Stanford researchers track squid migration mystery as sea creatures appear in Gulf of Alaska

BySpencer Christian and Tim Didion KGO logo
Saturday, March 12, 2022
Stanford researchers track squid migration mystery
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Researchers are mind boggled (and concerned) by a squid population that has migrated hundreds of miles north to the Gulf of Alaska.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- If you come across a California Market Squid, it may be on your dinner plate. But when researchers from Stanford came across the sea creatures, it was some place more unusual - in waters of the Gulf of Alaska hundreds of miles north of their normal West Coast habitat.

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"Yeah, their typical range would be from basically Washington State down to Baja, California. And yeah, they made a pretty big leap, starting around 2015, all the way up into the far northwestern Gulf of Alaska," explains marine researcher Benjamin Burford, Ph.D.

Burford, was working as a graduate student at Stanford when he began looking into the northern migration. He found the highly adaptable squid not only extended their habitat, but managed to keep growing to their full size at the same time.

"They have the ability, instead of having to like reach a specific size or age in order to mature and breed, they can adjust that based on the conditions they experience. And so often, what you'll see is squid that grow up in really poor conditions like warm, not a whole lot of food, they'll mature at really small body sizes," he says.

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But at full size, he says the Alaska squid have the ability to hunt small fish, potentially impacting populations of baby salmon and other sea life.

In recent years, marine biologists have noted a number of other marine species, like juvenile Great White sharks extending their range further north -- to waters near Monterey. Theories have centered on climate change, and warming ocean temperatures.

VIDEO: Climate change impacting migration of juvenile great white sharks in Pacific

Researchers are watching a weather pattern in the Pacific that they say is having an impact on the migration patterns of juvenile great white sharks.

Stanford marine science professor Mark Denny, says the forces could be even more complex.

"Which is one of the big messages out of Ben's paper is that you can't just look at the water temperature went up. So they move, you know, well, you've got to have, you know, the competition with other things. And, and the lower oxygen levels and things like that, to explain, it's all you need is for pictures you can get to arrive at, you know, some predictability with these things," says professor Denny.

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They say it's all critical to understanding which species might be on the move in coming decades, along with where they might wind up. And just as importantly, the impact they could have on everything from fishing to local ecosystems once they establish themselves.

"Who are they eating? Who's eating them? Who are they competing with? Things like that... because when you see an animal, a new a new animal and ecosystem, they're essentially taking resources away from that ecosystem. That's kind of a pessimistic view, but like, you know, their growth and abundance is getting energy from somewhere," says Burford.