Of sea monsters and searching for answers

Caleb HendrichImagine the looks on the faces of several off-roaders in New Zealand last week as they were riding down the beach when they came across a massive rotting corpse. This particular specimen was reported as being around 30 feet long, with flippers and a mouth half-full of large sharp teeth. Imagine the shock that such a sight would cause.

It’s really no surprise that the initial conclusion that was drawn was that this was some sort of ancient sea monster that lives secretly underneath the waves. Considering that a majority of the animal’s body had rotted away, there weren’t exactly a lot of obvious identifiable features to indicate what it might actually be (there are pictures posted on an article related to the subject on Discovery.com.)

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Unfortunately, the corpse wasn’t quite as exciting as I was hoping when I first read the story. No escaped Loch Ness Monster, or surviving plesiosaur or some demented ancient shark. Instead, marine biologists, just from looking at the picture and video mind you, believe that the decomposing mass on the beach was just a killer whale.

While initially disappointed at the news (I was really hoping for the discovery of a new species of ancient shark), the excitement of the discovery itself remains. There’s nothing that is quite like finding something that is new and unknown; they mystery of it all has an almost romantic allure to it. It speaks to one of the core aspects of humanity as a species, that we are inherently curious and natural explorers.

The idea that there is still so much that we don’t know about both the world on which we live, and this tiny section of space in which that world resides is fascinating to me. It speaks to something primal in me, piquing at the urge to travel, explore and learn as much as I can.

Of all of the horrible and awful things that happen in this world, it is really easy to be cynical. It’s easy to dismiss human beings as nothing more than self-centered and violent; little more than a blight for both one another and for the world as a whole. It’s even easier to see no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

But seeing people asking questions, being inquisitive and trying to get to the bottom of a mystery reveals something that I believe is fundamental to who we are. Not just something fundamental, but something positive and redeeming.

It’s the reason why I am excited whenever I read about a new scientific breakthrough. It’s the reason why I have an almost unhealthy obsession with NASA and the idea of space exploration. It’s the reason why I love the philosophy of skepticism and the journalistic hunt for truth. It’s why potentially finding a new species of sea monster can become some of the best news that I hear all week.

It is because I truly believe that humanity is created, destined, designed or just biologically hardwired to explore. We all have the capacity to push the boundaries of what we know further and further. We all have something to contribute to the pool of knowledge in this world, whether that is asking a simple question or developing a ground-shaking new scientific principle.

There is a whole universe of things to discover out there. There is so much that we don’t know and don’t understand, but that isn’t something to shy away from. If the sum of all human knowledge can be represented by a pier, sticking out into a vast and seemingly infinite ocean, then I would encourage that we take the plunge into the unknown waters and swim until we find dry land again.

Sea monsters are just the beginning. As was said in the the very last strip of Calvin and Hobbes: “Let’s go exploring.”

Editorial Editor Caleb Hendrich is a senior Journalism and Political Science double major. His columns appear Wednesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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