Dead Squid Moms Are a Gift to the Ocean Floor

By Elizabeth Preston | December 22, 2017 11:29 am

Image captured from a video camera mounted on underwater remotely operated vehicle DocRicketts on dive number 344. The original MBARI video tape number is D0344-02HD. This image is from timecode 01:18:55:10 and time Sun Feb 26 14:51:02 2012 GMT. The recorded edited location and environmental measurements at time of capture are Lat= 24.409134 Lon= -109.883450 Depth= 1252.64 m Temp= 3.537 C Sal= 34.575 PSU Oxy= 1.915 ml/l Xmiss= 86.75%. The Video Annotation and Reference system concept: associations for this image is 'Gonatidae: identity-reference 3, life-stage dead, image-quality good'.

Animals living on the ocean floor, where it’s too dark for anything to grow, have to wait for food to fall on them. Mostly this means they eat “marine snow,” a steady drift of tiny life forms and detritus from the ocean’s surface. But robotic expeditions off the coast of Mexico have revealed what might be another major dining option on the ocean floor: dead squid moms.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) sent one of its remotely operated vehicles to explore deep basins in the Gulf of California between 2012 and 2015. With its cameras, the robotic submarine captured a surprising number of squid carcasses.

Eleven out of 80 dives came across sites where squid had fallen to the ocean floor. In the videos, researchers saw not just squid bodies, but crumpled black sheets that had fallen with the squid, as in the photo above. These were the remains of squid egg sheets. Certain squid called gonatids carry these sheets—embedded with developing embryos, and apparently darkened with ink—in their arms until their babies hatch.

Gonatids, like other squid, have short life spans. Male and female squid both die after they’ve reproduced. Some types of female squid start to physically disintegrate while they’re still making their eggs, then float to the surface and are eaten by birds after they’ve released the eggs. But in the Gulf of California, many squid moms appear to sink after their babies hatch, still clutching their egg sheets. The researchers also found squid egg sheets on the ocean floor without carcasses, and assumed these sheets fell with squid that had already been eaten.

Between carcasses and empty egg sheets, the researchers saw the remains of 64 squid on these dives. They spotted sea stars, crabs, and other scavengers feasting on the carcasses—though the scientists note that these animals weren’t as enthusiastic about eating the egg sheets, which may be “less palatable.”

Extrapolating to the whole region, the authors calculate that fallen squid may be a major and overlooked part of the ocean-floor food chain. As climate change seems to be increasing squid populations, that means expired squid moms may be more and more on the menu.

Image: MBARI

  • John Thompson

    “As climate change seems to be increasing squid populations, that means expired squid moms may be more and more on the menu.”
    In general a warmer planet supports more life. Unlike the rhetoric, climate changes are as likely to bring benefits as harms (with the edge going to benefits since warmer places support more human and animal life than colder places).

    • Sommertider

      Great to see retards can write too. Your mommy must be so proud.

      • John Thompson

        Shall we look at global population maps for humans?
        Why are the warmest regions the most populated?
        Guess what that same map would look like without artificial heating?
        Even more people in the warmer regions.
        The same is true for other forms of life.
        Cold is the significant limiting factor for life – though clearly the few forms of life that can handle the cold would lose in a warmer planet, the more numerous ones adapted to the heat would benefit.
        As I said, and is true for any change – there will always be winners and losers.
        Consider that over 98% of all life was not in it’s current ranges/locations just 15,000 years ago.
        Permanence is an illusion.
        Change is the constant.

        • OWilson

          Wicked Stepmother Nature herself has killed of 99% of all species that ever existed, with no help from humans! :)

        • Erik Q. J.

          Shall we look at global population maps for humans?

          A great idea! Next, look at world food production. Here, for instance:

          The thing is, rain forests are excellent for breeding bugs, but not so much for agriculture. The soil tends to be both thin and poor.

          Why are the warmest regions the most populated?

          If you did as I suggested, you’ll know that it’s not because they produce more food. Other things it’s NOT are:
          – Because people migrate to the warmest regions
          – Because they have less disease in the warmest regions
          – Because they have greater resources in the warmest regions
          – Because they have lower infant mortality in the warmest regions
          – Because they have longer life expectancy in the warmest regions

          It’s also not historically the case that they have had the highest population density, nor the highest population growth. So, why? Simple enough: When the more modern countries reduced their population growth, as a result of higher standards of living and political decisions, the poorer countries didn’t.

          Guess what that same map would look like without artificial heating? Even more people in the warmer regions. Cold is the significant limiting factor for life

          I’m going to assume that you meant “with even more artificial heating”.

          You’re right that cold is one limiting factor, of course. So is drought. So is heat.

          There are temperatures at which the plants most useful to us will die. There are most certainly temperatures where humans will live on the edge, if at all. Several places already have such temperatures that their agriculture can’t support their current population; a situation that will become worse, with higher temperatures.

          the more numerous ones adapted to the heat would benefit.

          Most of the biodiversity in tropical climates is insects and inedible plants. A lot is parasites and other disease causing organisms. Even these are important to preserve, for numerous reasons, but they’re not immediately useful.

          though clearly the few forms of life that can handle the cold would lose in a warmer planet,

          Along with life forms that cannot transplant themselves fast enough to keep ahead of the changes. Of course, they’ll all be replaced, through evolution. That’s a long process, though, and also little comfort if we’re one of those life forms

          Consider that over 98% of all life was not in it’s current ranges/locations just 15,000 years ago.

          Really? There is documentation for this? I looked, but couldn’t find it. It certainly seems peculiar, that tropical life forms would’ve preferred to be closer to the poles, during an ice age…

          Permanence is an illusion. Change is the constant.

          Absolutely. And artificially rapid change is lethal.

    • Erik Q. J.

      If there are life forms that can take advantage of the heat, and the heat is accompanied by moisture, then, yes, heat will usually mean more life. If there aren’t, then it’ll mean less life, until life forms have evolved to take advantage. Humans certainly aren’t adapted to conditions warmer than the present tropics, but neither are plants and animals.

      From the perspective of agriculture and food production, temperate and sub-tropical conditions are better. The soil is more stable, seasonal variations are more reliable, and both drought and flood is less likely. There are also fewer diseases, both for plants and animals.

      A fast temperature change will force ecosystems to either move themselves quickly, to keep up with their needed climate, or die. Human habitation and use of the land will make that difficult. A fast change will also mean that adaptation and evolution won’t be able to keep up; especially long living species won’t be replaced at the same pace that they die out.

      For fisheries, the most productive waters in the world are cold. The reason is simple; cold water can dissolve more gas, including oxygen. Both for fish and other creatures relying on cold conditions, the needed climate won’t simply move; it’ll disappear.

      The speed of such changes will result in even surviving ecosystems to become severely unbalanced. The first species to migrate, will be the ones who are hampered by other species in their own ecosystem. They’ll then find themselves without natural limitations to their numbers, making them destructive to the ecosystems they invade.

      For humans, fast changing climate will also cause major political complications, especially along the Equator, where conditions are already on the extreme of what laife has evolved for. Large populations will be on the move, and unlikely to be very welcome where they’re headed. Governments will find it hard to sustain themselves, much less the population, and will compete between each other for dwindling resources.

      All of this, of course, is assuming that there won’t be severe disruptions in weather patterns. If there are, we may find an increase in both deserts and swamps, squeezing habitable zones between them.

      But, sure, if you live life as a continuous beach vacation, warm weather is great. Except if there’s a hurricane. Or a flood. Or you contract a tropical disease. Or run out of money to pay for increasingly expensive food. Or get caught up in unrest or war. All details, of course.

      • OWilson

        That you, Al?

        Meanwhile, in the real world, as the Earth slightly warms between repeated natural Ice Ages, World Agricultural Food Production is setting records, year after year.

        The most recent warming epoch, which started some 12,000 years ago kicked off human civilization!

        They tell us its never been warmer, and humans have never had it so good!

        Obesity is a major problem for developed society. today you can live a long comfortable life without even working!

        The only thing you have to fear, is fear itself!

        • Erik Q. J.

          Of course the Earth has had higher temperatures before. It’s even been warmer while H. Sapiens was around. The last time it was as warm as it is today, though, is 100,000 years ago. The problem isn’t that it’s getting warmer. It’s that it’s happening fast, and that natural reversal will take much longer than the artificial warming does. You know, it took nature quite a while to put all that coal, oil, and gas into the ground; it’s not a speedy process.

          We’ll either have to stop warming, or at least slow it down significantly, or find an artificial way of reversing it by the time the changes turn to disaster. Since we already have the technologies to stop the warming, without any loss to quality of life, it would be ridiculous to not use it, and instead gamble on some unknown future technology. Especially since, as the secondary problems mount, any solution will become more expensive and less complete.

          If you think that modern living standards are a direct result of warming, I’m unsure that any rational argument will have an effect, so I’ll just mention the real cause, and let you mull it over: Technology.

          Weather has always been a challenge, and will remain so for an indeterminate amount of time. It was a big enough challenge to begin with, though, and bigger yet by now, so there’s really no cause to go and make it bigger still.

          Every problem we incur by groundless delay, will either cause irreversible damage, or eat up future technological resources. You couldn’t run a mom-and-pop store with such shortsighted thinking, much less a species wide civilization.

          I’m afraid the biggest threat against us, is a disastrous lack of sapientiae, the very quality Linnaeus optimistically named us after.

          • Oakie Wilson

            Whether we have the technology to stop the warming “witihout any loss to the quality of life” depends on your personal perspective.

            The World’s 4 Largest Solar Companies just went bankrupt:

            Sun Edison

            and took some $25,000,000,000.00 in taxpayer subsidies with them.

            Nobody I know has ever questioned where all that money went!

            With a National Debt of $20,000,000,000,000.00 being kicked down the road to generations yet unborn, long after the present global warming crowd are dead, it seems nobody really cares enough to mention it on the Fake News Media!

  • OWilson

    Whether “we have the technology to stop the warming (and presumably the cooling Ice Ages) without any loss to the quality of life” depends on your personal faith in the effectiveness of current technology.

    The World’s 4 Largest Solar Companies just went bankrupt:

    Sun Edison

    and took some $25,000,000,000.00 in taxpayer subsidies with them.

    Nobody I know has ever questioned where all that money went!

    With a National Debt of $20,000,000,000,000.00 being kicked down the road to generations yet unborn, long after the present global warming crowd are dead, it seems nobody really cares enough to mention it on the Fake News Media!

    • Erik Q. J.

      The cooling ice ages won’t be a problem for a long time, provided we don’t do anything to accelerate it. You’re right, though; for purely selfish reasons, humanity will probably have to mitigate or stop the next ice age, when it comes, some thousands of years from now. That’s not exactly an immediate problem. For the next several hundred years, possibly thousands, depending on what we do in these days, global warming will be the threat.

      Solar power is now competitive against hydro power, in winter, in most of Norway. That’s in spite of hydro power historically being cheap to produce, Norway having a lot of water and elevation, and our days being short in winter. The technology is here.

      Unless the bankruptcy is due to a complete loss of demand, it’s a misunderstanding that the value of a company is lost, when it goes bankrupt. For most tech companies, the patents, factories, expertise, etc., merely changes hands. The only sure losers are the owners. If it results in significant restructuring, some employees may lose their jobs, which sucks for them, but doesn’t reduce the value of the assets.

      In this case, the market is huge, the patents are solid, and the expertise in great demand. Little or nothing will be lost. For society, which has subsidized the companies, who the owners are matters little; society’s interest is in seeing the technology developed and put to use.

      The reason why you and your favorite “news” media feel ignored, is that you keep supporting presidents that massively increase the national deficit, while complaining ceaselessly about Democrat presidents, even when they reduce the deficit, as Bill Clinton did. Even when repairing an economy ruined by Bush, Obama spent less money than Bush did. Now you’ve been at it again. Massive tax cuts for the wealthy, guarantied to increase the deficit, and deregulation, to ensure another massive bust in a few years.

      Of course, with Republicans in charge, everybody knows where the money goes, and where it comes from. It’s the trickle-up economy: From the middle class, to the very rich.

      • OWilson

        We know where the money goes alright

        Taxpayer subsidies of at least $25,000,000,000.00 down the drain.

        Obama doubled the National Debt to $20,000,000,000,000.00 and left 3 wars, ISIS, 2 dire nuclear threats, a new Cold War with Russia and a White House teaming with Russian spies, if all 17 Obama’s “Intelligence” Agencies are to be believed! :) Oh, and 1.75% anemic GDP. :)

        Crooked Hillary amassed a staggering $3,000,000,000.00 Global Family Empire (WP), with at least $2,450,000.00 of that being “donated” by a Russian dominated company.

        Yep we know where the money goes, but democrats and their Fake News Media seem downright uninterested when it is pocketed by the Dems and their pals. :)

        • Erik Q. J.

          I’ve given arguments regarding the subsidies. Simply repeating your claim isn’t an argument.

          No, Obama didn’t double the national debt, To do that, he would’ve had to have a greater deficit than Bush, which no president has had.

          The wars were started by Bush. Bush is also responsible for turning the previously secular Iraq into a cauldron of religious fanaticism, as well as destabilizing the entire region. I’ve pointed out to USAmericans countless times, since the Iraq War became likely to happen: This will be/is a mess that it will take decades to fix.

          ISIS was created by Bush. Obama laid the strategy that is currently crushing ISIS, with minimal US involvement. Hopefully, Trump will continue to use Obama’s strategy.

          North Korea made it’s final dash for nuclear weapons as soon as it became clear that the US was bogged down in Iraq. By the time Obama became president, it was already too late. A worrying thing about Trump, is that he seems to think that it’s not too late. If he fails to get this straight, he may get millions of civilians killed.

          Obama was left an economy that wasn’t merely in recession; the severity was that of a depression. He turned that into growth, while also establishing measures against another crash. Trump is currently removing those measures, and his buddies are getting into position to exploit that massively (which may very well generate a boom, unless he bungles even that), before sticking the middle class with the bill, again, in a few years.

          Money donated to the Clinton Foundation are in no way the property of any member of the Clinton family. The claim is popular, but not true.

          I actually agree that the current attitude amond Democrats, toward Russia, is unhealthy and irrational. That doesn’t mean that skepticism toward Russia isn’t appropriate, though. There’s no reason to believe that Russia is any better than the US, which is reason enough to be careful around them. The moral hypocrisy, though, is a bit much.

          Your numbers are undocumented, and clearly erroneous in many cases. Feel free to provide documentation for your claims, though.

          • OWilson

            Feel free to correct the numbers.

            But take your excuses and ‘splainin’ to Washington Post and New York Times where I got the numbers.

            Or just post your own “correct” numbers! :)

            We’ll wait! :)

          • Elizabeth Preston

            Hello! I’d say Hillary Clinton is pretty far from the point of this post, so let’s please end this conversation.

          • OWilson


            Somebody mentioned Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump’s “Massive tax cuts”, first.

            I couldn’t resist.

            I’ll try harder! :)



Like the wily and many-armed cephalopod, Inkfish reaches into the far corners of science news and brings you back surprises (and the occasional sea creature). The ink is virtual but the research is real.

About Elizabeth Preston

Elizabeth Preston is a science writer whose articles have appeared in publications including Slate, Nautilus, and National Geographic. She's also the former editor of the children's science magazine Muse, where she still writes in the voice of a know-it-all bovine. She lives in Massachusetts. Read more and see her other writing here.


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