1896 St. Augustine Monster
1995 Bermuda Blob
1996 Nantucket Blob
1997 Bermuda Blob
2001 Newfoundland Blob
2003 Chilean Blob

A Whale of a Tale

By Rebecca Puig

Monday, August 16, 2004 - From sea slugs to sea monsters, Dr. Sidney (Skip) Pierce, professor and chair of the biology department at the University of South Florida leads a very exciting research life.

In the June 2004 edition of The Biological Bulletin, Pierce and his colleagues discuss the methods which they used to identify the mysterious “Chilean Blob” that washed up on the beach near Puerto Montt in Los Muermos, Chile.

The “Chilean Blob” was discovered by the Chilean Navy in July of 2003.  The blob covered an area of approximately 12 meters, equal to seven people lying head-to-toe on the sand.  Weighing in at an estimated 13 tons, the blob on the beach appeared to be the fabled Octopus Giganteus, a rare, mythical, giant octopus whose remains were first seen in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1896.  Since 1896 there have been several so called sea monsters to wash up on shore in various parts of the world (see photos).

There is always the sniff test. Some say that aroma in the air surrounding the decomposing remains can help you identify whether it was once a whale or an octopus.  It is said that the remains of a whale smell like rotten meat, where as the octopus gives off a pungent ammonia aroma.  The “Chilean Blob” was not so easily identified and left scientists wondering, so samples were sent to researchers around the world for their help in identifying the “blob.”

His team received one such sample and subjected the blob’s DNA to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and examined it microscopically.  Their conclusion, the DNA sequence was 100% identical to the nad2 gene found in the sperm whale (Physeter catadon).  This unequivocally proved that the “Chilean Blob” is nothing more than the decomposed remains of the blubber layer of a sperm whale.

Tracking fabled sea monsters is only part of Pierce’s research.  He has received approximately $373,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study sea slugs and how they have evolved ways of incorporating plant genes into their bodies to convert the sun’s energy into sugars and other nutrients.


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