The Sun and Mail are reporting the discovery of a mystery beast washed ashore in North Devon, speculating that it could be the fabled Beast of Exmoor. By most accounts, the Beast of Exmoor is a big cat such as a puma that escaped or was released onto the remote moors in the 1970s and has lived there ever since, preying on livestock. No real evidence has ever been found, save blurry photographs and unconfirmed sightings. The Sun reported this new development:
The Sun rubbishes claims that this might be a seal, pointing out: "The Marine Conservation Society and the National Seal Sanctuary both stated it was not". So what are the options? I've done a quick and dirty trace of the skull, which we can compare to other animals.
Here is the mystery skull alongside those of a leopard and a puma. You can buy replicas of these skulls at the excellent SkullsUnlimited.com.
It's clear that these big cats have skulls far more boxy than the Mystery Beast, and the leopard in particular has much bigger lower canines. How about something more dog like?
North Devon is famous for its Grey Seals, in particular at Lundy Island, where you can go swimming with them.
However, it's clear that the Sun weren't lying: this is definitely not a Grey Seal skull. The excellent Tetrapod Zoology, armed with better pictures and infinitely superior knowledge, tells us this is indeed a Grey Seal!.
I am left ashamed of my own idle speculation!
Darren Naish said that it was a grey seal a while ago:
Haha! Thank you Anomalocaris, the temptation for water cooler speculation was so great I declined to look on Sb for the truth. Serves me right.
Why not link to stormfront instead. At least they're honest about being nazis.
You can always trust Darren to nail these things quickly.
For future reference your speculation about cats missed the fact that the beastie has no post-canine diastema (gap behind the canines). As to dogs, the molars clearly don't form a carnassial blade - an indicator that it is either not a member of the Carnivora or it is one of the more derived aquatic members (i.e. a seal or sealion) and the rest is well covered by Darren.
It's worth noting that the canines are quite large compared to those of a female grey seal (which I think your seal photo above is), so the mystery beastie is quite likely to be a male grey seal.
looks pretty strange either way. perhaps they should get that skull carved by skullbliss.com ;)