Mystery solved: Alaska's big blob is identified as algae

A sample of the giant black mystery blob that Wainwright hunters discovered this month floating in the Chukchi Sea has been identified.

Not bunker oil seeping from an aging, sunken ship. Not a sea monster.

It looks to be a stringy batch of algae.

"We got the results back from the lab today," said Ed Meggert, of the Department of Environmental Conservation in Fairbanks. "It was marine algae."

Miles of the thick, dark gunk had been spotted floating between Barrow and Wainwright, prompting North Slope Borough officials and the Coast Guard to investigate last week. A sample was sent to a DEC lab in Palmer, where workers looked at it under a microscope and declared it some kind of simple plant — an algae, Meggert said.

The goo fast became an Alaska mystery. And the new findings still leave questions unanswered: Why is there so much of it in a region where people say they've never seen anything quite like it?

Local hunters and whalers didn't know what to make of it. The Coast Guard labeled the substance biological, but knew little else. The stuff had hairy strands in it and was tangled with jellyfish, said a borough official.

Terry Whitledge is director of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He hasn't had a chance to look at the DEC's sample yet, but a friend with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration e-mailed him a picture of the gunk.

"Filamentous algae," he concluded.


"It means it's just stringy."


Related stories from McClatchy DC