CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists tracking the northward migration of Humboldt squid into Oregon's offshore waters are enlisting commercial fishermen to help them keep count of these tentacled predators – and what they're eating.
Led by marine fisheries ecologist Selina Heppell, a professor in Oregon State University's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and graduate student Sarikka Attoe, the team is attempting to learn more about the squid, whose historic range has followed the Humboldt current in the eastern Pacific waters from the southernmost tip of South America to California.
Since 2002, the squid – Dosidicus gigas, also known as the jumbo squid – have been found in increasing numbers in the waters off Oregon, Washington and as far north as Alaska. Normally deep-diving, the animals are turning up in shallower coastal waters, sometimes in very large numbers. Aggressive feeders, they are known for swarming feeding frenzies when they come upon prey (usually small fish, crustaceans and other squid).
With funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through Oregon Sea Grant, Heppell is attempting to map the distribution of catches of jumbo squid off the Oregon coast, identify correlations between squid catch and oceanographic variables, and determine what the squid are eating as they pass through Oregon's offshore waters – particularly whether they're dining on such commercially fished species as hake and salmon.
To aid in that effort, the researchers are asking fishermen to report sightings of the squid, including information about where they were seen (using GPS coordinates), approximate numbers of squid, and whether fishing was going on when the squid were seen.
Graduate research assistant Attoe has visited ports up and down the coast to explain the project to fishing groups and distribute waterproof posters and fliers promoting what she's dubbed “SQuID CSI,” an online reporting form at the Heppell Lab’s Web site, http://oregonstate.edu/heppell/reportsquid.html .
Fishermen are also encouraged to collect samples of the squid for dissection by scientists to analyze what the animals are eating.
“Understanding the spread of jumbo squid and their potential role in the ecosystem is a top priority for scientists, managers, and fishermen on our coast,” said Heppell. “By working collaboratively with the fishing community, we're hoping to both broaden our ability to gather data, and increase public awareness about changes affecting ocean ecosystems.”
For more information about the project, contact SQuIDCSI@gmail.com.