Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Squid, Octopus, and Cuttlefish Up: Good News in the Ocean?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Squid, Octopus, and Cuttlefish Up: Good News in the Ocean?

Article excerpt

It's rare to hear about life doing well in the oceans these days. But cephalopods - a group of marine animals that includes squids, octopuses, and cuttlefish - are thriving.

And cephalopods aren't merely getting by. Over the past six decades they've been on the rise, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Current Biology.

"It is certainly nice to see something going up," study lead author Zoe Doubleday, a marine biologist at the University of Adelaide, tells The Christian Science Monitor.

But there could be a downside to such an abundance.

"From a squid's perspective, it is good news," says Michael Vecchione, director of the NOAA Fisheries National Systematics Laboratory and an invertebrate zoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History who was not part of the new study. But "maybe not from a fish's perspective."

Cephalopods "are really voracious predators," Dr. Vecchione explains to the Monitor. "They have a high metabolic rate, high growth rate and as a result they have a high requirement for food. So they eat a lot of stuff. If there are a lot of squids out there eating juvenile fishes, it could make it more difficult for the fish populations to recover."

But cephalopods aren't just big eaters. They're also food sources for many larger marine animals, birds, and humans, Dr. Doubleday says. And, she says, balance might return to the food chain over time.

"Nature has a way of self-regulating," Doubleday says. Perhaps this growing population will hit a point when there isn't enough food to support such an abundance. And, "they're highly cannibalistic," she says, "so they might self-regulate by eating each other. That often happens when food is limited."

"They might crash just as much as they've increased," Doubleday says.

Why so many cephalopods?Cephalopods are often called "weeds of the sea," Doubleday says. "Like the weeds in your garden, they're the first things that respond to change or disturbance."

These animals grow quickly, have short lifespans, and can adapt quickly to new environmental conditions, she explains. And those attributes likely come together to make it easier for cephalopods to thrive in the changing oceans. …

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