – schools many hundreds strong. And no one had ever seen them as far north as Alaska.

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