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Sea Monsters; An Introduction - Fauna
Written By: Elizabeth Barrette (Writer), Ellen Million (Editor), Deirdre / Wyld_Dandelyon (Developer)
An overview of the sea monsters of Torn World.

Torn World features a variety of aquatic species that can threaten humans and shipping, collectively called "sea monsters." During ancient times, some of these species had low populations, especially in areas with dense human populations. The Ancients had highly sophisticated population management techniques, and a deep interest in genetics and the environment; these creatures were neither threat to them nor prey, but were very tightly monitored and controlled. Some species were in the very first stages of introduction to the areas, and did not have strong populations, while others were flourishing.

The first wave of the Upheaval came with a great deal of destruction, not limited to land, and several underwater cities were destroyed, leading to major, immediate pollution and disruption of the local ocean populations. The final wave of the Upheaval shattered the oceans into time shards just as it did on land, and even changed the location of many parts of the coast, introducing ocean to areas that had been dry land and stranding ocean floor above water. Migratory species had a hard time surviving because of the time shard isolation, and many had difficulties dealing with their new surroundings, but some species were at home anywhere and able to adapt to their new conditions. In some time shards, the Upheaval removed humans totally from the picture for several centuries or millennia; in others, the human population and technology were both reduced drastically. Most time shards with only a small area of ocean lost some or all of their sea monsters.

Animal populations not whelmed beyond recovery bounced back, first a little and then in vast numbers. This triggered some wide fluctuations in predator-prey cycles as they readjusted. There were weird incursions, dead zones, and other phenomena due to temporal distortions, decaying ancient technology and isolation. As the world slowly began to heal, some of the new populations flourished and isolated species discovered new territory opening for their exploration. Nature abhors a vacuum, so the relatively few surviving species expanded to fill the many empty niches left by extinctions.

By modern times, the population fluctuations have somewhat stabilized. Some areas are still in flux where different bodies of water meet. Some species are still expanding their ranges. There remain gaps in the ecosystem where important species died out and haven't been replaced yet; but for the most part, the ecosystem is balanced again. What remain as sea monsters, therefore, are Torn World's surviving marine megafauna, loosely inspired by some historic and modern Earth species. Megafauna that rarely conflict with humans, such as ordinary whales, are not counted as sea monsters.

In general, the more common sea monsters have more species/subspecies; the less common ones have fewer species, or only one. Similarly, those that were most widespread in Ancient times typically had surviving populations in several time shards, while the less common ones had fewer or only one. Some exceptions apply in cases where many of the original species were migratory. Descriptions given are for typical members of a species; due to inbreeding, time shear, and other causes there may be aberrant individuals with different traits. In some cases, subspecies have merged or intermingled. In others, a single species was split so far and long that the populations evolved into separate subspecies or species. Given the timescale, these latter divisions are mostly cosmetic -- differences in color and behavior, preferred habitat, and/or moderate changes in body shape to suit different environments. Large-scale differences between species, or relatives that are more distant, generally predate the Upheaval.

The sea monsters make water travel in current times difficult and risky, though not impossible. Some of the biggest and nastiest monsters live in northerly regions and in the deep ocean; the medium-sized ones are spread out; and the smaller ones live in the seas and other shallow areas. Counterbalances exist, so that some of the populations are variable due to humans hunting for their meat, eggs, etc. As long as a ship hugs the coast, it's fairly safe; that's only a little more dangerous than sailing Terran oceans. But the farther out they go, the riskier it gets on Torn World.

Note that the sea monsters all have reasons for coming into conflict with humans. Some are aggressive and/or territorial, attacking ships that come into their range. Some compete with humans for the same food and/or mistake boats/swimmers for food. Some are simply dumb beasts that frequently blunder into boats, nets, etc. although others are so smart that curiosity gets them into trouble. Some think boats look sexy, or have other mating-related issues. Also, humans actively hunt some species for food or other materials, and most animals object to being hunted. Torn World sea monsters have more formidable offensive and defensive arsenals than Earth species do, so it is harder for humans to level the playing field, even with technology. These sea monsters are inspired somewhat by Earth species and mythology for sake of plausibility, but they have developed in their own directions.

Detecting Time Barriers

Aquatic animals are equipped with rather more senses than terrestrial ones, so they have a higher chance of detecting time barriers at a safe distance. These senses include echolocation (sound pulses that create a 3D "image" of the area and objects), electrical sense (perceiving predators and prey via their nerve signals), and water sense (perceiving waves, vibrations, and pressure changes in the water). Echolocation is probably the rarest of these abilities. The thunder-whales and other cetaceans have it, but not many others. Electrical sense is fairly common -- fish typically have it, and other creatures may also. Water sense is ubiquitous; most aquatic animals have something like this. The ones that don't are usually sessile (not independently mobile). Animals have to be able to sense where they are going, to find food and mates, to avoid predators and other hazards, etc.

Approaching a time bubble...

  • 1) Echolocation/sonar would reveal that something odd is ahead, because sound would not return normally. It would not create a hard bounce like a stone wall, but does have other results (which vary depending on the type of barrier and angle of approach). It might create a "muffled" return like a soft barrier. Also, the Doppler effect could alter the sounds so that a slow-time barrier would turn pings to groaning rumbles, while a fast-time barrier would turn pings to a thin high squeal.

  • 2) Electrical sense might or might not pick up anything, depending on how the barrier affects ambient electricity and how active it is. One thing that electrical sense does detect is Others, because they are a form of concentrated energy -- and they'll be shorting out the nervous system of every living thing they touch. Zap! Sparkle! Pow!

  • 3) Water sense would detect barriers by their effects on the surrounding liquid. Since time barriers somewhat impede the exchange of liquids and gases and so forth, the effect would probably be similar to a competing current, like when an oceanward river meets an incoming tide.

    Some creatures are attracted to underwater changes, and these were killed off disproportionately after the Upheaval. Many, however, tend to avoid such disturbances -- and this behavior has been reinforced by survival. As the time barriers began to fall, some of the smarter species learned that this could give them access to new territory, so they began to gravitate toward former border lines and thus recolonized dead zones. This kind of evolution, selecting for individuals with certain extant traits or habits favored by current conditions, can work as rapidly as the breeding cycle allows.

    Marine Geography

    Underwater geography has great impact on which species live where. The primary consideration is the habitat itself: water temperature, salinity, depth, and other key characteristics determine the creatures that like that habitat for feeding, breeding, and life in general. Land, including subsurface rises, may divide aquatic habitats so that species (compatible or hostile) can't reach each other. Currents -- which are influenced by many factors including geography, temperature, and salinity -- can transport or block wildlife. These aspects may restrict wildlife spread somewhat, and tend to remain consistent over time.

    Salt variations depend on geography and other influences; they affect what species can live there because saline tolerances vary. Some species are adaptable while others need a very specific salinity. Due to freshwater from rivers, the interior sea is brackish at the northern end and gradually becomes saltier toward the southern end. The central gulf is quite salty because the water is relatively shallow and warm, two conditions which boost evaporation. The western and eastern oceans have standard salinity, setting the baseline for comparisons of other marine waters. These differences in salinity, as well as temperature and depth, discourage species from traveling between the western and eastern oceans through the central gulf. Only the most versatile ones have populations all along that arc. However, the species that survived the Upheaval at all tended to be the toughest and most adaptable generalists, so many of them capitalized on the empty niches afterwards and expanded greatly.

    In Torn World, time shards add another factor. With the Upheaval, these divided the waters, as well as the land, into many fragments. Each time shard then ran at its own speed, so that some areas experienced more or less time for evolution and adaptation to affect resident species. Where life died out partially or wholly, the dead zones that exist where the shards were sundered may continue to pose a hazard for some time after the actual barriers have fallen, though these are more quickly eroded underwater than they are on land. Note that expansion routes are given geographically based on the territory that the moving species covered. This doesn't necessarily reflect the chronological order in which the barriers fall. Where known, dates of time barrier collapse are indicated.

    Notice the interaction between geography and colors. Marine water is sometimes described as "brown," "green," or "blue" depending on depth and geography. Although not universal, many animals bear coloring similar to their environment. The western ocean has rock and sand in shades of blue to gray; its beaches are usually silver-gray or speckled, with a few of blue slate or blue marble, and one of pale quartz with bits of aquamarine. Many species there have blue, gray, and/or white coloring. The central gulf has rock and sand in shades of yellow and tan, plus some localized swaths of green and/or black. Beaches are most often tan or golden but there are several beaches of green marble, a couple with lots of malachite mixed with black volcanic sand and golden quartz, and one with pale yellow quartz flecked with olivine. Many species there have green, tan, yellow, and/or orange coloring. The interior sea has rock and sand in shades of red to brown; most beaches are light brown or cream, but there is a "bloody beach" with a high quantity of jasper toward the sea's northern end and a "chocolate beach" toward the sea's southern end. Many species in that area have brown, red, and/or cream coloring. The eastern ocean has rock and sand in shades of gray to black; most beaches are silver-gray but there are several of white or black. Many species there have black, gray, and/or white coloring.

    Another geographic divergence concerns dorsal vs. ventral coloration. Marine animals are often darker on top and lighter underneath. Species originating in the Northern hemisphere of Torn World tend to have coloration that shades gradually from top to bottom. Species originating in the Southern hemisphere tend to have coloration with crisply defined boundaries, often divided by a lateral line, sometimes with broken edges where the colors are pure but scattered in blotches or streaks.

    This article contains extra material for our contributors only!

    Related Art:

    Stories and poetry related to this article:

  • The Slow Hunt (1501.05.30)
  • The Study of Sea Monsters (1510.02.13)
  • Tangleweed (1519.04.01)
  • Beachfront Propriety (1520.07.12)
  • Catch and Release (1520.10.17)
  • Sea Monsters Skipping Song (poem)
  • All Related Articles:

    Animals of the Empire:

    Drill Barnacles: Not a 'monster,' exactly, but definitely a monstrous ocean pest!

    Ring Leech: A lamprey-like parasite that can grow to 10 feet long.

    Sea Creatures: Paddlefish: Paddlefish are aquatic megafauna but not really sea monsters.

    Sea Monster Vocabulary: Torn Tongue contains a thorough set of terms for sea monsters. The warsailors also use single-syllable nicknames so that each sea monster has a name that can be shouted quickly during attack.

    Sea Monsters by Region: A guide to sea monsters, as broken up by their geographic region.

    Sea Monsters: Blimpfish: A medium-size herbivore who thinks mid-sized boats look sexy.

    Sea Monsters: Deathfin: A long-necked, predator of the southern seas that is a leading cause of injury and death among warsailors.

    Sea Monsters: Dreamskates: A dangerous and - fortunately! - uncommon sea monster similar to a giant ray.

    Sea Monsters: Frilled Whale: A large, rare whale with frilled fins.

    Sea Monsters: Giant Lobster: Large, armored lobsters that dominated their shard.

    Sea Monsters: Giant Sea Turtle: The giant sea turtle is a medium-size omnivore, adaptable to many marine habitats.

    Sea Monsters: Harpoon Snails: Large snail-like predator.

    Sea Monsters: Heat-Thief: A reptilian northern predator that grows to 80 feet.

    Sea Monsters: Jellyriggers: An advanced type of toxic jellyfish that grows to 45 feet.

    Sea Monsters: Sea Serpent: A giant sea snake predator.

    Sea Monsters: Snagtooth: A dolphin-shaped, armored sea monster with large, curling rear teeth.

    Sea Monsters: Soldierfish: A dangerous, smaller, armored sea monster that will swarm in a feeding frenzy with sharks.

    Sea Monsters: The Smartarm: A sea monster similar to earth's legends of the kraken.

    Sea Monsters: The Thunder-Whale: The thunder-whale is the biggest Torn World omnivore, at 100-110 feet.

    Sea Monsters: The Weed-Eater: A smaller herbivore among the sea monsters.

    Sea Monsters: Trapjaw: A ubiquitous medium-size inshore predator similar to an alligator with fins.

    Sea Monsters: Whalebears: A large, flippered sea monster that hunts on land, ice and in the sea.

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