Heads Up! Flying Jumbo Squid by the Thousands

Huge groups of flying squid terrify divers, washing ashore dead.

July 14, 2009, 11:59 AM

July 17, 2009 — -- Divers off the coast of San Diego were minding their own business, splashing around in the ocean last week when all of the sudden they found themselves confronted by giant flying, squid, hundreds of them some literally jumping out of the water around them.

Known as Humbolt squid, the creatures have been roughing up divers and washing up dead on local beaches ever since.

And while there have been no serious squid-related injuries reported, concerned marine biologists are trying to find out why the "carnivorous calamari," as one writer called them, have been invading the shallow waters off the Southern California coast.

The squid, which can grow to 5 feet long and weigh 100 pounds, are normally found in much deeper water off the Mexican coast.

To marine biologist John Hyde, the squid are nothing short of fascinating "eating machines" with razor-sharp teeth.

"They need food. They have to eat 10 to 15 times their body weight a day to survive," Hyde said. "There could be really hundreds and thousands of squid just offshore here, and to have these come in and grab your mask and grab your arm can be a little spooky."

But according to Hyde, it can get worse than "a little spooky" for divers."They have also a really big beak and could take a nice size chunk when they want to taste you or feel you," Hyde said.

The squid invasion is the talk of the town in San Diego, and while some people are avoiding the beaches at all costs because of them, others are reportedly taking to the water enthusiastically for the chance to swim with the underwater beasts.

Local diver Mike Bear is not in the latter group, despite the temptation.

"I wouldn't go into the water with them for the same reason I wouldn't walk into a pride of lions on the Serengeti," Bear told The Associated Press. "For all I know, I'm missing the experience of a lifetime."

'Red Devils' Scare and Intrigue

The interloping Humboldts, are also known as the "red devils," both for their reddish coloring and propensity to attack. Their ability to jump out of the water, which has shocked some, is generally used to escape predators, according to MarineBio, a marine conservation and science education group.

The squids' long arms can come with 100 to 200 hooked suckers on each one, meant to grab on to potential prey.

Diver Shanda Magill became all too acquainted with the squid's powerful pull, she told the AP.

During a recent night dive, Magill had no warning when a large squid hit her from behind, grabbed her and dragged her sideways through the water. Both her light and her buoyancy hose were ripped away in the scuffle, but then the squid departed suddenly, leaving Magill disoriented and panicking in the water.

"I just kicked like crazy. The first thing you think of is 'Oh my gosh. I don't know if I'm going to survive this,'" she told the AP. But Magill doesn't seem to hold much animosity toward the creature that attacked her.

"If that squid wanted to hurt me, it would have," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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