A giant sea creature, possibly with tusks and possibly straight out of your nightmares, washed up on a beach in Indonesia last week, freaking out people on the island of Seram and launching a global guessing game to determine what, exactly, it used to be.
As images of the floating carcass rocketed around the Internet, the scientific community asked itself: What is it? How did it get to an Indonesian island? And what does its presence say about climate change and whale migration habits?
The people of Seram have a more pressing query: How do we get rid of it?
Asrul Tuanakota, a 37-year-old fisherman, initially thought he had discovered a boat stranded in shallow water, according to the Jakarta Globe. On closer inspection, he determined that it was the rotting corpse of a 50-foot-long dead sea creature — possibly a giant squid because the remains looked like tentacles.
Blood seeping from the dead sea beast had turned the water near the coastline a bright red, which didn’t stop locals from wading in for a closer look and snapping pictures.
George Leonard, the chief scientist at the Ocean Conservancy, told HuffPost that the rotting carcass was probably a baleen whale, judging by parts of a protruding skeleton and what appear to be baleen plates used to filter out food.
Decomposition gases bloated the whale into a very un-whale-like shape, and some of the noxious gases were seeping out. Can nightmares have smell?
Seram, the largest island in the Maluku Island group, is near the migration routes for baleen whales, so it makes sense that one would be nearby. Locals have asked the government to help remove the carcass, HuffPost reported.
But dead whales usually sink to the bottom of the ocean, providing a years-long buffet for the creatures that dwell there, according to Live Science. The publication theorized that the whale had a bacterial infection that produced more gases or that it possibly died in warm waters, allowing bacteria to accumulate and gases to expand its body. It also could have died an unnatural death after being clipped by a ship.
Spoilers: It's a rotten whale carcass.
— Andrew Thaler (@DrAndrewThaler) May 12, 2017
Of course, things die in the ocean all the time producing all kinds of weird phenomena. But now fishermen and villages and tourists — and their smartphones — are coming into contact with dead sea things as they go through the circle of life.
For example, fishermen off the western coast of Australia found a humongous, floating balloon of flesh that looked as if it was the first sign of an alien invasion. At first, the father and son thought they had encountered a hot-air balloon.
— Fadi Qassis (@fadiqassis) July 29, 2016
“When we got closer we realized it had to be a dead whale because of the smell,” Mark Watkins told the West Australian.
They snapped photos of the whale balloon, then headed to shore. By then, they said, circling sharks had taken bites of the dead creature, causing it to deflate.
And earlier this year, a giant, hairy sea creature washed up on a beach in the Philippines, according to the Daily Mail. Locals believe the unusual occurrence was brought on by a recent earthquake.
Pictures showed people climbing on top of the carcass to take selfies.