Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Bodies donated to science

Their home was once the Pacific Ocean off Dana Point, about 400 to 500 feet below the surface. These days, it’s inside a plastic container at Orange Coast College, where the marine science department plans to embalm them before taking them into the classroom for dissection.

Last week, a pair of Humboldt squid — one weighing 45 pounds, the other 18 pounds — were caught by the crew of the Clemente, owned by Dana Wharf Sport fishing.

The crew then handed the squid over to Morgan Richie, an adjunct professor in marine science who helps narrate whale-watching tours for the crew.

Now, the squid will serve as hands-on learning tools for marine biology students.


Usually, the students have no other choice but to use much smaller, 7-inch-long “market squid” for dissection purposes, said Tom Garrison, a professor of marine science at the college.

“They’re usually small and flimsy, and they’re not much to work with because you have to float them in water,” Garrison said. “But these guys are big. They’re substantial. We shouldn’t have any problems taking their organs apart and seeing what’s inside them.”

Known scientifically as doscidicus gigas, the Humboldt squid have been consistently showing up in Southern California waters in the last five years, straying from their natural habitats off Mexico and Central America.

Because the squid are known to live in tropical or subtropical waters, whose levels are generally “oxygen poor,” many scientists theorize that their migration is an indication that Southern California’s ocean water is increasingly becoming depleted of oxygen.


The same goes for Oregon, Washington and parts of southeastern Alaska, where the Humboldt squid have also been sighted.

And, so, the fish have become the proverbial “canary in the cave,” their presence not necessarily a good thing, environmentally speaking. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t generated quite a bit of excitement, their reputations for their size, their short life span and voracious appetite often preceding them, Garrison said.

As he points out, “You don’t want to be in the water when they’re feeding.”

Already, squid boats have been spotted between Newport and Balboa piers as fishermen try to cash in on the fish while they can, capitalizing on their popularity.

“They’ll usually stay 300 to 400 feet down, but they’ll come up and grab at anything that’s shiny,” Garrison said. “They’ll even grab at a hook that doesn’t have bait.”

Mostly, the squid eat rockfish, bait fish, like northern anchovy, pacific hake and sardines — as well as bottom fish and other squid.

Their predators are humans, sperm whales, killer whales, tuna and billfish.

Now, OCC students will be able to learn more about them.


Cheryl Baker and Greg Russell, biology and anatomy instructors, wouldn’t mind plastinating the squid someday so they will become a permanent fixture at the college.

But first they have to raise the money to do so.

Plastination can cost thousands of dollars the more a specimen weighs, they said.