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Santa Cruz County beaches flooded with dead squid

December 12, 2012 |  9:25 am

Captain Rick Carbajal brings up a Humboldt squid off the coast of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 2007. In recent days, the creatures have been washing up on Santa Cruz beaches. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times

No one quite knows what to make of all the dead squid.

Hundreds of Humboldt squid stranded themselves on Santa Cruz County beaches in recent days in what the San Francisco Chronicle called a "mysterious frenzy of suicide." Researchers are unsure what caused the massive die-off, which took place far north of where the tentacled creatures usually swim, in Baja California and along the west coast of South America.

"You just see them essentially killing themselves, and it's just really weird to see it," graduate student Hanna Rosen of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station told KCBS in San Francisco.

"They don't see the shore very often," she added. "So it might just be that they don't understand what's going on around them, and they're just trying to get away and don't realize that if they swim towards the shore, they're going to run out of water eventually."

Other theories abound. The squid may have eaten toxic algae that made them disoriented. Or they may have been exploring their new area, with fatal consequences.

"My theory is that when the squid invade a new area … they follow an algorithm (which is to) swim and find productive areas, especially by investigating anomalies, until you run into trouble," Stanford University researcher William Gilly told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "That mission takes some of them onto the beach. The question I can't answer is why they stop doing this after they successfully colonize an area."

The jumbo invertebrates, which can grow to about 5 feet in length, are known in Spanish as diablo rojo, or red devil, because of their aggressiveness, the Chronicle said. They sometimes approach and grab scuba divers, mostly out of curiosity.

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Photo: Captain Rick Carbajal brings up a Humboldt squid off the coast of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 2007. In recent days, the creatures have been washing up on Santa Cruz beaches. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times

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