6:00 AM. They hadn’t yet beached when my neighbor took Daisy Duke out for her morning constitutional. He noticed something odd, though, what he reported to be an enormous forest of kelp drifting just outside the swells. He assumed it had probably been torn up from the previous week’s rain and was drifting in on the high tide.
8:00 AM. The tide was ebbing when my friend Jen showed up for her beach walk. There was no fresh kelp, only the drying mounds that had been deposited several days several days earlier. But she DID see – piled on top of those briny vines – squid. Fresh, fat, 2-3 foot long squid with the clear black pupils of VERY fresh fish. Some beachgoers tried to drag them back to sea to save their lives, but the squid insisted on wriggling out of the water and breathing their last.
2:00 PM. I hadn’t heard any of this yet, and when I showed up with Koah for our own walk was shocked to stumble across the enormous calamari littering the sand. Kid One happened to call me on his break from work, and I described the scene. Beach-raised Kid that he is, he ID’d them as Humboldt squid. Neither dogs nor seagulls knew what to make of them, the fish too fresh and new to nibble on (the gulls) or to roll in (the dogs). We walked along the high tide line from Rio Del Mar to New Brighton and estimated there had to be thousands. People passing by were mildly freaked out. Did I know kind of squid they were? What did I think happened? Why are they here? Is the ocean toxic? It was fairly disconcerting.
Humboldt squid are enormous, elusive creatures rumored, in part because of videos like this one, to be voracious and aggressive, bringing down deep-sea divers in Mexico’s warm waters. Watch this, then check out this link to a PBS video that shows the squid’s softer side.
Spectator speculation that afternoon was wild as to what had happened. They got tangled in the kelp and lost their way. They ocean had gotten so polluted they drowned. They were hungry, chasing bait, and washed up. Then the story hit the papers, and in the weeks that followed everyone from ABC to NBC to CBS the Huffington Post to National Geographic reported on the mystery.
So why were the Humboldt squid in the cold waters of the Monterey Bay, out of their normal habitat? Most likely warmer ocean currents lured the squid into the Monterey Bay; the ocean temperature was several degrees warmer than average. I’d seen the occasional jellyfish and young sunfish washed up around this time, both creatures that chase warmer currents.
But why did they commit mass suicide? Seems it could have been the result of a red tide – a type of algal bloom in which domoic acid is released. Lifeguards warn swimmers out of the water here during red tides just in case, but it’s eating shellfish contaminated with the stuff that can make you seriously ill. It’s the same thing with ocean creatures; sea lions that eat contaminated krill have seizures and act in bizarre ways. Domoic acid poisoning is even the inspiration behind Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” One night in August of 1961, thousands of disoriented sooty shearwaters flew directly into walls and buildings in Santa Cruz, acting crazy for having ingested domoic acid-poisoned anchovies. Hitchcock lived in here at the time and was inspired by the following day’s headline:
As the August 21, 1961 Santa Cruz Sentinel reports:
“Hollywood mystery producer Alfred Hitchcock phoned The Sentinel Saturday to let us know he is using last Friday’s edition as research material for his latest thriller.
Hitchcock, who owns a home in the hills near Scotts Valley, had phoned from Hollywood early Friday morning and requested a copy of the paper be mailed to him there.
Don’t be surprised if you see a science-fiction thriller some day called “The Squid” . . .
Market calamari are the smaller squid you get in restaurants as fried calamari appetizers. Neighbor Tom, a commercial fisherman, buys them fresh in Monterey and freezes them to use as bait on his commercial charters. Not long after the Squid Beaching Incident, he pulled up with a couple of coolers full and asked if I wanted some for dinner.
Sure. I’d never tackled a calamari before, but I was game. He gave me more than I thought we could eat, so I took a baggie full to my friends down the street. They weren’t home, but I thought it was reasonable to leave it for them.
Figuring out how to clean them was a bit awkward, but not too hard. I figured out if you pull the head off, the innards come right out along with it. Then there’s a bit of a trick to pulling out the transparent “pen” straight out of the body without breaking it. I wasn’t good enough to save the squid ink, but there will probably be a next time.
Once they were all clean, I just sliced them into rings.
Then made a beer batter with 1 cup cold beer mixed with 1 cup white flour, dunked the cut calamari in the mixture, fished them out, and plopped then straight into hot peanut oil. Evidently I didn’t get a picture of the finished dish, but I’ve got to say they were pretty darned delicious.
Fresh fish by the sea shore.