"How to tell a Sea Monster:"
The Fortune Bay "Blobster"

        St. John's, Newfoundland, 16 August 2001 - DNA testing has identified the “sea monster” that washed ashore at St. Bernard’s, Fortune Bay, Newfoundland, as the remnant of a sperm whale.

        Based on material provided by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in St. John’s, scientists at the Genetics, Evolution, and Molecular Systematics Laboratory in the Department of Biology at Memorial University of Newfoundland performed a forensic DNA test to determine species origin. The analysis compared the DNA sequence of the creature’s NADH2 gene with that of homologous DNA from a variety of large marine species, including sharks and whales. Comparison with this database gave an almost perfect match with a sperm whale (Physeter catodon). The few observed differences are consistent with ordinary genetic variation expected between one whale and another. [Carr et al. 2002. The Biological Bulletin 202: 1-5].

        The test involves a “DNA xeroxing” procedure called the polymerase chain reaction, which generates a large number of copies from a single original gene. The sequence of the gene can then be determined on an automated DNA sequencer. and compared with a database of reference sequences by means of a BLAST search. This type of DNA test is particularly useful in cases like the "sea monster", which involve material in a poor state of preservation or of unknown origin. The identification was done as part of an ongoing collaboration between DFO and Memorial scientists to study the genetics and genomics of marine organisms.

Whale Woodcut

Monster photos © 2001 Department of Fisheries & Oceans & St. John's Evening Telegram; Physeter drawing © 1991 Walker's Mammals of the World; woodcut © 1979 Arion Press. Text  © 2012 by Steven M. Carr