Tetrapod Zoology

Sea Monsters, the CFI conference


On November 7th 2009, the Centre For Inquiry in London is hosting a one-day event titled Monsters From the Deep! It’s being held at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square (a venue I know all too well…). I’m giving a talk at the event so wanted to advertise it: for more details please visit the CFI website here. The day kicks off at 11am and will include both talk and workshop sessions. Charles Paxton of the University of St. Andrews, well known for his work on statistical ecology, will be giving a talk titled ‘Anecdotes, statistics and sea monsters’. The belief that anecdotal data (in this case, reports of sea monsters) can be dismissed wholesale is naïve, as analysis can still reveal meaningful inferences (make sure you see Paxton (2009) for more on this). Charles will also be leading a workshop on ‘Ecology of aquatic monsters’. A very belated congrats to Charles, incidentally, for his 2002 Ig Nobel Prize for Bubier et al. (1998).

I’ll also be speaking, and will be discussing the ‘prehistoric survivor paradigm’ and what it does, or doesn’t, mean for sea monster sightings. The hypothesis that sea monsters (if they exist) might be late-surviving plesiosaurs, basilosaurids and mosasaurs that have somehow managed to survive for tens of millions of years without leaving a fossil record is certainly not endorsed by all cryptozoologists, but it is still out there, is discussed in most of the more prominent literature on the subject, and is repeated every single time the media announces a new plesiosaur discovery, sigh. I’ll be discussing the evidence from the fossil record, what we think we know about the biology and behaviour of plesiosaurs, basilosaurids and whatnot, and will be comparing all of this to what’s reported in the sea monster literature. It’s essentially a very updated version of ‘Seals, serpents and coelacanths’ (Naish 2001), incorporating stuff from Woodley et al. (2009) and various other projects.


All in all, it’s sure to be good fun. I hope to see you there!

For previous Tet Zoo articles on marine cryptids, or sea monsters, see…

Refs – –

Bubier, N. E., Paxton, C. G. M., Bowers, P. & Deeming, D. C. 1998. Courtship behaviour of ostriches (Struthio camelus) towards humans under farming conditions in Britain. British Poultry Science 39, 477-481.

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.

Paxton, C. G. M. 2009. The plural of “anecdote” can be “data”: statistical analysis of viewing distances in reports of unidentified giant marine animals 1758-2000. Journal of Zoology DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2009.00630.x

Woodley, M. A., Naish, D. & Shanahan, H. P. 2009. How many extant pinniped species remain to be described? Historical Biology 20, 225-235.


  1. #1 David Marjanović
    October 30, 2009

    Is everything in the first pic to scale…?!? Because that would give us a five-meter-long coelacanth. That would be way too cool.

  2. #2 Darren Naish
    October 30, 2009

    You’ve never heard of Megalocoelacanthus?

    More seriously… no, they’re not to scale 🙂

  3. #3 Bob Michaels
    October 30, 2009

    Today`s Sea Monsters are Giant Squids, Octopuses and the Great White.Monsters of the abyss exist, but they are small in size but weird to the extreme.

  4. #4 Mike from Ottawa
    October 30, 2009


    I’m sure it’s been asked before (perhaps by me!), but is there anything out there that does for ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and/or mosasaurs what ‘The Pterosaurs: From Deep Time’ does for pterosaurs? Or will that be your next book? 🙂

    I’m enjoying the dino discoveries book very much, BTW.

  5. #5 Zach Miller
    October 30, 2009

    Richard Ellis wrote a great book about marine reptiles several years ago. I can’t remember what it’s called now. Something like “Sea Dragons,” I think.

  6. #6 Sordes
    October 30, 2009

    David, ever heard of Mawsonia? A coelacanth the size of a great white shark is really amazing, even if it is not among modern sightings of cryptids, but a beast which has really existed.

  7. #7 Craig York
    October 30, 2009

    My eyes are getting old. I had to look at the picture two
    or three times before I even spotted the Coelocanth…
    Sounds like a enjoyable event-wish I could attend.

  8. #8 jck
    October 30, 2009

    ID’s of the critters in the first pic would be nice. What’s that thing on the bottom next to the octopus?

  9. #9 Zach hawkins
    October 30, 2009

    If only it wasn’t in london i would go, living in bolton and bein 14 is so rubish!

  10. #10 Cameron
    October 30, 2009


    This thing, a pareidolia-inducing whale carcass.

  11. #11 David Marjanović
    October 30, 2009

    Yes, yes, I’ve read about Mawsonia and Megalocoelacanthus. But the slightest rumor of an extant coelacanth anywhere near that size would be… exciting. 🙂

  12. #12 Kevin Schreck
    October 31, 2009

    Where can I find a larger version of that first image? I would almost like to have it as a poster in my room!

  13. #13 Darren Naish
    October 31, 2009

    Kevin, I’ll send you a larger version. It was originally designed to be a mural on my bedroom wall (sadly, it got papered over). Maybe I should get it printed out as a poster, 2 m tall.

  14. #14 Zach Hawkins
    November 1, 2009

    Soryy to go off-topic but today i got a book cataloge listing book’s for children about fossil’s, your new book, the great dinosaur discoveries was there, but aparrently you’ve changed your name to Darren Nalsh!

  15. #15 Paul W.
    November 2, 2009

    Which sea monster in that picture represents the rhinoceros floating upside-down with a stick of French bread sticking out of its mouth with a small tortoise balanced on the end?

  16. #16 Richard Freeman
    November 2, 2009

    Paul W, it’s the Loch Ness Monster according to Graeme Garden AKA Arthur C. Clarke

  17. #17 Tim Morris
    November 2, 2009

    I like the inclusion of a living trunko in there 😀

    Also, what is that huge blue shark?

  18. #18 David Marjanović
    November 3, 2009

    Just a blue shark that is – like most of the rest – not to scale?

  19. #19 Darren Naish
    November 3, 2009

    It’s (meant to be) a gigantic Rhincodon.

  20. #20 doug l
    November 3, 2009

    While not a monsterous thing, is there a sea-ape in that menagerie?
    And, out of curiousity, have there been found fossils of coelecanths that are more recent than the KT extinction? I presume there are but I keep running into the story that the most recent one in the fossil record is from 70mya.

  21. #21 David Marjanović
    November 3, 2009

    have there been found fossils of coelecanths that are more recent than the KT extinction?

    No – fossils aren’t easy to find on the ocean floor.

  22. #22 Darren Naish
    November 3, 2009

    The following comment was posted here back in January 2008 (here)…


    A Palaeocene fossil from Sweden and an unnamed taxon from the Miocene of Israel have been published (Ørvig 1986, Goldsmith & Yanai-Inbar 1997). Having said that… I’ve asked around and nobody seems to know anything further about the coelacanth from Israel (the authors said that it was particularly close to Latimeria. Their use of the term ‘coelacanthid’ is worrying; there’s no such name). Indeed a coelacanth paper from last year didn’t mention it when referring to the youngest known coelacanths in the fossil record.

    Refs – –

    Goldsmith, N. F. & Yanai-Inbar, I. 1997. Coelacanthid in Israel’s Early Miocene? Latimeria tests Schaeffer’s theory. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 17 (supp. 3), 49A.

    Ørvig, T. 1986. A vertebrate bone from the Swedish Paleocene. Geologiska Föreningens i Stockholm Förhandlingar 108, 139-141.

  23. #23 johnboy
    November 3, 2009

    There have been sightings of a possible plesiosaur in the Congo’s of Africa. It might be possible that these creatures somehow survived, but that would mean more than 1 had survived.

  24. #24 Albertonykus
    November 4, 2009

    Got to love that first picture!

  25. #25 Sili
    November 6, 2009

    Because that would give us a five-meter-long coelacanth.

    I’m more worried by the 25 m green spermatozoön on the left – where did that come from?

  26. #26 Christopher Taylor
    November 6, 2009

    I’m more worried by the 25 m green spermatozoön on the left – where did that come from?

    From this.

  27. #27 Allen Hazen
    November 6, 2009

    So that’s where THAT 25m green spermatozoon came from. Ordinary 3 meter spermatozoa, color unspecified, on the other hand…

    In discussing Placoderms on Palaeos.com, Toby white suggests that they might have had a somewhat spermatozoon-like body form:
    “The posterior of placoderms, where known, is thinner than expected for the equivalent osteichthyan or shark and generally scale-less, although there are exceptions. Quite likely this was because its principal function was to exert motive power — more along the lines of a gigantic flagellum than an extension of the body cavity as such. Undoubtedly, it made better sense to attach the internal organs to the reinforced exoskeleton, near the center of gravity and of rotation, rather than dispersing them along the trunk in the manner of modern fish or tetrapods.”

    (And wouldn’t be neat if there were extant Placoderms: it would make the gap in the Coelacanth fossil record seem trivial by comparison!)

  28. #28 Helen Smith
    November 8, 2009

    I went to the CFI conference. It was great – really interesting. Thanks!

  29. #29 Young Landis
    November 9, 2009

    Woah. Is there anyway to get a larger file /and/ a key for all the animals in that first image?? Love it!

  30. #30 BunjyWunjy
    November 9, 2009

    Do my eyes deceive me, or do I see a couple of orms in the top picture there?

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