Thousands of jumbo flying squid — aggressive 1.5m sea monsters with razor-sharp beaks and toothy tentacles — have invaded the shallow waters off San Diego, spooking scuba divers and washing up dead on tourist-packed beaches.
The carnivorous calamari, which can grow up to 45kg, came up from the depths last week and swarms of them roughed up unsuspecting divers. Some divers report tentacles enveloping their masks and yanking at their cameras and gear.
Stories of too-close encounters with the cephalopods have chased many divers out of the water and created a whirlwind of excitement among the rest, who are torn between their personal safety and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim with the deep-sea giants.
The Humboldt squid are native to the deep waters off Mexico, where they have been known to attack humans and are nicknamed “red devils” for their rust-red coloring and mean streak. Those who dive with them there put bait in the water and sometimes get in a metal cage or wear chain mail to avoid being lashed by tentacles.
“I wouldn’t go into the water with them for the same reason I wouldn’t walk into a pride of lions on the Serengeti,” said Mike Bear, a local diver.
The squid are too deep to bother swimmers and surfers, but many longtime divers say they are staying out of the surf until the sea creatures clear out.
Roger Uzun, a veteran scuba diver and amateur underwater videographer, swam with a swarm of the creatures for about 20 minutes and said they appeared more curious than aggressive. The animals taste with their tentacles, he said, and seemed to be touching him and his wet suit to determine if he was edible.
“As soon as we went underwater and turned on the video lights, there they were. They would ram into you, they kept hitting the back of my head,” he said.
“One got a hold of the video light head and yanked on it for two or three seconds and he was actually trying to take the video light with him,” said Uzun, who later posted a three-minute video with his underwater footage on YouTube. “It almost knocked the video camera out of my hands.”
Scientists aren’t sure why the squid, which generally live in deep, tropical waters off Mexico and Central America, are swarming off the Southern California coast.