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Sea Monsters, Orcas, and the Fun of Fear

What is it about sea monsters that captures the imagination of the world? When the 30-foot-long carcass (shown in the video below) washed ashore on a New Zealand beach, this video began to show signs of going viral. Now thought to be an orca decomposed into something strange and otherworldly, the body’s discovery lit the fire of imagination around the world: What could it be? Some new species or one thought long extinct? Boy I wouldn’t want to swim anywhere near that guy! Look at those teeth.

Instead the truth is stranger than these fictions, just as the real world is scarier than what lurks beneath any child’s bed. Think of what orcas do in their search for food—the intelligence they exhibit and their group social structure is far more interesting and frightening (especially to their prey) than some kind of reptile or shark with a hardwired brain the size of a fava bean.

But it’s this fascination with the unknown that makes us go fishing and go to sea. And go to see. There’s an undeniable appeal to never knowing what lies beneath, but hoping to catch a glimpse. That’s part of what keeps us going back out, and coming safely back to port.