Monster squid menace Pacific coast

January 16, 2010

Back in July 2009, when I reported on the Anchorage Horror, a correspondent alerted me to another terrifying invasion that menaced the Pacific coast of the United States: los diablos rojos had arrived in California.

The Humboldt squid, which shares its name with the cold current that sweeps up the west coast of the New World, is a large, agressive, marine invertebrate, qualities that place it high on a list of disconcerting species.

Now, a combination of increasing numbers and a propensity to show up in unexpected locations has propelled it to number one.

Dosidicus gigas are ordinarily found in cool, deep waters off the coast of South America. But they have recently been found as far north as Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.

Such changes in distribution have prompted scientists to ask more about their migratory patterns. One hypothesis suggests that the squid are especially well-adapted to the hypoxic zone, an oxygen-poor portion of the water column lying between 200 and 600 metres below the surface.

Changes in oceanic conditions, linked to climate change and the influence of the El Nino Southern Osscilation, have caused a vertical expansion in the hypoxic zone. Together with the depletion of competitive predatory species such as tuna, these changes have brought the squid to the attention of humanity.

Fisherman's friend

Marine biologists are quite literally grappling with the mystery of the invertebrate invasion, New Scientist reports, and are attempting to fit the cephalopods with radio tags — an endeavour that requires skill, strength and nerve.

The squid are so enraged by the intervention of the scientists that they squirt caustic ink at the humans’ eyes, and flash deep red by activating their chromatophores, a behaviour that earns them their Castillian moniker — the Red Devil.

And who can blame them? By comparison, the traditional tool used to haul 50 lb Jumbo Squid from the depths, the jig, makes a fakir’s sword-swallowing act look like a blancmange-eating competition. Small wonder that the creatures are roused to sufficient heights of knavishness to interest California’s game fishermen.

So is the Humboldt Squid’s fierce reputation justified?

Roger Uzan, who filmed the menacing molluscs for an otherwise faintly preposterous documentary, noted they “appeared more curious than aggressive” when approached on their own terms. Indeed the species has even exhibited cooperative and communicative hunting behaviour.

So whilst we scan the skies, plaintively wondering whether we are alone, we might also consider the possibility that intelligent, alien lifeforms with an evolutionary pedigree that exceeds our own by at least 480 million years can be found much closer to home.


World’s oldest dog put down

January 16, 2010

The title of World’s Oldest Dog has been vacated following the sad demise of Otto, the Dachshund-Terrier cross, BBC News reports.

The Shropshire resident was a month shy of his 21st birthday when his owners, Lynn and Peter Jones, took the unenviable decision to have him euthanased.

Otto had been suffering from a stomach tumour, and could no longer tolerate his discomfort.

“He couldn’t sit or lie down comfortably and he was trying to tell us that he’d had enough, so we made the decision to end his suffering and took him to the vet this morning,” Mrs Jones told the BBC.

Hippo escapes from Montenegro zoo

January 16, 2010

A hippopotamus remains at large having escaped from a Montenegrin zoo, BBC News reports.

Nikica, a two-tonne Hippopotamus, made good her escape when floodwaters swelled the pond in her enclosure sufficiently that she cleared its fence.

Montenegro’s natural disasters commission, which busies itself with the fallout from floods such as these, told The Guardian that they were required by law to destroy the behemoth.

Dragan Pejovic, the hippo’s custodian, countered with assurances that Nikica poses no danger to humanity “unless someone attacks and kicks her.”

Despite swimming free of her enclosure, the semi-aquatic quadruped remains in Pejovic’s care, residing as she does in a swimming pool at a restaurant he jointly owns with his brother.

Pejovic’s assurances notwithstanding, diners at his establishment should think twice before heading to the pool. As notes, Steve Irwin, who routinely slapped crocodiles about the face for laughs, was terrified of hippos.

Cayman Islands declare war on lionfish

January 6, 2010

New aquatic front opens in war on Nature

Scores of scuba divers have been conscripted by the Cayman Islands’ government in their struggle against invasive lionfish, Reuters reports.

Red lionfish

Isolated lionfish, native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, were first spotted in the Caribbean in 2008. But a lack of natural predators has allowed the species to swell in number, not least because the female can produce a staggering 30,000 eggs each month.

The spiny terrors have an insatiable appetite, and threaten to gobble up all the small fish that ordinarily graze unmolested among the honeymoon destination’s famed corals.

DiveTech, a scuba outfit in the island paradise, is training pleasure divers to become cold-blooded killers.

“You have to be slow and careful and you have to treat them with respect. We have found they are quite clever. So if you move too quickly and scare the fish off, they will remember you and when you get close again they will retreat immediately,” DiveTech’s Simon Dixon told Reuters.

Mercifully for the Caymans’ native fish, humans find the lionfish as tasty as they themselves find their tiny prey. Their flesh has been compared to such local favourites as grouper and red snapper.

Indeed the poisonous monstrosities fetch a sufficiently high price in swanky US restaurants that they may yet provide the Caymans with a new source of income — precious revenue if the war should be lost, and the snorkelling tourists fly elsewhere.

Headcount underway at London Zoo

January 5, 2010

The annual headcount at London Zoo is taking place today, the Zoological Society of London reports.

Beasts were ordered to report for muster at 0600, on a day only the penguins could love. Stamping their paws in the cold, the animals patiently await the arrival of the screws, who will note their species, rank and serial number.

ZSL keepers are taking stock of over 750 species. New additions to the zoo’s collection include the “first lion cubs born at the Zoo in a decade, a new Komodo dragon and a critically endangered mangabey baby,” it says here.

Whether numbers will tally with the keepers’ expectations remains to be seen. Stay tuned to your local radio station, and keep an ear out for escaped animal alerts.