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Living With Megafauna

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Drakevarg, Jul 23, 2017.

  1. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    Interesting ideas. I'd note that for my setting at least though, one of the themes is that humanity is pointedly not at the top of the food chain. Near it, sure, but the food chain is scaled up in general and there are enough apex predators that for some of them the only leg up humans have on them is numbers, even with the consideration of technology. In this scenario eat least, you'd run out of ships before you ran out of predators who might try eating them.

    More broadly relevant though, is the observation that these traps are by nature single-use. Once something bites into the decoy or predator mine and pays for it, you're left without a defense for the rest of the voyage. Carrying extras means less cargo space for other essentials. Worse still once you reach the gunpowder age and you're left with cargo that not only explodes, it's deliberately designed to do so when tampered with.

    While the idea of painful if not outright lethal dissuasion is a perfectly valid approach - my own initial suggestion involved a spiked hull or other such methods of maiming biters - I think that a separate device dangled near the ship is inherently problematic for the simple reason that if a predator needs to tear it in half to tell it's dangerous then you're going to lose the device the first time something big gets curious. And at least in the case of my setting you'd only be able to hope to get wherever you're going before another one investigates, not that you'd eventually kill every big thing in the water.
     
  2. ink.

    ink. Dreamer

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    A small contribution but have you ever heard why the Great White Shark is grey on the top and white on the bottom?

    One of the leading theories is that it's because if you're prey and swimming above the shark (they usually attack from beneath) then you're much less likely to notice it against the backdrop of the dark blue of the deep if it's got a dark back itself. Conversely, if you're swimming beneath the shark and look upwards it's much harder to see it against the sunlight if it's underbelly is white.

    So, a potential solution might just be to paint the hull a brighter shade of white to look like dappled sunlight. Maybe not the most high-brow solution, and by no means foolproof, but it may help.


    Edit: Just read all of the replies and this has already been mentioned.

    Of course this depends on the relative intelligence of your megafauna. Fish don't see the shark above them but humans certainly do. Are these creatures closer to fish or to humans in intelligence?
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2017
  3. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    There are examples along the whole spectrum, most likely. Some - like megalodons - are literally big toothy fish, while others (zeuglodons, for example) might be closer to dolphin intelligence.
     
  4. Petrichor

    Petrichor Acolyte

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    If the evolution of megafauna in your ocean is that varied what about the flora that could be utilized as dissuasion tactics? Oceanic and land based. Like for some of your medium sized jumpers that try to snag negligent sailors from the edges of ships/outer riggings, some kind of sling shot mechanism for farther trajectory/not explosive like concussive grenades, but more like large paintballs made up of nauseatingly pungent flora mash-ups to seriously mess with creature olfactory senses/tastebuds as a deterrent.

    If there are any kind of hunters, that are insane enough to hunt oceanic megafauna for sport because adrenaline junkies are honestly prevalent, make an expensive trade market for items that are collected from those ventures. Sealed barrels of blood and anticoagulant(plant matter) from some of the largest, so that if there are sightings of incoming creatures, the kinds that like to break surface with dorsal fins of spines and webbing, dump the barrel contents in the water to spook them. It works for making great white sharks panic, dive deep and flee when they smell blood of their own species in the water which is a sign of a bigger predator.

    Also, with the way that salinity meets between oceans you could have a season like our Ill Nino except that theirs widens the breach path between bodies of water and the brackish salinities are jarring to a large portion of ocean predators essentially creating aquatic "Bering land bridges" that would offer more safety for traversing waterways than normal.
     
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  5. DMThaane

    DMThaane Sage

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    By dint of logic this would appear to undermine the passive defence of spiked hulls since a creature needs to attack you to realise attacking you is a bad idea and by that point it may have already damaged your hull. Considering that the spikes will also create drag, leave you more vulnerable to reefs and shallows, and basically make beaching impossible they may cause as many problems as they solve. Also smart krakens may well learn to just snag the mast and yank the whole ship over so that's a very good reason to either kill them or keep them away entirely. Cephalopod intelligence could actually be the bane of your people's existence whatever solution you employ.

    Both solutions leave you vulnerable to attrition and lesson your ship's ability to operate, albeit with different trade-offs. From a story perspective this can actually be useful to generate tension but if what you want is the have megafauna, have ocean travel, and want the ocean travel to function without always worrying about monster attacks then you'll want something more elegant. Some people have suggested scenting the ship but if your oceans contain a variety of monsters than a substance that offends one (particularly blood) could attract another. Some magic device that continuously pumps an electrical charge into the water could work if powerful but may actually attract them if too weak. Something like the Byzantine fire siph┼Źn could be used to pump a caustic or irritating substance into the water, although with a need to carry supplies of the substance. Without just going 'full wizard' it really is a game of trade-offs.

    Although while on the subject of interesting historical solutions to unique problems you should really check out the Korean 'turtle ship' or 'Geobukseon' for inspiration on something a little more armoured without going full ironclad. I'm not sure how well they'd do on open ocean but they already play into the spikes idea and they're a pretty good starting point to work from, especially if your world isn't just lifting European styles.
     
  6. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    Good points, even if I'm not quite sure how one would adapt a Geobukseon to protect the lower portion of the ship. I will note that the main difference between the decoy trap and hull spikes is that the entire point of the decoy is to entice predators to bite it and not the ship, at which point they pay for it; whereas with a spiked hull the point would be akin to a puffer fish or a porcupine - to make it visually apparent from the get-go that the ship is unsuitable for biting, and to further dissuade creatures that try anyway.

    I think my main takeaway from this discussion though, is that people would likely try a wide variety of techniques with varying degrees of success across history and cultures rather than any one reliable technique used by pretty much everyone.
     
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  7. DMThaane

    DMThaane Sage

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    Actually, you raise a good point with the puffer fish that I hadn't considered. If you had the spikes be extendible so they could be pushed out when needed and then withdrawn into slots or casings within the ship you could extend them to maximum length when creatures were sighted and then pull them back in when wanting speed or facing reefs or shallow waters. Engineered properly this could even allow for cleaning and repair to keep them functional on longer or more difficult voyages. Spare spikes could be kept with a minimum of wasted storage allowing replacement should any creature get too curious and this system would allow you to extend them further than if they were fixed, reducing the chance anything would come into contact with the hull. You could even have different locking points so you'd extend them to quarter if feeling nervous or out to full if a threat is actually seen.

    As for the turtle ships, their anti-boarding defences (or an adaptation of them) could prove useful should anything try to attack the decks (sea serpents or krakens commonly do this in fiction but it might not be common in your world) and they have a decent layout for a more defensive, less broadside focused ship.

    And yes, I think there'd be a lot of eulogies in your world contain some variation of the phrase 'although he had a brilliant idea it didn't quite work out in practice.'
     
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