November 13, 2012

What's that down there?

IT’S SOBERING TO THINK that we know more about the dark side of the Moon than we do about the oceans that surround us.  I was reminded of this by a story in the Canadian newspaper, The Province, which revealed that two skeletons of a species of whale that has never been seen alive by human eyes were washed up on North Island, New Zealand The beached skeletons were those of an adult and her 10-foot male calf.  

The newspaper said the discovery was published by researchers from the United States and New Zealand in the journal Current Biology. “For the first time we have a description of the world’s rarest and perhaps most enigmatic marine mammal,” they say.

Previously only three skull fragments of the species— known as the spade-toothed beaked -whale—had been found: in New Zealand in 1872 and in the 1950s, and the last one 26 years ago on an island off Chile. The males have broad blade-like tusk teeth that give the species its name. Both males and females have beaks which make them resemble dolphins.

If you have ever sailed on the ocean, you must have wondered, as I have on many occasions, what was hiding below you. For years I have been haunted by a thought first expressed by the famous 20-century ocean scientist William Beebe, who described the ocean as having millions of little eyes peering upwards at us as we pass by. 

 And not only little eyes. The biggest mammals on earth live in the ocean, including the Blue Whale and the giant squid, with eyes as big as car hubcaps. Most experts believe it’s possible that there are even bigger squids or other creatures that have so far managed to remain hidden from us, and they believe that there could be a great deal of truth in those ancient pictures of krakens and other sea monsters dragging large sailing ships to their doom.

 “This is a good reminder,” said Rochelle Constantine, a co-author of the Current Biology paper, “of how large the oceans are, and of how little we know about them.”

And if that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, it should.

Today’s Thought
It happens, by a common vice of human nature, that we trust most to, and are most seriously frightened at, things which are strange and unknown.
— Cæsar, De Bello Civili.

"Doctor! Doctor! Help me! I think I'm shrinking!"
"Now calm down, Mr. Jones, there's nothing to be done. You'll just have to be a little patient.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Ken said...

Oded Kishony said...

not just the skeleton but the intact but deceased wales washed ashore.