Santa Cruz's duck-billed elephant monster

Welcome to day 2 of sea monster week. This time the featured 'monster' is a beached carcass: it washed ashore at what was then called Moore's Beach (it's now Natural Bridges State Beach), just north-west of Santa Cruz, California, in 1925 and, while identified correctly in virtually all of the cryptozoological literature I've seen, is still identified here and there on the internet (particularly on pro-creationism sites) as an unidentified anomaly that had the experts baffled.

i-627119b5e1c55e0976fc9a83ed4e7b1f-Moore's Beach ziphiid composite.jpg

Nope: the real identity of the carcass - usually dubbed the Moore's Beach monster (sometimes the Santa Cruz monster) - is obvious and you'd have to be a bit of an idiot to not work it out, or at least to not work it out after a little bit of research...

What seems to have confused people is that the body and tail formed a 6-m-long, tubular shape, thereby creating the impression of a super-long neck [composite above from 'creation science' page here and credited to Special Collections, University of California at Santa Cruz]. According to some accounts the whole carcass was 15 m long but, based on the photos, this measurement is very likely an exaggeration. What's also not helped is that some authors (writing either in newspapers or in books on 'unexplained mysteries') reported the presence of elephantine legs on the carcass, complete with toenails (Chorvinsky 1995). It's difficult to understand from the photos where these 'legs' might have been and they clearly aren't visible in the photos. Some reports referred to a fish-like tail.

i-3b8fa7a20fab9aee47efe338d37f57f6-Moore's Beach ziphiid head shot.jpg

Most importantly, the head was very much intact and is perfectly displayed in photos. The eyes are small, the forehead bulbous, and the jaws form a vaguely duck-like 'beak'. These photos show, without any doubt, that the carcass is of a decomposed Baird's beaked whale, or Baird's fourtooth whale, Berardius bairdii. Repeated in most texts is the fact that this identification was provided by the California Academy of Sciences, which makes me wonder if a technical paper ever appeared on the specimen (so far as I can tell it didn't). CAS collected the skull and added it to their collection, and today it's on display at the Academy's Cowell Hall (I'd love a photo of it - does anybody have one?).

Baird's fourtooth is the largest extant beaked whale: a Californian example stranded in 1904, and another one caught near Japan and described in 1971, were both about 12.8 m long (Balcomb 1989 and references therein), but 10-11 m is considered average. It has weird teeth, a weird social life, and a weird stomach, and for more information look at Cameron's article on the two fourtooth whales here.

One article on the internet (by Jordan Niednagel at Creation Science Evangelism) claims that, while the carcass is indeed of a cetacean, its identification as Baird's fourtooth doesn't wash because, while B. bairdii has a pair of triangular teeth at the front of the lower jaw, followed by a smaller peg-like pair located somewhat further back, the Moore's Beach monster lacks obvious teeth and only has a few ambiguous white patches at the very tip of the lower jaw. The author of this article must not have looked at many photos of Baird's beaked whales, however, because these show that - particularly in juvenile individuals and in old individuals with heavily worn teeth - the posterior tooth pair are often virtually invisible (apparently because they're submerged in gum tissue) while the anterior pair can be so small that they appear only as small white specks (Balcomb 1989, fig. 5). Look at the image below [by Jack Bumbacher of CAS, from here]; I've inserted the huge arrow to show how inconspicuous the anterior teeth are in an undoubted B. bairdii carcass. What we see in the Moore's Beach carcass is entirely consistent with this. Incidentally, the jaws of the Moore's Beach carcass look shorter than those on the partially defleshed skull shown below because, well, the skull below is partially defleshed. Cetacean skulls always look longer-jawed than do live animals because a huge amount of soft tissue envelops the base of the rostrum in the live animals.

i-ffc96c55ea13e869303f83bdfe70664c-Dumbacher Berardius with arrow.jpg

One particularly unusual identification of the carcass, apparently coming from a respectable source, is often mentioned as it also seems to cast doubt on the B. bairdii identification. Apparently, E. L. Wallace concluded that it couldn't be a whale and might be a plesiosaur that had been preserved in glacial ice (Reinsted 1975, Chorvinsky 1995). Wallace thought that the neck-like part of the carcass really was a long neck, that the bones he could find were too small to be whale vertebrae, and that the bill indicated a herbivorous diet. He is quoted as having said 'I would call it a type of plesiosaurus'. Wallace has been referred to as a 'renowned naturalist' and as someone who had twice served as president of the Natural History Society of British Columbia, but I don't know anything about him, nor have I heard his name mentioned outside of the literature on the Moore's Beach monster. I cannot congratulate him on his knowledge of whales, plesiosaurs, or of rotting carcasses.

Rotting whales that have been identified from elsewhere in the world show us that floating carcasses can drop their bones and eventually look like amorphous, misshapen lumps of goo (often dubbed 'globsters', a term invented by Ivan Sanderson). They can definitely become distorted to create the impression of a long neck, as verified by a photo of another beaked whale carcass published by Dinsdale (1966). The fact that the body of the Moore's Beach carcass doesn't much resemble that of a whale (at least, so far as we can tell from the surviving photos) might not mean much therefore, and it's also irrelevant given the obvious data we can glean from the head.

Another one tomorrow!

Refs - -

Balcomb, K. C. Baird's beaked whale Berardius bairdii Stejneger, 1883: Arnoux's beaked whale Berardius arnuxii Duvernoy, 1851. In Ridgway, S. H. & Harrison, R. (eds) Handbook of Marine Mammals, Volume 4. Academic Press, pp. 261-288.

Chorvinsky, M. 1995. The Santa Cruz sea monster. Strange Magazina 15, 15.

Dinsdale, T. 1966. The Leviathans. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

Reinstead, R. 1975. Shipwrecks and Sea Monsters of California's Central Coast. Ghost Town Publications, Carmel (Ca).

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Beautiful post - thanks for sharing. Regarding E. L. Wallace - Maybe he is a naturalist the way Dembski is a real scientist? - which is to say, he's not.

Maybe you will have a Canadian reader with access to BC records.

If you're a moron, there is what appears to be a stumpy elephant-like foot, complete with toenails, in photo #1. Also, in photo #4, inscribed on the beast's head, is an etching of Jesus riding a snowmobile.


So Jesus prefers snowmobiles? Damn, I thought for sure he was a snowboarder. It is cool - I didn't see any figure until you mentioned it. Aren't our brains wonderful (even if it causes problems with a lot of people)?

BTW - love these posts. I used to get into all this stuff when I was younger, but was never very knowledgeable about cryptids. Thanks for posting this.

Looks more like Jesus playing hockey to me, but in spite of my profound ignorance ( I don't remember these pictures
at all, and I do have most of the run of Strange magazine )
I can't see the feet or the toes. Solid and informative, as
always. Thank you, Darren.

I love it.

I want a sea monster blog! Or maybe a monster blog.

I am a Canadian reader, but on the East coast, unfortunately. All I can find out is that it's unlikely there even was a 'Natural History Society of British Columbia'. There was at the time and still is the Vancouver Natural History Society, founded by a Professor John Davidson, and it is possible that Wallace was involved with that organization. Unfortunately their website doesn't record former presidents, but an email to them might elicit an answer.

dont most beaked whales only have teeth in the males, used for fighting?

The oddest would be the straptoothed whale, whos gnashers interfere with its eating.

Dont embarrass us with any well rotted basking sharks, will you, Darren?

Hi Darren,
I once saw a whale book showing a ziphiid illustrated as having two really impressive "tusks" actually resembling those of a boar. Upon looking in the internet, however, I have never been able to find a picture or skull showing any such thing. Was I suckered into believing there were boar-like dolphins out there?

Tengu: yes, lots of ziphiids are sexually dimorphic when it comes to teeth. But not Berardius: both males and females have equally big teeth (you haven't been reading Lord Geekington have you?). As for decomposing basking sharks... well, it would be wrong not to mention them wouldn't it? But don't worry, in a sense it will be 'new'.

Clastito: the animal you have in mind is probably the Strap-toothed whale Mesoplodon layardii. There's a good skull photo here and Bruce Pearson's painting of a male and female can be seen here. The teeth restrict how wide males can open their jaws, but this seems not to be a problem as they rely on suction-feeding.

The Academy of Sciences (here in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park) is currently closed. The new building will open in September. I will try to remember to get a picture for you when I go.

Now that I've read your lovely post, I am very curious to see the head.

The teeth restrict how wide males can open their jaws, but this seems not to be a problem as they rely on suction-feeding.

I don't remember who I was talking to, but somebody once told me that you can figure out the normal gape of a strap-toothed whale by looking at the wear on the teeth. They suck down squids, some of which have hooks on their tentacles, and the hooks scratch the teeth. So the bottom of each tooth is scratched up from close encounters with squid, and the top is not (if this makes no sense, look at the picture Darren linked to). Pretty cool. Does anyone know if that is published anywhere?

It's true!! AWESOME. Thanks Darren!

Yeah ziphiids!

I have a couple of very poor photos of Berardius that I took at the California Academy of Sciences in 2004. I'll send them along.

The Strap toothed whales tusks do look boar like, dont they?

I was thinking of Sowerbys whale. Theres a picture of a male with very pointy tusks in a wildlife of britain book...I wouldnt like to meet him in an inflatable boat.

Interesting post, I wasn't aware that Baird's Beaked Whales got up to 43 feet, that's impressive.

I hope you're going to do a post on the ABC News/Good Morning America Lake Champlain video. I'm especially interested to hear about the head movement the figure in the video makes - it rotates or twists its head on the neck, something that most or all fish, including most or all eels, can't physiologically accomplish. I would also like to hear your take on the echolocation reports and data from Champlain. If not during "Sea Monster Week", then maybe another time. (Yes, I realize Champlain isn't "the sea".)

By sinuous_tanyst… (not verified) on 08 Jul 2008 #permalink


Seriously, though, I'm enjoying sea monster week. There are many cryptid photos out there and, while many have been debunked or are obvious fakes, it's nice to see a knowledgeable person discuss them in detail. Keep up the good work!

By David Group (not verified) on 10 Jul 2008 #permalink

There was a Natural History Society of British Columbia. It lasted from 1890 to just after 1904. Few records of it exist. It is unknown when it officially disbanded.

ezt nem értem!!!!!

yeah, ur a real "expert" all right. i use expert in the loosest sense possible, obviously. i don't care what ur credentials are, u know absolutely NOTHING about cryptozoology!

Mr. Prongs agrees with a.p. and would like to add that Mr. Naish is an ugly git.

Mr. Padfoot would like to register his astonishment that an idiot like that ever became a palaeozoologist.

By prongs and padfoot (not verified) on 02 Jun 2011 #permalink

a.p. & prongs and padfoot: Oh yes, resort to insults, but never even bother to provide proper reasons and evidence to back up your statements.

What, are you both 8 year old kids? "You're such a doo-doo head! Because I say so!"

Well, it's good that 'prongs and padfoot' agrees with 'a.p.', especially seeing as they're the same person. Both have the same Maryland ip address.

Ah. Sockpuppetry again. In any case, Moony and Wormtail both agree that Prongs & Padfoot are being ridiculous and need a good dose of the Cruciatus Curse.

Speaking of which, since the final Harry Potter movie is being released soon, I might as well do a blog post on the owls featured in the movies.

I couldn't find a link between Maryland 'prongs and padfoot' and the Potter-based blog 'Padfoot and Prongs'. Pseudonymous troll used both gmail and email addresses.

You couldn't find a connection because there isn't one. BTW, Hai~Ren, say 'crucio' all you like, it'll only (to quote Mad-Eye Moody) "earn you a one-way ticket to Azkaban!"
As for us being 8 years old, it takes one to know one!

And no, Moony asks you to keep your abnormally large nose out of other people's business. Wormtail bids you good day and advises you to wash your hair.

Don't blame me if I'm good with insults!

By padfoot black (not verified) on 05 Jun 2011 #permalink

at any rate, Wormtail was happy to be included with James, Sirius,and Remus. He wouldn't say anything against them.

Huh. and who ever said that cryptozoology attracts the crazies?

Now, why is it that the creature has a duckbill
What I don't understand is the duckbilled
Creature could be a fake, but why bother about it?
For all we know it could be something else
And we don't know it! There could be
Something out there, and it's dangerous. I think
More investigation should be put into this

Duck-bulled elephant? It's a Platybelodon of course! ;-)

By Bird of Prey (not verified) on 13 Jul 2011 #permalink

Richard, you haven't read the post. In fact, I'm pretty sure you haven't even looked at the pictures. And yet, you have written a comment.

You should be ashamed.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 14 Jul 2011 #permalink