Antarctica’s Lost & Found Dept.

Roald Amundsen and his crew looking at the Norwegian flag at the South Pole, 1911
Roald Amundsen and his crew looking at the Norwegian flag at the South Pole, 1911 Wikimedia Commons

Even marine biology is sounding sexy these days. "This is virgin geography," a member of the International Polar Foundation told reporters when a so-called "lost world" of new species was discovered in the mushy remains of a melted antarctic ice shelf. Like any newly discovered virgin, the geography was raided.

More than 50 scientists from 14 countries spent 10 weeks collecting about 1,000 species in the first comprehensive ecological survey of the seabed underneath the Larsen A and Larsen B ice shelves, which disintegrated in 1995 and 2002, respectively. Among this cache of strange creatures is this really cool "psychedelic octopus." But haven't you heard this story before? True, this isn't Antarctica's first "lost world." But this sounds so much like the "lost world" that was discovered last year in Indonesia, where many species were also discovered, including this golden-mantled tree kangaroo.

It's funny, this "lost world" pretense. It supposes that, eons ago, these animals were all well-known to humans, part of the vast realm of human knowledge. And now their discovery rightly puts them back in their place as intellectual conquests. It's not that we didn't know about them, it's just that we forgot. We lost our memories. Misplaced our knowledge of them.

The reality is more of the opposite: a confession that, in fact, we know very little about some parts of the world, and that there are bound to be huge surprises down the road. Not surprises that we forgot about, or lost, but surprises we can't fathom because we never knew them.

Scientists seem to think that saying something like "unimaginable" is heretical to all the high and mighty talk about the vast scope of curiosity. Surely, some theoretician somewhere sometime ago somehow wrote a dissertation or something on this exact thing we are now witnessing, right? Not so much.

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