Giant sea specimen baffles scientists
- First thought to be whale skin, it could be huge octopus...
SANTIAGO, Chile, July 2 A huge, gelatinous sea creature found
washed up on Chile's coast has stumped scientists, who have sent
samples to a specialist in France for help in identifying the
mystery specimen. The blob was mistaken for a beached whale when
first reported last week, but experts who went to see it said the 40-
foot-long mass of decomposing lumpy gray flesh apparently was an
"WE'D NEVER before seen such a strange specimen, we don't know if it
might be a giant octopus that is missing some of its parts or maybe
it's a new species," said Elsa Cabrera, director of the Center for
Cetacean Conservation in Santiago.
The round substance looks like a mammoth jelly fish and is about as
long as a school bus.
Giant octopus live at a depth of up to 9,500 feet and only rise to
the surface when they die. Specimens have been known to be as long
as 30 feet.
There was speculation that the mass might be a whale skin, but
Cabrera said it was too big and did not have the right texture or
Steve Webster, senior marine biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
in California, wasn't ready to rule that out, at least based on the
photo and limited information he has read.
If the texture is leathery, he said, "I would opt more for whale
skin ... the rotted, separated skin of a blue, sei or fin whale
could easily be this size."
"In addition," he said, "at least 50 percent to 80 percent of the
length of a giant squid or octopus is arms and tentacles, not the
body. From what I can see in the picture, this is one big mass of
tissue, and is not divided into what might be arms or tentacles."
The Chilean Navy first spotted the mystery specimen along with
another large mass near Puerto Montt, in southern Chile, but the
latter turned out to be a dead humpback whale.
GIANT OCTOPUS OR PLANKTON?
Cabrera's group sent samples to French specialist Michel Raynal. The
center contacted him and his initial impression was that it is a
giant octopus, Cabrera told MSNBC.com.
A review of literature found only one other giant octopus of a
similar shape and size, Cabrera said, a specimen found on a Florida
beach in 1896.
Cabrera noted the Chilean specimen is bigger than what was found in
1896, measuring about 40 feet long, 18 feet wide, and three feet
tall at its highest point.
Webster raised the possibility that "if the blob is really
gelatinous, and not particularly tough and leathery," then it could
be what's known as a pyrosome a colony of millions of plankton
that can grow to up to 60 feet long.
He said that genetic analysis of the tissue should reveal some clues
to identify the specimen.
"If this were just the head and body of a squid or octopus," he
added, "then it appears to be far larger than any such critter known