Nfld. & Labrador

Why squads of squid are giving this scientist hope

Bays in Newfoundland and Labrador were filled with squid in late summer for the first time in decades. Researchers say it's hard to know why because the species is hard to study.

The squid's short lifespan makes it hard to study — researchers depend on science from U.S.

The squid that come to waters in Newfoundland and Labrador are called northern shortfin squid. Researchers say they are hard to study because they move such long distances in the ocean and die after one year. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Late this summer, squid showed up in abundance in many bays in the province, a sight not seen in several harbours, including Holyrood, for decades.

Why have the squid finally come back?

Krista Baker, a research scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, says it's hard to say. You know that funny Newfoundland and Labrador expression, "You never know the mind of a squid"? It turns out, for researchers it's true.

Baker said squid are notoriously hard to study because they are so elusive.

"They're very fast-growing and short-lived," she said. "They live less than a year, so you can't really follow one very easily, and they're highly migratory."

No known spawning sites in Canada

The squid that come into Newfoundland and Labrador waters are called northern shortfin squid. While they've been seen in great numbers near beaches, squid don't come here to spawn. In fact, according to Baker, there are no known spawning sites in all of Canada.

"The female squid that we see here are actually immature and maturing," said Baker. "They all spawn off the United States from about New Jersey down to Florida and then their eggs they spawn use the Gulf Stream to come north."

Squid move out to the edge of the continental shelf in summer and early autumn we start seeing them here in coastal areas. Squid move back out to the shelf in late fall and then back to to their spawning areas in the U.S. Then, shortly after spawning, they die.

Squid sit in a fish pan in Holyrood, N.L. (Jane Adey/CBC)

On top of the fact that they're long-distance travellers, squid are hard to track because they move up and down in the water column.

"They tend to feed at night high in the water column and then in the day they move back down. Our trawl surveys do an ok job of collecting them in the day but at night, we miss them."

Despite all the moving about in the ocean, here is some of what researchers do know about the northern shortfin squid:

  • It's a cephalopod like the octopus.
  • It eats small crustaceans. As it grows it starts eating fish — juvenile Atlantic cod or Arctic cod — and then as it grows even larger, it starts to cannibalize other squid.
  • It reproduces in spawning aggregations. Males deposit sperm within females.
  • It squirts black ink to distract predators and uses jet propulsion to get away.
  • It has eight arms and two tentacles. Tentacles are longer and are used to capture food and bring it to the mouth.
  • It can grow up to 30 centimetres in our waters.

Baker says DFO has a little over two decades of data on squid abundance.

What researchers know is that in 2017 and 2018 we saw large increases in the number of squid in Newfoundland and Labrador waters.

"The abundance that we saw in 2018 was actually five times the long-term average.So we were hoping to hear good indications of a good year this year, and so far it seems that way," said Baker.

Reliance on U.S. research

DFO researchers won't have exact 2019 estimates until fall surveys are complete. Surveys start in a couple of weeks and end in mid-December.

Baker says researchers here rely on information from their colleagues in the United States.

"It''s really the spawning grounds that are driving what we're seeing in Newfoundland."

Since there's hope that squid will continue to be plentiful in future years, a collective noun might be helpful for description. What do you call a group of squid? That would be a shoal of squid, or a squad.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Jane Adey

CBC News

Jane Adey hosts CBC Radio's The Broadcast, and has worked for many other CBC programs, including Here & Now, Land & Sea and On The Go.

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