Chilean Mystery Blob Identified as Sperm Whale Skin

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Floating Blubber

Steven Webster, a marine biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, thought that the blob was a whale skin when he first looked at the images and said he is not surprised by the results of the analysis.

"It seemed unlikely that another type of critter that size would have gone undetected this long," said Webster. "I'm pleased that my hunch was correct. But I also always like a surprise. A new squid species the size of a sperm whale would have been really neat."

Webster said he is asked to identify beached blobs quite frequently. Most are jellyfish and jellyfish relatives. Every few years, gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) and blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) wash ashore on the California coast.

"Beached decomposed portions of larger animals are not common, but they do occur every now and then," he said. "They often are the source of myths having to do with one sea monster or another."

Scientists suspect that the whale skin that washed ashore in Chile separated from the rest of the whale bone and muscle tissue as it decomposed. The mass of skin floated on the ocean surface until it drifted onto the beach.

Pierce said that sharks, bacteria, and other creatures devour most the whale meat, but leave the collagen layer of the blubber untouched. It is this layer that can wash ashore and look alien to the inexperienced eye.

"Usually a scientist shows up and says of course it's…whale blubber and covers it up. It gets bulldozed away and that's it," said Pierce.

Olavarria said this happens more frequently than people are aware, but that often the blobs are more readily identifiable as a whale. "In general people do not know so much about natural phenomena that occurs in nature," he said.

According to Webster, the interest generated by the Chilean sea blob highlights human fascination with the unknown and desire to discover giant monsters lurking in the depths of the seas.

"We like to hope there are some really awesome undiscovered critters lurking down there," he said. "Without doubt, there are millions of undiscovered species in the deep sea—it's the Earth's main address—but most of them, sad to say, are too small to fit the monster mold."

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