Mystery of Stranded Squid: Is Poisoning to Blame?

Marine Biologists Point to Naturally Occurring Ocean Toxins off California

Natural Toxins Could Be Poisoning Humbolt Squid

Natural Toxins Could Be Poisoning Humbolt Squid

Scientists are investigating a theory that a naturally occurring toxin may be poisoning Humbolt squid off the northern California coast, leading to mass strandings.California Department Of Fish And Game

Researchers at a West Coast marine laboratory have found a potential explanation for why thousands of Humboldt squid washed up on the beaches of Santa Cruz, California, last week. The big cephalopods known as red devils may have been poisoned, according to a report in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Since the stranding last week, researchers at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station have been looking for an explanation for why Santa Cruz county beaches ended up covered with dead and dying Humbolt squid. By sifting through massive amounts of ocean data, one researcher spotted a pattern, possibly the first clue in solving a bizarre marine mystery, the Sentinel reports.

"There was a cycle of spikes in the amount of domoic acid in the water," R. Russell Williams, a graduate researcher at the lab, was quoted as stating. Domoic acid is a naturally occurring neurotoxin. The spikes coincide with mass squid deaths that happen about every three weeks, though usually in far smaller numbers.

Prior to the event, there were strandings reported on November 20 and October 30, Williams told the Sentinel. The December stranding was unusually large, and was concentrated on a highly trafficked beach area. In the aftermath, dogs and seagulls hovered near piles of red mantles, while a few good Samaritans tried to rescue the squid that were found alive, according to the report.

Humboldts can reach about five feet in length and weigh up to 100 pounds. While relatively common, the reason for the strandings may remain a mystery unless scientists can confirm the poisoning theory. California Department of Fish and Game officials have taken samples for testing to see if they contain the toxin.