Tetrapod Zoology

The Long-necked seal, described 1751

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If you know anything about the literature on marine cryptids – or sea monsters, or sea serpents, or whatever – you will know of the Long-necked seal, a hypothetical mega-pinniped proposed by Bernard Heuvelmans (1968) as the explanation for sightings of giant long-necked sea (and lake) monsters. Based on a number of apparently reliable eyewitness reports, Heuvelmans suggested that this new species, which he dubbed Megalotaria longicollis, was a highly specialised otariid (Otariidae is the group that includes sea lions and fur seals). Giant compared to its relatives (4.5-19 m long), with an elongate, flexible neck and two erectile snorkels that are placed dorsally and in front of the small eyes, it is, he proposed, still capable of terrestrial locomotion but is otherwise the most pelagic of all pinnipeds, having essentially severed the ties that link other pinnipeds to land [adjacent reconstruction of Megalotaria longicollis, © Stefano Maugeri].

Heuvelmans wasn’t the first to propose the existence of a giant, long-necked pinniped. Oudemans (1892), in his classic The Great Sea-Serpent, identified ‘the’ sea-serpent (he recognised only a single type) as Megophias megophias, an immense long-necked, long-tailed pinniped belonging to an archaic group (the Longicaudata) that had diverged from all other pinnipeds (grouped together as the Brevicaudata) early on in pinniped evolution [Oudemans's reconstruction of Megophias shown below]. Heuvelmans (1968) was confident that Megophias megophias was a composite creature that combined the traits of several different, distinct giant marine animals (Heuvelmans argued for the presence of nine different types of sea-serpent), and therefore chose to ignore it. Of course, there is the whole debate about whether technical names mean anything at all when given to cryptids: I am of the opinion that they’re worthless given that type specimens are absent, but it remains debated as to whether type specimens are really needed when it comes to publishing official descriptions (Dubois & Nemésio 2007). Some people say they aren’t, but I don’t think this is useful: Heuvelmans’s creatures show why (for previous discussion of this issue see the kipunji article on Tet Zoo ver 1).

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As is well known, and as just mentioned, the Long-necked seal was one of just nine types of sea-serpent recognised by Heuvelmans (1968). While, as I’ve said before, there are good reasons for thinking that new large marine vertebrates still await discovery (Paxton 1998, 2001, Raynal 2001, Solow & Smith 2005), Heuvelmans’s scheme has been heavily criticised: Magin (1996) argued that, rather than emerging from an objective, empirical sorting of the evidence, the nine categories that Heuvelmans ended up with were predetermined and subjective, and don’t work when applied to specific cases. I agree (Naish 2001). Some of the ideas that inspired Heuvelmans when he proposed his different sea-serpent identifications are also erroneous: he thought that the armour-plated Many-finned sea-serpent, for example, had inherited its armour from its basilosaurid ancestors, despite the fact that the ‘armour’ of basilosaurids had been discounted by Kellogg (1936). As for giant, long-necked ‘eupelagic’ pinnipeds, it would seem from what we know of pinnipeds that their terrestrial breeding and moulting may be a constraint that prevents them from adapting fully to pelagic life (this idea was hinted at by Trillmich & Trillmich (1984) but hasn’t been elaborated on so far as I know).

Despite these problems, or maybe because of them, the Long-necked seal has been discussed quite a lot in the cryptozoological literature (Costello 1974, Cornes 2001, Coleman & Huyghe 2003, Woodley 2008), although not in the mainstream literature on pinnipeds. Indeed one problem I’d like to see redressed (and, again, I’m repeating myself here) is the fact that discussions and evaluations of cryptids only ever remain in the cryptozoological literature, even when there is plenty of ‘real science’ that can be done as goes evaluating the data. Keeping discussions of cryptids in the ‘grey literature’ perpetuates the cycle in which these alleged creatures are never really objectively assessed. Michael Woodley and I are currently working on a paper about cryptic pinnipeds (intended for a mainstream, peer-reviewed venue). I’ll discuss it in full later on (in theory, when it gets published) but, as you’d expect, it means that I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the cryptozoology of pinnipeds.

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And it occurred to me to be the ideal time to bring to attention the fact that a Long-necked seal was described in the literature long prior to the work of Heuvelmans or even Oudemans. Reporting the observations of a Dr Grew on the Long-necked seal observed ‘in diverse countries’, James Parsons (1751) included an illustration [shown above] and description of this pinniped. He described how it was ‘[M]uch slenderer than either of the former [two other pinnipeds were described earlier in the manuscript]; but that, wherein he principally differs, is the length of his neck; for from his nose-end to his fore-feet, and from thence to his tail, are the same measure; as also in that, instead of his fore-feet, he hath rather fins; not having any claws thereon, as have the other kinds. The head and neck of this species are exactly like those of an otter. One of those, which is also now in our musaeum [sic], taken notice of by the same author, has an head shaped like that of a tortoise; less in proportion than that of every other species, with a narrowness of stricture round the neck: the fore-feet of these are five-finger’d, with nails, like the common seal. Their size, as to the utmost growth of an adult, is also very different. That before described, was 7 feet and an half in length; and, being very young, had scarce any teeth at all’ (Parsons 1751, p. 111).

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Quite how a pinniped said at first to have a very long neck is then said to have a head and neck ‘exactly like those of an otter’ I’m not sure, and of course it’s not possible to determine whether this ‘long-necked seal’ has anything to do with Heuvelmans’s hypothetical animal of the same name. It’s tempting to assume that it was a confused description of a sea lion but, given that Parsons described a specimen 2.3 m long as a juvenile, it still sounds like an interesting animal that we’d like to know more about. To confuse things further, Parsons also mentioned a specimen which ‘is but 3 feet long, is very thick in proportion, and has a well-grown set of teeth’ (Parsons 1751, p. 112) [adjacent image shows the creature reportedly seen by J. Mackintosh Bell in the Orkneys, in 1919. It is often regarded as one of the best long-necked seal sightings].

The tantalising possibility remains that the larger specimen would have been significant in zoological terms, but given that we lack data on the provenance and fate of the specimens that were described by Parsons, any further comments would be entirely speculative. James Parsons, 1705-1770, was a British physician who studied medicine in Paris and later worked under James Douglas in London. As yet I haven’t done any research on the specimens he studied or wrote about, but this obviously should be done. What happened to his long-necked seal, and what was it?

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While I suspect that Parsons’s long-necked seal will be news to many people, I’ve known about it for years and have mentioned it in talks, even including a slide of the illustration that Parsons produced. I first heard of the article from Ben Speers-Roesch back when we were on the editorial board of the now defunct The Cryptozoology Review, and Ben in turn had heard about it from Scott Mardis. He’d encountered the article on microfiche at the University of Vermont. Scott published a popular article in a newspaper but, so far as I know, that’s it in terms of wider attention [adjacent image shows Peter Costello's version of the Long-necked seal (Costello 1974)].

Whatever the answer is on this case, it’s a pretty interesting little mystery.

PS – it’s my birthday tomorrow. Would anyone like to pay for me to go to SVP?

Refs – -

Coleman, L. & Huyghe, P. 2003. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. Tarcher/Penguin, New York.

Cornes, R. 2001. The case for the surreal seal. In Heinselman, C. (ed) Dracontology Special Number 1: Being an Examination of Unknown Aquatic Animals. Craig Heinselman (Francestown, New Hampshire), pp. 39-45.

Costello, P. 1974. In Search of Lake Monsters. Garnstone Press, London.

Dubois, A. & Nemésio, A. 2007. Does nomenclatural availability of nomina of new species or subspecies require the deposition of vouchers in collections? Zootaxa 1409, 1-22.

Heuvelmans, B. 1968. In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents. Hill and Wang, New York.

Kellogg, R. 1936. A review of the Archaeoceti. Carnegie Institute of Washington Publication 482, 1-366.

Magin, U. 1996. St George without a dragon: Bernard Heuvelmans and the sea serpent. In Moore, S. (ed) Fortean Studies Volume 3. John Brown Publishing (London), pp. 223-234.

Naish, D. 2001. Sea serpents, seals and coelacanths: an attempt at a holistic approach to the identity of large aquatic cryptids. In Simmons, I. & Quin, M. (eds) Fortean Studies Volume 7. John Brown Publishing (London), pp. 75-94.

Oudemans, C. A. 1892. The Great Sea-Serpent: An Historical and Critical Treatise. Brill, Leiden.

Parsons, J. 1751. A dissertation upon the Class of the Phocae Marinae. Philosophical Transactions 47, 109-122.

Paxton, C. G. M. 1998. A cumulative species description curve for large open water marine animals. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 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. 93-112.

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.

Trillmich, F. & Trillmich, K. G. K. 1984. The mating systems of pinnipeds and marine iguanas: convergent evolution of polygony. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 21, 209-216.

Woodley, M. A. 2008. In the Wake of Bernard Heuvelmans. CFZ Press, Bideford.

Comments

  1. #1 Craig York
    September 25, 2008

    I’m afraid I can only wish you a Happy Birthday, Darren, and thank you fro an excellent and intriguing article.

  2. #2 Jerzy
    September 25, 2008

    Happy Birthday, Darren!

    And I might pay you the trip to a nearest zoo or circus with long-necked seal!

  3. #3 Christopher Taylor
    September 25, 2008

    As for giant, long-necked ‘eupelagic’ pinnipeds, it would seem from what we know of pinnipeds that their terrestrial breeding and moulting may be a constraint that prevents them from adapting fully to pelagic life

    But surely all secondarily pelagic tetrapods were ancestrally terrestrial breeders? Why should pinnipeds be any less likely to make the change than any other group?

    The book cover in the last picture would seem to suggest that lake monsters are some form of possessed demon hare.

    Oh yes, and happy birthday!

  4. #4 Dartian
    September 25, 2008

    Happy birthday from me too! And good luck with the cryptozoological paper!

    Have you already decided which journal you’ll be trying your luck with? Journal of Zoology has had a few cryptozoology-related, recent-ish papers (e.g., Kitchener & Easterbee 1992, Dioli 1997, Macdonald & Yang 1997, Brandt et al. 2001).

    As for the existence of the alleged long-necked, 19 m pinniped itself… well, maybe I’m just overly sceptical but I’m going to need a lot of convincing before I buy the notion of a pinniped as long as a male sperm whale…

    References:

    Brandt, J.H., Dioli, M., Hassanin, A., Melville, R.A., Olson, L.E., Seveau, A. & Timm, R.M. 2001. Debate on the authenticity of Pseudonovibos spiralis as a new species of wild bovid from Vietnam and Cambodia. Journal of Zoology, London 255, 437-444.

    Dioli, M. 1997. Notes on the morphology of the horns of a new artiodactyl mammal from Cambodia: Pseudonovibos spiralis. Journal of Zoology, London 241, 527-531.

    Kitchener, A.C. & Easterbee, N. 1992. The taxonomic status of black wild felids in Scotland. Journal of Zoology, London 227, 342-346.

    Macdonald, A.A. & Yang, L.N. 1997. Chinese sources suggest early knowledge of the ‘unknown’ ungulate (Pseudonovibos spiralis) from Vietnam and Cambodia. Journal of Zoology, London 241, 523-526.

  5. #5 Tengu
    September 25, 2008

    Happy birthday from me too, be glad you dont have a birthday on Xmas like I do.

    North Rona, the Island of the Seal, is comming up…

    Do you think any sort of aquatic animal could hold their neck vertically like those pics?

  6. #6 Sean Craven
    September 25, 2008

    In Ivan T. Sanderson’s Investigating The Unexplained he suggests that a sonar reading made off the coast of Alaska indicates a two-hundred foot long animal.

    Sanderson suggests that it’s a long-necked pinniped…

  7. #7 Jerzy
    September 25, 2008

    If you have access to skeletal material of extinct megafauna, I can suggest joint better research on Pleistocene extinction. Requires just measuring a small sample of bones. ;-)

  8. #8 Darren Naish
    September 25, 2008

    Thanks for comments, premature birthday wishes etc…

    Chris said…

    But surely all secondarily pelagic tetrapods were ancestrally terrestrial breeders? Why should pinnipeds be any less likely to make the change than any other group?

    The hypothesis is that, unlike other aquatic mammals, the polygynous harem system operated by pinnipeds requires the maintenance of terrestrial territories (maintaining and guarding a harem is perhaps impossible in the water if you breath air). The moult that pinnipeds undergo might also require that they are ‘tied’ to land. Perhaps sirenians and cetaceans didn’t have the latter problem because they came to rely on fat rather than insulative fur early on in their evolution (it probably isn’t a coincidence that sirenians and cetaceans evolved in the tropics).

    I’m not saying that these are the answers, but they are possible answers. They do have problems: some pinnipeds (like hooded seals) are solitary breeders where no territories or harems are maintained, for example, and there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why mothers can’t give birth in the water (indeed, this has been reported for Harbour and Grey seals). If a truly pelagic pinniped were discovered, then all of this theorising would go out the window anyway. Bring on that Megalotaria

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?
    September 25, 2008

    Off topic: Have a look at the claspers of this shark. If that isn’t photoshopped, I smell major interest for evo-devo…

  10. #10 Zach Miller
    September 25, 2008

    I’m gonna say photoshop’d.

    Happy birthday, Darren. I’d pay for you to go to SVP if I could. As it stands, I can barely afford to go myself…

  11. #11 Cameron
    September 25, 2008

    The lack of claws and shape of the flippers on Parson’s long necked pinniped seems to suggest a sea lion, and would an otter-like head imply ears? – I can’t tell from the illustration. I recall you saying that the necks of phocids and otariids are around the same length proportionally, surely they would have realized that if it was in a museum!

    What do you think the odds are that some reports of long-necks in the Atlantic are due to wayward (and exaggerated) female sea lions, presumably Otaria flavescens? A southern elephant seal did make it all the way up to Oman after all…

    Oh yes, happy birthday!

  12. #12 Mark Lees
    September 25, 2008

    Interesting.

    No mention this time on Acrophoca in connection with possible long-necked seals. I know you have blogged previously on Acrophoca (in Tet Zoo v1), and Coleman & Huyghe quote you in relation to it in ‘The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep’.

    I notice that in the 1751 picture the long-necked seal is also labelled ‘Sea Calf”. Sea Calf was I think an old name for Harbour Seal. I’m not sure what, if anything, the significance of that is, but the use of names relating to known animals confuses the issue.

    I guess while I find the possibilty of long-necked pinnipeds quite plausible ( Acrophoca shows that at least relatively long-necked seals have existed, and the Mackintosh Bell case is interesting), I am far from convinced by the concept of a 19m long-necked seal. But long-necked seals are more plausible than the giant hyper-otters proposed to explain so other marine cryptid sightings.

    I look forward to your article.

  13. #13 DunkTheBiscuit
    September 25, 2008

    Premature Happy Birthday :)

    One thing I like about this blog, is you are willing to – at least – be open minded about cryptids. A pelagic long necked seal/ion is on my personal list of ‘more probable’ beasties – either extant now or in the recent past. One can hope, anyway…

  14. #14 Smilodon
    September 25, 2008

    Happy Birthday!

  15. #15 Susan
    September 25, 2008

    Happy birthday Darren.
    In reguards to the lifestyles of pinnipeds who have to return to land to breed vs the lives of cetaceans who can give birth in the ocean. I maintain that it has everything to do with the fact that cetaceans, who are decendents of artiodactyls give birth to independent young who can fend for themselves very quickly after being born. Seals, decended from carnivores, give birth to helpless young who need to be looked after for several days or weeks after their birth. I think sea otters have gotten around this problem slightly by having babies that float like corks so their mothers can leave them for a few minutes at a time, bobbing among the kelp fronds, while they search for food. This strategy wouldn’t work very well in the open ocean though. The only carnivors that give birth to independent young, that I know of, are hyenas. The other group of mammals that have become completely aqutic, the sirenians, are related to the probosidians who also give birth to precocious young. Of course, I’m not a biologist and have never studied seals or whales in the wild so what do I know?

  16. #16 Allen Hazen
    September 26, 2008

    Pity about Heuvelmans’s classification scheme. The execution may have been faulty, but the fundamental idea (classify the reports, then see whether the classified reports give a coherent picture: viz the argument that classes of reported animals “favor” particular water temperatures, as one would expect IF they were real bu not if they were imaginary) is sound and interesting. … BUT. To do it right (to exclude subjectivity) you’d have to have the classification done “blind”: classifier should work from descriptions alone, preferably in ignorance of hypotheses to be tested. The problem I had with Heuvelmans’s argument was that the classification seemed to be influenced by the hypothesis: in particular, some of the early Scandinavian reports seem to have had very little in the way of detailed description, and apparently were classified as “Super Otter” sightings largely because they were from the same general area and period as the paradigm Super Otter sightings. But if reports get classified partly on the basis of location, the argument from the correlation of “species” with water temperature is vitiated. (Caveat: I know only what was published in “In the Wake”: I don’t know if H. had additional data not included, and have only guessed at HOW the sightings were classified.)

    And, Happy Birthday Darren!

  17. #17 Traumador the Tyrannosaur
    September 26, 2008

    Happy Hatching Day!

  18. #18 Andreas Johansson
    September 26, 2008

    Happy birthday!

    The Arcturan Mega-rabbit on the book cover looks pretty neat. I suggest we call it Megacuniculus cetus (“mega-rabbit sea-monster”).

  19. #19 Darren Naish
    September 26, 2008

    Allen wrote…

    The problem I had with Heuvelmans’s argument was that the classification seemed to be influenced by the hypothesis: in particular, some of the early Scandinavian reports seem to have had very little in the way of detailed description, and apparently were classified as “Super Otter” sightings largely because they were from the same general area and period as the paradigm Super Otter sightings.

    In essence, that’s what Magin said. Cold-water, northern sightings were classified as super-otters and tropical sightings were classified as many-finneds even when the actual reports were ambiguous or contradictory.

  20. #20 Mary Blanchard
    September 26, 2008

    Happy Birthday!

  21. #21 Tabitca
    September 26, 2008

    Thanks for this. I came across your page from cryptomundo. I am doing an Mphil by research and looking at blogging. Please get in touch if you don’t want your blog mentioned in it.It would be a really useful edition to my study because of the science angle.I won’t be offended if you say no….I don’t want to just lurk and then include you without permission.I will continue to read it anyway as I think it’s really good.
    Have a great birthday. (one day we will all be able to afford to go and research the things we are really interested in!)

  22. #22 Jerzy
    September 26, 2008

    Happy birthday again!

  23. #23 Fedor
    September 26, 2008

    How do they propose that the long-necked seals would come around the constraint on the number of neck vertebrae that is so characteristic of mammals? Even giraffes have just elongated neck vertebrae of the usual number. Methinks that seals would need a neck more flexible than that.

    Having said that, developmental constraints do get trumped in a few instances, like e.g. the metacarpals of ichthyosaurs.

  24. #24 wolfwalker
    September 26, 2008

    Darren,

    If I recall right, some species of whales do maintain ‘harem’ type pods — orcas and sperm whales are two that come to mind. Possibly also pilot whales. I don’t believe there’s any physical or behavioral barrier against a pinniped becoming fully aquatic. I think the major inconsistency in the “long-necked seal” hypothesis lies elsewhere — specifically, in an evolutionarily inconsistent set of features. Logically, I’d expect a fully aquatic pinniped to evolve from the phocid seals, which are highly adapted to the aquatic life and nearly helpless on land, where they come only to breed and give birth. OTOH, the long-necked seal is generally described as being fast on land and water, with well-developed hind limbs — features that place it among the eared seals (family Otariidae). But the known eared seals are the most terrestrial of the pinnipeds, in both physiology and behavior.

    This seems very inconsistent to me. How do you get a 100% aquatic animal out of the eared seals, without any living intermediate form — ie, an eared seal with features and/or a lifestyle that rivals the true seals for adaptation to an aquatic life? Are there fossil eared seals that might serve as a plausible intermediate between the living eared-seal phenotype and the long-neck?

  25. #25 Gordon Rugg
    September 26, 2008

    I was particularly interested by one of your comments in your excellent blog article about long-necked seals – the comment about “The head and neck of this species are exactly like those of an otter.”

    I think that what’s going on here is an example of a more general process – that early writers, instead of using an adjectival technical term to describe something, instead used a direct comparison to a more familiar example, in a way which is confusing to modern readers. So, for example, instead of saying that an animal was an odd-toed ungulate, they might say that it “had feet like a rhinoceros”. This would confuse modern readers, who would assume that the feet were in all respects, including shape and size, exactly like those of a rhinoceros. (It probably confused a lot of early readers, too…)

    This is just speculation on my part, but it would be fairly easily testable, if anyone wanted a project to fill in some spare time. If this was indeed what was happening, then it should be fairly straightforward to “reverse engineer” old descriptions into something close to modern zoological terminology. This should make it possible to resolve at least some puzzling old descriptions.

  26. #26 Darren Naish
    September 26, 2008

    wolfwalker wrote…

    [T]he long-necked seal is generally described as being fast on land and water, with well-developed hind limbs — features that place it among the eared seals (family Otariidae). But the known eared seals are the most terrestrial of the pinnipeds, in both physiology and behavior.

    This seems very inconsistent to me. How do you get a 100% aquatic animal out of the eared seals, without any living intermediate form — ie, an eared seal with features and/or a lifestyle that rivals the true seals for adaptation to an aquatic life? Are there fossil eared seals that might serve as a plausible intermediate between the living eared-seal phenotype and the long-neck?

    You’re right, an otariid identity is problematical for these reasons. As for fossils, extinct otariids tend to be more strongly adapted for terrestriality than extant ones, not more strongly adapted for aquatic life. Given their far stronger adaptations for aquatic life, and the larger sizes achieved by some taxa, it looks more likely that Megalotaria would be a phocid (incidentally, I’m not supporting its reality here, just hypothesising). Of course it’s among phocids that we find the fossil swan-necked seals, Acrophoca, and I also like the fact that – if allied to lobodontins as thought by some – then they might have looked quasi-reptilian and scary (I love leopard seals, but I find them pretty scary to look at). I resisted mentioning Acrophoca here because I’ve done it before.

    Heuvelmans had Megalotaria drawn as if it were an otariid, with its hind-flippers being rotatable and its forelimbs being erect and prop-like, a la Otariidae, but I can’t recall if he was relying on eyewitness support for this or if it was just theoretical. Does anyone know? I don’t have time to start leafing through my copy of the 645-pp Heuvelmans 1968.

  27. #27 Cameron
    September 26, 2008

    Heuvelmans states that Megalotaria moves with a bounding movement on land by “rhythmically gathering its hind legs up near its front ones and then leaping forwards with the front ones, as sea lions do”. As far as I can recall this is entirely based on the Oscar Davies sighting (p. 391 in my book) which also mentions legs. Heuvelmans also believes that the hind limbs can be held in a bilobate and “face-to-face” (i.e. fish-like) position. The latter is rather phocid-like, but I don’t recall many reports mentioning the lateral movements typical of them. Who knows, maybe a giant pelagic phocid would change its swimming style somewhat.

  28. #28 johannes
    September 26, 2008

    > the long-necked seal is generally described as being fast
    > on land and water, with well-developed hind limbs

    Sounds like the “fish like a greyhound” that Farley Mowat mentioned in Sea of Slaughter?

    And, happy birthday, Darren!

  29. #29 wolfwalker
    September 26, 2008

    Cameron, it’s been a long time since I read Heuvelmans, but I seem to recall he connected his marine long-necked seal with the similar animals often reported from land-locked lakes, with a suggestion that the two are either the same species or closely related species. The lake animals have been seen on land often enough that they must be highly land-mobile, much more so than any true-seal or walrus. If the two are indeed related, then of course the marine version must also be an otariid.

    (Not that I’m actually arguing for the existence of any of these cryptids, of course. ;-) All of this is speculation based on the assumption that both Heuvelmans’ long-necked seal and the lake monsters do exist.)

  30. #30 Mark Evans
    September 26, 2008

    Happy Birthday!
    I’ve always thought of leopard seals as mammalian mosasaurs. You’re right, they do look reptilian.

  31. #31 Lago
    September 28, 2008

    I grew-up hearing about so called, “long-necked seals” too.

    I’m not buying the long-necked seal bit Darren at all. I have seen pics of the fossils you are claiming give evidence for such an animal, and their necks are not anything like how the reconstructions of the fabled seal is stated.

    [from Darren: well, in Acrophoca longirostris the neck is c. 21% of total vertebral column length, whereas it's 17-19% in most other phocids. So: 'a bit longer-necked than living seals, but 'swan-necked'?' The name is indeed an exaggeration, as discussed at Tet Zoo ver 1, so I'm not sure what you think I'm 'claiming'. Nobody's saying that Acrophoca is anything to do with the animal illustrated by Parsons, if that's what you're getting at.]

  32. #32 wazza
    September 28, 2008

    The comparison can be made to Elasmosaurus, showing the possibility of such a beast, but it needs about 3 times as many vertebrae to have a neck like that (elasmosaurs, according to wikipedia, had anywhere between 32 and 71 cervical vertebrae, but it should be possible to get a decent amount of flexibility with fewer than that)

    Of course, the vertebrae can change in number fairly easily, though losing them (as with humans losing the caudal vertebrae) is in general more common than gaining them, as witnessed by the giraffe.

  33. #33 Rob Cornes
    September 29, 2008

    Intriguing stuff.
    As you know I am a great fan of the possibility of such a seal. Without blowing my own trumpet I thought that some of the examples and logic I gave with regard to moulting / aquatic birth / natural history etc (on my website http://www.cornes1.fsnet.co.uk and in CFZ Yearbook 2007) might have helped make such a theory slightly more possible. Even as a layman. I would welcome any comments with regard to these ideas and their possible faults and look forward to your continuing research.
    Best wishes
    Rob Cornes

  34. #34 John Thompson
    September 30, 2008

    I beleive Nessie and sea “serpents” exist but if Nessie is a long-ncked seal does it have gills otherwise it would need to breath air at least once every half-hour and would be seen more frequently. Do you think the Cadborosaurus is also a long-necked seal?

  35. #35 David Marjanovi?
    September 30, 2008

    Nessie is just occasional sightings of sturgeons (which of course have gills), otters and unusual wave patterns.

  36. #36 DDeden
    October 1, 2008

    lost or circus elephant or bactrian camel or driftwood or sea lions? Long necked seal sounds odd, tropical but with abundant fatty food?

  37. #37 Will Snyder
    October 1, 2008

    I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of long-necked seals. My thoughts have always been that if one exists it most likely is related to leopard seals and the acrophocids although that would not explain those with ears or ‘horns’ (‘horns’ on mammalian sea serpents ring sea lion ears in my own ears). Perhaps there is some strange form of ‘long-necked’ convergent evolution among the ‘pinnipeds’ (I do know they are most likely unrelated to one another, ‘pinnipeds’ just referential).

    As far as I’m concerned: derived acrophocids seem more likely than living plesiosaurs.

  38. #38 David Marjanovi?
    October 2, 2008

    I do know they are most likely unrelated to one another

    Oh no, all of the most recent analyses (both molecular and morphological) do find them to form a clade.

  39. #39 Will Snyder
    October 2, 2008

    Really? All of what I’ve read on the subject says that they are most likely unrelated and that Pinnipedia deserves to be dissolved into Carnivora. I ought to do more research into the topic seeing as I also take interest in pinnipeds as far as future biology speculation.

  40. #40 David Marjanovi?
    October 2, 2008

    All of what I’ve read on the subject says that they are most likely unrelated and that Pinnipedia deserves to be dissolved into Carnivora.

    You have missed the last few years, that’s all.

  41. #41 Will Snyder
    October 2, 2008

    I haven’t missed them. Apparently I’ve misread my information. I knew that they were related but recently was rereading through some of my material (which apparently was from a few years back), and made the mistake of assuming that that was the current consensus. At least I have all of the data in chronological order now.

  42. #42 Darren Naish
    October 2, 2008

    Since the work of Wyss, nearly all research has supported pinniped monophyly. See for starters…

    Arnason, U., Gullberg, A., Janke, A., Kullberg, M., Lehman, N, Petrov, E. A. & Väinölä, R. 2006. Pinniped phylogeny and a new hypothesis for their origin and dispersal. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 41, 345-354.

    Wiig, Ř. 2006. On the relationship of pinnipeds to other carnivores. Zoologica Scripta 12, 225-227.

    Wyss, A. R. 1987. The walrus auditory region and the monophyly of pinnipeds. American Museum Novitates 2871, 1-31.

    - . 1988. Evidence from flipper structure for a single origin of pinnipeds. Nature 334, 427-428.

  43. #43 Allen Hazen
    October 3, 2008

    Devil’s advocate time.

    I have no particular reasons to believe in Pinniped diphyly, I haven’t read Arnason et al., Wiig, or Wyss on walrus ears (& the fourth-from-the-end paragraph of his flipper paper summarizes lots of evidence from that area) … BUT if I DID have reason to believe in diphyly I don’t think I would be shaken by the flipper stuff.

    After all, synapomorphies that are functionally “motivated” could easily be convergences. Wyss’s six flipper traits fit into two “syndromes”: in the fore-flipper (hand) the thumb-side is big, with a monotonically decreasing digit length I-V, and in the hind-flipper the outer digits are big with the intermediate (II-IV) digits proportionally less developed. Not being a hydrodynamicist, I can’t give you chapter and verse, but it seems a priori plausible that this reflects a “functional constraint”: flippers so-shaped are BETTER than the alternative. Certainly, the hind-flipper feature is what you need if you are going to have the flipper superficially resemble a fish tail! (Wyss tries to defuse the objection by saying that in Otariids, unlike Odobenids and Phocids, the fore-flipper is the main thrust-generator in swimming: as long as all Pinnipeds use both hand and foot for at least SOME thrust generation, the difference in relative amount wouldn’t totally eliminate a supposed functional constraint.)

    Wyss breaks the two general flipper-form features down into six traits. In the hind-flipper, his traits (iv) and (v) are just the strong development of digits I and V: two sides of the same feature, as it were. His trait (iv) is weak development of digit III, but only in Phocids are the interior digits significantly shorter than the outer (the outer being subequal, II and IV shorter but about equal to each other, III noticeably the shortest). In Otariids and Odobenids all five pedal digits are about the same length (with I and V much more robust than the inner three).

    In the foreflipper, trait (ii) is simply the overall size gradation (I the biggest with monotonic reduction through the rest of the series). His trait (i) is that the first metatarsal and proximal phalanx are “markedly enlarged and elongated”(*), but how ELSE are you going to make the thumb into the biggest finger? (Well, you COULD elongate the terminal phalanx, but this seems unlikely: in all but one other case the terminal phalanx is shorter than the proximal and intermediate phalanges, and in that one it is shorter than the proximal.)

    Conclusion: the five Wyss flipper traits mentioned so far are (to the extent that they are synapomorphies at all: see remark on (vi)) simple consequences of the two general shape “syndromes,” which I as Devil’s Advocate argue MIGHT be functionally constrained.

    Leaving ONE impressive flipper feature: Wyss’s (iii). To get the overall shape of the fore-flipper, the pinky finger has to be shortened, but the reduction could– as far as any obvious functional constraints are concerned– be made in more than one way. All three Pinniped families make the reduction in the SAME way (strong reduction of the intermediate phalanx). This seems like an ARBITRARY (rather than functionally constrained) synapomorphy, and as such evidence of monphyly. But it’s just one trait.

    (Since no one has mentioned Gorgonopsians yet in this string… Some Therapsids, before getting the number of phalanges down to the mammalian count, equalized the lengths of digits II-V by extreme reduction of some of the phalanges: so maybe come April 1 we can point to Wyss’s trait (iii) as evidence that Pinnipeds are secondarily aquatic Gorgonopsians?)

    (*) Wyss’s words, in the caption of his figure, but not his syntax: he wrote “marked elongation and enlargement.”

  44. #44 scott mardis
    October 23, 2008

    Dear Darren:I am the original discoverer of the 1751 article and brought it to Ben`s attention.He will confirm this.I am a cryptozoologist working at Lake Champlain.I just wanted to recieve credit for the original discovery.Thanks,Scott Mardis

  45. #45 Darren Naish
    October 23, 2008

    Hi Scott. Did you actually read my article, as you are specifically mentioned by name in the last paragraph (and also credited in an in-prep paper being written on cryptic pinnipeds by myself and colleagues).

  46. #46 Joey
    October 30, 2008

    It would be so much easier to explain/understand anything if anomalies exist, thats why different species keeps on coming and going (btw, I’m talking about that phenomena that happens in that show called Primeval)…even so, thats impossible

  47. #47 scott mardis
    November 6, 2008

    Dear Darrren:Sorry about the mixup.I did read the article but didn`t realize you had credited me until after I sent the email.My apologies and happy birthday!Scott Mardis

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