Public Health

Jumbo Squid Spook California Divers

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Sure, she's pretty, but beware her six-foot Humboldt cousin /istockphoto.com hide caption

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Feeling a little miffed to be stuck in town in steamy July?
Send this e-postcard to your pals at the beach:

Swarms of five-foot long Humboldt squid are once again roiling the waters off California's coast — thrilling biologists and spooking scuba divers — this time just off the beaches of San Diego and Orange County.

NPR's Robert Siegel talks tonight with Scripps marine biologist Nigella Hillgarth on All Things Considered about what it's like to swim with the sleekly curious creatures. Five or six feet long. Six arms. Two "feeding tentacles." A sword-like beak, and "large eyes that look very much like a vertebrate's," Hillgarth says.

It's like looking at sharks — they are fascinating and beautiful, but also dangerous.


(Read beyond the jump to find out why)

The big red squid, which seem to have taken up residence along the coast in recent years, have probably expanded their territory because of climatic changes in current, she says, and as competing fish stocks like tuna and swordfish have declined.

Most squid encounters have been harmless, Hillgarth says. Still, scuba divers should stay alert. The animals are very strong and curious —they've been known to swipe an air hose from a diver's mouth, or pull a swimmer deeper.

Surfers and swimmers needn't worry (live Humboldt squid are well beyond the breakers). And even daytime divers can pretty much relax, she says. The creatures live mostly 300 to 650 feet beneath the surface, only rising near the surface at night.

Usually.

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