Little-Known Santa No. 33
• ‘Run silent, run deep!’ is the apt motto of this sizable holiday-hued Manta birostris, or Giant Oceanic Manta Claus. Yep, this Piscean in red coined that phrase long before it was co-opted by Ed Beach as the title of his 1955 book — later made into the 1958 movie starring Burt Lancaster, Clark Gable, Jack Warden and Don Rickles.
• (Surprisingly, the Manta name derives from the Spanish word manta, meaning blanket, though the term referred not to the Manta’s blanket-y waver-y warp-y wing-y appearance, but to the form of blanket-like trap that was originally used by Spaniards to catch these ocean-going critters. That is why, still to this day, the only blanket Manta Claus will go anywhere near is a single oversized hand-stitched quilt adorned with bright blue snowflakes and deep red bows, assembled decades ago with loving care by Mrs. Manta.)
• And run silent and run deep MC must! Would that Manta Claus had it as easy as his landlubber counterpart! — he of the crushed red velvet clad belly that jiggles when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly.
• It is comparatively mere child’s play, after all, to whisk up and down a few million chimney flues per hour, when all you’ve got to deal with is some occasionally serious soot or the odd chestnut-roasting Yule fire that’s still smoldering through the late winter’s night. Just imagine what it must be like to attempt a similar stunt down a chimney of outrageously intricate coral croppings, all knobby and brittle and razor sharp! With the potential threat of a moray eel lying in wait at the bottom!
• It is true that good ol’ conventional reindeer-propelled, sleigh-riding, gift-bearing, belly-jiggling, Ho-Ho-Ho!-ing Kris Kringle has to navigate multiple regions of restricted air space and nebulous no-fly zones, all the while dodging jetliners and news choppers and weather balloons and space launches and errant flocks of geese, bats and starlings.
• But poor ol’ Manta Claus must instead rely on a mere school of pilot fish — and, let me tell you, the towing power of a wee two-pound pilot fish is a durn sight less than that of your average 370-pound or more Rangifer tarandus at full gallop! And, with all of the lurking obstacles of water skiers, stinging jellies, power boat propellers, hammerheads, drilling rigs, hungry orcas, supertankers, and the gaping maws of a mind-boggling array of whales and narwhals, this dude’s got to be alert, mobile and nimble just to make it through to the morn of December 25th. Luckily, with a wingspan that exceeds 22 feet, a sustained cruising speed of upwards of 25 miles per hour, and the ability to turn on a sand dollar, MC is up to the task. (Another fortunate fact: merely by keeping his jaw propped open, like an underwater vacuum cleaner, he can siphon up a few dozen pounds of plankton on the wing, replenishing the stores of energy depleted during his ocean-circling journey.)
• To top it all off, this Jolly Old Watery Elf has got to cover three times the area as his above-sea-level counterpart, before he can seek out his long winter’s nap!
Check out Manta Reef in the Phillippines — you just might hear a gurgly 'Ho, ho ho!'.
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Dear Reader, allow me to pass along a few gentle — and perhaps life-saving — warnings to all of you unsuspecting would-be holiday revelers regarding Little-Known Santa No. 32: First, if you should happen to be traveling this holiday season...
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