Any idea what species (Caribbean encounter Feb 2003)?


Apr 14, 2005
I was recently referred to this site by Steve Shea, who replied to my
email inquiry with the suggestion that the D&CE forum here would be
a good place to post the details of an encounter I had with two small
squid while snorkeling off the coast of Grenada in February 2003. I'm
not any kind of cephalopod expert, but rather somebody who's simply
been curious about these creatures since I was able to observe them
at very close range (less than 4 feet) for several minutes.
At some point within a month or two after my return from that vacation,
and also after some subsequent online research that failed to turn up
any photos or descriptions matching the animals, I contacted some
people and was eventually referred to a man named John Forsythe,
apparently an authority on Caribbean cephalopods; I talked with him
on the phone and, at his request, mailed him a drawing and notes on
everything I could recall about the encounter and the animals themselves. I mention this background stuff only to make clear that the
following particulars were things I noted down not very long afterward;
I should also mention that in my two conversations with Dr. Forsythe -
the one before I mailed him the stuff, and a followup conversation after
he received it - he made it fairly obvious (without coming right out and
saying so) that he didn't consider the info I provided as all that credible.
I mention this only in the spirit of full disclosure, and it should not -
repeat not - be construed as a criticism of Dr. Forsythe, who I think
only manifested a sensible degree of skepticism given that what I'd
described didn't correspond, he told me a number of times, with any
known species.
Here are the particulars: on February 10, 2003 in the morning I went
on a commercial half-day sailing/snorkeling excursion out of the harbor
of Grenada's capital, St. George. The vessel, a catamaran, sailed up
the west coast of the island, and late morning reached the site for
snorkeling, Moliniere Point. We were supposed to have an hour or
an hour and a half in the water, depending on time-in-transit on the
way up, conditions when we got there, etc. I had done some snorkeling
on previous vacations, and immediately felt disappointed once I got in
the water - a lot of the coral was dead, due I think to the runoff of
sediment from the land. There are pretty shallow depths and rocks
proceeding outward from the tip of the point, and with the (moderate)
chop I stayed to the south of this axis, the side that the boat had
anchored on. For an hour, plus or minus, I saw nothing at all but some
ordinary tropical fish and marine plants here and there, obviously trying to make a go of it in a tough, degraded environment (this despite one of the two crew guys eventually coming in, probably out of boredom, and pointing me toward this and that). Immediately south of the point and its extension of rocks there is a small cove, or at least a concave
shoreline, and this is where the squid appeared as I was heading back
to the boat, a little tired and cold, after an hour or so of nothing
remarkable. The first one appeared to my right as I was just desultorily
kicking with the flippers, arms trailing, on the surface: it was within
a foot or so of the surface itself and no more than a foot from what would have been my reach if I had tried to reach out with my arm (I'm
5'6"). I can't say where it came from - as I said it simply appeared -
but after the initial shock of registering what it was, and what it was doing (tracking me, apparently out of simple curiosity) I had the presence of mind to simply continue going along exactly as I had been: desultory kicking, trailing arms, same pace, etc. According to my notes for Dr. Forsythe from March or April 2003, the overall length was something like 7", the mantle approximately half of this overall length, gray with an olive cast to it, and with very small, unevenly-distributed (Milky Way-effect) iridescent blue spots, REALLY vivid. In my ignorance, before doing the subsequent online research, I thought, hey, cuttlefish, but then I learned that cuttlefish are more-or-less flat in cross-section, and these were not at all flat from what I could see, but had basically tubular (bullet-shaped) mantles and were therefore round in cross-section. I say "these", because within a minute or so
of my noticing the one on my right, peripherally I saw another one
on my LEFT, doing exactly the same thing, tracking me at the same
depth, and out of reach to the same extent. So . . . at that point they were flanking me on either side, and of course I could see only the left side of the one on my right and the right side of the one on my left.
-- It's after midnight here, and as I got very little sleep last night,
and have now become tired with the effort of putting this all as clearly as possible, I'm going to knock off; I hope to be able to find time to post the rest of the details of this encounter within a few days.
William Finnegan
:welcome: William; nice to see your post. I look forward to the sketch you mentioned.
Description contd.

Thanks for the welcome. In answer to your question, Melissa, I think
John Forsythe's skepticism was because - as he told me several times -
my description of the animals wasn't anything like any squid species
known to him. I recall him thinking aloud when we were on the phone
about at least a couple of specific subjects - juvenile vs. adult
animals (of course I had no idea about this), the possibility of a
big storm having pushed individuals from a deeper-sea species into
the shallow water in which I encountered them (no such weather
in the 4-5 previous days I was there; also, the two squid seemed
perfectly at home just below the surface of the water when they
showed up to check me out).
Here's the rest of what I observed and then noted down a month
or two afterward. On the mantle, the fins were thin enough to be
translucent except for where they attached, and also except for
very fine, very closely-spaced lateral (mantle-to-outer-edge) striations that I assumed were stiffeners; the line of attachment to the mantle
and these striations were white, and possibly the outer edge of the
fin was as well. I think the width of the fins was a quarter of an inch
or less, and basically even along their length except for at the front and rear ends of the mantle where
they tapered down to whatever. The fins were the only part of the
animals that I'm sure I saw them moving purposefully - the fins
rippled or undulated, but the patterns of rippling/undulation changed
as I watched, beginning at different points front-to-back on the mantle
and varied in terms of rapidity and contour (angle in the water); this
was definitely musculature in action.
The rest of each animal, the part that emerged from the mantle,
was matte black - no glossiness - except for the eye and a band
of coloration that went laterally from eye to eye over the top but
I'm fairly sure not underneath; remember that I saw only the left
side of the animal to my right and the right side of the animal to
my left, and that I was viewing them at least slightly from above.
The eyes were vertically ovoid, proportionally pretty large it seemed
to me, and with good-sized black pupils and black rings surrounding
the whites.
The band of coloration was a vivid mustard color, and I believe with
a narrow black (and maybe black-and-white) highlighting band fore-and-aft. The eyes and the coloration bands were very close to where "the rest of the animals" emerged from their mantles, and only a little to the rear of them the tentacles began. My notes state that the suckers on the tentacles were clearly visible, but I can't see these in my mind's eye now, two-plus years later. As I said, everything emerging from
the mantle except the eyes and the aforementioned bands was flat
or matte black, and I noted then and still recall that all this looked
very rubbery. The front two-thirds or three-quarters of the tentacles
of both animals remained bunched tightly together the whole time
I was observing the animals, and only the rear third or quarter of
the tentacles' length was allowed to passively move around in the
current; I remember watching this particular aspect closely as, in my
ignorance at the time, I had no idea how the animals were propelling
Same situation as the other night: I've been at this a while and fatigue
is setting in (end of a long day, etc.); there are some behavioral
details I'll have to leave until next time.
William Finnegan
Sorry it's taken me so long to get back here to post the rest of the
details; hopefully I'll be able to finish up.
After some while, maybe a minute or so, of doing the desultory-kicking-
with-trailing-arms and watching these things, it occurred to me that
I was headed straight back to the boat and that if I didn't change course the encounter would probably end sooner than I wanted it to -
I was afraid that proximity to the hull of the boat would spook them.
To angle away from the boat, I cranked my course leftward - toward the shore - in the smallest increments I could, all the while watching
the animals; with every slight change of course, they tracked me precisely and I was unable to see how they did so, what adjustments they made to do so.
Either at that point or shortly thereafter, I got some water in my mask and had to clear it in the normal way, lifting my head out of the water. When I got that taken care of, at first I didn't see the squid - they
were no longer near the surface, and I recall it took me a few seconds
to spot them near the bottom pretty much directly below me; I think
the water there was 10-12 feet deep, and they were within a foot or two of the bottom. They were just hanging suspended in a stationary position, obviously doing whatever was necessary to accomplish this in the current, and both oriented/pointed in exactly the same direction although I can't say for sure which direction. That was the last look at them I had - I got more water in my mask, and upon clearing it they were gone. I looked for them, moving around the cove on the surface for maybe ten minutes, but didn't see them again.
When I got back to the boat, I told the crew guys about the squid and
asked them whether they'd seen these too on occasion, and they said no - my impression was they'd never seen any squid there.
That, I believe, is everything I remembered and noted down a month or two afterward. The original of the best drawing I made at the time I sent to John Forsythe (along with notes detailing what I have related here), and all I have now is a crappy, low-res black-and-white copy I made on my cheap FAX machine before sending the stuff off to him. Anyone interested in the drawing could contact him - I gather he's very well known in the community of cephalopod researchers. I do have
a preliminary drawing - my life-drawing skills are not great - that I could
have a friend scan and post for me (I'm not a computer person) if there's any interest.
Thanks for your post. In my initial research online I came across these same photos; basically everything about the animals I saw was very different - overall shape/proportions, contour of the fins, coloration,
length and taper ("bulk") of the tentacles, etc.
I think you wrote me as well, either that or John shared your email with me while I was working at the NRCC. I believe that I also suggested that you likely observed Caribbean Reef Squid. For the record, John has likely logged more time obsering Caribbean Cephalopods than any other scientist I can think of; he is one of the best (but that doesn't mean he doesn't get stumped too!).

These guys are common but are capable of a lot of very interesting behaviors and displays.

They often have white dots and if they expressed thier blue irrodophores over the white dots it could look like they were covered with a lot of tiny light blue gemstones.

Dr. Byrne has created a graphical photoshop model of many of the more common patterns these squid produce.


Dr. Wood:
Thanks for your post. I believe Dr. Forsythe either showed you or forwarded to you the stuff I sent him at the time - your name rings a vague bell, and I recall him saying that he was going to show someone or send someone the drawing and notes I'd sent him.
The link in Jared's post to photos of the Caribbean reef squid didn't work just now, so I did several similar Google searches for photos of individuals of the species and came up with some of your own photos among others - I wanted to refresh my memory about what they look like.
The two animals I encountered were very different in a number of specific regards. They were considerably more slim and elongated overall, their bulk fore-and-aft (mantle vis-a-vis the rest of the animal rearward) was almost equivalent, their eyes were not as large, not anywhere near as protruberant, were a different shape (more vertically ovoid), and had much less wide/prominent black surrounds. The tentacles were much longer proportionally.
Aside from the above, in none of the reef-squid photos I found did I see anything like the mustard-colored band I described in a previous post, or fins that were more-or-less of equal width front-to-back (every reef-squid photo I came across that showed the fins clearly showed them as coming to something like a point in the middle), or really tiny and irregularly distributed vivid blue spots on the mantle (in the photos the vivid spots were larger, evenly spaced, and usually whitish).
There may be other differences I can't recall right now, but the specifics I've noted - specifics I noted at the time in the water - lead me to believe that the animals I encountered were not Caribbean reef squid.
Bill Finnegan

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