A car with feelings

Catch the wave


Today’s New York Times has a great story about “blobologists” — marine scientists who study the enormous blobs of mysterious flesh that occasionally wash ashore. (Giant-squid aficionados may recall the one that floated up in Chile last year.) Historically, the blobs have caused plenty of florid mythmaking about the Kraken and whatnot, but as you might imagine, when the scientists study the flesh, they usually find it’s not so mysterious after all: Old whale blubber, usually. But what’s particularly hilarious is the reaction of the scientists themselves to these findings. The Times quotes the report from the guys who analyzed last year’s Chilean blob:

“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.”

And back in the 90s, some other scientists studied age-old chunks of a mystery blob from 1869. Their conclusion?

“With profound sadness at ruining a favorite legend,” they wrote in the April 1995 issue of The Biological Bulletin, published by the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., a distinguished research institution, “we find no basis for the existence of Octopus giganteus.”

I love it. The scientists are themselves so swept up in the blob mystery that they feel the need to apologize for debunking it. But really, who can blame them? Being a marine scientist is probably the single strangest job on the planet. The vast majority of the ocean is completely unexplored, we’ve never seen a giant squid live, and the biodiversity of the briny deep outstrips the Amazon by probably an order of magnitude. Hell, for all we know, there are bioluminescent aquatic chupacabras crossbreeding with half-ton sea monkeys down there somewhere. The next mystery blob really could turn out to be a new life form. Marine biologists, more than any other variant of scientist, get out of bed each morning with the possibility of discovering the most impossibly weird shit imaginable.

And by the way, isn’t “blobology” the finest word in the English language?

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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