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Chilean Experts Say Beached 'Blob' a Sperm Whale
Fri July 11, 2003 02:18 PM ET
SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - Chilean scientists said on Friday their study of a huge blob of flesh found on a Pacific beach about three weeks ago concluded it was the carcass of a sperm whale, ending speculation of a giant octopus.

Scientists have been baffled by the 40-foot-long mass of gelatinous tissue found on a remote beach in southern Chile, with initial hunches ranging from whale blubber to a disputed species of giant octopus.

Researchers at the Museum of Natural History in Santiago were the first to reach a conclusion after analyzing samples of the decaying specimen and finding glands of a sperm whale.

"It has not been necessary to do DNA analysis in order to obtain identification, it was enough to find the dermal glands that belong only to this group," the scientists Sergio Letelier and Jose Yanez said in a statement.

The sperm whale, made famous by Herman Melville's Moby Dick, is the largest of the toothed whales and dives deeper than any other whale. The males measure up to 65 feet in length and weigh about 50 tons.

When a sperm whale dies at sea, it rots until it becomes a "skeleton suspended in a semi-liquid mass within a bag of skin and blubber," the scientists said. Eventually, the skin tears and the bones sinks while the skin and blubber float.

"This washes up and has the appearance of an octopus because the spermaceti organ keeps its bulky shape," they added.

The spermaceti is a large bulbous organ that forms a sort of forehead and contains a milky wax which early whalers likened to sperm fluid.

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