Blob off Alaskan coast identified

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

A 'giant black mystery blob' in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska has been identified as marine algae. Initially speculated to be an oil spill, the mass was discovered by a group of hunters earlier this month near Wainwright. The blob is reported to be stringy and hairy, and is tangled with jellyfish, among other debris.

The "thick, dark gunk" stretches for as much as 15 miles, and is moving at a slow drift. Upon being first sighted, the U.S. Coast Guard flew out to investigate the mass, and local officials collected samples for testing. Coast Guard Petty Officer Terry Hasenauer reported that "We responded as if it were an oil product. It was described to us as an oil-like substance, thick and lingering below the surface of the water. Those characteristics can indicate heavy, degraded oil, maybe crude oil, or possibly an intermediate fuel oil."

Test results subsequently revealed that the blob is some sort of unusually extensive algae bloom. "It's definitely, by the smell and the makeup of it [...] some sort of naturally occurring organic or otherwise marine organism", Hasenauer said. The substance has remained entirely offshore.

However, there is still great uncertainty among local residents and officials alike: "We've observed large blooms in the past off Barrow although none of them at all like this", said Barry Sherr, an oceanography professor. "The fact that the locals say they've never seen anything like it suggests that it might represent some exotic species which has drifted into the region, perhaps as a result of global change. For the moment that's just a guess."


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