I must confess, I'm glad today is the last of the Cephalopod Days. This heady pace is almost more than I can handle! The final day of ICAD is for celebrating fossil cephalopods, timed to coincide with National Fossil Day, which is totally a real thing. (Not that the other Cephalopod Days aren't a real thing, they're just differently real.)
I'm going to continue the celebration of hypothetical fossil cephalopods, begun yesterday, with an exclusive quote from Sarah McMenamin. Sarah and I were in grad school together, and, aside from being a kind and good-humored human being, she holds a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and is currently a postdoc at the University of Washington.
An additional relevant fact is Sarah is the daughter of the authors of the "Triassic dinosaur-eating Kraken" research, and she has informed me that it is not, in fact, a joke.
I think that my parents' kraken theory is delightful, and I can just imagine my dad and little sister running around the deposit imagining this gigantic prehistoric beast dismembering Ichthyosaurs. The idea is not out of the realm of possibility; mainstream paleontology offers us extinct creatures far more fantastical than colossal cephalopods [TRUE DAT].
But as many have pointed out, support for the theory is based on highly debatable inferences and it is unlikely to be the most parsimonious explanation of the deposit.
I love octopuses and have great respect for cephalopod intelligence [GOTTA HAVE RESPECT]. But bone-sorting behavior of this type is not seen in any modern cephalopod.
My father further hypothesizes that the sucker-like arrangement of the vertebral disks is intentional and might represent the "earliest known self‑portrait." Not only would it be the world's first self-portrait, it would represent the only artistic self-likeness ever to ever be spontaneously produced by any non-human organism.
In defense of my Mom and Dad, they didn't say that there is any certainty about how this deposit formed. They merely looked at this fossil deposit that has been difficult to explain, and proposed an imaginative and fundamentally plausible method for its formation. Their idea was prematurely and uncritically highlighted by the press, and has now experienced an unnecessarily vitriolic backlash from the blogosphere. My parents weren't expecting to be in so bright a spotlight over this preliminary hypothesis, and my father does not deserve this level of personal ridicule.Unfortunately, personal ridicule and unnecessary vitriol are skills at which the internet EXCELS, and it's something I myself have been guilty of in the past. Note to self: become a better human being.
Personally, I doubt that their theory will stand up to peer review, but isn't it just this type of outrageously creative idea that precedes many a big scientific advance?Speaking of outrageous creativity, check out this adorable drawing by Sarah's little sis, Jessica McMenamin:
I so want it to be true!