Welcome to day 2 of sea monster week. This time the featured ‘monster’ is a beached carcass: it washed ashore at what was then called Moore’s Beach (it’s now Natural Bridges State Beach), just north-west of Santa Cruz, California, in 1925 and, while identified correctly in virtually all of the cryptozoological literature I’ve seen, is still identified here and there on the internet (particularly on pro-creationism sites) as an unidentified anomaly that had the experts baffled.
Nope: the real identity of the carcass – usually dubbed the Moore’s Beach monster (sometimes the Santa Cruz monster) – is obvious and you’d have to be a bit of an idiot to not work it out, or at least to not work it out after a little bit of research…
What seems to have confused people is that the body and tail formed a 6-m-long, tubular shape, thereby creating the impression of a super-long neck [composite above from 'creation science' page here and credited to Special Collections, University of California at Santa Cruz]. According to some accounts the whole carcass was 15 m long but, based on the photos, this measurement is very likely an exaggeration. What’s also not helped is that some authors (writing either in newspapers or in books on ‘unexplained mysteries’) reported the presence of elephantine legs on the carcass, complete with toenails (Chorvinsky 1995). It’s difficult to understand from the photos where these ‘legs’ might have been and they clearly aren’t visible in the photos. Some reports referred to a fish-like tail.
Most importantly, the head was very much intact and is perfectly displayed in photos. The eyes are small, the forehead bulbous, and the jaws form a vaguely duck-like ‘beak’. These photos show, without any doubt, that the carcass is of a decomposed Baird’s beaked whale, or Baird’s fourtooth whale, Berardius bairdii. Repeated in most texts is the fact that this identification was provided by the California Academy of Sciences, which makes me wonder if a technical paper ever appeared on the specimen (so far as I can tell it didn’t). CAS collected the skull and added it to their collection, and today it’s on display at the Academy’s Cowell Hall (I’d love a photo of it – does anybody have one?).
Baird’s fourtooth is the largest extant beaked whale: a Californian example stranded in 1904, and another one caught near Japan and described in 1971, were both about 12.8 m long (Balcomb 1989 and references therein), but 10-11 m is considered average. It has weird teeth, a weird social life, and a weird stomach, and for more information look at Cameron’s article on the two fourtooth whales here.
One article on the internet (by Jordan Niednagel at Creation Science Evangelism) claims that, while the carcass is indeed of a cetacean, its identification as Baird’s fourtooth doesn’t wash because, while B. bairdii has a pair of triangular teeth at the front of the lower jaw, followed by a smaller peg-like pair located somewhat further back, the Moore’s Beach monster lacks obvious teeth and only has a few ambiguous white patches at the very tip of the lower jaw. The author of this article must not have looked at many photos of Baird’s beaked whales, however, because these show that – particularly in juvenile individuals and in old individuals with heavily worn teeth – the posterior tooth pair are often virtually invisible (apparently because they’re submerged in gum tissue) while the anterior pair can be so small that they appear only as small white specks (Balcomb 1989, fig. 5). Look at the image below [by Jack Bumbacher of CAS, from here]; I’ve inserted the huge arrow to show how inconspicuous the anterior teeth are in an undoubted B. bairdii carcass. What we see in the Moore’s Beach carcass is entirely consistent with this. Incidentally, the jaws of the Moore’s Beach carcass look shorter than those on the partially defleshed skull shown below because, well, the skull below is partially defleshed. Cetacean skulls always look longer-jawed than do live animals because a huge amount of soft tissue envelops the base of the rostrum in the live animals.
One particularly unusual identification of the carcass, apparently coming from a respectable source, is often mentioned as it also seems to cast doubt on the B. bairdii identification. Apparently, E. L. Wallace concluded that it couldn’t be a whale and might be a plesiosaur that had been preserved in glacial ice (Reinsted 1975, Chorvinsky 1995). Wallace thought that the neck-like part of the carcass really was a long neck, that the bones he could find were too small to be whale vertebrae, and that the bill indicated a herbivorous diet. He is quoted as having said ‘I would call it a type of plesiosaurus’. Wallace has been referred to as a ‘renowned naturalist’ and as someone who had twice served as president of the Natural History Society of British Columbia, but I don’t know anything about him, nor have I heard his name mentioned outside of the literature on the Moore’s Beach monster. I cannot congratulate him on his knowledge of whales, plesiosaurs, or of rotting carcasses.
Rotting whales that have been identified from elsewhere in the world show us that floating carcasses can drop their bones and eventually look like amorphous, misshapen lumps of goo (often dubbed ‘globsters’, a term invented by Ivan Sanderson). They can definitely become distorted to create the impression of a long neck, as verified by a photo of another beaked whale carcass published by Dinsdale (1966). The fact that the body of the Moore’s Beach carcass doesn’t much resemble that of a whale (at least, so far as we can tell from the surviving photos) might not mean much therefore, and it’s also irrelevant given the obvious data we can glean from the head.
Another one tomorrow!
Refs – -
Balcomb, K. C. Baird’s beaked whale Berardius bairdii Stejneger, 1883: Arnoux’s beaked whale Berardius arnuxii Duvernoy, 1851. In Ridgway, S. H. & Harrison, R. (eds) Handbook of Marine Mammals, Volume 4. Academic Press, pp. 261-288.
Chorvinsky, M. 1995. The Santa Cruz sea monster. Strange Magazina 15, 15.
Dinsdale, T. 1966. The Leviathans. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
Reinstead, R. 1975. Shipwrecks and Sea Monsters of California’s Central Coast. Ghost Town Publications, Carmel (Ca).