A Southerner Relays Tales of Ship Wrecks and Worms

Dear Readers,

Mint Julep

In the summer of ‘06 I, a Southern gentleman in my finest white linen suit*, find myself in the lower portion of England.  The heat smothers me.  Now if I found myself in the land of Delta Blues, I would quench my thirst with a mint julep.  But alas, I’m in the Queen’s country much too far from bourbon.  Instead, I procure what the locals call a gin and tonic, a tasty libation that does much to put warm weather blues at bay.

You might ask yourself what an Arkansas Southerner is doing near the home of King Arthur’s Court.  Like-minded and highly-educated individuals, including this parched Southern boy, are simply rendezvousing for a marine soiree.   As you may know those of ocean persuasion are of sharp tongue and quick drink, and as time passed stories flowed faster than the Mississippi in April.  Some stories…let’s just say those dogs won’t hunt.  But others they stuck with me like my grandmother’s biscuits and gravy.

Hundred years prior, give or take a few years, before my daddy was a thought in his daddy’s head, a very ungentlemanly event occurred.  In 1915 a German submarine, perhaps taking great offense, fired torpedoes a mail ship the ‘SS Persia’.  As mail ships tend to, the hold was full paper correspondence no doubt detailing the benign happenstances of daily activities.  A mere two years later, Germans, at this time apparently being an easily offended lot, sunk the ‘Catania’ carrying 2500 tons of Southern Gold or cotton seed for you Yankees.

The unfortunate Persia

Now I apologize for mentioning a perhaps unsightly topic to my readers of delicate disposition.  Certain worms prefer environments that many of us would simply find ghastly.  These certain worms take up residence in grisly places like vents and seeps and whales going home to the sweet baby Jesus.  Hard to believe such riffraff finds good times in these places where sulfur is produced so blatantly.  Although I’m sure the smell of rotten eggs is a formidable barrier to us more civilized animals, these worms appear to convince bacteria to use this reeking sulfur as some sort of energy.  And low behold this marginally repugnant task lends a meal to the worm.  Although I am sure that this cannot compare to a healthy plate of chicken fried steak and deep-fried cobbed corn.  But I digress.

Those certain worms, Lamellibranchia

Whether it be the organic remains of passionate paper correspondence or the seedlings of a Southern cash crop, their macabre decay, that makes my stomach twist even penning it here, produces more sulfur than my cousin does his ‘special medicine’.  Well as my astute readers may already deduce, these certain worms flourish in this wretched home like smooth crab grass on my lawn.  Of course, if such tall tales are true, and I do believe they are, then shipwrecks may allow such opportunistic worms of the right persuasion to simply hop across oceans. This all with blatant disregard and obvious lacking moral fiber. Our damaged goods may be their thoroughfares.

Well it is of late hour and find myself in dire need of rest as I was busier today than one-legged man in a butt-kickin’ contest.


Dr. M

*This Southerner cannot confirm whether all details of this story are true.  He suggests cautious individuals may take it upon themselves and even take pleasure in exploring such matters further.

Hughes, D., & Crawford, M. (2009). A new record of the vestimentiferan Lamellibrachia sp. (Polychaeta: Siboglinidae) from a deep shipwreck in the eastern Mediterranean Marine Biodiversity Records, 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1755267206001989

Gambi, M., Schulze, A., & Amato, E. (2011). Record of Lamellibrachia sp. (Annelida: Siboglinidae: Vestimentifera) from a deep shipwreck in the western Mediterranean Sea (Italy) Marine Biodiversity Records, 4 DOI: 10.1017/S1755267211000261

**I apologize to readers as the warm spring weather in North Carolina and a recent copy of the Oxford American have conspired and inspired this post.


Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (http://www.scienceofthesouth.com/), connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

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2 comments on “A Southerner Relays Tales of Ship Wrecks and Worms
  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading yer fine letter with me own cooling drink, the marvelous mojito. Somewhat like a mint julep, it is made with rum and a generous squeeze of lime – minty fresh AND prevents scurvy. Perhaps you could try one too.

    With warm regards from me hearty, Captain Skellett

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