Scientists hope an underwater acoustic system can help find out why squid like this one beached near Tofino, B.C., have moved into the north Pacific. ((Submitted by Nikki Laine))

Scientists have begun attaching tracking devices to squid off the coast of Vancouver Island to find out why the marine animals have wandered so far from their traditional territory.

They also hope to find out why the squid have been beaching themselves and dying by the hundreds this summer near the town of Tofino on the island's west coast.

Two great batches of Humboldt squid washed ashore, one in August then another in September. The Humboldt is a species of squid that, up to now, has been associated with waters warmer than those found off Vancouver Island.

"The whole town was talking about it — 'have you seen the squid, have you seen the squid?'" said marine biologist Josie Osborne of the Raincoast Education Society.

"And they were asking, 'what are these,' because most people, myself included, we had never seen them before."

John Payne, a marine biologist with the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Project (POST), said the events show that oceans are changing. "And I think we're going to see a lot more strandings."

POST is a non-profit organization that tracks marine animals using an underwater acoustic network with listening devices all along the west coast of North America. The devices pick up the signals sent out by animals that have had electronic transmitting devices attached to them.


Acoustic tracking posts along the west coast are marked as red dots, with the inset showing a detail of posts off British Columbia. ((Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Project))

Payne is attaching the devices — they resemble lipstick tubes —  to about two dozen squid that will be captured and released near Tofino.

"It's very hard to attach anything to a squid, because they're very flexible," said Payne.

There's more than an academic interest in the squid's wandering ways. The animal is a voracious predator, said Payne, and fishermen off the Pacific coast are concerned about the impact of the squid on their fish catch.

"Hake trolls off the coast of Washington are catching 30 tonnes of squid, some of them as much as 80 tonnes," said Payne.


  • The Raincoast Education Society's biologist is named Josie Osborne, not Josie Anderson as initially reported.
    Oct 11, 2009 8:10 AM PT