I am fascinated by dinosaurs, prehistoric marine reptiles, prehistoric squaliformes, prehistoric giant sea scorpions, and so forth like a lot of folk who grew up as kids in the 70s (or really…like a lot of kids). Seeing the bones or fossils of such creatures, the artist renditions, the movies that feature (gross exaggerations in many cases) such creatures all stir my imagination and just plain excite me to no end. They just seem so…<i>fantastic</i>…so legendary…so other worldly.
I was thinking about this yesterday and I came to the conclusion (and I’m betting I’m not alone in this) after a few brief searches that I have a real bias in regards to the “fantastical”. And I think that bias stems from familiarity.
Part of the amazement people have with dinosaurs stems from the fact that a lot of them were quite large. Many people (and I’ve been guilty of this misconception myself) get the impression that at some point (or even various points) the world was filled with animals far larger than anything we have today. In fact, a lot of people think that the vast majority of prehistoric animals were larger than anything we have today (which simply is not the case), mostly because of a few very popular and more well-known specimens (T-Rex, stegosaurus, Triceratops, brachiosaurus to name a few). What few take the time to consider is that not only do these animals not represent the size of the majority of other animals from those times, but in many cases those particular animals didn’t even exist <i>at the same time</i>. Still, we tend to think that animals in the past were larger, more fantastic than anything around today.
Here is a pic of the (likely) largest animal that has ever existed on this planet. Unless you actually get a chance to see one up close in the wild, particularly with something nearby for scale, you really can’t appreciate just how unbelievably large this animal is. It. Is. ENORMOUS. Here’s how it compares (at least based on an artist’s rendition) to some other “fantastical” animals:
Now one can debate about how accurate the artist got some of the sizes I suppose or whether the current research and inferences to actual size are accurate, but that isn’t all that relevant to the point. Even if some of the other animals are off by significant percentages, the Blue Whale still dwarfs every other specimen.
The point is, we DO live in an amazing time of fantastical creatures. And I hope we can learn not to take that for granted.