Better late than never; I was at the office of a London-based publishing company yesterday, so didn’t have time to get anything ready before today. I know you’ll all forgive me. Anyway… so, how to finish sea monster week? With a predictable and familiar set of images that you’ve seen a hundred times before? Maybe. Or with a striking photo (or series of photos) that will blow you away in offering hitherto unappreciated, obvious evidence for the reality of giant marine cryptids? Well, I wish…
My original, rather boring plan, was to finish sea monster week (this article is part 5) with a set of photos that you might regard as among the most iconic sea monster images of them all – yet also among the least interesting, if only because they have been well explained on so many occasions. On 25th April 1977, the Japanese trawler Zuiyo-maru accidentally hauled up a 10-m-long vertebrate carcass while about 30 miles off the coast of Christchurch, New Zealand. They didn’t want to retain the carcass for fear of contaminating their catch, but it was photographed and a few tissue samples were taken before it was discarded.
This carcass is known without doubt to have been that of a shark: we can make such a bold proclamation because Kimura et al. (1978) demonstrated the presence of the collagen elastoidin within the carcass’s horny fin fibres (called ceratotrichia), and showed that the elastoidin in the carcass was identical in its amino acid composition to that of basking sharks Cetorhinus maximus. The elastoidin in the carcass’s fibres also exhibited a microstructure (observed under SEM) identical to that of basking shark elastoidin (Kimura et al. 1978). Case closed. Definitely basking shark. Even some (not all, but some) creationists accept this, urging their like-minded colleagues to STOP STOP STOP pretending that a rotting shark somehow supports the view that evolution doesn’t happen. A very thorough account of the entire Zuiyo-maru incident was published by Glen Kuban (Kuban 1997): it’s available as a website here and as a pdf here.
Here we come to the great problem. There probably – in fact, there surely – are large marine vertebrates out there that we have yet to officially recognise, and at least some of them are, hopefully, tetrapods (empirical support for this assertion comes from studies of discovery rates over time: Paxton 1998, 2001, Raynal 2001, Solow & Smith 2005). It’s just that we have no good evidence for them at the moment. Well, no evidence beyond the anecdotal anyway. When carcasses are photographed, retained or sampled, they invariably turn out to be rotting cetaceans, sharks, or oarfishes or whatever (yet another example is provided by ‘Parkie’, the 2002 carcass from Parker’s Cove, Nova Scotia. Definitely a basking shark [confirmed by DNA and anatomy], but hypothesised by some to match Heuvelmans’s long-necked pinniped, as shown here).
‘Those that still seem to defy explanation’
But there are still quite a few reported carcasses that defy explanation: mostly this is because information is deficient, and it’s just not possible to come to anything more than a speculative conclusion (Roesch 1997, 1998a, b, 1999). However, it’s also because some carcasses really don’t match anything we know, and – if real (read on) – almost certainly represent unknown species. Examples include Captain Hanna’s bony fish (reported in 1880 from Pemaquid, Maine: this was, reportedly, a 7.6 m long, eel-like ray-finned fish with a large, anteriorly placed dorsal fin), the Vietnamese ‘con rit’ carcass of 1883 (18 m long, with a segmented carapace, apparently recalling an immense marine millipede), Owen Burnham’s Bungalow Beach creature of 1983 (5 m long and recalling a small, short-necked, long-jawed plesiosaur), the Monongahela monster of 1852 (a 15 m long serpentine reptile with short flippers; it was supposedly killed by the whaling vessel Monongahela and preserved, but later lost), and the incredible Margate Beach creature of 1922 (14 m long, covered in snow white fur, and sporting a 1.5 m-long trunk. Reconstruction below, from here).
Were these creatures real, or were they hoaxes or just very garbled descriptions? We don’t know, but most of them are indeed very dodgy and unlikely to be accurate or faithful (Roesch 1997, 1998a, b, 1999), and of those cases where some data exists, that data is not exactly compelling. The two images shown at the very top of this article feature (at top) a weird fat-headed creature depicted on a pre-1914 postcard (discussed extensively at cryptomundo by Loren Coleman, starting here. I am confident that it is not a real animal), and the famous Naden Harbour Cadborosaurus carcass (which I previously discussed at length here on ver 1). These sorts of photos represent the best sort of evidence we have for ‘those that still seem to defy explanation’. In other words, I can’t say that we can come away from the carcass evidence (such as it is) feeling at all good about the reality of these creatures.
Do unknown large marine animals/vertebrates/tetrapods exist and await discovery? Very probably, yes. Have we got any evidence for them in the form of photographed carcasses, anecdotes or descriptions? Very probably not.
That’s essentially where our journey ends, and I’m sorry there isn’t some impressive dénouement to all of this. There’s one last surprise though: I’ll post it tomorrow.
Refs – –
Kimura, S., Fujii, K., Sato, H., Seta, S. & Kubota, M. 1978. The morphology and chemical composition of horny fiber from an unidentified creature captured off the coast of New Zealand. In Sasaki, T., Yasuda, F., Nasu, K. & Taki, Y. (eds) Collected Papers on the carcass of an uidentified animal tralwed off New Zealand by the Zuiyo-maru. La Société franco-japonaise d’océanographie (Tokyo), pp. 67-74.
Kuban, G. J. 1997. Sea-monster or shark? An analysis of a supposed plesiosaur carcass netted in 1977. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 17 (3), 16-28.
Paxton, C. G. M. 1998. A cumulative species description curve for large open water marine animals. Journal of the Marine Biologists Association, U.K. 78, 1389-1391.
– . 2001. Predicting pelagic peculiarities: some thoughts on future discoveries in the open seas. In Heinselman, C. (ed) Dracontology Special Number 1: Being an Examination of Unknown Aquatic Animals. Craig Heinselman (Francestown, New Hampshire), pp. 60-65.
Raynal, M. 2001. Cryptocetology and mathematics: how many cetaceans remain to be discovered? In Heinselman, C. (ed) Dracontology Special Number 1: Being an Examination of Unknown Aquatic Animals. Craig Heinselman (Francestown, New Hampshire), pp. 75-90.
Roesch, B. S. 1997. A review of alleged sea serpent carcasses worldwide (part one – 1648-1880). The Cryptozoology Review 2 (2), 6-27.
– . 1998a. A review of alleged sea serpent carcasses worldwide (part two – 1881-1896). The Cryptozoology Review 2 (3), 25-35.
– . 1998b. A review of alleged sea serpent carcasses worldwide (part three – 1897-1906). The Cryptozoology Review 3 (1), 27-31.
– . 1999. A review of alleged sea serpent carcasses worldwide (part four – 1907-1924). The Cryptozoology Review 3 (3), 15-22.
Solow, A. R. & Smith, W. K. 2005. On estimating the number of species from the discovery record. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 272, 285-287.