Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sea Monsters: From Myth to Reality

The idea of one-eyed monsters is as old as – if not older than – Greek mythology. The famous cyclopeans who played havoc with Olympian heroes and gods are legendary, of course, and actually survive in modern teen-lit. One of my favorite characters in Rick Riordan’s charming Percy Jackson and the Olympians series of books is Percy’s half-brother Tyson the Cyclops.

All that fictiony goodness aside, National Geographic online has confirmed that a shark fetus caught while still inside its mother in the Gulf of California is a bona fide Cyclops. This article indicates that the baby dusky shark, one of a litter of ten otherwise normal fetuses, was indeed an example of a rare, congenital condition known as cyclopia. Also known as synophthalmia, the disorder is documented in 1 in about 15,000 live births in animals and a surprisingly high 1 in 250 embryos. The animals in question include humans although live births of cyclopiad babies are undocumented to date.

Once scientists from the Interdisciplinary Center of Marine Science in La Paz, Mexico, determined that the shark fetus was the real deal, they proceeded to request to “borrow” it from fisherman Enrique Lucero Leon. Leon had posted pictures of the odd little fellow on Facebook, which drew interest from the researchers.

Jim Gelsleichter, a shark biologist from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, points out in the article that though Cyclops sharks have been documented previously they are a rare occurrence. According to Gelsleichter, none have yet been caught “outside the womb” making it reasonable to suspect that they cannot survive long once they are born. A quote from Gelsleichter winds up the article quite nicely:

It’s a humbling experience to realize you ain’t seen it all yet.

Isn’t it just?

Header: Cyclops shark fetus via NatGeo online (more pictures can be seen with the article)


Timmy! said...

Ahoy Pauline! Cyclops shark attack! Awesome!

Pauline said...

The strange thing about the shark's face is that, like almost all creatures with cyclopia, the nose is missing. This is because the failure of the eyes to split into two different sockets during fetal development leaves no room for a nose. So the shark kind of looks like a one-eyed, slightly tipsy smiley face.