Tetrapod Zoology

i-1793a273c30b1440ef4384b65857628b-Tecolutla monster.jpg

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.

i-1443dea62fa6ccd3ff8101068dc4a53b-Tecolutla monster true appearance.jpg

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.

i-b566f3bd1bfdeeb2740887e9ce8e46c1-Tecolutla skull.jpg

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Neil
    July 10, 2008

    Nice stuff. Ive not encounter ed this ‘sea monster’ before. Looking back at the photo it does look like a scene from an whaling ship with the whale hoisted up. And the skull just mnakes it obvious. This pattern of dispelling all this sea serpent myths is a bit dissapointing thou; will you been ending the week with conclusive proof of the existence of a gigantic reptilian sea serpent? lol

  2. #2 Stewart Macdonald
    July 10, 2008

    I’m with Neil – I want to believe!

    Stewart

  3. #3 Susannah
    July 10, 2008

    “Group of farmers, on the beach, at night? The mind boggles.”

    In that area, they’re all farmers, unless they’re fishermen. Walking home from a fiesta of some sort in the next village, probably.

  4. #4 Christophe Thill
    July 10, 2008

    Hattie told Matty
    About a thing she saw
    It had two big horns
    And a wollen jaw…

    Hey, that’s the original inspiration for the song “Wolly Bully”, a jewel of tex-mex rock’n’roll !!!

  5. #5 JuliaM
    July 10, 2008

    “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.”

    By nuclear testing, no doubt… :)

  6. #6 KillerChihuahua
    July 10, 2008

    Christophe: You’re right! I didn’t even think of that while reading about the monster. Good catch.

  7. #7 Dave Godfrey
    July 10, 2008

    What is it with marine cryptids and “prehistoric animals frozen in icebergs”? We had that earlier with the Santa Cruz carcass.

  8. #8 Barn Owl
    July 10, 2008

    The “semi-serious interpretation” bears a striking resemblance to Cecil, the seasick sea-serpent, from the old Beany and Cecil cartoon.

  9. #9 Christophe Thill
    July 10, 2008

    “What is it with marine cryptids and “prehistoric animals frozen in icebergs”?”

    Please, lets’ not joke about the latter, as it’s a very serious topic. Let’s not forget it happened to Godzilla.

  10. #10 Badger3k
    July 10, 2008

    I always thought that the Wolly Bully song was about a Wooly Mammoth, but that is an interesting idea. If this was popular in the news at the time, it’s possible. Wonder if there is anything on that?

  11. #11 Badger3k
    July 10, 2008

    Well, looking at Sam’s site, the song was written in 1964, before this thing appeared, so I guess that would be a no. Sam was from Dallas, so he could also have just been writing about a hairy Bull (an Oxen or something), or else just writing nonsense that sounded good. I couldn’t find anything on the origins of the song in a quick search, although there is an interesting article on his site that deals with his death and an occult connection. Pretty funny.

    BTW – why do they always forget Gamera? He’s the Friend to Children, don’t ya’ know!

  12. #12 Bee
    July 10, 2008

    Cool! This is one I definitely have never seen before.

  13. #13 Andreas Johansson
    July 10, 2008

    This pattern of dispelling all this sea serpent myths is a bit dissapointing thou; will you been ending the week with conclusive proof of the existence of a gigantic reptilian sea serpent?

    I cannot help but think that if a gigantic reptilian sea serpent really did exist, it would disappoint sea monster aficionados – in the flesh it would inevitably turn out like, say, the sperm whale; an impressive animal, no doubt, but without the mythic quality that makes the sea serpent so fascinating.

  14. #14 Zach Miller
    July 10, 2008

    Well, Godzillas origins were retconned in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, one of the 90′s Heisei films. No longer the victim of an icy fate, Godzilla was originally a Godzillasaurus, who lived on Laos Island and was shot to death during WWII. His broken body washed out to see and sank, but then the nuclear bombs in Hiroshima revived and mutated him.

    I kinda like the iceberg theory more.

  15. #15 jba
    July 10, 2008

    Sea Monster Week rules. I have always enjoyed crytozoology, in a light hearted, skeptical way. I look forward to the final installment, which I also assume will be the unveiling of Real Evidence(tm). As for Godzilla vs Gamera, I’m sorry but flaming, spinning, child befriending giant turtles just aren’t as cool as radioactive, city-stomping, electricity-eating dinosaurs. But I suppose Godzilla needs *something* to compare itself to make it look like it has good production values. :)

  16. #16 Zach Miller
    July 10, 2008

    Bah. The only worthwhile Gamera movies made up the Heisei trilogy. The old 60′s and 70′s movies were bad, bad, bad.

  17. #17 Michael Ivy
    July 10, 2008

    The is a great post.

  18. #18 carel
    July 10, 2008

    Sea Monster Week is the best fun I’ve had in a while. As I recall, “Woolly Bully” was The Pharaohs’ bass player’s cat.

  19. #19 David Marjanovi?
    July 11, 2008

    “The story of Giant Monster Gamera is that Gamera is a giant monster.”

    “Being a giant monster, Gamera is instinctively drawn to Tokyo.”

    http://www.stomptokyo.com

  20. #20 Strider
    July 11, 2008

    Awesome week thus far and a clever way to get more traffic, too! But, uh, WHERE’S DAY FIVE?!!!!!!!

  21. #21 Jenny Islander
    July 11, 2008

    Everybody now:

    Gamera is really neat,
    Gamera is full of meat,
    We believe in Ga-me-raaaaa!

  22. #22 Chuck
    July 11, 2008

    What about the Lake Champlain “monster” and Sandi Manci’s photo?

  23. #23 Darren Naish
    July 11, 2008

    I have nothing at all to say on that case. I take it you’re not a regular reader :)

  24. #24 Graham King
    July 11, 2008

    Fascinating stuff Darren, and one I’d never heard of too! (I have a week’s worth here to catch up on now).

    Andreas Johansson said

    I cannot help but think that if a gigantic reptilian sea serpent really did exist, it would disappoint sea monster aficionados – in the flesh it would inevitably turn out like, say, the sperm whale; an impressive animal, no doubt, but without the mythic quality that makes the sea serpent so fascinating.

    Good insight!
    I think the psychology of such events is fascinating. Some finders appear to wilfully though maybe at times unwittingly collude (unspokenly conspire?) in ‘mystification’ and ‘mythification’ of their find, even at times NOT doing obvious things that would likely assist in its factual identification (such as: taking clear photos from various angles with reference objects to show scale; keeping samples of flesh or bone; summoning expert witnesses promptly; etc).. a group-Munchausen syndrome?

    While I think true enthusiasts would welcome all truth (even disproof), some people evidently yearn not for truth but for a real yet forever-unknowable mystic ‘something’; a magic ‘other’ in nature, that will awe (awe OTHERS, especially) but will elude man’s firm grasp. I suspect that such people were instrumental in the devising and perpetuation of various cults and mystery religions: idolatry, weird practices and relic-veneration.

    With ‘finders’ well-placed to embellish finds (verbally or materially), to interpret them freely, and to set themselves up as priest(esse)s (read proprietors-for-life of the resulting pilgrim/tourist/religion), I think the temptation is obvious.
    And it goes on today, with crop circles, the UFO lecture circuit, chupacabras and Hubbardism.

  25. #25 Boesse
    July 19, 2008

    That last photo isn’t a bryde’s whale skull; in fact, it isn’t even from a mysticete. Its an upside down sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) skull.

    1) The premaxillae lay ventral to the maxillae in (most)cetaceans, and in this case they are are below the maxillae in the photo, indicating the specimen is upside down.

    2) No mysticete has a ventrally deflected postorbital portion of the supraorbital process, such as this; this is however a very prominent feature in many odontocetes, especially in Physeter.

    3) The structure at the top of the photo is unlike the dorsal surface of any cetacean skull; the two bones have downwards pointing ‘v’ at the top are the palatines, which form the floor of the internal choanae.

    4) The entire palate is convex; all balaenopterids have primarily flattened palates (with a slight medial convexity posteriorly).

    5) There isn’t a vertex here, and as stated, there are palatines instead, indicating the vertex is on the other side.

    Here’s another ventral view of Physeter: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2137/2507363635_1bb3667130.jpg?v=0

    Eh, just some observations…

  26. #26 Darren Naish
    July 19, 2008

    That last photo isn’t a bryde’s whale skull; in fact, it isn’t even from a mysticete. Its an upside down sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) skull.

    Thanks very much for this – I had thought the same (which is why the text in the article says that ‘Some pictures on the web seem to be identified as the skull of the Tecolutla creature’). I will alter the text accordingly. The skull roof pictured in Palmeros (1994) is, however, that of a rorqual.

  27. #27 Cliff Asay
    August 20, 2008

    I am absolutely amazed that this event in this very obscure little fishing village is still gaining attention. I was a UCLA Broadcasting student at the time and a friend and myself went to Tecolutla to film the event.

    Clearly we knew we were looking at some kind of whale — but that wasn’t the story. The story was the amazing transformation of that little village whose population must have swelled 100-fold or more during that time.

    After flying to Mexico City, we took a bus (from hell) to Tecolutla. Nine hours and some two dozen little villages later we arrived. We had crummy little rooms but the food was good. Those were the days.

  28. #28 Robert
    December 29, 2008

    Well, Godzillas origins were retconned in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, one of the 90′s Heisei films. No longer the victim of an icy fate, Godzilla was originally a Godzillasaurus, who lived on Laos Island and was shot to death during WWII. His broken body washed out to see and sank, but then the nuclear bombs in Hiroshima revived and mutated him.

    Ah, point of order.

    Godzillasaurus lived on Lagos Island, and, after being severely injured by the US Navy, was teleported by the Futurians to the Bering Sea to stop nucleaer testing mutating him into Godzilla.

    Unfortunately, a freak accident involving a Russian Nuclear Submarine mutated him anyway, and a further run in with a Japanese Nuclear Submarine only made him more powerful!

  29. #29 DR. RAFAEL AUGUSTO LARA PALMEROS
    November 24, 2009

    Hi Darren:
    I read with great interest your comment about my research. If you want more information about this case an another cryptozoological mysteries in México, Central ad South America, please let me know.
    I will be waiting for your answer, please do it as soon as possible.
    Best Reagards

  30. #30 Nathan Myers
    November 24, 2009

    Dear Dr. Lara Palmeros,

    Thank you for posting. Your experience is, and will be, very welcome. (I hope I have transcribed your family name correctly.)

  31. #31 DAR
    January 3, 2010

    I am amazed at the lack of knowledge of sea life that you have and the skeptics that write this gibberish without checking their facts.
    If this is a whale? I will personally kiss it’s back side and your to. It is not a Balaenoptera borealis they will Reach a length of up to 20 metres (66 ft) this creature was 83 feet long when first measured and some of the carcass had broken off I notice the weight and length you give is incorrect .You do not even have your facts right, as well you can clearly see in the photo above especially if you put it in a pdf file and use the enlarge feature. The planks on the neck and scaling very clearly. sei whales way much less then this creature head and neck that was weighed in at over 60.000 plus pounds. As well a exact sized and same description of a aniaml wahsed up on the shores of sansalvador. It had the same length same armor plating -same width- same description. As well this creature in the photo s still not that roted so you cannot say that it a a whale a sei whale or any other whale does not match this animal. I have been studying marine biology for over 4 decades ans know every marine and freshwater pinniped- whale amphibian- lizard- snake and a vast majority of the fish species on earth and this was not and never will be a whale case closed it was a real sea serpent.

  32. #32 DAR
    January 3, 2010

    I am amazed at the lack of knowledge of sea life that people have and the skeptics that write this gibberish without checking their facts.
    If this is a whale? I will personally kiss it’s back side and your to. It is not a Balaenoptera borealis they will Reach a length of up to 20 metres (66 ft). Problem A- this creature was 83 feet long when first measured and some of the carcass had broken off. I notice the weight and length you give is incorrect from the historical records .As well you dispute the planks although you or anyone bothering to look can clearly see them in the photo above. “Especially” if you put it in a pdf file and use the enlarge feature. The planks on the neck and scaling show very clearly. Sei whales way less then this creature. The head and neck that was weighed in at over 60.000 plus pounds. Giving that in to account and only 30 feet was weighed , it would be most likely at least be 2.5 times that weight or more in total. this would give it a figure of 120 thousand pounds- which is much larger then maximum of 100 thousand pounds. This creature would of weighed at least 120000 to more likely 160 to 180 thousand pounds. As well a exact sized and same description of another exact animal washed up on the shores of SAN- Salvador. It had the same length same armor plating -same width- same description. As well this creature in the photo is still not that roted. You cannot out right say that it a a whale, a sei whale or any other whale does not match this animal. Another thing you forgot to mention the teeth they had these very sharp triangular like large teeth, both monsters had this reported- which none of the whales have these kinds of teeth. I have been studying marine biology for over 4 decades ans know every marine and freshwater pinniped- whale amphibian- lizard- snake and a vast majority of the fish species on earth and this was not and never will be a whale and it is case closed for me anyhow and it was a real sea serpent this I am sure of.

    Posted by: DAR | January 3, 2010 3:28 PM

  33. #33 frank harris
    May 23, 2010

    I lived in Tecolutla for a couple of years and visited the museo dedicated to the creature.
    The skull and horns are there along with photos and articles. The photos are far superior to those on this site.
    The story from men who actually participated in the event bears little resemblance to what is portrayed here.
    DAR estimates are a lot more accurate.

  34. #34 Airpot taxi
    August 16, 2010

    Wow I have just heard read this blog.
    They are very interesting that they exist in our seaworld.

  35. #35 Managed Forex
    August 16, 2010

    Is that just the head part? Does it have body?

  36. #36 David Marjanović
    August 16, 2010

    I have been studying marine biology for over 4 decades ans know every marine and freshwater pinniped- whale amphibian- lizard- snake and a vast majority of the fish species on earth and this was not and never will be a whale and it is case closed for me anyhow and it was a real sea serpent this I am sure of.

    If you had studied anything for 4 decades, you wouldn’t write such run-on sentences that say “random teenager on the Internet” to me. But that’s beside the point.

    Even the fact that it’s deeply, deeply ridiculous when you claim to know “a vast majority of the fish species on earth” is beside the point. (Hint: there are at the very least 23,000 — twenty-three thousand — “fish” species known to science. You don’t know “a vast majority” of them. You just… don’t.)

    The point is that you seem to have very little of an idea of how dead whales rot in the sea. Did you even read the post?

    Is that just the head part? Does it have body?

    Read the post.

  37. #37 airport taxi
    August 16, 2010

    David your article is very interesting and I believe in your experience and study.

    Are there still any kind of this by now that exist and is not being captured yet?

  38. #38 David Marjanović
    August 17, 2010

    David your article

    <cringe>

    It’s not mine (doesn’t the name Darren Naish ring a bell!?!), and you still didn’t read the post.

  39. #39 Markus
    December 12, 2010

    There’s a paper written by Bernardo Villa-Ramírez in 1969 for this case: VILLA-R, B. 1969. La ballena rorcual o ballena de aleta, Balaenoptera borealis Lesson, 1828, en la costa de Veracruz, Mexico. An. Inst. Biol., Univ. Nat. Auton Mexiko 40, Ser. Zool. (1): 129-138.

    Abstract: Whales of the species Balaenoptera borealis Lesson, are found in all the seven seas; in the Arctic Ocean, The North Atlantic from Nova Zemlya, Spizbergen, Davis Strait and Labrador to Spain, the Meditteranean and North Africa as far as Cap Blanc in the East, and in the West to Campeche, México. One specimen, cust up near the shore in the vincinity of Tecolutla, Veracruz, is the second record for the Gulf of Mexico.

    Villa-B. added beside the description and identification also pictures he made from the carcass. From behind the skull, the rostrum and from the dead whale on the beach.

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