Yay for day…. (counts) … four of sea monster week. This time another familiar carcass image… well, familiar to me anyway. This remarkable object/shapeless hunk is the Tecolutla monster, collected from Palmar de Susana between Tecolutla and Nautla, Veracruz, Mexico, in 1969. Initially encountered by a group of farmers who chanced upon it in the dead of night* (apparently when it was still alive), they kept it secret for a week but eventually informed the Tecolutla mayor, Professor César Guerrero. Believing it to be a crashed plane (this story gets better and better), he organised a volunteer rescue party, only to be confronted with the immense head of some unidentified beast and a huge, partially buried lump of meat. News of the discovery quickly spread and people arrived in earnest to examine the carcass. It was 22 m long, 2 m wide, weighed about 24 tons, and had a 2 m long head that was 1 m tall. Serpentine in shape and covered in armour, it also had wool like a lamb, immense eye sockets, and a gigantic beak, and horns…
* Hmm. Group of farmers, on the beach, at night? The mind boggles.
I repeatedly saw the best known image of this carcass while exploring the literature (the one shown above), while rooting through articles in the CFZ, that sort of thing, and never knew how to interpret it. Partly this is because it’s a huge misshapen mass that hasn’t photographed at all well, but partly this is because it looks like some sort of godforsaken monster with a huge scary head. My semi-serious interpretation is shown below.
Thanks to a very detailed report produced by Rafael A. Lara Palmeros we have a very good account of what happened next. Mayor Guerrero sought the help of biologists from the Fishing and Biology Station of Tampico, but they failed to identify it, saying that the farmers had disfigured it beyond recognition. Another biologist failed to reach a verdict, and it was rumoured in a popular magazine article that the Biology Institute of California wanted to buy the carcass, and thought that it was that of a prehistoric animal (is there even such a place as the ‘Biology Institute of California’? There doesn’t seem to be, but perhaps there was in 1969). Bernandino Villa of the National University of Mexico proposed that the monster might have been preserved in an Arctic iceberg prior to being thawed out. Continuing with the confused or indeterminate identifications, a 1975 Spanish book by Jacques Bergier and George Gallet claimed that the carcass was covered in armour plating.
Even in 1969, however, some people had gotten it right. Ivan Sanderson had said in Pursuit magazine that it was a whale, and in 1970, John Keel had concluded that accounts of what was in fact a whale carcass had been combined with various other rumours in order to create a bizarre and perplexing story (Keel 1970). On investigating the case some years later, Palmeros (1994) interviewed local people and tried to get information from the Estación de Biología Pesquera, but neither avenues of investigation yielded any useful information. However, biologists at the National University had kept photos and had concluded that it was indeed a whale, specifically a Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis. This was confirmed by Bernard Heuvelmans, who provided the same identification in correspondence (Palmeros 1994). The ‘beak’ was presumably the long, pointed rostrum present in all rorquals while the ‘horns’ must have been the elongate, pointed dentaries: these often splay apart in rorqual carcasses and protrude like tusks or horns, as previously discussed at Tet Zoo ver 1 here.
The final proof for the whale identification comes from the fact that the skull was retained (Palmeros (1994) published a closeup of the dorsal surface of the back of the skull). It is undoubtedly that of a rorqual and, so far as I can, does match that of a Sei whale in the length of its nasals and other details. Some pictures on the web seem to be identified as the skull of the Tecolutla creature (one is shown here), but they don’t make sense: it looks as if the entire back part of the skull has been inverted and then raised up at a steep angle relative to the rostrum. Maybe that’s exactly what’s happened: it’s hard to say from small photos alone [UPDATE: the photo shown here is not from the Tecolutla carcass. See the comments]. Anyway, it’s case closed on this one.
More tomorrow. You realise that when this is all finished I’m going to go very, very quiet. Multiple end-July deadlines approach… and SVPCA is looming. Yes, I’m goin’ to Ireland.
PS – this article is Tet Zoo ver 2′s 300th entry. Woo-hoo, pass the favoured alcoholic beverage.
Refs – -
Keel, J. 1970. Strange Creatures from Time and Space. Sphere Books, London.
Palmeros, R. A. L. 1994. A marine monster in Tecolutla, Mexico? Info Journal 71, 24-26.