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Diver recounts close encounter with squid before earthquake

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By at least one eyewitness account, the jumbo-size Humboldt squid rarely seen in La Jolla waters which have been turning up in large numbers recently are curious and aggressive with divers - but not threatening, at least not life-threatening.

When Cynthia Velazquez and her dive partner Roger Uzun of San Diego heard last week that large squid were being sighted, they decided to pay them a visit Friday night.

That was before people spotted the sea creatures on the beach Saturday, shortly after an offshore earthquake. Some speculated the squid might have been disoriented by the quake.

Armed with bright floodlights and a video camera, the pair went searching for squid about 8:30 p.m. in 30-foot-deep water off La Jolla Shores on July 10.

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It didn’t take long for them to find - or be found by - the object of their search.

“They were already there waiting for us,” said Velazquez, a veteran diver with extensive experience locally and in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. “At first there were about four of them, 4- to 5-feet long, and later there were probably like 10. They were very curious. They came right up to us: inches away from our faces.”

As the half-hour-long encounter between humans and squid continued, Velazquez said the marine animals became bolder.

“One of them tried to grab my light from my hand and take it away,” she said, adding they reacted the same way with her dive partner who had the video camera. “They tried to take his strobe. They were actually grabbing it and pulling it away. They also tried to take off his mask.”

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Velazquez said the squid were definitely not afraid of them.

‘They were just swimming around us,” she added. “They tried to sneak behind us. They were following us. When I turned, they were right there next to my face.”

It was a fun experience, concluded Velazquez. “It’s really nice to see something different,” she said.

But she warned that new divers be extra careful in approaching the squid if they see them because “they may freak out with an experience like this, causing them to breathe faster and have a potential issue underwater.”

San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Andy Lerum confirmed Humboldt squid have been washing up on the beach lately, but he said it hasn’t been in great numbers.

“It’s been one, two or three per day, mostly coming up in and around Children’s Pool, south Casa Beach,” he said. “The first one was sighted last Wednesday (July 8). They’ve been anywhere from 10 to 18 pounds, so they’re pretty sizable. I don’t know why they’re washing up.”

Clifford Beshers was walking south from Bird Rock Saturday morning and first noticed a squid when he got to Calumet Park.

“I saw one of them in the water, swimming very slowly and without direction, definitely dazed,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It swam right up onto the rocks and never made it back in. I then noticed that there were a few already beached.”

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Nigella Hillgarth, executive director of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps who herself found a giant squid washed up on the beach on Saturday, said “It’s happening every year now - we’re getting swarming Humboldts in really large numbers off our coast and the various beaches.

She said the one she saw “clearly was dying, nearly four feet long, beautiful, dark red, off Bird Rock.”

Noting it’s a relatively recent occurrence, Hillgarth said that Humboldts have been turning up in June the last few years. She surmised that the squid are showing up with increasingly regularity in summer because the fish they hunt are moving further north following warmer waters.

“We get other species of squid locally during different times of the year, but large squid is a relatively new phenomenon for us,” she noted. “I’ve heard folks doing night dives have been mistaken for prey by these squid.”

VIDEO

Courtesy of Roger Uzun