Dr. Craig R. McClain has always been obsessed with size. As a kid, McClain frequently visited the “World’s Largest” diversions that dot the highways of family roadtrips. As an adult and as a marine scientist, his passion for measurement — for measuring life — extended into his professional life. “How an organism relates to the world around it is determined by its size, and understanding size is understanding the disparity of life itself,” writes McClain.
Now, perhaps adding himself to the footnotes of every future textbook on marine life, McClain, his colleagues and his students have published a new paper listing the best sources they could find for the biggest organisms in the ocean.
Click to enlarge! Hi-res here.
This effort was a bit different from what McClain has done before as the Chief Editor at Deep-Sea News. It wasn’t like estimating the size of a Pacific Rim kaiju’s appetite or setting the size of the giant squid straight. The paper published in PeerJ is much more robust. McClain, Meghan Balk from the University of New Mexico, and five undergraduate students hunted down the best information on marine megafauna measurement they could find for 25 different species.
The team read papers, scoured book and textbooks, scanned newspapers, asked museum scientists to measure their specimens on hand, and yes, they even called people. All that effort can be summarized in a deceptively simple infographic (above), but there is an awful lot of information hidden within it.
For example, the blue whale is not the longest creature in the sea. That title belongs the the lion’s mane jelly (a gorgeous specimen, by the way). And although the giant squid is said to grow to some giant sizes — supposedly up to 18 meters or 60 feet long — the best source the team could find was 12 meters. The team eventually recorded a range of sizes for these species, which can tell us more than just a maximum can.
For more on McClain’s paper, check out Ed Yong’s write-up at National Geographic.