Whale-Size Mystery Creature Washes Ashore in Chile

John Roach
for National Geographic News
July 3, 2003

A mysterious, 41-foot-long and 19-foot-wide (12.4-meters by 5.4-meters)gelatinous mass of flesh washed ashore in southern Chile serves as reminder that the sea may be full of creatures yet discovered by humankind.

The creature was first thought to be a dead whale when it appeared last week on the coast near the town of Puerto Montt, but scientists who went to inspect the creature determined it was an invertebrate, or spineless, creature

"It had a very particular smell, very different from a dead cetacean and from anything we have smelled before," said Elsa Cabrera, director of the Center for Cetacean Conservation in Santiago, Chile.

After showing images of the fleshy blob to an Italian zoologist and comparing them to reports from a stranding off the coast of Florida in 1896, Cabrera said that the decomposing fleshy blob is most likely a giant octopus (Octopus giganteus).

The Center for Cetacean Conservation in Santiago is sending skin samples to Chilean and international organizations to try and identify the species, which was originally discovered by the Chilean Navy floating alongside a dead humpback whale.

"If the analysis confirms the finding of a giant octopus, this will be a major scientific finding for the Chilean and international scientific community, and it will be one step forward to increase our knowledge about the incredible creatures that are still unknown to humans," said Cabrera.

Whale Skin?

Steve Webster, a marine biologist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, was one of the scientists contacted by the organization and shown a photograph of the specimen.

"Based on what I see in the picture, I would opt for whale skin since that is a part of world where whales are not uncommon," he said.

Webster also said that reports describing the specimen as both leathery and gelatinous were conflicting. If it is indeed leathery, he said, it is most likely a whale skin. But if it is more gelatinous, then it could be something else. One possibility is a giant salp, a deep-sea fish known as a pyrosome.

The possibility that it might be a giant squid does not make much sense to Webster.

Continued on Next Page >>




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