Yet another ‘sea monster carcass’ was brought to my attention recently (thanks Paul), and in the interests of tradition and of bringing it to a wider audience I thought I should include it here (I’m very late to the party: Cryptomundo discussed the case when it broke three years ago). Dubbed the ‘Conakry Monster’, it washed up on the coast of Guinea in May 2007. It was described as being a gigantic crocodile/lizard monster with an armoured back, fur, a long tail and ‘four paws’! The blackened surface to the skin led some people to think that it might have been burnt… somehow.
The Russian news agency Pravda featured the photographs and dubbed the carcass a ‘Hellish hairy sea monster’. They even said that “The scientists who examined the creature said that they had already seen such animals before, but they have no clue to their definition” [sic]. This blog article includes numerous comments where people claimed the carcass to be a rotting mammoth, monster turtle, mosasaur or other giant reptile. After the carcass ‘mysteriously’ disappeared, local people laid the blame on those sinister Americans (P. Glynn, pers. comm.). They must have taken it away in the dead of night, in a big helicopter or something. Huh – those pesky Americans, always doing cover-up ops on sea monster carcasses…
Anyway… at the risk of sounding like an intellectual snob or elitist, yet again I am bowled over by human idiocy. None of the people who wrote those comments in the media and on blog sites can ever have taken the time to watch TV documentaries, opened books, or become familiar with what we actually know about animal diversity. The carcass’s real identity is glaringly obvious: it’s a very decomposed baleen whale, as evidenced by what are obviously ventral throat/belly pleats (the carcass is clearly lying on its back). The blackish, ‘burnt-looking’ skin is common for decomposing whales: their skin often flakes off in small, friable bits that look something like thin plastic or even burnt paper. The good photo of one of the flippers [shown here] shows the characteristic long shape and bumpy edges of a Humpback Megaptera novaeangliae.
For as long as whales have been around, their decomposing bodies have been washing up on beaches. Newsflash: this still happens in the modern day.
There are a few other things worth noting while I’m here. Having mentioned humpback flippers…. why do humpbacks have such extraordinary flippers, when other balaenopterids do fine with much shorter, less bizarrely shaped organs? A lot of people have asked this question since Edel & Winn (1978) drew attention to humpback flipper morphology, and there are several studies on humpback flipper form and function (a real contrast to the case one normally encounters with such questions!).
Fish & Battle (1995) showed that the shape of the flipper is hydrodynamic: the flipper is wing-like, with a blunt, rounded leading edge and highly tapered tailing edge, has a high aspect ratio, and compares well with structures designed for lift generation. The position of the leading edge lumps or tubercles were suggested by Fish & Battle (1995) to help control flow over the flipper and “maintain lift at high angles of attack”. This all indicates that the flippers help improve performance, specifically the high manoeuvrability needed when the whales round up prey while feeding. Watts & Fish (2001) showed, using 3D simulations on a computer, that the tubercles increased lift, reduced drag and delayed stall, even at really low angles of attack, while Miklosovic et al. (2004) confirmed all of this in wind-tunnel experiments [using models like those shown here: image from Miklosovic et al. (2004)]. Unsurprisingly, it’s been suggested that leading-edge tubercles like those seen on the flippers should be incorporated into such things as wind turbines, hydroelectric turbines, ceiling fans and even airplane wings (Watts & Fish 2001). This has since been termed ‘tubercle technology’ and a US patent was filed for its application in 2008. For more on the application of tubercle technology to man-made devices see the article here. It’s a pretty fascinating topic.
I’m still waiting for the discovery of a fossil plesiosaur that has ‘bumpy’ fin edges. Incidentally, if you’re wondering how well these models of whale flippers match the real things (where ‘model’ = both digital models and physical, synthetic models), that’s been looked at too: see Weber et al. (2009). In basic terms, the models do seem to match the real things pretty well.
One more thing, having started all of this on a whale carcass. Those of you who recall 2008’s ‘Sea monster week’ might remember my article on the 1969 Tecolutla monster of Veracruz, Mexico [the carcass is shown here]. As discussed in that article, Rafael A. Lara Palmeros (1994) showed that the carcass was a Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis, and demonstrated this beyond any doubt by publishing a photo of the carcass’s skull. So, yet again, a freaky monster described as combining all kinds of weirdness turned out to be decomposing whale. The reason that I’m bringing this to attention again is that a few comments have recently been appended to the article in which the commenters have asserted that the carcass really was armour-plated, really did more reptilian than cetacean, etc. etc. I don’t believe any of this and think it’s all due to misinterpretation, but, whatever, I thought it might be interesting to bring this opinion to attention. I will say again that the photos published by Palmeros (1994) demonstrate, beyond doubt, that the carcass was of a baleen whale.
For previous Tet Zoo articles on sea monster carcasses see…
- Santa Cruz’s duck-billed elephant monster
- It had wool, and armour plates, a massive beak, horns, and it smelled veeeeery bad: whatever happened to the Tecolutla monster?
- Where are all the dead sea monsters?
- Skull of the Moore’s Beach monster revealed!
- England ‘does a Montauk’
- A Russian sea monster carcass is claimed to be that of an ancient ‘archaeocete’ whale
And for previous Tet Zoo articles on cetacean anatomy see…
- A 3-m tooth that can bend 30 cm in any direction and is hypersentitive to salinity, temperature and pressure… and the sonic lance hypothesis
- Seriously frickin’ weird cetacean skulls: Kogia, shark-mouthed horror
- The dolphins with the massive jagged bony crests
- Inia: gnarly, heterodont, carries rocks for fun
- Killer sperm whales
- Blunt-nosed paedomorphic cutie
- Weird whales grand finale
- A 6 ton model, and a baby that puts on 90 kg a day: rorquals part I
- From cigar to elongated, bloated tadpole: rorquals part II
- Lunging is expensive, jaws can be noisy, and what’s with the asymmetry? Rorquals part III
- Inside Nature’s Giants part II: whale guts and hindlimbs ahoy
Refs – –
Edel, R. K. & Winn, H. E. 1978. Observations on underwater locomotion and flipper movement of the humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae. Marine Biology 48, 279-287.
Fish, F., & Battle, J. (1995). Hydrodynamic design of the humpback whale flipper Journal of Morphology, 225 (1), 51-60 DOI: 10.1002/jmor.1052250105
Miklosovic, D. S., Murray, M. M., Howle, L. E. & Fish, F. E. 2004. Leading-edge tubercles delay stall on humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae flippers. Physics of Fluids 16 (5), L39-L42.
Palmeros, R. A. L. 1994. A marine monster in Tecolutla, Mexico? Info Journal 71, 24-26.
Watts, P. & Fish, F. E. 2001. The influence of passive, leading edge tubercles on wing performance. In: Proceedings of the Twelfth International Symposium on Unmanned Untethered Submersible Technology. Autonomous Undersea Systems Institute, Durham New Hampshire.
Weber, P. W., Murray, M. M., Howle, L. E. & Fish, F. E. 2009. Comparison of real and idealized cetacean flippers. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics 4, 046001. doi: 10.1088/1748-3182/4/4/046001