Chile, thousands of dead squid washed ashore but no one knows why

Over the past week, thousands of dead squid washed up on the Chilean shores of Santa María Island. The reason for the mass die-off of these large cephalopods is so far a mystery.

An apocalyptic scenario: tens of thousands of dead Humboldt squids (Dosidicus gigas) have been washed up on the shores of Santa Maria Island in Chile over the past week. However, scientists still ignore the causes of this mysterious mass die-off.


Calamaro di Humboldt
Experts say Humboldt squid may have died due to increased sea water temperatures  © Danny Frank/robertharding/Corbis


The mass deaths of these large cephalopods may have been caused to increased sea water temperatures, linked to El Niño, but other forms of pollution haven’t been excluded. The decomposition of the animals, besides originating a terrific smell, raises concern for local population’s health. In fact, many bulldozers are working to collect and bury carcasses.

In order to shed light on the phenomenon, the technicians of the Chilean Service for Fisheries and Aquaculture (Sernapesca) have collected samples of dead squid and sea water for analysis in specialised centres. Islanders are used to see fish and cephalopods wash ashore this period of the year, but it’s the very first time the phenomenon has reached biblical proportions.


According to Rodrigo Valencia of Sernapesca, the Humboldt squid die-off may have been caused by the so called upwelling, an oceanographic phenomenon that involves wind-driven motion of dense, cooler, and usually nutrient-rich water towards the ocean surface, replacing the warmer, usually nutrient-depleted surface water.


Calamaro che nuota
Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) could swim up to 24km per hour © Louise Murray/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis


This phenomenon lures whales and other large predators, causing “a drop in oxygen levels, which led to the death of these creatures,” Valencia said.

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