With whoops and hollers, jumbo squid after jumbo squid landed with a satisfying splat on the deck of the Sea Angler, anchored in dark waters off San Pedro.
The influx of these 30-pound-plus, torpedo-like creatures is a rarity in the waters off the South Bay, luring fishermen with a taste for calimari and squid stew.
About 10 miles from land Wednesday night, 60 sport fisherman stood shoulder to shoulder and braved sea sickness and spewing brown ink in the quest for a good meal - or three.
"They're great eating, if you take the time to prepare them right," said Rick Steele, a Torrance resident and retired assistant principal.
Steele showed off his 18-inch, glow-in-
the-dark, lead-hooked squid jig that fishermen use to lure in the cephalopods.
The squid use their eight tentacles to clasp onto the jig, which some of the fishermen sweetened by fastening on fish parts.
After about an hour of travel, Capt. Greg Watson dropped anchor, turned on all the boat's lights to attract the squid and urged everyone to "go get 'em."
Within minutes, deck hands in rubber coveralls were running around, their long, hooked poles reaching overboard to pull in the reddish-orange squid.
After a couple moments, the squid turned white, to camouflage with the deck, and stopped breathing. Their brown ink ran everywhere.
"I haven't seen it like this, ever," Steele said of the large squid population.
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium Director Mike Schaadt said the squid, called jumbo flying squid or Humboldt squid, are most common in tropical waters.
However, they come up as far as Southern California, and even the Oregon coast, in El Nino conditions like those prevalent this year, he said.
"There is some evidence that they are following warm water, and extending more to the northern range year after year. That may very well be in response to a climate change issue," Schaadt said.
They follow the food, gobbling up sardines and anchovies, which tends to make the local fishermen mad, Schaadt added.
While good news for anglers, some scientists believe the presence of the jumbo-sized predators may be a sign that the ocean is dying deep inside as chemicals from heavily industrialized coastlines deplete the oxygen.
As a result, they say, more jumbo squid have surfaced in the last few years to oxygen-rich zones, where more of their food source is available, said Dale Sweetnam senior marine biologist for the California Department of Fish & Game.
More common off the coast of Peru and Mexico, the Humboldt squid have since become somewhat of a permanent resident along California's coast since 2003, Sweetnam said.
Some say they move northward in search of a food source. Other scientists say the temperatures in the waters near the equator have increased due to global warming. As a result, the squid move northward and have been spotted in the past as far north as Alaska.
"Oxygen-depleted waters have increased off our coast in the last few years," Sweetnam said. "There's a concern from our standpoint because the jumbo squid are voracious eaters. They do eat through a lot of fisheries, such as rockfish and actually market squid."
Sweetnam said that while the squid seem abundant, he is concerned that anglers will over-hunt them and take more than what they can eat.
Researchers are still learning about the squid, their migration and breeding patterns. So far, there is evidence of them spawning in California waters, releasing millions of eggs, Sweetnam said.
All the stories about giant squid have sparked a renewed interest in marine biology - and calamari.
A jumbo squid can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh up to 100 pounds. They squirt ink to protect themselves.
"God, I love squid," said Carrie Wolfe, research and education coordinator at the Southern California Marine Institute on Terminal Island.
While there is a prosperous market squid industry off the San Pedro coast, those squid are usually about 10 inches long and weigh less than a pound, Schaadt said.
Word of the large squid spread fast in the past week; the Sea Angler crew, which leaves from 22 nd Street Landing in San Pedro, had only 10 fishermen on outings the two previous nights.
The number of squid reeled in, though, didn't rise dramatically despite the six-fold increase in anglers.
The first 20 to 30 minutes was a frenzy of squid. For the next few hours, though, despite Watson's attempt to pinpoint squid clusters on his sonar, not one was caught.
Watson guessed that they were simply hungrier earlier in the evening.
Frank Advincula, who fished while listening to his iPod, didn't mind that he got only two - one of them was the biggest squid of the night.
"Whether I caught one or 10, I don't care," the San Fernando Valley said. "I just had a good time tonight."
Staff writer Susan Abram contributed to this article.