UW News

April 25, 2002

Squid gets education instead of dinner

News and Information

More than 12 feet 6 inches long, it was caught in the Gulf of Alaska, frozen and sent by plane to Seattle where Ted Pietsch, professor of aquatic and fisheries sciences, picked it up Friday.

The three-member crew out of Sitka could see something was entwined around the 150-pound halibut on one of their lines and assumed it was an octopus. Stopping the gear so the animals were just below the surface, vessel owner Kevin Kambak says the squid was not hooked on the line, it was clinging to the halibut.

While the fishermen tried to lift the squid into the boat using a gaff, its head separated from its body. But all of the squid’s body parts were pulled from the water. Alan Kohn, UW professor emeritus in zoology, says that in his long career he’s seen only three other specimens of this kind of squid and none of them had their arms or tentacles as this one does.

Moroteuthis robusta can grow to 30 feet in length. This specimen has a body about 4 feet long, eight arms 3 feet in length and two 8-foot-long feeding tentacles.

“Just feel how muscular these tentacles are,” Pietsch urged marine biology undergraduates Monday morning during a special class to view the squid. Along with rows of suckers, the ends of the tentacles are studded with sharp hooks of chiton for grasping its prey.

Evidence indicates that there could be quite a few Pacific giant squid but they are reclusive, which makes for more questions than answers: How long do they live? What do they feed on? How old and what size are they when they reproduce? How do they reproduce?

Boat owner Kambak says he saw one other of these squid while fishing but it was 12 or 13 years ago. This time he and his crew were working about 60 miles off shore from the Alaskan town of Yakutat in water that was between 375 and 500 fathoms (2,300 to 3,000 feet) deep.

They were using longlines, not net, to harvest black cod. They weren’t after halibut so the first two that came were simply cut loose and swam away. Kambak says the third halibut, the one the squid wanted for dinner, had 4- and 5-inch gouges on its head where the squid had been chewing on it with its parrot-like beak.

Kambak said of that halibut when it was cut loose, “Gosh, he was tickled pink to get away.”

The fishermen gutted the squid and put it on ice thinking it might be edible but it proved too large and tough. After that Kambak made the squid available first for community members to come to the dock and view, then for it to be taken to the various schools for display. Finally he took care of shipping it to Seattle.

Dwina Howey of Sitka, the daughter of a fisheries biologist who recognized there might be some research use for the squid, was the one who contacted Pietsch at the UW.

After being a visitor at all the local schools, she says, “Now our squid will get a college education.”