In 2011, scientists recorded a beforehand unknown feeding strategy in whales all over the world. Now, researchers in Australia assume they may have discovered proof of this behaviour being described in historic accounts of sea creatures, recorded greater than 2,000 years in the past.
They imagine that misunderstandings of those descriptions contributed to myths about medieval sea monsters.
Whales are identified lunge at their prey when feeding, however recently whales have been noticed on the floor of the water with their jaws open at proper angles, ready for shoals of fish to swim into their mouths. A clip of this strategy was captured in 2021 and went viral on Instagram.
This strategy appears to work for the whales as a result of the fish assume they’ve discovered a spot to shelter from predators, not realising they’re swimming into hazard.
It’s not identified why this strategy has solely recently been recognized, however scientists speculate that it is a results of altering environmental situations — or that whales are being extra carefully monitored than ever earlier than by drones and different fashionable applied sciences.
Dr John McCarthy, a maritime archaeologist in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University, first seen intriguing parallels between marine biology and historic literature whereas studying about Norse sea monsters.
“It struck me that the Norse description of the hafgufa was similar to the behaviour proven in movies of entice feeding whales, however I believed it was simply an attention-grabbing coincidence at first. Once I began wanting into it in element and discussing it with colleagues who specialise in medieval literature, we realised that the oldest variations of those myths don’t describe sea monsters in any respect, however are express in describing a kind of whale, says Dr McCarthy.
“That’s after we began to get actually . The extra we investigated it, the extra attention-grabbing the connections grew to become and the marine biologists we spoke to discovered the thought fascinating.
Old Norse manuscripts describing the creature date from the 13th century and title the creature as a ‘hafgufa’.
This creature remained a part of Icelandic myths till the 18th century, typically included in accounts alongside the extra notorious kraken and mermaids.
However, it seems the Norse manuscripts may have drawn on medieval bestiaries, a well-liked sort of textual content in the medieval interval. Bestiaries describe massive numbers of actual and fantastical animals and typically embody an outline of a creature similar to the hafgufa, normally named because the ‘aspidochelone’.
Both the hafgufa and aspidochelone are generally stated to emit a particular fragrance or scent that helps to attract the fish in direction of their stationary mouths. Although some whales produce ambergris, which is an ingredient of fragrance, this isn’t true of such rorquals because the humpback.
Instead, researchers counsel this component may have been impressed by the ejection of filtered prey by whales, to assist appeal to extra prey right into a whale’s mouth.
Research co-author Dr Erin Sebo, an Associate Professor in Medieval Literature and Language in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University, says this may be one other instance of correct data in regards to the pure surroundings preserved in kinds that pre-date fashionable science.
“It’s thrilling as a result of the query of how lengthy whales have used this method is essential to understanding a variety of behavioural and even evolutionary questions. Marine biologists had assumed there was no method of recovering this knowledge however, utilizing medieval manuscripts, we have been in a position to reply a few of their questions.”
“We discovered that the extra fantastical accounts of this sea monster had been comparatively latest, relationship to the 17th and 18th centuries and there was a number of hypothesis amongst scientists about whether or not these accounts might need been provoked by pure phenomena, corresponding to optical illusions or underneath water volcanoes. In reality, the behaviour described in medieval texts, which appeared so unlikely, is just whale behaviour that we had not noticed however medieval and historic individuals had.”