Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Blob Mystery Solved

Don't miss this amusing article from today's New York Times. It concerns certain mysterious, er, blobs that have been washing up on beaches for over a century:

These beasts often have enormous mouths and needlelike fangs. Their names say everything - dragon fish, devilfish, viper fish, gulper eels, blacktail netdevils, ghost sharks. And then there's the repulsive triplewart seadevils, covered with spines and furrows and warts, their large mouths set in a perpetual frown.

But they all seem tame compared to the mysterious whiteish blobs that for decades arose from the sea and from time to time washed ashore on beaches across the world. What were they? They could be anything.

For more than a century, scientists and laymen who examined the tons of that protoplasm filled in the glaring gaps in knowledge of blob anatomy by imagining eyes, mouths and slimy tentacles long enough to sink cruise ships. Warnings were issued. Perhaps the blobs were remnants of living fossils more fearsome than the dinosaurs.

In 1972, a jittery analyst wondered if one particularly enigmatic blob was the decomposing body of a giant alien from outer space.

Well, the mystery has been solved. And - surprise! - the blobs are not decompsoing alien bodies:

But now a team of six highly skilled, if somewhat whimsical biologists centered at the University of South Florida has applied DNA analysis to the blobs and, alas, solved the mystery. The answer is all too mundane: The blobs are old whale blubber.

“To our disappointment,” the scientists wrote last month in The Biological Bulletin, “we have not found any evidence that any of the blobs are the remains of gigantic octopods, or sea monsters of unknown species.”

Richard Ellis, author of the 1994 book Monsters of the Sea, an exploration of some of the world's most bizarre fauna, called the DNA finding convincing and devastating.