Friday, July 19, 2024
HomeLifeAn Underwater Mystery

An Underwater Mystery

You know you want it...

Mocka Jumbies and Rum...

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I’ve been known to drag home most any animal in need even
when it didn’t want to go or required days and sometimes months of effort to
catch.My own mother was afraid to
enter my house before asking what might be crawling, flying or slithering
about.Scraping fresh road kill into
zip lock bags tended to dismay passersby along the roadways as they wondered if
I was harvesting that night’s dinner.I
was…for the raptors in care.

But, none were as dismayed as
beachgoers when I recently exited the water after a dive with both hands full
of bones and a skull.Despite the
horrid smell upon hitting air, some of the more curious followed me to my car
where I pulled more bones from my BC pockets, waistband, and from inside my
dive skin.Overcome by the odor and
fearful of my apparent lack of sanity most onlookers quickly retreated leaving
only one who was still under the effects of the previous night’s libations and
that day’s herbs.

As I
laid out the bones he became ever more excited at the prospect of my having
found the remnants of a deep sea species as yet unidentified by man.
I doubted his appraisal and was determined
to identify the skeleton that seemed almost complete after having run a search
pattern across a wide expanse of bottom.
It had a wide but flattened head complete with part of a spinal column
and nerve ganglia attached.I had what
appeared to be a flexible lower jaw, two long bones attached in the center by
cartilage.There were two wide, flattened
curved bones, which appeared to be pelvic bones.
And, there were bones that resembled vestigial limb bones.

that I could easily identify the creature by a quick search through my library
of underwater identification books and equally as certain that I did not have
the remains of a deep sea creature, I headed home in an increasingly stinky
car.After thoroughly washing my dive
gear and myself I attempted to reassemble the bones in a logical order to no

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bones were pristine white and hard but very light, like a bird’s bones.
There were no ribs so it had to be a
soft-bodied animal but what?The eye
cavities were large, larger that any fish I’d ever encountered.
What I mistook for the throat cavity became
the brain cavity with a clear view of rudimentary nerves running along the top
of the vertebrae rather than through the center.
The pelvic looking bones didn’t fit where a pelvis should.

work awhile on the skeleton, search through more books, surf the net, and then
put the skeleton back in a bucket all the while wondering if Mr. Herbs was
correct.For a week the skeleton rested
in bleach water and every night I’d try again to identify the bones.
The fact that I had a smelly skeleton
soaking in a bucket in our shower began to disturb even my partner who is
usually quite amenable to anything I do.

the week spent in the bucket transformed the skeleton.
The hard shell of the ‘bones’ began to
dissolve leaving translucent cartilage.
I had the skeleton of an elasmobranch; a cartilaginous fish, a
stingray!A quick trip on the net to
the California Academy of Scientists’ Ichthyology Department and my skeleton
was reassembled.

even though the mystery of the skeleton is solved and I care not that I shall
forever be branded as a ‘person of interest’ by some beachgoers nor that Mr.
Herbs won’t be buying me a drink for discovering a new species, I have been
banned from keeping the skeleton in the house as one of my many sea treasures.
And I’m off on another dive to see what I
can find….

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Becky Bauer is a scuba instructor and award-winning journalist covering the marine environment in the Caribbean. She is a contributing photographer to NOAA.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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