After three nights of diving in Kedah’s Songsong Islands, expedition scientists have found an undersea creature so shocking, so unbelievable, so vegetable……….. suicidal waitforit SEA CUCUMBER!!
“If I hold it in my hand, it will feel my body heat and commit suicide by dissolving into mush.” – Prof. Dr. Zulfigar Yasin, expedition leader, The Star
Dude. That’s one messed up way to harakiri.
This particular dissolving sea cucumber is called the Golden Sea Cucumbers or Stichopus fusiformiossa. They are a species so rare that Pulau Songsong and the Straits of Malacca are the only places in the world you can find them.
But why do these sea cucumbers kill themselves? Cannot pay bills?
Unlike humans’ reasons for ending life, the sea cucumber’s motivation is thankfully less morbid (well, sort of). It is actually a defense mechanism. It releases a chemical that can dissolve its body, LEAVING NO TRACE. \O.O/ This covert form of death is not found in any other species.
It sounds extremely radical, but sea cucumbers do exhibit a number of bizarre behaviours uncommon in the animal kingdom. For instance, they can hibernate in summer, and they can eject and regrow their intestines. This is another defense mechanism, where it literally throws up its internal organs from its anus to distract potential attackers, ultimately killing itself. This process is called evisceration. Yep. They do dat.
The release of their insides can also be accompanied by the discharge of a toxin known as holothurin, which has similar properties to soap. This chemical can kill animals in the vicinity and is one more method by which these sedentary animals can defend themselves. Hey, don’t underestimate this fler just coz it looks like Flubber‘s ugly cousin, people can get food poisoning from eating the wrong type of sea cucumber. It happened to four Sabahans after they ate one with black and purple dots.
Now, back to the Golden Sea Cucumber, the team of scientists managed to find only two of them and brought them safely to the Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (Cemacs) in Muka Head, Teluk Bahang in Penang. Amazingly, after they arrived at the centre, one of them SPLIT INTO TWO! So now there are three. Apparently the smaller of the two sea cucumbers had launched its defense mechanism, said expedition echinoderm specialist Sim Yee Kwang.
“It couldn’t stand the stress of being transported and split itself into two. Now they are separate individuals. The part where the mouth was is turning into a rectum while the original rearend is growing into a new mouth.” Sim Yee Kwang told The Star
OMG literally eat shit, talk shit.
The scientists hope Kedah will protect the spot where they found the sea cucumbers
As a Malaysian you might know that sea cucumbers are a delicacy here. Roll it, pat it, mark it with a ‘B’, and put it in the oven for baby and me. Not only are they a staple at Chinese wedding dinners, they are also used in traditional medicine, known as gamat.
They’re used to make gamat water and gamat oil which are tonics for treating wounds, gastric ulcers, pain, and even the Big C. Some go by funny local names such as black beauty, legs, hotdog, boli-boli, bot-bot, kasut, susu, mother tadik, and so on. 😆 We found this shop in Langkawi that has the world’s largest bottle of gamat, displayed outside. Look, we even found them being sold online.
Because of the demand, some populations of sea cucumbers have been overfished, which affects the ecosystem in that area. Areas without the sea cucumbers have become uninhabitable for other organisms because they lost their majlis bandaraya (basically sea cucs have a role in breaking down organics on the ocean floor).
So, Cemacs scientists want to save them from extinction and protect the 10km coral reef range where they were found. To do this, the scientists need to prepare some vital data to convince the Kedah government to declare the reef a marine protected area. At the same time, they are trying to breed the three (originally two) specimens at their centre.
Come to think of it, why don’t the scientists keep scaring the sea cucumbers to make them split more and more?
Marine Parks Department Director-General Dr. Sukarno Wagiman said there are plans to gazette three of the islands – Pulau Songsong, Pulau Bidan and Pulau Telor – and a rocky outcrop called Tukun Terendak into a marine park.
“We have sent a proposal to the Kedah government, which supports the move. Possibly, a radius of one nautical mile (1.85km) around the area will be a no-take zone, while the second nautical mile radius will be a managed zone.” – Dr. Sukarno
To really protect the area though, they’re gonna need more than a gomen-chopped paper. The scientists said they have to develop a public education programme, especially for fishermen, to make them see the value of protecting the islands. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime, but teach a man sustainable fishing, his descendants will eat for a lifetime.
But while the humans are caught up in official business on land, under the sea, we’re sure Flubber’s ugly cousin will remain… cool as a cucumber.