Aliens in the Caribbean?

by Jeff McCord

As a Star Trek enthusiast and lover of the Caribbean, imagine my surprise to learn that reputable scientists in Britain and the U.S. have long considered the octopus to be so different from every other creature on Earth as to be virtually alien. In the Virgin Islands, these non-terrestrials can often be spotted in coral reefs or amid submerged mangrove roots.

In media stories reporting his recent study of octopi DNA published in Nature magazine, Clifford Ragsdale, PhD, of the University of Chicago says:

“The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other animals, even other mollusks, with its eight prehensile arms, its large brain and its clever problem-solving capabilities. The late British zoologist Martin Wells said the octopus is an alien. In this sense, then, our paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien.”

Just how different is this sentient creature with its bulbous head and hard, bird-like beak at the center of eight arms? Compared to the 85 million neurons in the human brain, the octopus boasts between 100 and 500 brain cells. Half are located in its arms. This enables it to move all eight arms independently, use tools and “see” light through its skin. Octopi can identify and react differently to individual humans and open jars — even the child-proof pill bottles many of us struggle with. And, each individual sucker on its intelligent arms do more than catch prey. They taste it.

In addition to its well-known ability to spray disagreeable black ink at predators, in the blink of an eye an octopus can camouflage itself to perfectly simulate the background colors and textures of reefs, rocks, sand or vegetation.

With fossil records dating back 400 or 500 million years, octopi are Earth’s first intelligent beings. This begs two alternative questions. How did they evolve? Where did they come from?

While marine biologists and other scientists work to answer the evolutionary question, it’s fun for the rest of us to ponder the “alien” question. Certainly the oceans have long been associated with other-worldly incidents and strange beings and vessels. The Caribbean Sea, in particular, is a hot bed of sightings of unidentified flying and submersible objects.

Sir Eric Gairy, the first Prime Minister of the island nation of Grenada, told reporters and the United Nations General Assembly that he’d seen frequent UFOs and had even found the body of an extraterrestrial on the beach. Sir Eric managed to get the UN to adopt a resolution calling for the open study of UFOs and the exchange of information among nations.

Hundreds of miles north of Grenada, in the rain forested mountains of Puerto Rico, flying saucer sightings are relatively common. The El Yungue rain forest is one haunt of UFO watchers. In remote P.R. forests, the chupacabra, a reportedly erect reptilian “alien,” has become part of island folklore. Chupacabra masks are worn at festivals.

As a hobby, I collected such accounts of Caribbean sightings — many from Naval officers and other credible sources. They form the basis for my fact-based novel “Undocumented Visitors in a Pirate Sea” (available on Amazon.com). In the story, an Intrepid maritime historian Thayer Harris, PhD works with U.S. Naval Intelligence to solve the mysterious death of a Marine. In the process, the fictional Dr. Harris discovers a 60-year record of extraterrestrial activity in the Caribbean basin.

Fantasy? Perhaps. But, knowledgeable people with interests in the Caribbean are not so sure. Laurance Rockefeller, for instance, is widely known as the father of the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John, among other accomplishments. He was also a pilot and large investor in post-World War II commercial and defense aerospace industries. Fascinated by UFOs, Mr. Rockefeller funded substantive scientific research of the phenomenon. He met with President Bill Clinton’s science advisor in a failed attempt to gain declassification of all UFO-related government documents.

Another famous St. John part-time resident was New York Times science reporter Walter Sullivan. In the 1960s, he researched and wrote the book “We are Not Alone.” He reported on discoveries in meteorites and radio astronomy proving that space contains at least 20 amino acids required to form DNA molecules and cellular life. Some scientists believe meteorites brought the first seeds of life to our mostly ocean covered planet two billion years ago.

The well-received 1989 movie “The Abyss” (produced by James Cameron of “Titanic” fame) builds on these ideas. In the film, which some believe is based on a real incident, a group of engineers and divers trying to recover a nuclear submarine mysteriously sunk in two-mile deep ocean waters encounter a curious, friendly alien life form.

Whether alien or a marvelous Earthly evolutionary adaptation, the octopus is an intelligent invertebrate worth getting to know. With many reefs within an easy swim or boat ride, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands are the perfect place to drop into an octopus’s garden for a visit.

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