When a huge, unidentifiable, gelatinous blob weighing 13 tons and measuring 41 feet long and 19 feet wide washed up on a beach in Chile in July, 2003, many speculated that it was the remains of a giant sea monster. (http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/science/07/02/giant.find/).
Similar, documented blobs, often thought to be the remains of giant squids, had turned up on beaches elsewhere, including one in St. Augustine, Fla. in 1896, two in Bermuda (1995 and 1997), in Tasmania in 1960 and Nantucket, Mass. in 1996. All the blobs looked pretty much the same, says Skip Pierce, professor of biology at the University of South Florida who is presenting the results of his blob bio-sleuthing today at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in New Orleans (www.sicb.org).
"In all cases, the blobs were thought to be possible sea monsters, but the decomposed carcasses lacked a skeleton,” said Pierce. “Elsa Cabrera, director of the Center for Cetacean Conservation in Santiago, sent us samples of the 2003 Chilean blob and we compared it microscopically and genetically to preserved samples of other historical blobs, including the 1896 blob.”
Pierce and colleagues subjected the Chilean blob’s DNA to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and the blob’s anatomy was looked at microscopically.
"The Chilean sample was almost entirely pure collagen fibers," explained Pierce.
The fibers, Pierce’s team found, were totally unlike the fine structure of an octopus or squid. Further, the molecular test results proved that the blob was the highly decomposed remains of a sperm whale. The Chilean blobs DNA matched that of the Nantucket blob exactly and had all the characteristics of all the other blobs that used to be whales.
"Once again, to our disappointment, we have not found any evidence that any of the blobs are the remains of unknown sea monsters,” Pierce told attendees at the 2004 SICB meeting.
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