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March 24, 2003: Leg 3, Day #13

The weather and seas remain calm and we are making the most of it with ROV dives, blue-water scuba diving, midwater trawling, and jigging for squid. Today's update was written by Brad Seibel.   

Pescadero Basin

"On the 17th we caught an Octopus, or Devil fish in the bathing place. This fish is the most horrible thing to look at in the world! He looks something between a Dragon, Star Fish, and the Devil. A large Octopus is capable of holding a man under the water until he is suffocated..."
 -Joseph Makin, 1873, in Philip F. Rehbock’s At Sea with the Scientifics

Mar24_dosidicus539.jpg (61177 bytes)While I personally have a much greater fondness for cephalopods (squids and octopuses) than Joseph Makin apparently did, his fear may not be completely misplaced. The Gulf of California is home to one of the largest squids on the planet, the "jumbo squid" Dosidicus gigas. (You may recognize the mug shot—D. gigas is also a resident of Monterey Bay during El Nino years such as this one.) It reaches total lengths of nearly 2 meters and can weigh as

much as 50 kilograms. Although one report exists of a jumbo squid attacking a diver (see "Mugged by a Squid" in Mark Norman’s Cephalopods: A World Guide), most sources tell me that these squid are generally not aggressive toward humans. However, the dive shops in La Paz take tourists on squid dives at night using shark cages—Squid food for thought. Fortunately we don't have to worry about it during our daytime SCUBA dives. Dosidicus gigas migrates down to more than 300 meters depth during the day. This migration to depth is my main interest on this cruise. 

Oxygen levels are astonishingly low at mid-depths in the Gulf of California. In fact, between 300 and 800 meters, oxygen is nearly undetectable by the oxygen sensor on the submersible. Animals require oxygen to harvest the chemical energy in the food that they eat. Large, active animals require more oxygen than small, slow animals. So how do large, active animals, such as these squids, manage to survive in this oxygen minimum layer?  

To answer this question, we've been fishing for jumbo squid at night off the back deck using a large jig that looks like a glow-in-the-dark, medieval, torture device. So far, Jeff Drazen has the record squid at 12 kilograms (but the competition is not over)! I'm measuring the oxygen binding ability of the squid's blood, which contains a copper-based protein that turns blue when it binds oxygen but is clear without oxygen. I can exploit this color change to gauge how much oxygen the blood is carrying.     

The majority of animals here migrate out of the low oxygen layer at night. This is convenient for Jeff Drazen and Bruce Robison, who are able to catch a great diversity of fishes in fairly shallow water by trawling at night.   

Squids are not the only aggressive creatures we've encountered. Karen Osborn reports that the density of spiders on the bottom during today's dive was so high that she witnessed frequent interactions, often aggressive, between them. Additionally, today's dive caught radiolarians, pteropod molluscs, siphonophores, jellies, and a strange predatory doliolid that is being described as a new species by MBARI scientists. Tomorrow's dive promises to be exciting. Jeff Drazen is planning to put the carcass of his award-winning squid on the bottom to see what large fishes might be attracted.

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