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Super squid in Sitka

Fisherman's big catch draws huge crowd

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

A bright-red, 12-foot-long visitor from the deep is providing a great lead-in for Sea Week in Sitka.

The massive squid, snagged by Kevin Kambak while longlining for black cod off Yakutat, drew a huge crowd to the harbor Wednesday morning before going on a road trip to local schools.

"This is the kind of thing you see on the Discovery Channel," said Tim Schroeder, coordinator of student services at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka campus.

Kambak said he caught the squid Saturday from his boat, the Kelsey Dawn. First, two halibut were brought up and tossed back, because Kambak does not have a halibut permit. Then another large mass started to appear from the depths.

"So here came a third one and I noticed it was covered with an octopus," he said.

Kambak stopped the line, leaving the mass below water - an octopus will put up a fight if exposed to the air, he said - and he noticed that the creature was no octopus.

It had "a head that was as big as this 150-pound halibut," he said.

Kambak tried to gaff the creature but tore through its mantle. He finally brought it aboard by hooking its beak, and saw that he had a massive squid that was feeding on the halibut.

The crew tossed back the halibut and put the squid on ice. One of Kambak's crew said he hoped the squid didn't have any larger relatives in the area.

The excitement on board died down after a few minutes - but that was only the beginning. When the Kelsey Dawn arrived in port Tuesday, word of the catch spread quickly and Kambak was deluged with requests.

"Everybody I mentioned this to wanted to see it, and I couldn't do individual showings, so I just said from 9 to noon I'll have it out on the boat," he said.

Hundreds of Sitka residents at a time took up his invitation, crowding the docks and forcing the harbor staff to control traffic.

"There were so many people on the docks it was sinking the floats," Deputy Harbormaster Lou McCall said.

Late Wednesday morning, the creature was transported to Sitka schools, including the two elementary schools and the high school.

Ann Walter, a third-grade teacher at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, said the squid provoked mixed reactions from students.

"Some thought it was cool, and others were squeamish," she said. "We're all about to start Sea Week here, so it was a great lead-in."

But, she added, "the whole school smells like squid now."

Tory O'Connell, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game in Sitka, said the squid apparently is a Moroteuthis robustus - big, but not the giant squid of sea legends.

O'Connell contacted the Smithsonian Institution with news of the catch. She said the most interesting thing about this squid is what it was doing when caught.

"What is cool is that it was trying to eat the halibut; it was making a dinner call," O'Connell said. "That is interesting for the Smithsonian because they don't get much information about how these guys eat."

Bruce Wing, a fisheries research biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service Auke Bay Laboratory, said this type of squid shows up every four or five years in Southeast Alaska.

Wing said a 12-foot-long specimen would be as large as he has seen, although he said the limited research that exists indicates they may reach lengths of up to 20 feet.

The squid was put on ice pending final measurements today. No decision has been made on what to do with the squid, Kambak said.

Andrew Krueger can be reached at akrueger@juneauempire.com.



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