The squids of Mumbai’s beaches

For nearly a month now, Mumbai’s beachgoers have been noticing strange, delicate little creatures on the wet sand during low tide. Some have called them bubbles, others compared the white, translucent beings to sabudana (sago). What they are, essentially, are egg sacs, embryos or further-developing babies of squids, patiently waiting to grow just enough to become residents of the deeper ocean.

Though the humans who come across them are both intrigued and concerned, this phenomenon is not rare. In fact, the sightings are regular and seasonal — those babies are exactly where they are supposed to be.

“We have been documenting it every year, during the winter. The eggs are laid in shallow waters, where predators are fewer. We have the lowest low-tide of the year this time, around Diwali, and a large part of the shore opens up when the water recedes. These eggs are on the lower part of the shore, which don’t open up often,” explains Shaunak Modi, a member of Marine Life of Mumbai, over the phone.

Marine Life of Mumbai, that started out as a collective of people interested in learning more about their city’s shores and coastal biodiversity, has been noting the squids ever since they restarted their public shore walks post-lockdown, in late October. Adds Shaunak, “Because we haven’t seen the squids that laid these eggs, we we cannot be sure of its exact species. But judging by local records, it’s possible that they are pencil squid; we found one in a tide pool a couple of years ago.”

During one walk alone, Shaunak counted a total of 110 egg sacs within a one-kilometre stretch of beach. But common though they might be, these creatures at risk are still susceptible to human actions, even those that are well-intentioned.

Shaunak spells out a few dos and don’ts: “If you want to see them, look at the lower edges of the shore when the tide is low. Don’t flash bright or heat-inducing lights on them: they are still developing. Do not touch them, even if you see them covered in sand, and don’t try to wash it off them; they are very delicate.”

Besides their public walks, the Marine Life of Mumbai team also ventures out on its own once in a while, especially during spring tide: “The 10 to 12 days in a month when the difference between low tide and high tide is considerable. We are on shore on at least eight of those days.”

But because the team only observes and photographs, careful not to touch or tag the eggs in any way, they have some questions that they cannot answer by themselves. “I know that the egg sacs have to be anchored to the shore, and that they are easier to see on sandy shores than rocky ones. But how that anchoring is done, I don’t know,” says Shaunak. What they do know, however, is the development of the creature from mere dots within an egg to fully matured, while still in an egg sac.

“It has been almost a month, and some of them are still there on the shore,” says Shaunak. The rest, presumably, have made their way home.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 5:09:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/the-squids-of-mumbais-beaches/article33149219.ece

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