On March 29th 2009, a SeaBotix LBV200L ROV discovered and filmed a squid egg bed at 97m (318ft) off of the La Jolla, CA coastline. The egg bed, created by spawning California Market Squid, is one of the deepest ever filmed for this type of cephalopod. The SeaBotix ROV was participating in a privately run squid monitoring project being organized by two local San Diego divers.
The local divers, Gary Hawkins and Michael Sanderson, had started out with the intention of filming the annual California Market Squid run that occurs in La Jolla Canyon. However, after capturing images of the squid aggregating under the gathering squid fishing fleet, they found that there was huge interest in this topic in the local aquatic community. With input from researchers at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, UCSD, and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA, the divers went onto locate a massive squid egg bed (estimated to cover an area approximately equivalent to two NFL football fields) in the 20 - 30m (65 - 98ft) range off the La Jolla coast close to the southern walls of La Jolla Canyon.
The video of this discovery was seen by SeaBotix personnel who then offered their services to further the investigation into the ongoing squid spawn. With the deep diving capabilities of the LVB200L, one of the main tasks the ROV undertook on March 29th was to investigate deep into La Jolla Canyon north of the egg bed. While squid eggs were seen scattered all the way down the canyon walls, the discovery of further large egg beds at 77m (252ft) and 97m (318ft) was extremely exciting.
Lou Zeidberg from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a leading expert in California Market Squid comments: "Most market squid egg beds occur between 15m (49ft) and 70m (230ft). Observing eggs at 97m (318ft) represents one of the deeper sightings and demonstrates the advantage of ROV surveys. With an ROV we can observe the sea floor for longer periods of time and at deeper depths than with scuba. ROV surveys of squid egg beds have been conducted in the past by NOAA and National Geographic Magazine. In March of 1953, Scripps researcher John McGowan first investigated La Jolla squid egg beds. After hearing of fishermen filling their nets with eggs, he sought out the assistance of local Navy divers to use a new invention, the Aqua-lung, to get a closer look. Now 56 years later, the roles are reversed as local divers, Gary Hawkins and Michael Sanderson, have reached out to scientists like myself and Mike Navarro at Scripps to add some background to their findings. One of the difficulties of being a marine biologist is just getting an opportunity to observe the research subjects. Sometimes we raise the money to research at sea and then the animals are just not there. Partnering with local divers and private industry like SeaBotix can reduce our costs and increase our access to inhospitable locations or short-lived phenomena."
In what turned out to be a six week monitoring project, the local divers undertook fifteen dives, shot close to eight hours of video and spent countless hours editing and documenting their findings. In addition, the SeaBotix ROV captured over an hour of high-quality footage at depths outside of those accessible to recreational scuba. All video and anecdotal observations are being provided to researchers at UCSD, UCLA and other facilities for further analysis.
Mike Navarro, a graduate student from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, who participated in some of the dives noted: "This is one of the few times that market squid eggs have been observed in nature through the entirety of this critical life stage-from just being laid until when they hatch. These videos are important for scientists to create a method for monitoring squid egg beds to further understand the factors that allow squid to persist. It is very encouraging to see cooperation of this type between private individuals, industry and research institutes to further our knowledge about this species and produce such an array of intriguing videos."
Don Rodocker, founder and president of SeaBotix comments" "We are thrilled to have been part of this project and delighted to have made these discoveries. The LBV200L is ideally suited to this type of deep investigation and observation." The ROV used was equipped with external LEDs and a grabber. The LBV200L comes with a 250 meter (810ft) umbilical and is rated to a depth of 200m (660ft). It is equipped with four oil-compensated, brushless DC thrusters. There is 1-lateral, 2-forward, and 1-vertical thruster, enabling maneuverability in four axes, just like a helicopter.
A more detailed description of, and videos from, the squid monitoring project can be found at the following website, www.sunray-productions.com/squid.html.