Thursday, December 18, 2014

7 Sea Creatures That Make Me Feel Like a Pathetic Little Land Animal

I’ve always had a fascination with sea creatures.  Well, animals in general are cool to me, but ocean life always seemed exceptionally good at capturing my interest and imagination.  I have 2nd grade to thank for that.  We spent some time that year learning all about the ocean and the animals in it, and I loved it.  (Getting to learn about stuff like that in school should count as another example of why I think State College is awesome.)  So many big, impressive whales and sharks and cephalopods… they blew my mind.  Some of them were bigger than the trailer I was living in! 

What can I say?  I like learning about bigger and/or deadlier animals more than others; I’m likely to find a documentary about lions or crocodiles more interesting than a documentary about meerkats.  By that same token: sure, coral reefs and clownfish and seahorses might be kind of neat and certainly beautiful, but I guarantee you I’ll be paying more attention to the TV screen once they get to the sharks tearing seals apart. 

There’s a certain way I like my sea creature documentaries to make me feel:  Thankful as hell that I’m living on dry land!  I love learning about some big oceanic juggernaut of an animal that makes me shudder at the thought of jumping in the water with it.  If the only outcome of an encounter with a given species that I can imagine is screaming out bubbles of air as cold water freezes me and my flesh is torn from my bones, then it’s an especially cool creature to read about.  It’s time for me to geek out over the best species for making me feel like a pathetic little land animal:

6:  Blue Whale


Well this one is simple:  The blue whale is the largest animal ever known to have existed.  They can grow to over 30 meters (100 ft) long!  I guess being the biggest carries a certain automatic mystique to it for me, even though the blue whale is a rather benign filter feeder.  I believe it can’t actually swallow anything larger than a beach ball, though you can fit your whole upcoming family holiday dinner (plus family) into its mouth easily.  Stuff like that is why this animal makes the list.  Everything about it is so dauntingly large.  Its heart is the size of a small car, and I’ve also read that a person could crawl through its aorta.  Its tail is like a freaking airplane!  What’s it like swimming with these animals?  Even if they’re not going to eat me, I guarantee you I would very much feel like a pathetic little land animal were I to swim with them. 

One last thing:  The blue whale’s penis has its own Wikipedia page.  Does yours?  Mine doesn’t.

5:  Basking Shark

And here we go with another filter feeder…  The basking shark is the 2nd largest fish in the world; they’ve been found up to 12 meters (40 ft) long, but it’s still a filter feeder, and not even the biggest fish in the world.  So, why is it here?  Well… look at that mouth!!!  It creeps me out.  You could fit someone in there easily, though as with the blue whale, I imagine someone would only end up in there by accident.  Nevertheless, if some marine biologist accidentally got enveloped by one even for a few seconds, I would want to present him or her with the Dr. Grant Award for Scientific Badassery.  (If such an award existed.  It should.) 

Although basking sharks mostly swim around and filter-feed, they can be dangerous if they want to (or if you’re stupid).  You know how a shark’s skin is often compared to sand paper?  That’s true for a basking shark, too.  This academic-y website says that divers have hurt themselves on basking shark skin.  They also have attacked boats when harpooned.  Imagine a big-mouthed, meaty pile of sandpaper and muscle jumping out of the water and smashing your boat.  That totally happened off the coast of Scotland in 1937.

4: Greenland Shark (a.k.a. Greenland Sleeper Shark)

Well, finally we have something that’s not a filter-feeder.  So, why the Greenland shark instead of something like a great white or bull shark?  For one, it lives primarily in cold, Arctic waters.  As I said, oceanic animals tend to impress and intrigue me more than most land animals.  That’s even more the case when they live in cold waters that would turn an unprotected human into a corpse-sicle.  Also, it tends to spend most of its time deep below the surface, which also seems extra cool to me.

 By the way, these Greenland sharks rival great white sharks in size!  Also, their flesh can be poisonous if eaten fresh, and it might get you drunk!  The flesh is also full of urea, which would imply that it smells like piss.  The Greenland shark’s skin is worse than a basking shark’s.  They’re basically got teeth on their skin.  I saw a photo somewhere of orca teeth that were worn down to nubs, and it said it was caused by biting Greenland sharks.  Oh, and they might just be crocodile-style ambush predators.  They don’t swim as fast as seals or porpoises, but they still catch them somehow.  They’ve also taken animals from the surface, like horses, dogs, and reindeer (one had a whole reindeer in its stomach). 

So… we’ve got big, predatory, smelly, tooth-covered shark from the cold, dark abyss that might periodically pop up and make your trek over the ice into a nightmare.  I think one of these things should be a boss in a survival video game.

3:  (Tie) Giant Squid and Colossal Squid

Here we go: the classic sea monster.  You’d think the giant squid was a myth if not for all the dead ones that have washed up over the years.  When I was a kid, all the documentaries talked about how one was never captured or filmed alive.  Then they finally did get film of one, and I geeked out a little bit that day.  It was everything I’d ever expected.  It looked lean, mean, and awesome.  If you want a scary sea creature, you can’t go wrong with the giant squid.  It’s a mass of eyes, teeth, and tentacles.  As you’ve probably heard before, those eyes are about as big as dinner plates.  (Big eyes = a very fun sort of creepy in my book.)  Of course it’s got that parrot-like beak to rip chunks of flesh from its live prey.  The suckers on the tentacles are ringed with little teeth.  Its tongue is also covered in teeth by the way.

And then there’s the giant squid’s newer bodybuilding cousin, the colossal squid.  It’s got a bigger and heftier body, and an even bigger set of eyes.  Also, they tend to hang out in Antarctic waters.  I’m going to rate that as even a bit more badass than Arctic waters.  Oh, and they have hooks at the ends of their tentacles, as well as the largest beak of any squid. 

2:  Humboldt Squid (a.k.a. Jumbo Squid)


At only around the size of a human, the Humboldt squid is the smallest species to make this list, but it totally deserves the #2 spot.  To use a Jurassic Park analogy: if the giant or colossal squid is the T-Rex, then the Humboldt squid is the velociraptor.  They’re among the fastest-swimming species in the ocean, they’ve got hooks on their tentacles, and they’re said to show surprising signs of intelligence at times.  Yeah, the analogy fits.  They also tend to feed in packs.  Okay… perhaps feeding-frenzied swarms is more accurate.  These things are insanely aggressive when it’s time to eat.  Imagine swimming in a flurry of sharp suckers and beaks and more of those creepy squid eyes… while being torn apart and pulled deeper.  One guy who studies them got attacked once:  I’m just going to quote this article, as I don’t know how else to put it:

“Humboldts – mostly five-footers – swarmed around him.  As Cassell tells it, one attacked his camera, which smashed into his face, while another wrapped itself around his head and yanked hard on his right arm, dislocating his shoulder. A third bit into his chest, and as he tried to protect himself he was gang-dragged so quickly from 30 to 70 feet that he didn't have time to equalize properly, and his right eardrum ruptured.”

Remember that tentacle thing from Prometheus that broke the dude’s arm?  Apparently the Humboldt isn’t far off.  Just imagine going through that! I have some experience with being pulled and held underwater (not by squid), and it’s kind of… not fun.  I’m sure it’s even less fun when you’re being crushed by pressure and ripped into. 

By the way, Cassell still dives with Humboldts; he designed a special suit of armor to do so.  At least he got out alive.  I’ve read accounts of Mexican fisherman falling into the water and being eaten alive by Humboldts.  There’s probably a reason why they call them “diablos rojos,” which means “red devils.”

1:  Sperm Whale

Simply put: to me sperm whales have always been the most impressive sea creatures of all.  The mental image I had in 2nd grade of these up to 24 meter (80 ft) toothed leviathans ripping apart giant squid in the abyssal depths has stuck in my head harder than anything else.  I’ve already talked about them at length, so I’ll just sum up the basic points: 

-They’re the largest toothed predators on Earth.
-They inspired Moby Dick.
-They eat other entries on this list.  (giant, colossal, and Humboldt squids, and even the Greenland shark)
-Sometimes their prey might even still be alive in their first stomachs, which are tough enough to withstand squid beaks and suckers.
-They don’t even need their eyes.
-They dive really deep.
-They’re the loudest animals on earth, and might even be able to stun prey with their clicks.

These things are oceanic badasses.  They combine all of the features which can really make a sea creature capture my imagination:  They hang out in the dark, abyssal parts, they’re big, they eat some pretty tough prey on a regular basis, and… let’s face it: if one wanted to, I’m sure it could easily swallow a person for a snack.  (There’ve been no confirmed accounts of such a thing, though.)

Also, they look almost eyeless from a distance.  (And blind ones survive just fine.)  It’s like a big aquatic swimming xenomorph, minus the acid blood.  

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