The Blobs Invade Gloucester

Mysterious little creatures charm a seaside town

| May-June 1999

It was a time to remember, the time the blobs came to Gloucester. The paper ran a front-page story headlined “The Blobs,” describing local shores “carpeted with mysterious masses.” A picture of a big hand showed something like a crystalline caterpillar creeping across the palm.

Gloucester is an old sea town on the north shore of Massachusetts. It was explored by Champlain, settled by Puritans, fished out of by generations of seafarers. But the blobs were a new experience for Gloucester, according to the Gloucester Daily Times. As one fisherman said, no one had ever seen anything like them.

They’d come silently upon the waves. Little jellylike creatures the size of your fingertip—some of them quite independent, others curiously stuck together in chains six inches long, or six feet, or maybe even sixteen feet. Clear as spring water, each little blob, with a thread of bluish purple winding deep within. What were they, everyone wanted to know. “Squid eggs,” declared some. “Alien spawn,” asserted others. Might they be poisonous? Dangerous? There were reports of boat engine intakes being clogged by them. People thought of birds flying into the engines of jet planes and wondered what toll the blobs might take. Harvard had been contacted, ditto the New England Aquarium, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeastern University. The top minds of a nation were homing in on the blobs of Gloucester.

Meanwhile, locals headed for the beach to experience the blobs personally. A brilliant morning revealed the creatures lying in long, snaky lines at the edge of the water, some rolling back and forth in the wash of the waves, others just lazing there on the beach, shining in the sun. And so many of them. Indeed, as the paper had reported, you could not walk along the water’s edge without stepping on dozens of them.

But people at the beach were not stepping on the blobs. They were walking near them, touching them with the toes of their shoes, poking them gently, leaning down to peer at them. Some (the bolder) picked up a sampling to study it more closely; they stood still with heads bowed over open palms, like people reading their own fortunes. Strangers talked to one another, shaking their heads, testifying to the mysteriousness of it all.

No one knew what the blobs were, but one thing was certain: Everyone liked them. Couldn’t help it. They were simultaneously cute and strange, like babies from outer space. Familiar in a way but refusing to divulge their name, at once individuals and masses, very little and (those hooked together) pretty big, maybe plants, but could be animals: The blobs tapped into a deep human curiosity that is indistinguishable from delight. They made the humans smile, the blobs did. Shake their heads and smile.

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