Humboldt squid are large carnivorous molluscs (cephalapods) that can reach an overall length of 3.6 m (11.8 ft) and weigh as much as 90 kg (200 lb) (Norman 2002). The specimens that have been found in B.C. waters have been much smaller averaging 1.2 m (4 ft) overall length and 5.6 kg (12.3 lb) in weight (data courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum). Humboldt squid are open ocean animals that are constantly swimming. They travel in large groups of a similar age class. The mantle (tubular portion of the body) is long (up to 60 cm [24 in]) and the mantle wall muscle is up to 5 cm [2 in] thick. In this species, the mantle (body) makes up 40% of the animal's mass.The squid have two diamond-shaped fins attached to the mantle which they use to swim and glide. The head contains the very large eyes, the brain and a powerful and sharp parrot-like beak that is designed to cut through flesh. (Kurth et al. 2009). Attached to the head are 8 arms and two tentacles. On the outer edges of arms R2 and L2 are keel-like growths that provide stability for the squid when it is moving rapidly through the water. The tentacles can be rapidly extended to two or three times the length of the arms. Each arm has numerous, relatively weak, suckers on small stalks. Each sucker has a toothed chitonous rim that will dig into the flesh of prey. The suckers are able to rotate so that the toothed sucker rim comes in full contact with the prey. The ends of the tentacles have two diamond-shaped pads that have very large sucker rims and more robust suckers for grasping prey. Humboldt squid skin colour varies from deep purplish-red to white, and, like other cephalopods, muscle-bound chromatophores on the skin allow them to flash a range of colors (Smithsonian 2010). The chromatophores allow the squid to change colour in fractions of a second and there is some evidence that the squid communicate with each other via colour patterns and the frequency of display.
The Humboldt squid is a larger than average squid. They belong to a small group of related squids commonly referred to as the “flying squids” This name comes from the fact that these rapid swimmer will sometimes fly a distance out of the water to escape underwater predators (Smithsonian 2010). Like other cephalopods, this species is a total carnivore and is known to be cannibalistic. In British Columbia, we have another flying squid that is very similar to the Humboldt squid. The native squid is commonly called the Neon flying squid and is know to science as Ommastrephes bartrami. It is very difficult to tell the difference between the Humboldt flying squid and the Neon flying squid (Cosgrove and McDaniel 2009).
Humboldt squid are well-known for their aggressive behaviour when caught, and have been known to attack and injure divers. Kurth et al. (2009) report schooling of 20-40 individuals in juveniles and smaller groups of 2-12 individuals in adults--but they can travel in groups of up to 1200 individuals. These animals are capable on migrating up to 100 km over a 3 or 4 day period (Kurth et al. 2009). Mass strandings of up to 1,000 individuals are not uncommon for this species. These strandings have been documented in Mexico as well as here in British Columbia. The reason for these strandings is not known.
This midwater squid spends the day in depths below 200 m (660 ft) where the light level is very low. As the sun sets the squid follows the light level and migrates to the surface of the ocean, from dusk to dawn, to feed on lanternfish, hake, shrimp, eupahusids, mollusks, and other cephalopods, including its own species (Smithsonian 2010, Nigmatullin, Nesis and Arkhipkin 2001). On nights with a full moon, the squid may stay well below the surface while on nights with no moon the squid may come right to the surface.
Like many cephalopods the Humboldt squid reproduce only once in a lifetime (Smithsonian 2010). Spawning takes place throughout the year, peaking during spring and summer in the southern hemisphere (Nigmatullin, Nesis and Arkhipkin 2001). Females produce floating egg masses; a single documented report of egg masses indicates these may contain up to 2 million eggs (Kurth et al. 2009).
Reported predators include sperm whales, sharks, seals, swordfish, and marlin; gulls and large fish will also feed on juveniles (Smithsonian 2010). Notes: The average life span of this species in approximately one year (Smithsonian 2010), but some individuals can live up to two years (Nigmatullin, Nesis and Arkhipkin 2001).
This species is a mid-water, open ocean animal that is seldom found near shore except when it is in distress. Mass strandings are common.
The Humboldt squid is found in the eastern Pacific, ranging from Tierra del Fuego north to California. However, a recent range expansion, perhaps tied to food or water temperature, has resulted in this species appearing more frequently further north, including off the coast of British Columbia, and as far north as Alaska. There are reports of this species appearing in Alaska in 1997 (Cosgrove and Sendall 1995-2010). With respect to recent range expansion, Cosgrove and Sendall state: “While the reason for this dramatic influx of D. gigas into the northeastern Pacific waters is unproven,there does appear, superficially at least, to be a relationship between increased water temperatures and the presence of the squid.”
Distribution in British Columbia
There are an increasing number of reports of this species in BC coastal waters. The first sightings in BC were by Canadian fishers fishing along the US/Canadian border in July and August 2004, and the first BC specimen was captured in October 2004 off Vancouver Island (Cosgrove and Sendall 1995-2010). Every year since the initial captures in 2004 there have been documented sightings of Humboldt squid in B.C. waters. In some years the squid have stayed offshore as they have passed by Vancouver Island but have been common in Haida Gwaii, the northern mainland and the lower Alaska coast. In 2009, hundreds of these squid were reported stranded on a beach near Tofino. Similar strandings have been reported every year and in many different sites on the B.C. coast.
According to Nigmatullin, Nesis and Arkhipkin (2001), three intraspecific groups of D. gigas may be distinguished on the basis of the size of adult males and females: “small (mantle length (ML) of adult males 130–260 mm, females 140–340 mm), medium-sized (240–420 and 280–600 mm, respectively) and large (>400–500 mm and 550–650 to 1000 mm and more, respectively). “
This squid is named after the Humboldt Current, where it usually lives.
Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC:
Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab
for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed:
2022-01-21 4:12:38 PM]
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