The Australian mainland’s largest extant native mammalian predator is the Spotted-tailed quoll or Tiger quoll Dasyurus maculatus. It weighs, at most, 7 kg. While rumours of Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus (15-30 kg) survival persist both in Tasmania and on the Australian mainland (and, incidentally, in New Guinea too), no compelling evidence has yet been presented which might demonstrate survival to recent decades (though there is at least some suggestive evidence). It has been claimed by some that Tasmanian devils Sarcophilus harrisii (maximum weight 11.8 kg) might also still be extant on the Australian mainland, as tracks and even corpses of the species hint at a continuing presence. However, I don’t know what current thinking is on these animals, and the corpses could be escapees from captivity or released individuals from Tasmania.
Until relatively recently, many zoologists took seriously the suggestion that Australia might be home to another, much larger native predator: the so-called Queensland tiger cat. Supposedly, the tiger cat was a striped, puma-sized, cat-like predator. No good evidence was ever put forward that might demonstrate its reality: all we have are eyewitness reports. Some are good, but most are poor (Healy & Cropper 1994, Heuvelmans 1995). Drawings of footprints also exist. In view of the tiger cat’s supposed cat-like appearance, it has been suggested that – if it was real – it might have represented a late-surviving marsupial lion, or thylacoleonid (Shuker 1989, 1995, Healy & Cropper 1994). Cave art does seem to show that Thylacoleo carnifex, the youngest and largest marsupial lion, was indeed seen by humans, and striped when alive (see the image above, from Akerman & Willing 2009) [Thylacoleo carnifex skull below, with a Steve Wroe for scale, sort of].
Needless to say, the hypothesis of late marsupial lion survival has not been acknowledged by the palaeontologists who know thylacoleonids best (in print, at least), and in recent decades the idea that the tiger cat might have been real has mostly dissolved outside of the cryptozoological research community. Furthermore, a post-1950s decline in tiger cat sightings has led some cryptozoologists to suggest that the animal may recently have gone extinct. That might sound like special pleading, but, in principle at least, it’s not a ridiculous idea: we must have lost loads of species prior to their official discovery.
It is with all of this as the background that we come to the ‘Jaws’ photo. Taken in or around 1975 by beachcombers in the Margaret River area in Western Australia, it shows a partially decomposed mammal corpse, intimated by some to be a tiger cat corpse. A cropped version of the photo was first published in Karl Shuker’s 1996 book The Unexplained. Karl obtained the photo from Australian cryptozoologist Kevin Farley, and Farley noted that staff at both the Australian Museum and Queensland Museum had been unable to identify it (Shuker 1996). However, that doesn’t necessarily mean much (for various reasons).
Thanks to Jeff Johnson, I’ve also been able to get hold of a copy of the photo, and here it is. Its teeth show us that it’s evidently not a modern-day thylacoleonid, alas (because thylacoleonids have highly distinctive, protruding incisors and gigantic carnassials), but what is it? There’s some real weirdness going on here: let me know what you think, and I’ll add my own thoughts later. The partial hairlessness shows that we have a sort of Montauk monster thing going on.
Unfortunately, the quality of the image means that we will likely never be able to decide conclusively on an identification from the photo. Back when I was on the editorial board of the (now defunct) The Cryptozoology Review, we received a manuscript in which an author attempted to identify all of the teeth visible in the photos, and to arrive at an identification based on this inference. I never saw this manuscript (which was rejected), so don’t know what the conclusions were.
By the way, all of this reminds me that I have still not gotten hold of Malcolm Smith’s 1996 book Bunyips & Bigfoots. For some previous Tet Zoo discussion of Thylacoleo see Of dragons, marsupial lions and the sixth digits of elephants: functional anatomy part II.
Refs – –
Healy, T. & Cropper, P. 1994. Out of the Shadows: Mystery Animals of Australia. Ironbark, Chippendale, Australia.
Heuvelmans, B. 1995. On the Track of Unknown Animals. Kegan Paul International, London.
Shuker, K. P. N. 1989. Mystery Cats of the World. Robert Hale, London.
– . 1995. In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. Blandford, London.
– . 1996. The Unexplained: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Natural and Paranormal Mysteries. Carlton, London.