What was the Montauk monster?

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, or spending all your time on Tet Zoo, you will almost certainly have heard about the 'Montauk monster', a mysterious carcass that (apparently) washed up on July 13th at Montauk, Long Island, New York. A good photo of the carcass, showing it in right lateral view and without any reference for scale, surfaced on July 30th and has been all over the internet. Given that I only recently devoted a week of posts to sea monsters, it's only fitting that I cover this too. I'm pretty sure that I know what it is, and I'm pleased to see that many other people have come to the same conclusions, as demonstrated by the many informed comments that appeared at Cryptomundo and elsewhere last week. So, what is the Montauk monster?

i-d6ec8350972c937593f82ef07326fd9a-Montauk sea monster carcass.bmp

What has caused widespread confusion and speculation is that, while the lower jaw appears to have had a jagged row of pointy teeth, the upper jaw sports a hooked bony beak. This structure has led to the carcass being termed a 'rodent-like creature with a dinosaur beak', as an 'eagle-dog', and to suggestions that it might be the carcass of a turtle that had lost its shell. Because these suggestions are all, to put it mildly, a tad unlikely, there have also been murmurings of a hoax or viral ad campaign. A 'graphics expert' at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service noted that, if it is a fake, it's a very good Photoshop job, and the fact that the carcass became involved in a sort of marketing campaign for a soft drink hasn't really helped in the credibility stakes (it is, however, pretty obvious that this was a case of opportunistic advertising). Rather more realistic (given the presence of fur and small, clawed hand digits) is the suggestion that it's a dog.

The body is stocky and robust and the limbs are slender and gracile. The digits on the hands are slim, elongate and with small, relatively straight, pale-coloured claws. The slim tail is about equal in length to the head and neck combined. The face is short and it looks like the postorbital part of the skull is long and bulky. While no teeth at all are visible in the upper jaw, the lower jaw clearly contains a large pointed canine and four post-canines with tall, conical cusps. These teeth increase in size posteriorly.

Taphonomy in action

i-fe68a8553c01329fafb3a468ca50d6ba-Woolston beach composite.jpg

This is clearly a dead mammal, and its large canine and sharply cusped post-canine teeth show that it's a carnivoran. The two details that make the carcass look odd - the lack of hair over most of the carcass and the supposed beak in the upper jaw - are clearly taphonomic artifacts. For years I kept watch on the dead things that washed up at a small stretch of tidal river bank in Southampton [shown in the adjacent image], and on several occasions I got to watch taphonomy in action as dead dogs, cats and foxes washed up and decomposed over the following weeks [the bottom image here shows a decomposing cat, partially buried in the beach sediment]. One of the first things that happens to bodies that roll around in the water is that their fur comes off, and they look grotesque, hair-less and bloated. The facial tissues then decompose, leaving a defleshed snout and eventually a totally defleshed skull. At the same time, the skin on the hands and feet is lost. Yet the body remains intact. Unfortunately I never took photos demonstrating this sequence of events (these observations were made while I was working on taphonomy for a book that never happened: for more on that particularly unfortunate episode go here).

The Montauk monster therefore owes its bizarre appearance to partial decomposition. The tendency for the soft tissues of the snout to be lost early on in decomposition immediately indicates that the 'beak' is just a defleshed snout region: we're actually seeing the naked premaxillary bones. And this is confirmed by new photos which show without doubt that this is the case (oh well, so much for the eagle-dog hypothesis).

i-78eb053545f6a00d911fb4536685f06e-Montauk new 2 resized.jpg

Is the carcass that of a dog? Dogs have an inflated frontal region that gives them a pronounced bony brow or forehead, and in contrast the Montauk monster's head seems smoothly convex. As many people have now noticed, there is a much better match: Raccoon Procyon lotor. It was the digits of the hands that gave this away for me: the Montauk carcass has very strange, elongate, almost human-like fingers with short claws. Given that we're clearly dealing with a North American carnivoran, raccoon is the obvious choice: raccoons are well known for having particularly dextrous fingers that lack the sort of interdigital webbing normally present in carnivorans (Lotze & Anderson 1979). As you can see from the composite image shown here, the match for a raccoon is perfect once we compare the dentition and proportions. The Montauk animal has lost its upper canines and incisors (you can even see the empty sockets), and if you're surprised by the length of the Montauk animal's limbs, note that - like a lot of mammals we ordinarily assume to be relatively short-legged - raccoons are actually surprisingly leggy (claims that the limb proportions of the Montauk carcass are unlike those of raccoons are not correct).

i-26bbe1fdc286c2e1f5dddb18b220ab16-Montauk raccoon composite.jpg

Like all of these sorts of mysteries, this one was fun while it lasted, but the photos that really clinched it for a lot of people weren't (so far as I can tell) released on the same day as the initial, tantalizing mystery photo (the one shown at the very top). And I don't mind this sort of thing too much: we get to see a lot of dumbass speculation, sure, but the immense interest that these stories generate show that people - even those not particularly interested in zoology or natural history - have a boundless appetite for mystery animals. If only there were some clever way of better utilizing this fascination.

For previous identifications of mystery carcasses see the Erongo carcass article and the Santa Cruz duck-billed elephant monster article.

Refs - -

Lotze, J.-H. & Anderson, S. 1979. Procyon lotor. Mammalian Species 119, 1-8.


More like this

This was great. Thanks.

The report that CNN carried on this was a classic example of the depths to which TV 'journalism' has now sunk. They showed the photo, described it as a monster and then went and asked a load of people on the street what they thought it was ("wow, that looks weird" being the common response). I sat watching it thinking, 'OK, they are going to ask a zoologist, next, aren't they?' while they kept up the people on the street routine and then just ended the piece, no attempt made to provide a resolution other than 'possible sea monster found!'

The first thing I thought when I saw it was something akin to, "And the day came when I didn't believe, and it made me sad," but it just looked off to me the entire time (or maybe not off enough. Also, the back end - discounting the tail - evokes images of a badly-cooked rotisserie chicken, and that just made me giggle).

It took me maybe fifteen minutes after I posted that weighing-in comment to finish debunking it for myself, and most of that was spent finding a place that had the second picures, and waiting for it to load. Dial-up: Part of the great conspiracy to keep us from knowing the Truthâ¢!

see also here: http://www.mahalo.com/Dead_Monster_Montauk

Among other things (an alien? an escaped mutant from plum island?) they suggest this:

> The Cretaceous-era Cynodont may be a link between mammals
> and reptiles1

LOL! Although the part about the beast being a cynodont is actually right, sort of. One of those mammalian cynodonts called carnivorans, to be precise...:-)

Mahalo even cites sources, lest we doubt their seriousity:

> # â Nature.com: Post-Jurassic mammal-like reptile
> from the Palaeocene (July, 1992)

Wow, it's *Chronoperates*!

Nice! I'd been wondering what that was, I really appreciate these posts you do where you go through how you identified things. Helps an ignoramus like myself understand how it is done.

Thanks for the fantastic summary of the story, the crazy theories, and a clear explanation with citations. As a science teacher, this column is a perfect complement to a lesson about this "controversy". I will be dropping your name a lot in my classes this week (with your permission, of course).

[from Darren: feel free to use whatever content here is useful, and thanks for the kind words]

I second the thanks for the insightful commentary on taphonomy. I figured it was a photo-shopped cannis rattus.

Surprisingly, I've never seen this picture before.
And it's a little unfortunate that it started as "omg! sea monster!"

Only to scroll down and see it was just the dead, bloated body of a decomposing racoon.

This does say one thing--as much as people "fear" the unknown, we crave it to the point of deillusion. x]

It does surprise me it's been hailed as a sea monster - surely those are supposed to look a tad more aquatic?

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 04 Aug 2008 #permalink

Your second picture there is definately not the same animal.

Oh, you scientists try to cover up the truth with lies. LIEESSS! It's clearly a late-surviving marine dicynodont which was abducted by aliens and experimented on--hence the hairlessness--and then dumped into the ocean with the hope that it would never wash up on a populated beach. Alas--the aliens were unaware that El Nino has been mixing up ocean temperatures and currents, and thus the dicynodont carcass ended up on every news program in the country!

Raccoon? HA! LIES!!!

Also, boneless aquatic pterosaurs munched off the snout.

Thank you! I was leaning toward the theories that it was a dog, but the nice little drawing of a raccoon certainly clear things up for me. Well done sir!

1st poster:
The sad thing here is our dumbed-down society
is now close to the witches, demons, and monsters
times once again.

I miss intelligence in our species.

I recently realized that ALL news anchor from local to the national news level have become as moronic as the dopiest sportscaster. And then I think of all the oafish football players majoring in "Commuications" (secret code for "pre-sportscasting" major for athletes) I used to tutor at USC and it becomes clear just how lobotomized this country has become.

I haven't listened or watched MSM in 6 or 7 years so it's shocking to see.

Thanks for clearing up the confusion. I was thinking it was a really good photoshop when I first saw it, but your explanation makes perfect sense.

(Why would they think eagle? That beak is much closer to a parrot's.)

the torso and shoulders look eerily human

When I first saw the picture, I said to myself, "Somebody's Pug fell off the sailboat, poor little thing." So it's a dead raccoon? Huh.

By Jenny Islander (not verified) on 04 Aug 2008 #permalink

Very nice explanation. I still can't believe all the crazy ideas people came up with as to what it was. The public just eats crap like this up. Good job though.

I was pretty well convinced that it was a dog of some sort until you pointed out the lack of inflated frontals and the front paws.

And now that I look at them, the rear legs can be reconciled with a plantigrade stance.

The second photo of the carcass doesn't look anything like the first one. I thought it was two different dead animals.

The second carcass is a pig.

That's always a dead giveaway that the thing is brought out there as a hoax, only one picture from the most inopportune angle. If it was a legitimate query there would have been dozens of shots.

Hey guys,

I dont believe the raccoon skull storey either....
Nice try though....more coffee needed....

Just a quick search away (this helpful website) shows
a vastly different shaped skull for a raccoon...


Keep 'em comming...

Annon, in what way does the skull in your link and the skull in the final picture look "vastly different"...??

Niobe, The second picture is a pig?!?!?!... I hope thats a joke, because the only genetic modification done has been performed on the pigs at your local farm if thats what they look like...

By skttrbrain (not verified) on 04 Aug 2008 #permalink

Adding a bit to the confusion is that the mandible appears not to be in the correct orientation to the maxilla and is probably disarticulated. The lower canine in the normal closed jaw sits in a position anterior to the upper canine, in the space (diastema) between the upper canine and the first incisor. In the "monster" photo, the lower canine is too far back in relation to the socket of the upper canine. The inset photo of the raccoon skull shows the correct orientation.

To Annon: I think you're confused by two different angles of the same thing.

Um, the second picture is a CAT. He says so, right in the post. Way to read, people.

CNN is covering dead animal flotsam now?

I'm seriously getting annoyed with all the people saying that it looks like a turtle without its shell. *facepalms*

Why is it so difficult to convince people that it's nothing more than a raccoon? Must we actually have a Mythbusters episode where they take a raccoon carcass and dump it in the sea for 2 weeks and then see what happens?

I think people may be getting mixed up with the pics... I had replied to what Niobe had called the second pic which is actually the third pic and is quite plainly the carcass of the animal from the 1st pic rolled over and a photo taken from another angle... the actual second pic is attached to the shot of Southampton and is so indistinct that it could be anything, my theory is that it an elephant, despite reading earlier that it was a cat...

By skttrbrain (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

Spike Gerard: Watched too many cartoons? Do you even know what a REAL turtle looks like without a shell? And you have the gall to use the word moron on others...

Thank goodness I can now go back in the water off Montauk and only worry about sharks grabbing my leg.

Thank you, Hai-Ren. :)

Honestly, I think the general public has such a distorted view of the natural world (via cartoons, bad movies, or just plain lack of interest) that many people DO believe that a turtle can slip in and out of it's shell like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. If you ever want to see it on a regular basis...try looking up "rhinoceros" on eBay. I guarantee you that you'll find items that are indeed rhinos...but also plenty of hippos, and ceratopsian dinosaur items. Apparently the three are interchangeable.

Wait, how many different dead animals are pictured in this post? The dead cat is barely discernible, if I'm looking at the right picture. But what is the dead bluish animal that appears pictured right before the raccoon drawing? I agree with the previous commenter who said that it doesn't look like the same animal as that pictured in the first picture of the blog post.

Pictures 1 and 3 are of the SAME animal... it has been moved onto its side and a photo from a DIFFFERENT ANGLE taken... simple YES, no mystery...

By skttrbrain (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

The first and third pictures are the same carcass - just rolled over and shot from a different angle. The second one? Eh, I can't see anything. I was never any good at Magic Eye puzzles. For all I know it could be a sailboat or a schooner.

Anyone familiar with the Dharzi hunting dogs of the Elric of Melnibone books? Can't find a pic online but they were bird-headed dogs; there's your answer!

uber-geek factor 10...

By Jim the treadm… (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

The fact that the "creature" was found on a beach is most telling. Coastal raccoons often scavenge the seashore for crabs and shellfish. They will even go swimming. I've witnessed an entire pack of raccoons frolicking happily at the water's edge in a sheltered bay, where they jumped repeatedly into the surf. A raccoon drops dead by the water and the world's news organizations waste air time with stupid commentary.

Oh poor Jim the treadmill ostrich got lost (s)trolling the internet, here let's help him get where he was headed, here.

By Humprey the pigeon (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

Indeed, there is a sort of taphonomy to photographs as well: the same object can look very different depending on lighting conditions, what camera settings (and film) has been used, etc. Trying to reconstruct the "true" form of an object based on a single photograph is rather iffy.

Since I don't watch televised news these days and only read the Journal, hadn't seen that picture. Last night we had a family of raccoons marauding the deck. Hard to believe critters that beautiful degrade into something so homely.

By iowavette (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

Boy, that explanation was a stretch. That beak is not a raccoon feature nor are the teeth ingeneral. Even your attempt to overlay a raccoon onto the carcass is clearly not a fit. I still go for a turtle without a shell. The only thing against this is the rows of teeth proximal to the beak. Otherwise the body, claws and tail smack of turtle. So much for intelligent design :-).

Bezoar. Yes, that's right. A turtle with fur, teeth and which has somehow managed to grow a new ribcage inside the ribcage that originally formed its shell (that's right sparky, a turtle's shell is ITS RIBCAGE!). Go and read a book idiot.

By Martina Hurst (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

Finally I have evidence !!!!!!

This creature is LA Chupacabra. I have been saying for many years that La Chupacabra was lurking on our continent. This verification of my theory is worthy of a Nobel Prize.

Please send my check ASAP !!!!

Skttrbrain, thank you! Thought I was losing it, as I didn't even see at first the Southampton photo had two parts, let alone pick out the dead cat.

The entire non-event reminds me that most urban people are not likely to see much in the way of dead animals, particularly decomposing ones. The 'turtle' idea astounded me more than most others, followed by the inevitable 'it's photoshopped', the current answer to anything the commenter doesn't immediately recognize.

I'd only seen the first picture on another site before today, and suspected it was a dead dog, a decomposing pitbull or something. But with the nicely done composite pic, I can see it is indeed a raccoon.

It is interesting how fast the level of civility and intelligence drops at such a topic...
So for all who really think this is a shell-less turtle: Have you EVER looked at least for ONE time how a turtle really looks? I am very sure you have not. Turtles have a very different head, they have not fur, they have no teeth, they have completely different limbs, a completely different skin and they are not able to loose their shell.

Thats ok Bee :)

As to bezoar, oh dear, by his/her logic even I am destined to become a turtle when I decompose... can't wait!!

By skttrbrain (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

Please, folks, bezoar was joking, like Paul A.

Generally when someone says something ridiculous here, it's a joke. I really hope we don't need to resort to emoticons.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

It is interesting how fast the level of civility and intelligence drops at such a topic...

It's a monster thing. Seriously.

Thanks for breaking through the fog of lies the Jedi had created around this poor raccoo--er, shell-less turtle.

No, it's ManBearPig!

If we hadn't already seen plenty of photos I'd be tempted to say it was a gorgonopsian...

By Dave Godfrey (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

Dave: You seem to be saying gorgonopsians must have looked sort of like raccoons.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

They had four legs, teeth and some eyes. Surely that's close enough? ;)

I'm referring to all the "mystery animals" Darren's posted in the past that have been ably identified by commenters as being either gorgonopsians or hellasaurs. They don't look much like this chap, so he can't be a gorgonopsian.

By Dave Godfrey (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink

Before the revelation that it was a raccoon, I was more inclined to think of the carcass as either:

a) baboon
b) sea lion
c) albino grey squirrel
d) takin


Thanks for this intelligent response! It is so interesting how many people (including over-educated me) wanted to believe it was a monster; seems like we are hungry for something mysterious. The raccoon's death was a sacrifice to the cause.

"""This creature is LA Chupacabra. I have been saying for many years that La Chupacabra was lurking on our continent."""

Maybe, but Chupies are supposedly fond of sucking blood vampire-like, and the beak would not be so advantageous for that.

(seriously, the ID as a dead raccoon, and clarification here was appreciated. It was probably a media stunt or ad trick, however nauseating. Supposed chupies btw have been determined to be coyotes with mange).

The entire non-event reminds me that most urban people are not likely to see much in the way of dead animals, particularly decomposing ones.

Oh, we do. It's only they're mostly 2-dimensional.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 05 Aug 2008 #permalink


Thank you very much, Darren, for the nice analysis. I was betting on a dog, but had a much poorer photos to work with.

Of course, raccoons are not that common on the right side of Atlantic. :)

This hulabaloo quite resamples the 1977 Japanese fish story... :P

Poor thing. Here it lies (in the photo) whilst critters with allegedly more capable brains debated about what it was.

I know exactly what it was. Once. A little baby raccoon, full of wide-eyed curiosity and ready to take on the world.

It got by pretty decently for quite awhile too...in spite of all the big-brained idiots that dominated his/her world.

By Arnosium Upinarum (not verified) on 06 Aug 2008 #permalink

Skwee: That was extremely shoddy reporting. My goodness. Is American news really THAT bad??!

Funny how they asked the opinion of people in the street but never bothered to ask a biologist. And the least they could have done was run through the list of suspects and give points for and against them.

But seriously, the whole shell-less turtle thing is just plain ignorance and stupidity.

Any of you nuts who think it's a turtle: IT IS NOT A TURTLE!!

A turtle's body is the shell, it can not be removed without all the innards falling out. There is no separation of a body and the shell.
Can't believe there's still people who think a turtle can be removed from their shell and have an intact body.

Info Source: I breed turtles.

Thanks for another informed analysis, Darren. I too had been inclining towards a small dog, but to be fair the raccoons - genus Procyon - are the most dog-like of the family Procyonidae, and the name itself - "pre-dog" - alludes to the morphological similarity.

I'm amused by the the overenthusiastic crypto-kiddies who weigh in with inappropriate Chupacabras IDs (it looks nothing like the purported descriptions of that cryptid) when they can't even spell (or presumably pronounce) the name. Once more, guys, it's singular "chupacabras", plural ditto, meaning "sucker of goats." More than a few chupas out there, eh?

By P Terry Hunt (not verified) on 06 Aug 2008 #permalink

Arnosium: "his"

I will here acknowledge Terry Hunt's priority in proposing that sauropods' vertebral air sacs were inflated with hydrogen, and dedicate my transcription of "Just a-Drifting" from the animated production of Kenneth Graeme's "The Reluctant Dragon" to him.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 06 Aug 2008 #permalink

This is to Sigmund. Journalism hasn't sunk at all. That's what's called a streeter. It's purely a public opinion story. You often see them in news papers with multiple pictures and quotes. They're generally done as a time filler, which means that CNN editors decided this wasn't really a story (heck, they may have guessed what it was themselves) but since there was public interest they had to do something. The answer to these are always simple. Send a reporter with a camera outside on the sidewalk and get public opinion. It takes maybe 10 minutes for a known paper to grab enough people and 5 minutes to edit the piece.

It's not a decline in journalism, this just really was a non-story.

on the first photo, is it my imagination, or is the raccoon (monster ) flipping us the bird???? Check out the right middle didget...

For those of you who think the second set of released photos are different - keep in mind that the first set is how the animal was discovered. Half of the body is in the sand, protected from the sun and kept moist. The side facing upwards has dried out and gone leathery. So turning the animal around for the second photos, has revealed the damp, non-sundried side.

where's the body?
Do you know that the thing is made of flesh and not plastics?
Do you think somebody would take a bodu like that and NOT take it to the press?

Or is somebody having a lot of fun reading these comments and watching the news?

For those who mourn the depths to which TV journalism has recently sunk: it must be twenty years since one of the networks (sorry, can't recall which one) used a couple of minutes of Evening News time to cover some guy who claimed to have crossbred a cat and a rabbit. Well, it was a cat with a stubby tail like a bunny and it did hop - most Manx cats do. But the great part was the next night when they went back to do a follow-up story!

It was in August, of course.

By PersonFromPorlock (not verified) on 07 Aug 2008 #permalink

I can vouch for the sundried/non-sundried account. I was tearing apart a magpie for mounting a few summers back, and once I got most of the internal organs out, I left the critter in the backyard overnight, hoping that scavenging insects would do some of the dirty work for me.

Nope. The sunny-side up ended up looking like beef jerky, while the grass-side down looked like slime. It was gross.

Fantastic post, we do appreciate the detail.

I can't get in line with all the people here who are using this to bash on the general interest in the story and declare how stupid the average person is. The bloating and decomposition made the body look unusual, and it was a fun mystery. I don't really think most people thought it was an actual unique monster. Relax guys, and take yourselves a little less seriously. May there always be room for unusual stories like this, because there will definitely always be headlines of murder and abuse. This one was educational, at least.

The montauk monster is a very strange creature.

Maybe a raccoon? or a dog.

I myself am not sure what it is.

I found some opinions and lots of pictures on www.Montauk-Monster.com

Maybe this will help someone come to a valid conclusion

Well, thank you Nathan (though I'm not sure how the topic crossed over here from the SV-POW! blog). I noticed your blatant appropriation of my prior key insight, but for the sake of the discipline's public standing decided not to take the matter to the Ethics Committee: after all, the overall advancement of knowledge is more important than the fleeting reputation of one individual :-).

Actually, I was flattered that you picked up my (not entirely serious) throwaway suggestion and impressed at how far the team has run with it. Further investigation is, I suggest, now required into evidence for non-return vertebral-oesophagal gaseous transfer organs, and possible gizzard-based metallo-lithic ignition processes.

[Darren, you might want to cross-post this comment back to the relevant SV-POW! thread.]

By P Terry Hunt (not verified) on 07 Aug 2008 #permalink

Terry: I first discovered your


original suggestion when I scoured the SV-POW archives recently. I also discovered Darren's plea, too late to act on it. This way you get the ultimate blame, although there's plenty to go around.

Me, I'm satisfied to use the hydrogen for buoyancy alone. It was Dave Hone who proposed rocket propulsion for ramphorynchids with the tail vane used to steer the thrust vector, following up on Terry Pratchett's dramatization in "The Last Hero" (recommended).

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 07 Aug 2008 #permalink

It's funny how cartoony people can get. The whole de-shelled turtle thing was what made me laugh! I mean, it's not like shells come off neat and clean like that of a Koopa Troopa. XD

Honestly. It's things like this that cause me to lose hope for humanity.

By Jay Louis (not verified) on 07 Aug 2008 #permalink

I'm still convinced that this is the beginning of a major zombie outbreak. This thing, this "creature" is a mutation from Plum island, no question about it! All the pathogens that were coursing through it's body have been leaked out into the water, infecting the fish, which in turn will infect other living hosts.
With the corpse having washed up on the beach and those pathogens having leaked out onto the land itself, it's only a matter of time before us humans are infected and become walking zombies!

You better start preparing now!

-Brian Hardin II

its kinda funny all you ppl takling about the jaws n stuff and the mandibles are slightly different.... there are humans with abnormal jaws and parts and animals too. it doesnt have to be a PERFECT racoon, it can be a racoon with a few deformed parts. genetics

Ya know, I think its the little monkey thing that hangs out near Jabba the Hutt's tail and laughs...

That would be Salacious B. Crumb the Kowakian monkey-lizard [ducks and runs for cover].

I can see how it could be a raccoon, and the photo really helped convince me, but what about a dog? I am not an expert on decay, but I do know a thing or two (I have a minor in biology) about zoology and animal anatomy and I can see a raccoon but seriously...what about it's floppy ears? No one has ever mentioned them before but unless cartilege breaks down quickly and becomes floppy like that, I look at the third pic and see my min pin-chihuahua. Raccoons don't have floppy ears, it's a human-bred influence in dogs.

I guess I'll have to stop and look at some decaying raccoon roadkill to answer my own question about ear structure after death.

Ya... I knew it was Salacious Crumb, but I didn't want to divulge the extent of my star wars nerdiness all at once...

the torso and shoulders look eerily human

They look mammalian.

We humans are not that special.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Aug 2008 #permalink

Any of you nuts who think it's a turtle: IT IS NOT A TURTLE!!

Buslady, it's creepy how often I run into you in the general web. And always championing for turtle education! ;D

Seriously, it scares me how many people are so sadly ignorant of the anatomy of such a common animal. Cartoons != real life.

Awesome explanation, Darren, and thanks for clearing it up. And I'm glad I'm not the only person who realizes decomposing animals--and people, for that matter--can look very alien indeed.


Its a prop (and viral advertising?) for the forthcoming film Splinterheads.

Wikipedia is your friend

I'm all for the science and reality of things and realize this is no pigbear-eagleparrot. What is seen in these comments is seen all over the scienceweb -- arrogance crying ignorance and being as religious towards science as the religious are towards omniscient bearded ghosts in outer space.

a half decomposing sea turtle sans shell

That would be a head, a neck, four flippers, and a tail. And a big hole in between.

The shell contains the vertebrae of the back, the ribs, and the collarbones. (And the interclavicle and the gastralia, but never mind.)

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 16 Aug 2008 #permalink

it's not a raccoon... say what ever you want
it's not a turtle, tails to long

it's not a raccoon... say what ever you want


And *uck the tail. It's not a turtle because it hasn't got a shell. (The tail is too thin for a turtle, though -- only mammals have such thin tails.)

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 17 Aug 2008 #permalink

The raccoon explanation is very likely, but if it's not a raccoon, then it's another small ordinary carnivorous mammal.

The important point is that it's not a monster, it's not a turtle and it ain't anything out of Carnivora order. The most exiting thing it can possibly be is a new raccoon subspecies with longer limbs and a shorter tail, but I think that's unlikely.

By Blue Frackle (not verified) on 17 Aug 2008 #permalink

The thing that worries me more about this story than any of the actual details of the 'mysterious creature' is the desperation with which people leap toward extraordinary answers because they are so desperate not to believe the standard received view of the world.

I can't believe the news would report this as a 'monster,' even if that were lazy short-hand for something we don't fully understand. There are no fossil records of anything mixing mammalian and marine features in this way, so thats out. People who cried photoshop clearly don't understand the level of difficulty in rendering an image like that. Rendering has only creeped up to that level in recent years for big budget movies and that takes the cream of the digital design crop and millions of dollars to even produce a hair effect that is halfway convincing. Finally the virulent claims of it being some sort of failed government genetic experiment are just insane. Western governments may be stupid but spending a million dollars of taxpayer money to make a half-turtle, half-dog is out of the realms of conspiracy theory and right into two-grad-students-with-an-ounce-of-weed-and-a-pipette territory. I imagine that they might try to cure cancer or disease or work on illicit stem cell experiments but not just glue a couple of things together and see what sticks. Turn off the X Files re-runs.

Good call on the sanity portrayed here. Hard to tell the scale from those images but i could buy a racoon decayed at sea as the process is incredibly different to decay as we know it. Also given the way the news spread and the stink of too many suspicious variables, (disappearances, shoddy and rather unreliable eyewitness accounts), and the desperation of mankind to believe anything they stumble across on google / youtube, I wouldn't totally rule out the option of a viral campaign that got far too ahead of itself.

By w. freedom (not verified) on 20 Aug 2008 #permalink

I thoroughly enjoyed your analysis. I am a forensic pathologist, and all too painfully aware of what decomposition does to bodies. When I first saw the picture, my first thought was that someone's canine buddy jumped into the surf to get a frisbee, drowned, and ultimately washed up on the beach. One of the earliest things that happens with decomposition is that the skin loosens and slips off. If the critter was a fur-bearing animal, then the hair goes too. At the same time, the tissues swell from gas formation in the carcass. The remaining visible body surfaces can be quite resilient--what you are looking at is the dermis, which is composed largely of collagen (leather is dried and treated dermis). In some areas, the tissues do break down, and bones are exposed. Teeth also easily fall out. All of these features are clearly visible in photos of the "monster". I don't have a background in cooparative zoology, and I think you've made a compelling argument for a raccoon.

Coincidentally, I spent a lovely week vacationing in Montauk about a month prior to the "monster's" appearance. We stayed at Ditch Plains, where the carcass washed up. The week before, my wife and I were at Orient, New York, which is the "north fork" of eastern Long Island. While walking on the beach, we came across a mostly intact raccoon carcass (fur still present). We also came across the body of a slightly bigger animal, whose torso and legs looked similar to the "monster" The skull was completely bare, although the mandible was missing. Most of the maxillary teeth, including the canines, were absent postmortem. The body was bloated and discolored. The tail was relatively short. The extremities were short and the feet were webbed. As near as I could tell, it was a juvenile seal.

Thank you for that very clear explanation and illustration. My immediate impression when I saw the photo was dead, decomposed dog....I couldn't even conceive of it being anything else...and I wonder if CNN simply edited out rational viewer explanations. I didn't think raccoon, but the explanation fits perfectly. Thanks again.

By Eric Muehlbauer (not verified) on 23 Aug 2008 #permalink

I have done extensive research on this so called monster. In fact it is not a monster but a foreign alien. Yes you probabbly think that I am stupid for saying this but it is true. About 2 weeks before this creature washed up on shore I watched with my own eyes come out of a space ship. The space ship actually crashed about 25 mines from the beach that it was found. I had seen it swimming and I was freaked out and took of on my get ski. The creature that I saw looks exact to the one posted here. Think I am crazy? WELL I'M NOT.... In my research I have found the the skull actuall closely resembles the racoon.It's not only the body structure that has me stumped but its hands are remarkable. It is amazing that something like this was actually brought to us and now my research will continue....

By Alien Chaser (not verified) on 15 Sep 2008 #permalink

I would have to agree with "Alien Chaser" The concept of the Racoon seems like a likely choice. I to have done some research and I have studied the hands of this creature and they actually are close to the human hands. It was a rather amazing discover and I wish I was able to share more information with you but I do not want to give information that is not 100% correct. I will continue my research and keep posting what I have found.

It looks like it could be a fisher cat

what are you guys talking about?
It is a mutated Raccoon!
Missing fang indicates that this animal shoots atomic beam!

Human, when will you learn... ever

By dezinfectant (not verified) on 16 Oct 2008 #permalink

pritty good (I gess) but Im not a fan of people who are like you! oh its a racoon oh its a dog they say but do they really know what it is!?! cant you just let people womder what is out there?! JERK!!!!!! but it was good....


By cryptid lover (not verified) on 20 Dec 2008 #permalink

ok Im back I also agree with alien chaser it could be a alien but most likly its a CRYPTID!!!

By cryptid lover (not verified) on 20 Dec 2008 #permalink

What the hell did you need a zoologist or scientist to tell you what that was. Anyone from Kentucky would've been able to tell you right away. Racoon, next to Possum pie is a favorite!

By Hill Billy Heaven (not verified) on 21 Dec 2008 #permalink

It is a mutated Raccoon ? What is this ?


By Busby SEO Test (not verified) on 30 Dec 2008 #permalink

If you had read the previous comment, let alone the fucking post itself, you'd know it's a rotten raccoon, not a mutated one.

Commenting on a blog post without having read all previous comments is evil. Commenting without having read the post itself... <headdesk>

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 30 Dec 2008 #permalink

When looking at the pics of the creature on either side, I can't help but wonder why...why is the sand so nice and smooth on the side from which it has been turned? What is up with that?

No indentation in the sand from any of the body parts that were previously occupying that space in the sand. Or where the body had dug in when it was "turned" either way.


You should stop debunking these monster stories Darren, before you put the tabloids out of business.

By Raymond Minton (not verified) on 14 Jan 2009 #permalink

I did a quick analysis of the teeth meant to explain how we use cladistics for something like this. I simplified this greatly for the general public, so please keep that in mind. Oh, and yes, my analysis came up with "raccoon," as well.