Why I Do Not Go in the Water: Hagfish Slime

The Pacific hagfish (Slimius godnowayii)

Really cool story on National Geographic by a really cool writer I’m following on twitter now Rachel Kaufman (@rkaufman).

I have trouble being on the same planet with these creatures, let alone go into the ocean with them.  As Rachel puts it:

Many people are disgusted by the hagfish. These squirmy, eel-looking creatures are known primarily for two repellent traits: eating dying animals from the inside out, and oozing four cups of slime in a fraction of a second.

By Crom’s holy indifference!

Recently, scientists at the University of Guelph published a study that delves into the amazing–and cringingly awful–properties hagfish slime. Apparently, the slime is full of these long (6 inches!) sticky protein threads, which are good for clogging up a predator’s gills and happen to be as light and strong as spider silk.

If, as Rachel posits, this thread could one day lead to clothing, I would cry. A lot.

This is Cronenberg-level body horror at its worse. Cools story, though.

Why I Do Not Go in the Water: The Abyss Doesn’t Want You

Of course, this is tragic, and I don’t intend to mock the death of Nicholas Mevoli:

A Deep-Water Diver From Brooklyn Dies After Trying for a Record – NYTimes.com.

What I will say is that, to me, free diving is the least attractive human activity possible, save for, perhaps, those performed by those Russians who dangle from things.

I think I understand the allure of challenging yourself–of doing something just to test your endurance. Let’s just say that the idea of going into the dark depths of the sea, where your body does its damnedest to replace the air in your lungs with briney death, is not my idea of a sport. (The governing body fascinates me.)

He died of a pulmonary edema, the Times says:

Still, Mevoli shot to the surface under his own power, after a dive of 3 minutes 38 seconds. That’s when the scene turned nightmarish.

Mevoli ripped off his goggles, flashed the O.K. sign and attempted to complete the surface protocol that would make his attempt official by saying, “I am O.K.” But he wasn’t. His words were garbled, his eyes wide and blank. He tipped backward into the ocean and lost consciousness, which, while alarming, is not unheard-of in a sport in which almost all the top athletes have lost consciousness at one time or another, though usually for only a few seconds. Mevoli was not so fortunate.

Five safety divers, one of them an Australian paramedic and all certified in life support techniques, hefted him onto a nearby platform, where the event physician, Barbara Jeschke of Germany, went to work trying to revive him.

“There’s a problem with his lung,” shouted Marco Cosentino of Italy, one of the safety divers who meet the competitors at various stages to help bring them to the surface if they are in distress. They turned Mevoli onto his side, and blood began pouring from his mouth and pooling on the platform before dissipating into the sea.

Why I Don’t Go In The Water: Orca-attracting Edition


Totally stole this from fishingfury.com
Do Australians taste like seal?

The Australian reports on how University of Western Australian scientists are looking into using orca “screams” to chase sharks from beaches, which still doesn’t seem like a fun day on the beach.

[Marine biologist and shark conservationist Brad Norman]  said the project could interrupt eco-systems and also questioned the effectiveness of such a measure.

“Before the program is implemented there needs to be a review as to how this type of research and technology may have a negative effect on non-targeted species,” he told The Australian.

“It could have widespread unintended effects. “One of the concerns I have would be the non-discriminatory effect. Other species are going to hear the threat of the killer whales,” he said.

Make sense, but I’d like to seem them try the experiment.

Then again…on one ocean-fearing hand, I wonder if I really have a problem with those consequences, but on the other getting eaten-fearing  I wonder if it would attract orcas?

Why I Don’t Go In The Water: Blobfish Voted World’s Uglies…t…HEY, What the…!?

I’m conflicted. Yes, the blobfish is ugly as sin and the off-chance that I’d see one is reason enough to stay out of the water.  As reported all across the world, the Ugly Animal Preservation Society has voted the blobfish as the world’s ugliest endangered (or possibly threatened, in this case).

Kilroy Was Here
Kilroy Was Here

The thing is, as far as I can tell, the Ugly Animal Preservation Society is a traveling comedy show, made up of stand-up comics and associated acts. In most of the articles I’ve found, there is little mention of the fact that A) its a traveling comedy show B) they vote on a new animal every week.

At most, you’ll get a copy-and-paste of the first line two lines from the UAPS website:

The Ugly Animal Preservation Society is dedicated to raising the profile of some of Mother Nature’s more aesthetically challenged children.  The panda gets too much attention.

So, I’m conflicted. The Ugly-Animal-of-the-Week bit is a great gimmick and, undoubtedly, raises awareness of rare and hideous creatures.
But the point, it seems, is more about raising ticket sales than awareness. And, you know, I’m fine with both. What gets me is the media treating this like it is news. The reporting is relatively content and humor free, neither acknowledging the purposeful silliness of it nor actually educating us about the blobfish. (To be fair, this CNN article posted on a local FOX affiliate’s site is better than most.) It bothers me my wee nerd brain.

So, here’s some things to know about the blobfish:

1. Its of the genus Psychrolutes and makes its living in the depths of the ocean between Australia and Tasmania, eating things within gulping distance

2. It may be threatened by deepwater trolling.

3. It doesn’t have much in the way of muscles, and most of its flesh is jelly-like, allowing it to live and thrive at crushing pressures.

4. It is really frikkin ugly.







Meanwhile, Under the Sea

Here are two things that reside at the bottom of the sea that I do not need to see in real life.

The first is this Sea Mousethat washed up in the UK.

Sea Mouse? Where? Where mouse?

Aphrodita aculeata (sea mouse) is actually a hermaphroditic worm, which really doesn’t help allay my fears, and not a mouse. The hairs are not hair (really, people, worms don’t have hair), but structures called called setae, which are more like bristles than mammalian hair. Earthworms have setae too, which help keep them from sliding backwards in their own filth (fun fact!). The genus is named Aphrodita after Aphrodite, natch, because they were thought to resemble female genitalia, which really, really makes you worry about the scientists who came up with the classification. (And now I’ve used up my relative clauses for this paragraph.)

The Aphrodite nomenclature never would have occurred to me. I get the mouse thing–it really does look like a waterlogged rodent some sort–but not the vulva thing.

Second is this PopSci article that suggests DARPA wants to create drones that lie in wait on the ocean’s floor. Unmanned “Upward Floating Payloads” is creepy enough to make sand vulva worms seem normal.