The remains of a deep sea squid, the first specimen to be identified on Cayman shores in 40 years, were found recently by resident Chris Bouck and his family on a beach in South Sound.
After doing some research, Mr. Bouck identified the small shell-like item as the remains of a Spirula, a small deep-sea squid that lives up to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) below the ocean surface.
“This is fascinating. I’m sure dozens of others walked right past this little object and either didn’t see it or didn’t know what it was…,” said Mr. Bouck.
“Armed with nothing more than curiosity and an identification guide, it is possible for anyone to find and identify interesting things,” he said.
Sightings of the light-emitting squid are rarely identified on local beaches, according to officials at the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.
“It is relatively common for Spirula to float ashore on tropical beaches around the world,” said DOE research officer Janice Blumenthal, who positively identified Mr. Bouck’s finding as the remains of a Spirula squid.
“However, these fascinating specimens are often overlooked. For the Cayman Islands, there is only one previous scientifically verified record of this species – a Spirula shell found on a beach in Old Man Bay in 1974,” she added.
According to the Australian government’s Department of Environment website, “Little is known of the biology of this squid and none have ever been observed live in their natural environment.”
The cephalopod is also known as the tail-light squid, because of its bioluminescent light-emitting organ.
“The light organ on the tip of the body is unusual in that it points upwards in the living animal. All other bioluminescent midwater creatures of the open ocean produce downward light to cancel out their silhouette from predators below,” the website says.
When the squid dies, the coiled shell floats to the surface and eventually washes ashore.
Mr. Bouck regularly walks along the beach near his home in South Sound with his wife and 3-year-old daughter Victoria.
“I found the small squid shell thrown up on the beach after a storm. It is about the size of a Cayman penny and resembled a tiny Ram’s Horn Squid…,” said Mr. Bouck.
He said at first he was unable to identify the coiled shell until his friend Simon Boxall gave him an extensive shell-identification guide with 4,200 pictures.
“On the second to the last page I found this item clearly identified and recognized it immediately,” he said.
“I’m trying to teach my toddler how to be discerning in which objects to pick up as noteworthy, but so far she generally comes back with bits of sun-bleached coral,” he said.