After a decade-long hunt almost as obsessive as Captain Ahabâ€™s search for Moby Dick, a team of researchers and journalists from Japanâ€™s National Science Museum, the Discovery Channel, and Japanese broadcaster NHK have captured video of the mysterious giant squid in its natural habitat, about 9 miles from ChiChi Island and 600 miles south of Tokyo.
This three meter long creature is actually on the small side; giant squids can grow to eight meters (twenty-six feet)!
These real-life underwater giants are believed to be the inspiration for the Kraken, a mythical Nordic sea monster known for attacking ships in the waters off of Scandinavia. Having inspired numerous artists and writers over the centuries, it is no surprise that this fantastical animal has captured the imaginations of scientists as well.
While lax catch limits for federally-managed west coast forage fish like sardines continue to be a source of major concern, the state of California announced today that, at least for state-regulated forage fisheries like squid and herring, it would embrace a new ecosystem-based management system, with an eye towards sustainability.
Forage fish may not be as charismatic as sharks or as majestic as blue whales, but, these small, nutrient rich species -- like squid and herring-- have finally received their long-awaited turn in the spotlight.
Forage fish pack a punch of nutrients to whales, dolphins, sea birds, and recreationally and commercially important fish. They are critical to the survival of our magnificent blue whales as well as the recovery of depleted Chinook salmon. However, until now, these little fish have not been managed in a way that accounts for the vital role they play in ocean health and ocean economics. This will change as the California Fish and Game Commission will now make their decisions on how to manage all the stateâ€™s forage species based on a set of principles that were fleshed out with input from conservation and fishing entities.
Editor's Note: This commentary originally appeared in the Monterey Herald.
No town knows better what happens in a fishery crash than Monterey. Our infamous Cannery Row, once the heart of a bustling sardine industry, is now occupied by restaurants and tourist shops. Sadly, we are on a path to yet another Pacific sardine crash.
In a report published in February, National Marine Fisheries Service scientists warn the sardine population off the West Coast is steeply declining and fishery managers are making the same mistakes all over again. Yet, a separate report, "Little Fish Big Impact," by 13 pre-eminent scientists from around the world, concludes that current management of forage fish â€” like sardines, anchovy, and squid â€” is too aggressive and that catches should be cut in half.
A third study, aptly referred to as "A Third for the Birds" finds that seabirds are drastically affected when forage fish decline below one-third of their maximum numbers, which is the current situation for Pacific sardines. Hopefully these findings will be the catalyst needed to finally change the way forage species are managed.
Plastic is one of the most common pollutants that end up in the ocean, but the properties that make it ideal for shopping make it deadly to marine life.
Plastics are durable and do not decompose easily, which means they can stay in the ocean for decades. And because they are so lightweight, plastics can float in the ocean where sea turtles and marine birds can get entangled or even ingest them by mistake. For example, plastic bags in the ocean closely resemble jellyfish, which are a common food for sea turtles.
Plastic can also have serious effects on marine mammals, including sperm whales which are some of the worldâ€™s smartest animals â€“ possessing the largest brain of any known species.
Sperm whales typically feed on squid, sometimes diving more than a mile below the oceanâ€™s surface to find food. But plastic trash is becoming more and more a part of the whalesâ€™ diets. Each year, sperm whales eat more than 100 million tons of seafood using suction, which makes them more vulnerable to ingesting plastic. And because sperm whales are at the top of the food chain, they are the most likely to be affected by pollution.
If you are one of the 3,600 ocean-loving Californians who spoke up for squid, we want to thank you!
You urged the stateâ€™s wildlife managers to maintain a healthy ocean ecosystem by not re-opening the market squid fishery after it was closed early when the maximum catch had been fished (118,000 tons or 236 million pounds).
Iâ€™m happy to report that the Fish and Game Commission listened, saying it will keep the fishery closed until next season, which opens in April. They also welcomed your request for better management of these critical fish species by adopting a policy that will guide how they manage these small fish and invertebrates into the future.
Forage species like squid, herring, and krill are the base of the ocean food pyramid, feeding everything from the charismatic humpback whale to the commercially important salmon fishery.
There is currently no state policy guiding management of forage species -- this would be the first of its kind.
This is a very exciting step forward and will ensure that fisheries managers start asking the right questions when determining how many forage fish to take out of the ocean. For example: How much squid do Rissoâ€™s dolphins need to be healthy? How much krill does the endangered blue whale eat? Whatâ€™s the current population of dogfish sharks and how much herring do they need?
Also, letâ€™s not forget that forage species are not only critical to a healthy ocean ecosystem, but to Californiaâ€™s economy as they bring in billions of dollars in revenue annually through coastal sectors like recreational and commercial fishing, tourism, and hospitality industries.
Without enough forage species recreational fishers will have to go elsewhere to find their sport fish, restaurants will have a more difficult time getting enough sustainably fresh and wild seafood for their menus, and whale-watching boats will have less diverse wildlife to show people who come all the way to Californiaâ€™s beautiful coast to see whales, seals, dolphins, and seabirds.
Stay tuned as we move toward better fishery management, and thank you again for weighing in!
Ashley Blacow is Oceana's Pacific Policy and Communications Coordinator.
Yesterday afternoon, the California Assembly acknowledged the critical role that forage species play in maintaining a healthy marine food web by passing Assembly Bill 1299 (AB 1299), sponsored by Oceana and introduced by Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael).
Forage species, like sardines, herring, and market squid, are truly the â€śheartbeatâ€ť of the ocean forming the foundation of the food web â€“ which in turn benefits everything else that eats these small fish.
AB 1299 provides a much needed change in the way California manages its fisheries by establishing a state policy that will for the first time consider how much forage should be left in the ocean. This is not just an environmental issue, but largely an economic one; forage species help support Californiaâ€™s recreation and tourism economy, which is worth over $12 billion annually, providing more than 250,000 jobs in the state.
Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. His most recent documentary is "SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories" and his most recent book is OCEANS, The Threats to the Sea and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide.
Typically at this time of year a certain breed of shopper purposefully wanders the fish stalls of their favorite grocer taking stock of the piles of fresh oysters carefully arranged on crushed ice or to pick up and judge the heft in their hands of tightly packed tins of caviar, which sell for anywhere from $50 to $2,000.
But maybe this is the year to lay off those two favored treats and replace them with something slightly less traditional: squid.
I know, a big bowl of calamari hardly compares to one of caviarâ€¦ but, man, thereâ€™s a lot of squid out there these days. Iâ€™m sure some of those very popular sustainable fish chefs have already dreamed up some special calamari entrĂ©e to take advantage of the boom.
Step right up to the Carnival of the Blue #42, where you may or may or may not discover the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Come one, come all!
This monthâ€™s Carnival of the Blue is brought to you from the ever-so-coastal country of Chile, where I am currently working out of our Santiago office helping with their website redesign. Itâ€™s also a fitting theme because this month was a superb one for Chileâ€™s oceans.
On the heels of our recent victory to save Chileâ€™s Punta de Choros from a coal-fired power plant, this month, Chileâ€™s President SebastiĂˇn PiĂ±era announced the creation of Sala y GĂłmez Marine Park, a no-take marine reserve of 150,000 square kilometers around Sala y GĂłmez island, and the Chilean government announced a drastic reduction in the fishing quota for jack mackerel and other fisheries, starting in 2011. (Oh yeah, and donâ€™t forget those 33 miners...)
Now letâ€™s have a look at what else happened this month around the world wide wet web of ours:
The oarfish is the longest bony fish in the world -- there have even been some reports of fish up to 50 feet long (and weighing up to 600 pounds)! They are so long that many believe that these fish are the cause of some early tales of sea serpents and sea monsters. Because of its sinuous body, it is occasionally called the ribbonfish.
The researchers have evidence of the whales staying together over several months in the Gulf of Mexico. And their behavior varied with each deep dive, indicating that they alternate roles to spread out the physiological demand of the 1,000-meter dives.
One researcher said that the some whales appeared to guard the bottom of a squid bait ball, while others took advantage of the center of the ball.
Other research has suggested dolphins may exhibit herding behavior, but this is the first evidence in sperm whales; some scientists remain skeptical.
Just remember, whales: there is no "I" in "team."