More than 280 species of squid (Cephalopods) can be found shimmying their mantles throughout the planet's oceans. Here are five of them: Bobtail squid, Caribbean squid, Bigfin reef squid, Striped pyjama squid, Humbold squid.
Many squids are easily spooked and therefore are a challenge for scuba divers to spot; but if you catch squid communicating with each other — courting, perhaps, or sending a predator a message toget lost — you'll be treated to one of diving's most colorful encounters. From the tiny, colorful bobtail squid to intimidating Humboldts that tip the scales at more than 200 pounds, these are five must-dive locations for encounters with these out-of-this- world creatures.
An estimated 20 million Humboldt squid call the Sea of Cortez home. But an encounter with this formidable predator, which can grow up to eight feet long and has hooks inside the suckers on its tentacles (and a penchant for hunting in packs), isn't for the faint of heart. Humboldt squids are most often spotted on live-aboard routes between Loreto and Santa Rosalia, hanging out at depths of 400 to 500 feet. But at night (and sometimes during afternoon dives too), divemasters will use a jig to pull them up to shallower depths so diverscan get in the water with them. You'll be attached to the boat by a lifeline to ensure you don't get swept away in the current, or worse — there are tall tales of Humboldt squids grabbing hold of divers and attempting to drag them down to the depths.
When to go for cephalopods: June through October
When the tiny bobtail squid is feeling defensive, it will burrow into the sand, using two smaller arms to sweep a sandy camouflage coat over its body, leaving only its eyes exposed. One of the world's most beautiful cephalopods, it sports a delicately spotted pattern of iridescent blues, purples and greens. Also known as the dumpling squid for its plump, compact form, the bobtail squid can grow up to three inches long. While bobtail squid tend to stay hidden in the sand by day, night dives — anywhere there's a sandy or mucky bottom like Blue Lagoon off Padangbai or northeast Bali's Tulamben Bay — give you the bestshot of a sighting. Try not to shine your dive light directly at the squid once you've got it in your line of sight, as it'll be sure to spook.
When to go for cephalopods: Bobtail squid can be seen year-round off Bali, but divemasters say April to May and September to October bring the most reliable sightings.
An elusive resident of Cozumel's colorful reefs, the shy Caribbean reef squid is almost never seen during the day — which gives you all the more reason to plan an awesome night dive! You'll have your best shot at diving with these broad-bodied cephalopods, which grow to about nearly eight inches in length, during shallow reef dives (in the 30- to 50-foot range) at sites like Yukab Reef and Paradise Reef. Their colors range from mottled green to brown, and zebra patterns are one of the more than 30 costume changes that Caribbean reef squid can make in any given show. Caribbean reef squid are one of just a few squid species to sport 10 arms instead of the traditional eight, and are typically unafraid of bubble-blowing divers (if not downright curious). If you get lucky enough to happen upon a mating school during a night dive, be prepared for a trippy experience — themales flash their colors furiously in an all-out contest to attract females, illuminating their bodies with patterns of red, green and yellow.
When to go for cephalopods: Year-round
Just prior to bigfin reef squid mating season, dive operators on Japan's Izu Peninsula, southwest of Tokyo, sink bamboo branches at depths of about 50 feet to form nurseries to attract theanimals. Often mistaken for cuttlefish due to large mantles, the males can grow to three feet long (females max out at two feet). Look for the boys challenging each other with wonderful displays of color while the ladies are busy laying eggs (adrenalin diving). One fascinating behavior to watch is when the male flashes bright colors on the top of his body at his competitors, while emitting a white tone on his underside to his love interest. After the squid finish mating they die, which is when you might see moray eels and other predators capitalizing on an impromptu feast.
When to go for cephalopods: When the waters off Izu Peninsula warm up (usually around May to late June), the bigfin reef squid gather in large numbers to court and lay eggs. Another round of mating takes in place in August and September.
As its name might suggest, nighttime is the right time to spot the jauntily striped squid that likes to hide its pinstriped self amid rocky rubble and sea grass. Found throughout Australia, striped pyjama squid largely stay burrowed in the sand by day; the cover of darkness beckons them out of hiding to hunt for shrimp and small fish. Shore dives at Bare Island, on the northern end of Sydney's Botany Bay, are a good place to seek them out. Look for their small white or brown bodies that appear to be painted the entire length, with brownish stripes and the telltale yellow coloring over their pupils. If you can tear yourself away from the striped pyjama squid, keep a lookout for weedy sea dragons, giant cuttlefish and nudi- branchs as well.
When to go for cephalopods: Year-round, but waters are at their warmest during the southern hemisphere summer (December through March).
Why Squid Change Colors?
Squid move by jet propulsion and are armed with ink, which they fire off to disorient predators. But it's the chromatophores — pigment sacs surrounded by muscles that expand to flash a certain pattern or hue — on their top layer of skin that are responsible for their hallucinogenic displays and keen camouflaging. These patterns are used for a number of reasons, including: defensive camouflage from predators, offensive camouflage for hunting prey, and to communicate with other squid (especially for mating).