Sitka Sound Science center hatches new experiment

A view of the squid eggs from the top of the tank. (Brielle Schaeffer, KCAW photo)
A view of the squid eggs from the top of the tank. (Brielle Schaeffer, KCAW photo)

The Sitka Sound Science Center raises millions of salmon at the Sheldon Jackson Hatchery every year but recently the organization started nurturing another type of sea creature.

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A few weeks ago, Roger Vallion was diving on the anchor near the center’s salmon net pens when he found a curious, white egg mass.

He brought this to the attention of Angie Bowers, the center’s aquaculture director.

“And he came up and said, ‘I don’t know what they are?’” she said. “So I had seen a video, NOAA had actually found some eggs and hatched them out last year that they found at Little Port Walter and I had showed them that and said, ‘Is this what they look like?’ So he went back down and got them.”

Now, the Sitka Sound Science Center has a very important question to answer. Here’s research biologist Lauren Bell: “What are little baby squid called?”

The eggs are being kept in a heated tank, around 7 degrees or so because any cooler than that and they won’t hatch, Bowers says. She’s assuming the eggs were fertilized.

“You can see the individual eggs in the pods but you can’t see the developing squid yet,” Bowers said.

The common name for these creatures is market squid. Southeast Alaska isn’t out of the cephalopod’s range, which stretches the eastern Pacific Ocean up from Mexico, but typically spawning for market squid doesn’t occur here, she says. And it could be a side-effect of climate change.

“Squid are often pointed to as the animal that would quote unquote win or do better with changing climate conditions because they only live two years usually so they can adapt to changes really quick,” Bell said. “Some people theorize we may see more quid showing up in our waters.”

And market squid only live 7-9 months, Bowers says, and grow to 8-10 inches. Humans use them for bait and food, like calamari.

Right now the squid tank is just an experiment for the center. The scientists want to see if they can actually get the market to hatch. And who knows, Bowers says, maybe one day there will be a squid fishery here? But until then…

“We’ll just try to keep as many of them alive as we can and just hope for the best,” Bowers said. “We don’t have many expectations at this point we just hope we get to that point.”

And if all goes well, the center will have thousands of little baby squid, also known as hatchlings, in the tank in about a month or so. That’s something Bell is really looking forward to.

“They’re very adorable, baby squid,” Bell said. “Lots of squid are characterized by their big tentacles so they their eight arms and two big tentacles when they’re adults but as babies when they come out their tentacles are fused together. That actually starts to separate as they grow.”

If they do hatch, Bell says, the Sitka Sound Science center will throw a squid birthday party.