In this world of Photoshop and online scams, it pays to have a hearty dose of skepticism at reports of something strange—including an albino fetal shark with one eye smack in the middle of its nose like a Cyclops.
But the Cyclops shark, sliced from the belly of a pregnant mama dusky shark caught by a commercial fisherman in the Gulf of California earlier this summer, is by all reports the real thing. Shark researchers have examined the preserved creature and found that its single eye is made of functional optical tissue, they said last week. It's unlikely, however, that the malformed creature would have survived outside the womb.
"This is extremely rare," shark expert Felipe Galvan Magana of Mexico's Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias del Mar told the Pisces Fleet Sportfishing blog in July. "As far as I know, less than 50 examples of an abnormality like this have been recorded." [See photos of the one-eyed "Cyclops" shark]
Pisces Fleet, a sportfishing company, rocketed the Cyclops shark to viral status online this summer with their photos of the creepy-cute creature. But this isn't the first time that reports of a mythical-seeming creature have spurred media sensations — last week alone, Russian officials announced "proof" of a Yeti, and paleontologists spun a theory about an ancient Kraken-like squid. Few reports of mythical beasts, however, come with proof.
The Cyclops shark is an exception. While rare, "cyclopia" is a real developmental anomaly in which only one eye develops. Human fetuses are sometimes affected, as in a 1982 case in Israel reported in 1985 in the British Journal of Ophthalmology. In that case, a baby girl was born seven weeks early with no nose and only one eye in the center of her face. The infant, who lived only 30 minutes after birth, also had severe brain abnormalities.
In 2006, a kitten born with one eye and no nose (a rare condition called holoprosencephaly), created a stir online as news organizations and bloggers tried to determine if the bizarre photos of the animal were real. A veterinarian confirmed the kitten's condition; "Cy," as the cat was known, lived only a day. The remains were sold to the creationist Lost World Museum.
The fisherman who discovered the Cyclops shark is reportedly hanging on to the preserved remains, news outlets reported. But scientists have recently examined and X-rayed the fish, authenticating the catch. According to Seth Romans, a spokesman for Pisces Fleet, Galvan Magana and his colleagues will publish a scientific paper about the find within the next several weeks.
Romans told LiveScience that the fisherman who caught the strange shark is "amazed and fascinated" by the attention his catch has drawn.
It's not the first strange shark fetus Galvan Magana has found; he and his colleagues discovered two-headed shark embryos in two different female blue sharks. It's possible that one embryo started to split into twins, but failed to completely separate because of crowding in the womb, the researchers reported in January 2011 in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records.
Lair of the kraken?
Another recent report of a cryptic creature comes without the benefit of photographic evidence. Nor do the monster-hunters in this scenario have a body to display.
That's because the discovery is of an alleged "kraken's lair," a spot where 200-million-year-old ichthyosaur bones mingle in odd patterns. Paleontologist Mark McMenamin reads these patterns as evidence of a giant, ancient squid-like creature playing with its food, and he said as much on October 10 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. Supporting his claim, he said, is the fact that even today Pacific octopus, which are also cephalopods like the ancient "kraken," have been seen taking down sharks.