Ever since The Blob arrived in Kivalina last week, villagers have been dismayed to find its presence everywhere: on the beaches, inside rain barrels, blown by the wind onto rooftops like cantaloupe-colored fluff. The queer orange jelly provoked wonder and worry among the 427 residents of the northern Alaska outpost, which is closer to Russia than any major city and where the "only form of entertainment for the adult age people is bingo and evening gym nights for the athletic ones," according to the town's website.
But now the mystery of the junk's provenance has been solved, thanks to detective work from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was not a petroleum byproduct escaped from Alaska's scads of platforms and wells, as some had feared, nor was it spilled from a Cheez Whiz tanker bound for Asia.
It was eggs, bajillions of eggs.
After moving samples of the apricot slime around on a microscope slide to determine (in the best "21 Questions" fashion) whether it was "animal, vegetable, or mineral," officials at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center's Auke Bay Laboratories decided that the stuff was "some sort of small crustacean egg or embryo, with a lipid oil droplet in the middle causing the orange color," according to NOAA scientist Jeep Rice.
The oceanic agency further explained in a press release:
"It was easy to see cellular structure surrounding the lipid droplet, and to identify this as 'animal'," said Rice. "We have determined these are small invertebrate eggs, although we cannot tell which species."
Although the eggs are natural, Rice could not rule out the possibility that the microscopic eggs were toxic. Samples have been sent to a NOAA lab on the east coast for further testing.
So that's one mystery solved. It seems like one way to settle the other question - "Can you eat it?" - would be to dollop the eggs on a Saltine cracker and go to town. After all, it's not every day you get free caviar coming in with the tide. But I guess NOAA's scientists didn't get as far as they have by eating stuff off the ground. Sad.
Here's another view of the eggs, if you didn't get your fill from the above photo:
(Courtesy of NOAA)