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Scientists Identify Mysterious Washed Up Sea Creature (Photos)

| by Sarah Zimmerman

Scientists have finally been able to identify the rotting remains of a giant sea creature that washed onto the shores of an Indonesian island May 10. 

Resident Asrul Tuanakota was shocked to discover a 49-foot-long carcass of some type of massive sea creative on the shores of Seram Island. Tuanakota initially thought he came across an abandoned boat, but soon realized that it was some type of animal.

The animal's rotting flesh turned the water red, according to Fox News.

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Fellow resident Mbs Sangadji posted photos of the creature online, giving more information about the creatures approximate length and weight.

"The Giant squid was stranded on the coast of Hulung Village, Iha Kec. Huamual Kab. Seram Bagian Barat, Maluku," he wrote. "This giant squid is [72 feet] long, [13 feet] wide and weighs about [38] tons. It is hoped that there will be research by a related institution or university on the cause of death of this giant creature."

Although Sangadji calls the creature a "giant squid," scientists confirm the creature is actually a baleen whale in an advanced state of decomposition. 

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Alexander Werth, a whale biologist at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, says the creature's grooves, or throat pleats, as well as its upper jaw gave scientists all the information they needed to identify it as a whale. 

"There is lots of stuff in the ocean that we don't know about -- but there's nothing that big [that remains unknown]," said Werth.

What scientists don't know is exactly which species the whale was. Werth said it could have been a blue whale or a Bryde's whale, but he reckons it's the former as Bryde's whales typically aren't that large. 

Moe Flannery, the collections manager in ornithology and mammalogy at the California Academy of Sciences, suggests that the creature could have also been a fin whale. 

The whale could have been dead for anywhere between two weeks and several months. Baleen whales have bacteria in their gut that create gas. When the whales die, the bacteria continue to produce the gas, which inflates segments of the animal's intestines, causing the carcass to float.

The released gas is foul-smelling, but likely not harmful to humans. Nonetheless, Werth says residents should refrain from bathing in or drinking from the water.

"It must stink to high heaven," said Werth. "That's yet another reason you don't want to be close to these things, not because it's a scary, spooky creature, but [because] it would just be releasing some pretty foul, noxious gases."

Flannery says that the red color in the water surrounding the carcass is likely a combination of blood and grease. The exact cause of death of the whale is unknown, but scientists have taken a tissue sample to learn more.

Fox News reports that residents have already contacted authorities to help remove the creature's remains.

Sources: Fox News, CBS News / Photo credit: Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr

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