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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 20:48 GMT 21:48 UK
Chilean blob could be octopus
The 12-metre (40 foot) wide remains of a sea creature found in Chile could be those of a giant octopus, the first washed up on land for over a century.

The remains measure 12 metres across

The 13-tonne specimen was at first taken for a beached whale when it came ashore a week ago, but experts who have seen it say it appears not to have a backbone.

"Apparently, it is a gigantic octopus or squid but that's just our initial idea, nothing definite," said Elsa Cabrera, a marine biologist and director of the Centre for Cetacean Conservation in the capital, Santiago.

"It has only one tentacle left. It could be a new species."

Ms Cabrera said samples from the creature's remains would be sent to France for analysis by specialist Michel Raynal, and to a university laboratory in southern Florida on Monday.

Just blubber?

The creature washed up one week ago on Los Muermos beach, 1,100 kilometres (680 miles) south of Santiago.

James Mead, a zoologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, US, thinks the huge mass of slimy flesh is whale blubber.

"I don't have enough data to say it's an octopus or it's a whale, but I would hazard a bet that when it gets firmly identified, it'll be a whale."

Mr Mead said a whale could have died of old age, decayed and a big piece of it could have drifted to shore.

Richard Sabin, a marine biologist, cetacean specialist and curator at the Natural History Museum in London said he would be surprised if it was whale blubber after studying photographs of the find.

"Whale blubber has a very recognisable collagen matrix which gives it shape," he said.

"We're not going to know for sure on this specimen until someone gets a biological sample back to the laboratory."

Experts agree the bottom line rests with DNA analysis.

Recurring visitor?

European zoologists said it closely resembled descriptions of a bizarre specimen found in Florida in 1896 that was named Octopus giganteus which has confounded experts ever since.

Other alleged sightings of similar deep-sea creatures by fishermen and divers from the Bahamas to Tasmania are the stuff of folklore, as well as academic study.

The largest of the more than 100 officially recognised species of octopus can measure up to seven metres.

Information gathered about this case matches that gathered by 19th Century scientists who examined the creature found in 1896.

They described pulling at the 18-metre animal with a team of horses and hacking at it with an axe without making a dent.

The BBC's Faye Hawker
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