Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Surfeit of Squid

I had a good laugh at my own expense recently. I was visiting South Arm Neck and walking along the reserve at the western end, looking for the wader flock. I heard this guttural sound, somewhat reminiscient of a heron's call and not a call I was familiar with. Thinking this might be my lucky day, I started looking for the source. Well to stop this story reaching epic proportions, I'll tell you it turned out to be a sound emitted by a 40+cm. long, beached Arrow Squid! It was expelling air in a way that I assume would normally propel it forward when it's in water, and producing this odd sound. It turned out to be one of dozens washed up, many of which I returned to the sea, although as the tide was fast ebbing, I suspect this only prolonged their life by a few hours.
Several hundred metres out in the bay, I could see a large flock of gulls, terns and cormorants in a great melee, chasing what I assumed was bait fish. However looking at some of the enlarged images, it appears more likely that the squid was the quarry, perhaps being chased by 'couta or some other predatory fish, as the cormorants only seemed to be eating strips of squid and the gulls certainly couldn't take a whole one.

Later, back along the Neck, I watched the interactions, and strategies of birds as they vied for the spoils. Top of the heap were the Forest Ravens, more than capable of tearing up the squid, but as they could only feed on the squid on the beach, the Kelp Gulls would pull them back into the water. The prized bits were the head and tentacles, and I watched as one Kelp Gull wolfed down the entire head etc., in one piece, quite a feat, which changed it's silhouette considerably! Even pairs of Kelp Gulls argued over the free feed, as the image at the bottom shows. Both birds had pieces of the same squid, but what I believe is the male (on left), decided it preferred the bit the female had. By aggresive posturing, as you can see, it got it's own way, and they swapped pieces. Incidentally, the Silver Gulls were reduced to scavenging for left overs, seemingly unable to pull the squid apart by themselves.


John Tongue said...

What an amazing spectacle, Alan.

BirdingTas said...

Hi John,
Yes, apparently there's a large number of these squid about at the moment and that can make fishing quite fraught. But it is a bonanza for some birds. I seem to remember that they were caught commercially in the past, although I suspect they were largely used for bait.

BirdingTas said...

Thought I should clarify why the squid make fishing fraught! Squid are pretty voracious and, when there are a lot about, often, as you bring in any fish, they'll grab hold of that fish and tear large chunks out of the flesh, or worse, you'll lose the catch altogether.

John Tongue said...

I've experienced this myself at times when fishing - makes you think you've got a pretty big catch, that 'fights' in quite a strange way. Quite difficult to actually land the squid, though, unless you have the right gear for them.

Snail said...


And now I have visions of you rolling the squid back out to sea, like a small scale whale-beaching.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Snail,
I just took pity on them. In different circumstances and had I been better prepared, I might well have collected them and eaten them myself!