Faked tadpole monsters and misidentified dead whales are one thing – are there any real sea monster mysteries left out there? The good news is yes, but as we’ll see it’s not just the identity of the creatures concerned that is mysterious. This is day 3 of sea monster week, and we here look at a case brought to attention by Dwight Smith and Gary Mangiacopra (their article is essentially the only one I consulted while writing the following). It concerns a photo that’s been republished twice since its first appearance in a Californian newspaper, and must have been seen by thousands, if not millions, of people…
The photograph concerned was ‘rediscovered’ in 1980 by Gary Mangiacopra – a researcher well known for his many investigations of unidentified aquatic animals – while he was looking through old newspaper archives. Featured in a 1908 article from the San Francisco Examiner entitled ‘To Catch a Sea Serpent’, the photo extends across two pages and depicts an elongate, two-humped creature in the water. The caption explains that the photo – described as ‘the first photograph of a sea serpent’ – was ‘taken by Prof. Sharpe from the steam yacht Emerald as the monster rushed past at 20 miles an hour’ (Smith & Mangiacopra 2001, p. 27) [image below shows close-up of far left hump, with triangular object and... rope?].
The photo was published for the second time in The American Weekly on New Year’s Eve 1933 in an article that was apparently inspired by the recent rash of Caddy sightings from British Columbia, and of course by the publicity surrounding Loch Ness. This 1933 outing of the photo [shown below] differed from the 1908 version in being longer, and in showing the start of what appears to be a third hump far to the right of the frame. The third outing of the photo was in 1944 when it appeared in an American Weekly article on monster sightings from Idaho’s Payette Lake (on which see Mangiacopra 1980). This time Sharpe was described as Professor B. A. Sharpe.
Smith & Mangiacopra (2001) reproduced the images and discussed them in their article. They were unable to get any information on the images at all from the San Francisco Examiner (which was still going when Mangiacopra started his investigations in 1981). As they described, the object in the photo looks like a long, cylindrical creature with a dark dorsal and light ventral surface. A triangular object to the far left could be a head or a fin. Foam or spray appears at the right end of each arch, creating the impression of rapid movement.
Is this image a fake? Prof. George Zug (a well known herpetologist at the Smithsonian who has often commented on cryptozoological data) opined that an object at the far left of the first hump looks like a rope, and he suspected for other reasons that the photo was a fake. Smith & Mangiacopra (2001) agreed with this, but still wondered whether ‘It is a genuine, overlooked cryptid photograph that was seen on three occasions and by tens-of-millions [sic] of readers who did not realize its significance?’. They ended by noting that, even if it is nothing more than a hoax, it’s the oldest known existing photo claiming to depict a sea-serpent. Nothing is known of Prof. B. A Sharpe, or of the yacht Emerald, nor is it known where the photo was taken, how big the ‘animal’ was, or when the photo was taken.
While, probably, the photo is faked, it’s not possible to demonstrate this at the moment. It doesn’t look quite right – part of the creature has a texture that reminds me of paint on canvas, and I wonder if it was skillfully painted on to an original sea-scene. The big problem is that we know pretty much next to nothing about the image, and hopefully this article might make the case better-known, and hence help to provide some possible answers.
Refs – -
Mangiacopra, G. S. 1980. Sharlie: a preliminary report of possible large animals in the Payette Lakes of Idaho. Of Sea and Shore 12 (1), 43-46.
Smith, D. G. & Mangiacopra, G. S. 2001. The Professor Sharpe sea-serpent photograph: a preliminary report of its historical background. In Heinselman, C. (ed) Dracontology Special Number 1: Being an Examination of Unknown Aquatic Animals. Craig Heinselman (Francestown, New Hampshire), pp. 26-33 [whole volume available here].