I hate it when I come in late on a news story involving strange, cryptozoological monsters. Last year, there was the whole bigfoot-in-a-cooler scare in the Georgia woods -- and luckily I was able to follow that from the start. While I severely doubted the world was about to cross over into a new, sasquatch-inclusive age, it was certainly exciting at the time.
It all turned out to be just a chilled monkey suit, of course, but the coverage gave birth to the mere possibility of something beyond the scope of science -- and in the wooded hills just north of Atlanta. When you live in cities, you steep yourself in facts, statistics and certainties. Even the fears and mysteries all fall into thoroughly man-plunged depths: urban ruins, contested spaces and criminal intent lurking in the shadows. It often seems a world devoid of the unknown, sucked dry of the kind of mystery that awaited primal man beyond the limits of his campsite.
Just a few weeks ago, we all followed the North Carolina "sewer monster" and the uncertainties surrounding its origin. Today, I caught up on my news and learned (via the excellent Monster Brains art blog) that we'd had an arctic blob scare just days ago. At first, no one seemed to know what the giant, organic sludge was. Just consider this quote from the Anchorage Daily News:
"That's one of the reasons we went out, because in recent history I don't think we've seen anything like this," Brower said. "Maybe inside lakes or in stagnant water or something, but not (in the ocean) that we could recall ...
I'm an avid fan of slime-based monsters, from watching Steve McQueen battle the jelly aliens as a child to discovering the wonders of shoggoths and gelatinous cubes later on in middle school. So the prospect of a giant arctic goo slick attacking Alaska is rather thrilling to me. I mean, come on, that's where they dumped the monster at the end of "The Blob!"
Coming in late on the story, however, I didn't have too much time to delude myself before I read that, according to Time Magazine, the arctic goo is actually a massive algal bloom. Sure, it's less fantastic, but no less devastating than many of the slime balls from fiction. As the algae die, bacteria feast on them and suck up available oxygen in the water. This creates a hypoxic zone -- or dead zone. Sea creatures that can't escape these areas die by the millions.
While dead zones occur naturally, human pollution certainly gives them a leg up with fertilizer and sewage runoff. Who's the horrifying slime ball now, eh?
Get more of the facts at HowStuffWorks.com: How Algae Biodiesel Works How Bigfoot Works Should we be worried about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico? (algal blooms) Who owns the oceans? Diving with the Red Devil (sea monsters!)