Monday, July 27, 2015

Super Predators....in Space?

Some of our recent blogs about the horror elements in Science Fiction got the wheels of my imagination turning at a pretty fair clip. Like most of the commenters, I don't appreciate horror when its nothing more than a blood-and-gut fest, but I totally love being chilled and terrorized by the unknown. I love being creeped out by the goosebump-raising question of "What's out there?"

Recently I watched a documentary done for Smithsonian Channel called Hunt for the Super Predator. It was about a mysterious unknown beast that lurks in the depths of the Southern Ocean off Australia. Pretty chilling blurb, yes? Well it gets better.

Eleven years ago, a 9' Great White shark nicknamed Shark Alpha was tagged off the coast of Australia by filmmaker David Riggs and his team as part of a large-scale tagging research project to study the movements of Great White sharks. But only four months later, Shark Alpha's bleached tag washed up on the shores of Australia without the shark attached.

Via recorded data from the shark's tag (a sort of marine "black box"), researchers followed the movements of the shark up and down the Australian coastline for hundreds of miles, until four months later when she was apparently pulled or pursued at very high speed to the depth of nearly 2,000 feet down the side of the continental shelf, where the tag recorded a sudden temperature change from 7 degree C to 25 degrees C (about 46 degrees F to 78 degrees F).

What did that mean?

It meant this 9' apex predator had apparently been chased and eaten by something much bigger and more aggressive. Something that lurks in the depths off southern Australia. The sudden change in temperature indicates that Shark Alpha (and tag) was completely ingested, and the tag became bleached by the stomach acid of the monster that gobbled her up.

What the heck EATS a 9' Great White Shark, you ask?



Although there were rampant theories that the "teenaged" Great White must have been swallowed by a massive kraken, a gigantic Sperm or Killer Whale, a prehistoric Megalodon, a monstrous squid or even (chuckle) Godzilla, researchers knew the beast in question wasn't fictional or extinct, and the body temperature of whatever had consumed Shark Alpha was too high for that of a whale. Also, being air-breathers, they haven't been known to dive to such depths.

From photographs documenting the marine life in the surrounding area, evidence began to mount up that something colossal was attacking the local sea life. A photo of a whale sporting a well-healed bite out of his back with a five-foot bite radius was one piece of evidence. Photographs of other Great Whites with monstrous teeth patterns raking up their bodies added more weight to the theory that "something's out there." The sum of all this evidence led to the profile of a super predator measuring approximately 35' in length. The Great White's ancestor, Megalodon, measured up to around 70', but since it's been extinct for 2 million years it was ruled out as the perp.

The culprit was determined to be, in all likelihood, another, massive Great White shark--possibly 35' in length. A Great White of that size would be enormous, much larger than any individual ever documented on film, the largest of which have been between 20'-25' feet. However, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest Great White Shark ever found measured 37' long, with a close runner-up measuring 36'. The 36' foot shark was reportedly captured in the 1870s off Port Fairy in South Australia, while the 37' shark was caught near New Brunswick, Canada, in the 1930s.  If these measurements were accurate (they were not scientifically verified), a 35' specimen living in the ocean depths is not completely beyond belief.


Here's a link to the entire Super Predator documentary in wide screen format on YouTube. 


This documentary really got me thinking about super predators in space. Imagine colonizing a newly found planet. The world has all of the necessary requirements going for successful settlement--breathable atmosphere, habitable temperatures in the Goldilocks zone of its local sun, and ample water, most likely in the form of ocean or great lakes. But what terrors might be lurking in the depths of those unexplored alien waters when we're not even sure what may be prowling the oceans of our own world?

Aliens aren't a big part of my current SFR series, Inherit the Stars but there is one reference to an alien creature from an aquatic world called a Gagibeaste (Gah Jee Beast). This creature is so massive that the bone from one of its flippers is large enough to serve as the long bar in an ocean-themed tavern on planet Banna.

I didn't elaborate on the creature in the story, but I see it in the Library of Fictional Natural History in my head as a gigantic marine Eagle with a smooth, whale-like skin, long flippers in place of wings for front appendages, long talons for gripping as rear appendages which fold back along the body for streamlined swimming, and the business end of the predator sporting a massive, razor sharp 10' beak. To strike, the Gagibeaste overtakes its prey using its powerful flippers, then bites into it with its beak while it pulls its hind talons forward to grip the unlucky victim while it feeds. Pretty frightening visual, isn't it?

Although SFR normally centers on the romantic relationship in a future, alien or high tech setting, I think a story that's the SFR equivalent of Jaws in Space could be a really thrilling read, especially if the romance is well-grounded in the struggle to survive.

What are your thoughts about a romance that also deals with alien super predators? Have you ever run across a Jaws in Space (/Alien Worlds) SFR or do you think it's a pretty rare commodity in our genre?

Have a great week.

8 comments:

  1. I've already touched on one of the super predators in my SFR - the sentiac - and I had a sea monster called a seawraith in Keir. But there are much worse to come...

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  2. Ah yes, Pippa! Forgot about your sea creature in Keir. Much worse to come? Bring them on! :) I always thought of the Sentiac as more of a demon-monster type creature, but I really need to get to that re-read to re-familiarize myself with the story.

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  3. A 9' Great White eaten by something larger? Holy crap! Super predator, indeed. A great idea starter. Thanks.

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    1. That was my reaction exactly, Diane. Whaaa?

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  4. I immediately think of dinosaurs on Earth. If anyone had landed here back then, they wouldn't have lasted long. That's been done, of course. Both in short stories and in that rather lame TV series (?) But there is so much diversity in life. Monsters are real.

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    1. Yeah, the dinosaurs would have been a formidable greeting party.

      And I totally agree, monsters are real in spite of our reassurances to little ones. Reminds me of the scene in Aliens when Newt says her Mom used to tell her monsters didn't exist, but she knows they really do, and Ripley has to admit she's right. Newt asks, "Then why do they tell little kids that?" And Ripley replies, "Because most of the time, it's true." Great scene.

      Delete

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