Sunday, November 9, 2008

Coney Island Globster

The Coney Island Globster is actually a specific species of giant octopus that was first discovered when a long-dead carcass washed ashore near Coney Island, New York in 1962. Observers at first didn't know what to make of it, and there was speculation that it might be a giant squid, or an enormous hunk of whale blubber. The term "globster" had already been coined a year earlier to describe a hard-to-identify carcass, and so the creature became known as the Coney Island Globster. The Coney Island Globster weighed an amazing 450 pounds and was 17 feet long. While scientists were eventually able to discover that the creature was an octopus, the body was too decomposed to be able to match it to current species. The body was shipped up to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on Cape Cod, and the incident forgotten.

In 1987, a small fishing boat in Long Island Sound was nearly capsized when it was attacked by what the sailors described as a "Kraken". Three giant tentacles, each at least 18 feet long, wrapped themselves around the ship and tried to drag it under. Amazingly, the boat was on the edge of foundering when quick thinkng fisherman Lyle Cavendish grabbed a fire axe and severed one of the tentacles. Cavendish, who later became a preacher in rural Iowa, says that then the monster uttered a "scream of agony that sounded like the devil's fingernails scraping on God's chalkboard". The other two tentacles disappeared back into the sea and the boat was released.

Researchers at Woods Hole determined that the tentacle brought back by Cavendish and the crew of the Bonnie Harlot was actually a heretofore undiscovered new species of octopus. In the course of working to discover more, they found that the octopus that attacked the Harlot was a second Coney Island Globster, and so that's what they named this new species. Using sophisticated imaging technology, and extrapolating from the single tentacle and the decomposed carcass, the world renowned scientists at Woods Hole were able to create an image of the entire creature, which artist C. Taylor Bonnell has sketched above. As you can see, the Coney Island Globster is a fierce creature.

The number of tentacles is not an accident or a trick of perspective (octopi normally have eight tentacles). In fact, marine Biologists speculate that the Coney Island Globster, instead of having a single hectocyotylus like the Seven-Armed Octopus, actually has two. The hectobyotyluses, which are used for procreation, would be kept tightly curled around the body.

Little is known otherwise of the Coney Island Globster, although marine biologists have begun working with historians to document anecdotal stories and sightings by sailors that might actually have been the Coney Island Globster. In literature, a version of the Coney Island Globsters appears in Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The documentary Coney Island Kraken tells the story of the first Coney Island Globster and speculates that it was a Globster that destroyed the HMS Culloden off Montauk in 1781. The movie Octopus in My Soup, a low-budget independent comedy set in the Hamptons, was notoriously inspired by the story. It tells the story of a little girl whose father is a ferry captain. She befriends a Coney Island Globster, who eventually saves the ship from terrorists.

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