The kraken rises, or does it? New evidence presented for ancient sea monster’s existence


The legendary kraken — a squid-like sea monster from story and myth — may actually have existed in prehistoric times, says paleontologist Mark McMenamin. However, even though he has brought new evidence to the table in the debate over this creature, to others, these new findings are hardly convincing.

The kraken has shown up in myths and stories over the years, from Norse sailors in the 14th century to movies like Clash of the Titans. However, according to McMenamin, a paleontologist from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the kraken deserves to be in biology and paleontology textbooks too. He first presented his case back in 2011, saying that the fossil bones of an ancient marine reptile, found in Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada, showed evidence of sucker markings, that the bones of the spine were in a strangely linear formation, and the whole arrangement was similar to how a octopuses are known to arrange the bones of their meals. For an octopus to overpower a whale-sized ichthyosaur, it would have to be huge, much bigger than the giant octopuses or even colossal squid scientists have already found evidence for — possibly up to 30 metres in length.

McMenamin's ideas didn't gain much support at the time, but he has new evidence — photographs of another ichthyosaur fossil, once on display at the Las Vegas Museum of Natural History, showed a similar pattern to his previous find. Also, the rib cage of the ichthyosaur showed evidence that it was constricted, like how an octopus would wrap around its prey to drown it or snap its neck. Bolstered by this find, he returned to Nevada with a team, to look for more fossil evidence, and they apparently found some — a rock that McMenamin says could be part of a kraken's beak.

"It's the densest thing on the body of a cephalopod," McMenamin told Discovery News, meaning that it would be the part that would survive longest to be fossilized. "We obtained a beak of a giant Humboldt squid and compared. That actually worked pretty well. We have direct comparison to modern Humboldt squid. They had very similar fractures and converging straia."

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However, for other scientists, the evidence still isn't convincing.

David Fastovsky, a paleontologist from the University of Rhode Island who wrote a response to McMenamin's evidence for the Paleontological Society said that a kraken isn't necessary to explain the arrangement of the bones. "Everything can be explained by much less exotic means," he told LiveScience, going on to saying that the tiled formation of the fossil vertebrae is a natural one, since the spine would have fallen apart like a row of toppled dominoes. Thus, he went on to say, "[a] perfectly reasonable, pedestrian, coherent story emerges that doesn't require wholesale invention of what is unknown or unprecedented."

Science is willing to accept any possibility, as long as there's supporting evidence for it. The idea of the kraken actually existing at some point is very cool, but unfortunately, sometimes Occam's Razor just wins out.

(Images courtesy: Reuters, Mark McMenamin)

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