News Brief by Kip Hansen
Just in time for Halloween, the New York Times (and at least a dozen other news outlets) carried the story:
What exactly is a “headless chicken monster” when it gets up in the morning? It is a swimming sea cucumber, sometimes called ‘the Spanish dancer’ and its scientific name is Enypniastes eximia. Previously only filmed in the Gulf of Mexico, its discovery near Antarctica could help scientists understand the species’ distribution, and how it might be affected by climate change. [Boy, I bet you saw that coming — the science guys at the NY Times are required to get a climate change hook in every story if at all possible.]
Here’s a better look at The Monster:
At least, there is no claim that this really cool swimming sea cucumber is endangered by climate change, at least not yet.
Other sea cucumbers — most of them — look a bit more like a cucumber:
“Sea cucumbers are found on the sea floor worldwide. The number of holothurian species worldwide is about 1,717 with the greatest number being in the Asia Pacific region. Many of these are gathered for human consumption and some species are cultivated in aquaculture systems. “ [Wiki] I have found them to be common in the tropical waters of the Caribbean. While living for a couple of years in Luperon, Dominican Republic, we were surprised to find that sleepy little fishing village had a thriving sea cucumber fishery and a “drying plant” where the sea cucumbers were dried before being shipped to Asia. Because of their popularity as a food item in Asia, many species are now suffering from over-fishing.
This over-fishing can have serious side effects, such as those found by
my Nils-Axel Mörner and Pamela Matlack-Klein in Fiji. Mörner found that the beach erosion of the “ shore of Yageta Village has been heavily eroded over the past ten years. This has nothing to do with sea level changes, but is the effect of the removal of thousands of sea cucumbers…”. As the sea cucumbers slowly move over the sandy bottom, they take in the sand, digesting organic matter, and expelling the sand again, with a sticky coating that helps to hold it together and helps prevent erosion by wave motion.
Fear not, the headless chicken monster, Enypniastes eximia, is not among those coveted by the Chinese as a delicacy, so is safe, so far, from extinction-by-food-fad.
Despite my many hours spent underwater in the Northern Caribbean, I have never seen the monster. I have seen many sea cucumbers though and they are curious beasts.
Nature never ceases to amaze.
# # # # #
Author’s Comment Policy:
Always happy to read your comments — if you have interesting stories to share about sea cucumbers I’d love to read them. If that is too restrictive, I’ll take any and all of your scuba and snorkeling stories too.
One of mine: When I finally convinced my wife to see a doctor about the eight inch long, quarter inch high bright red welt on her forearm, the doctor, who was from Cincinnati or some such boring place, exclaimed — “Oh, that is so cool! Can a take a picture?” which he proceeded to do and then sent it off by email to all his doctor friends in the U.S. — he was so excited that it took a half hour to get him to consider the possible cause and recommend a treatment. Cause: a free floating Fire Coral larvae — sticking on her arm, which she brushed with her gloved hand smearing it along an eight inch path. Treatment — hydrocortisone cream and weeks to heal.
Thanks for reading.
# # # # #