Fishing for Humboldt squid can be a scary task. These powerful open-ocean predators weigh up to 100 pounds, and can stretch 6 feet long. They sport rings of sharp teeth on their suckers. Fishermen even say the squid will rip you apart if you fall in the water.
In truth, these hulking cephalopods aren’t dangerous to humans. They go after much smaller prey, like sardines and mackerel. But it’s still a bit unsettling to see their tennis-ball-sized eyes staring out from a fishing net.
This eye-popping catch was hauled aboard in Quintero, Chile, where Humboldt squid numbers have skyrocketed in recent years. Humboldts, usually sold as “jumbo” squid, were once restricted to equatorial waters, but have expanded their range south to Chile and as far north as Alaska.
As populations expand, there’s concern that the squid could upset local ecosystems by eating all the little fish in their path. In Chile, fisherman and government officials blame squid for the low numbers of once-abundant hake — although some scientists argue that it’s humans, not squid, that are eating too many fish.
Warming oceans are likely helping the squid travel beyond their traditional habitats near the equator. But there might be more to the story than climate change alone. Humboldts’ main competitors for food — tuna, swordfish and other big, open-water fish — have declined dramatically due to overfishing. The squid, which grow and reproduce rapidly, could be filling the vacuum left by other predators.
So, while there’s nothing inherently spooky about these tentacled beasts, it is creepy to think that overfishing has turned the eastern Pacific Ocean into a squid paradise. If you love sushi and tuna melts, that’s something to keep an eye on.