Mysteries of Abyssal Gigantism

by: Davis Yancy Clegg



While scientists and field biologists all across and throughout the aquatic scientific world have discovered volumes upon volumes of information touching on all known participants in the aquatic world, astonishing findings continue to unveil themselves just when we notice the a moment of stagnancy. As long as I can remember, it’s always been the seemingly gargantuan dwellers of the deep that have lured my attention and enthusiasm. The sperm whale, whale shark, great whites, and deep-water stingrays are some of the larger species studied. While Shark Week is the single most viable way to spend a consecutive 168 hours, I’ve always marveled at the monstrous life that lies down in the crushing depths morose than their peers in the shallows. One thing is for certain. The sheer size of many abyssal lifeforms is dumbfounding. How do these species of the deep get to be so massive while their relatives in shallower waters are much smaller? My first instinct was to think that it‘s based on the diet. Like many of us often do, I made the mistake of equating another specie’s habits to our own. Presumption leads to embarrassment more often than not especially in the scientific arena.

Abyssal GigantismSome of the largest species in existence survive on prey tiny enough to be unseen by the uninitiated eye. Whale sharks exist primarily on a diet of plankton, but they will occasionally hit the AUCE baitfish buffet. Schools of Tuna are often alongside massive sharks making short work of the out layers. Unknown to many, there is a factor that contributes to their body mass that goes far beyond the simplicity of their nutrition habits. Scientists refer to this as Abyssal (Deep-sea) Gigantism.

How could such a process be explained? It’s been widely accepted that the size of the abyssal giants can be related to a mid-19th century study. Carl Bergmann, a German anatomist, physiologist and biologist studied this. Bergmann claimed that the size of species was in direct relation to the latitude they inhabit. When he looked at the ancestors and all the “tree branches” of a given species’ existence, he found that those in colder regions were larger than those of warmer temperate climates. How then do we relate that to our friends of the abyss? Allow me to use the concept of an average backyard in-ground pool to illustrate. When you jump in the water on a nice summer day, it’s refreshing to say the least. At times – especially in the sunshine state – it might even seem a little warm. Now, your favorite aunt (you know… southern with a master’s degree in embarrassing story-telling with a minor in professional cheek squeezing) hurls whatever non-buoyant pool toy is within her reach far into the deep end of the pool. Feeling the need to sport your skills or score some rep with your crush across the picket fence, you plunge into the deep end fearless and with resolve! Once you reach bottom, the temperature has dropped significantly in that very short depth change. In this instance and this instance alone, the ocean is just a large scale and seemingly bottomless swimming pool. Deep-sea gigantism (more commonly known as Abyssal Gigantism) is basically the tendency for invertebrates and other deep-dwellers to display a much larger size than their not too distant relatives in the shallows. Some that own this phenomenon include the Japanese Spider crab, the King of Herrings, and the infamous Giant Squid.

For our purpose, today we will look at some characteristic of the latter. The Giant Squid has been depicted as monster in several Hollywood plots. In the best seller “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, a giant squid attacks the ship called “Nautilus”. More recently, the monster from the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” that attacks Jack Sparrow’s vessel was derived from certain characteristics of the Giant Squid. While the movies and stories are plain ole fiction, the Giant squid does qualify under several qualifications of a sea monster. The main one being that they are – simply put – creepy! The can reach a length of over 50 feet.

There have been sightings of specimens up to 66 feet (the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate in the big leagues). However, these sightings are undocumented and must be categorized as hearsay. It’s only been in the last ten years that these results of Abyssal gigantism have been filmed. Needless to say, there is still much to learn and its new science like this that keeps biologists and deep water enthusiast in a constant state of marvel. There might be more than Seven Wonders of the World after all. Surely, there is at least one that excites your imagination and inner dialogue. It’s amazing how much you can learn from just digging a little deeper.


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