by D. Trull
In 1996, a meteorite found in Antarctica made headlines upon the announcement that fossilized microbes from Mars had fallen to Earth. Now further research from the desolate South Pole continent is providing more news of a fantastic nature, doing for the field of cryptozoology what it did for ufologists before. Scientists studying icebergs on the Antarctic seabed have discovered a variety of never-before-seen species of such immense size and peculiarity that they could rightly be called monsters.
Dr. Lloyd Peck, head of Nearshore Marine Biology for the British Antarctic Survey, announced that the frigid polar environment has brought about a sort of "gigantism" among a number of diverse marine life forms. There are Antarctic sea spiders measuring up to 13 inches across, which is a thousand times the size of the common European sea spider. Isopods, aquatic insects comparable to wood lice that normally grow to a length of 1.2 inches in warmer seas, have been found as long as 6.7 inches. Other giant creatures include 10-foot sponges and ribbon worms over nine feet long.
Peck explained that two primary conditions of the Antarctic are responsible for the evolution of these monsters: cold and isolation. The freezing temperatures cause marine life to have extremely low metabolic rates, which enables them to live longer and grow much larger than their relatives in more temperate oceans. The isolated and foreboding habitats of these species also help them to thrive, keeping them relatively free of encroaching predators -- and human beings.
Icebergs are a vital element in the shaping of the creatures' habitat, and a topic of special interest to Peck. Measuring acres across, giant icebergs routinely crash into the Antarctic seabed, laying waste to vast colonies of marine life like a naturally occurring nuclear blast.
"An iceberg obliterates everything short of bacteria, leaving a pristine environment," Peck said. While obviously detrimental to the organisms caught in its path, an iceberg's "cleansing" leaves behind a virginal habitat in which other species may then successfully propagate. The combination of these environmental factors has led Antarctica to spawn a hitherto unknown diversity of marine life which Peck says might compare to the exotic species of tropical seas.