Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pummelled by squid

Professional diver Scott Cassell and his partner Jacquie Cozens recently went in search of the Rojo Diablo ("Red Demon") Humboldt squid. These squid are aggressive, large predators which attack in packs and there have been reported cases of them devouring Mexico fishermen. Each tentacle has more than 100 suckers, each lines with up to 26 needle-sharp teeth, allowing the squid to attack its prey with more than 24,000 teeth at once.

There were more than 20 giant squid right below me -- not even ten feet away! Ranging in length from five to six feet, they hovered nearby just looking at me, studying me. My splash entry was like ringing a dinner bell. Suddenly, about 10 squid began to move in for a closer look. As they neared, they flashed from white to pink to bright red then back to white, all within a split second. It was beautiful! They looked like animals from another planet, totally unearthly.

As I floated there transfixed, a large squid moved to within two feet and flashed again. Mesmerized by the strobe effect, I didn’t see that another squid was rushing in from my left. Bam! It hit me with a tentacular strike that felt like being hit with a baseball bat square in the ribs. Shocked by the power of the strike and unable to breathe because of a cramp in my chest, I turned to see what had hit me and saw four more squid headed toward me. The first came in so fast that I could barely track it with the camera, and then Bam! It struck the camera, which in turn struck me in the face. I was starting to feel like I was in a barroom brawl.

After five attacks of equal ferocity, the magnificent monsters decided I was inedible and had no further use for me. With a few blasts from their massive jet funnels, they disappeared into the depths within seconds. Dazed and excited, I realized the entire ordeal lasted less than one minute. After dangling in the water for 30 minutes looking for any signs of their return, I surfaced and climbed into the boat. I later discovered bruises on me the size of oranges, as well as several scratches in my anti-squid armor suit. The system was working, but each attack left its mark — and this was just the first dive of dozens yet to come.

Oh man oh man oh man, I wanna get me some of that anti-squid armour! You never know when you'll find something like this baby in your bath-tub:

Giant Humboldt squid
See here for the full story and some wonderful photos. One small point though: squid aren't "magnificent mollusks". Oops.

[Update, 18:53pm. Oops is right, only it is my oops. Squid are classified in the phylum Mollusca, which makes them mollusks as well as cephalopods. D'oh!]

Thanks to Pharyngula.

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