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Squid Run 2009

Squid Run 2009

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Since being certified, I like many have ventured out at La Jolla Shores, CA early in the year in the hope of seeing California Market Squid spawn. Spawning takes place in near shore waters and is concentrated in the winter months in southern California. The squid typically deposit their egg capsules on sand, often on the edges of canyons or rocky outcroppings. The female squid forms a capsule sheath and then injects between 100 to 300 eggs into the capsule through its siphon. Groups of capsules are placed in masses creating “flowers” or "mops" that can extend into vast egg beds. Incubation time varies with water temperature, typically taking between 3 to 9 weeks to hatch. Anecdotal observations suggest that the eggs may be preyed on by bat stars, armored stars, and kellet's welks. Fish do not appear to eat them, although squid will not lay eggs when placed in a bait tank with a half-moon fish suggesting predation.

The California Market Squid is a small soft-bodied cephalopod with eight arms and two longer feeding tentacles. It is one of 30 to 40 species of squid in the squid family. Adult’s measure up to 12 inches in overall length and weigh up to 2oz. The squid’s skin is translucent; color comes from pigment cells called chromatophores, located in the outer layer of its skin. The California Market Squid is a relatively short-lived species with a lifespan of only 6 to 8 months. It is found over the continental shelf from the surface to depths of 2,300 feet (700 meters). Its habitat ranges from Baja California to Alaska.

Accompanied by my dive buddy and fellow filmmaker, Mike Sanderson, I shot these first images of squid laying their eggs in the head of La Jolla Canyon on the nights of February 20th, 21st and 22nd.

Once the squid fishing fleet arrived off the La Jolla coast, the squid that were spawning in the head of La Jolla Canyon literally disappeared overnight! We had never observed this before and concerned about what had happened I started making more detailed inquiries. The squid were certainly being caught offshore but attempts to gain access onto a squid fishing boat proved fruitless as the owners were understandably concerned we would turn the filming against them in light of the discussions around the new MLPA protection zones. Thus on March 1st, I ventured out on the Dive Animals Scuba Club boat with operator Kelly Fulton and filmed amongst the squid fleet. Since the boats were actively fishing, we could not enter the water to film. Thus, we lowered a weighted videocam by rope and let it dangle beneath the boat. This is the reason why the camera bobs up and down and the squid randomly come in and out of shot in the video below.

This video would not have been possible without the kind cooperation of the crew of the Kamryn Kate. We very much appreciate you allowing us to approach your boat so closely to film.

The above video created a huge amount of interest in the local dive community, and also caught the attention of a graduate student at UCSD. Spurred on by the interest, and having determined no squid were continuing to spawn in the head of La Jolla Canyon, Mike and I went in hunt for squid spawning grounds outside of the La Jolla Ecological Reserve. On March 7th, with the help of two other divers, we hit the jackpot locating a massive egg bed in 65 to 85ft of water.

Having started with just the aim of filming, we were now determined to provide a documentary record of the 2009 La Jolla squid spawn at this site, and the painstaking process of weekly monitoring began. The video below provides highlights of dives undertaken on March 14th, 21st & 29th, along with April 5th. It documents the gradual change in the egg bed leading up to the squid hatching, records the creatures that were present, and acknowledges those that gave their valuable time to make this project such a success.

From measurements Mike and I undertook using the surface towed GPS unit seen in the film, we estimated the area of the main part of the egg bed to be 103,500 sq ft; an area roughly equivalent to the size of two NFL football fields. We further went on to estimate the egg bed might contain somewhere in the region of 36 Million egg sacks yielding a total egg count of around 5.4 Billion!

On March 29th, a mini ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) from SeaBotix, Inc. joined the survey work being undertaken on the squid egg bed off La Jolla. With its ability to dive well past depths associated with recreational scuba, one task the ROV undertook was investigating deep down the canyon walls for further evidence of the squid spawn. While squid eggs were seen scattered all the way down the walls, the discovery of further large egg beds at 77m (252ft) and 97m (318ft) was very exciting. In the video below, those shots from the ROV include a heads up text display showing vehicle heading, depth, water temperature, thruster gain settings, auto settings, number of cable turns, and time/date.

The ROV used was a model LBV200L with external LEDs and a grabber. The LBV200L comes with a 250 meter (810ft) umbilical and is rated to a depth of 200m (660ft). It is equipped with four oil-compensated, brushless DC thrusters. There is 1-lateral, 2-forward, and 1-vertical thruster, enabling maneuverability in four axes, just like a helicopter. SeaBotix, Inc. is located in San Diego, CA. Further information about their very cool ROVs can be found at

While significant research has been undertaken into California Market Squid much remains unknown about this species. For instance, there is no reliable estimate of market squid biomass even though it probably constitutes the most valuable fishery of any single marketable species in California’s coastal environment. Further research is needed (and is underway) to investigate reproduction, egg survival, impacts of different types of fishing gear on the spawning grounds and predation.

During this project I did fifteen dives, shot close to eight hours of video and spent countless hours editing and documenting our findings. All video and anecdotal observations are being provided to researchers at UCSD and other facilities for further analysis.

My special thanks go out to the following people, without whose help and guidance this project would not have been possible:

      - Mike and Holly Sanderson
      - The crew of the Kamryn Kate
      - Mike Navarro, graduate student, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, UCSD
      - Lou Zeidberg, Staff Researcher, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA
      - Dale Sweetnam, Dianna Porzio and the staff at the CA Department of Fish and Game
      - Owen Snodgrass, NOAA
      - SeaBotix, Inc., in particular Jeff Conger and Sean Newsome
      - Nick Hartman and Eric Forslund
      - Josh Rose, Mark Pidcoe and Kelly Fulton
      - Members of the Dive Animals Scuba Club and the Bottom Bunch Dive Club

I'm now in the process of making a 30 minute fully narrated documentary on the 2009 squid run based on the video footage above. If you might be interested in purchasing a copy or want to see if I'm available to make a presentation to your dive club or organization about the 2009 squid run, please contact me via the submission form found by following the link.

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