Most unusual "sea serpent" carcasses turn out to have prosaic explanations. For those with further interest in the subject, Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans--in his In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents (Hill and Wang, New York, 1968)--feels that it is unlikely for a sea serpent, except for "eel-shaped sharks," to be washed up on a beach and stranded. He reasons that the seven main types of creatures that comprise what we call sea serpents are among the least likely to be stranded, and would be capable of getting back into the water if they were washed up onto a beach. There is the possibility, however, that a sea monster could die at sea of natural causes or in battle and its carcass wash up onto a beach, as in the case of the Natal Carcass described by Dr. Karl P. N. Shuker in his article. Even the once-famous stranding cases, such as the Stronsay Beast and the Cherbourg (a.k.a. Querqueville) Carcass have sunk into obscurity after their time in the spotlight. Carcasses are remembered mostly by their location--Prah Sands, Sungyce, Girvan, Henry Island, Gulf of Fonseca, Machrihanish, Shuyak--the list goes on. Heuvelmans discusses 20--plus cases and lists another 14. He has determined that the vast majority of strange carcasses are the decomposed remains of large basking sharks and other conventional sea creatures such as oarfish. It is one of those strange-but-true facts that when a basking shark decomposes, it actually begins to look a lot like a plesiosaur, the popular favorite for a living sea monster. One interesting aspect of the transformation from basking shark to mystery carcass is that as the shark decomposes its fibrous muscle tissue takes on the appearance of a white hairy coat, further confusing identification. Despite the overwhelming number of sea serpent carcasses that turn out to be the bodies of prosaic sea creatures, Heuvelmans and Shuker note that some monster carcasses remain unidentified by zoologists.
The Cherbourg Carcass was found on a beach at Querqueville, France, on February 28, 1934, and created quite a stir on the heels of the Loch Ness monster. Dr. Georges Petit of the Paris Museum determined from a rigorous examination of the 25-foot-long carcass that it was almost certainly a decomposing basking shark.
In 1925, photographs were published of what appeared to be a plesiosaur washed up on the rocks of Moore's Beach (now Natural Bridges State Beach) several miles northwest of Santa Cruz, California. The bizarre carcass was front page news in central California newspapers, and curiosity seekers as well as scientists flocked to see the mystery beast. Descriptions of the creature varied so much that it is hard to be certain of any details, but it is agreed that the animal had a huge head, a beaklike snout, and tiny eyes. Variously described as 35 to 50 feet long, it seemed to have a narrow 20-foot-long neck. The California Academy of Sciences Museum studied the creature's skull and concluded that it was an extremely rare type of beaked whale--a whale so rare that it has only a Latin name, Berardius bairdi. Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans doubts whether any zoologist in the world would have been able to identify the carcass, since few, if any, have ever seen the animal alive.
Not everyone agreed with the beaked whale explanation. Many witnesses, including some scientists, felt strongly that the animal was not a whale or any known sea animal. For starters, the rare Berardius bairdi was not known outside of British Columbian waters. The renowned naturalist E. L. Wallace, after thoroughly examining the carcass, concluded that it was a plesiosaur which had been preserved in glacial ice that had melted and moved south. With no teeth and a bill, Wallace reasoned, the animal must have lived on vegetation in a swamp.
Wallace felt strongly that there were a number of factors that mitigated in favor of the plesiosaur and against the beaked whale explanation. Wallace noted that there was no bone in the Santa Cruz carcass as large as the backbone of a whale. This fact contradicted the whale theory, as did the fact that the tail of the unknown animal was only three feet long, too short and weak--Wallace felt--for an animal of the deep.
It has been suggested that the body may have separated from the skin and that the skin rolled up giving the effect of a long plesiosaurlike neck. The body washed up nearby and was either still connected to the skin or was placed into position by a person or persons trying to reconstruct the monster.
Randall Reinstedt, in Mysterious Sea Monsters of California's Central Coast, writes that the monster was the talk of California's central coast for some time. The Santa Cruz Sentinel ran an eyewitness story of a horrific battle between a dozen or more sea lions and a gigantic fish that occurred shortly before the carcass was found on the beach.
The Monterey Peninsula Herald described it as having a duck-shaped head and a tail like a whale. A Santa Cruz News story spoke of a head bigger than a barrel and eyes larger than abalones. Some pretty strange details crop up in eyewitness descriptions of the ambiguous monstrosity. One witness described the creature as having several pairs of elephantine legs on the body, including ivory toenails. In this regard, Mysterious California author Mike Marinacci suggests that close-up photographs show what appears to be an elephant leg on the neck of the beast. Another odd detail is one witness' statement that the body was covered with a coat of both hair and feathers.
If only for the conclusions of E. L. Wallace--the one zoologist who was able to closely examine the carcass--the case remains intriguing.
This section of a weird 40-foot-long creature was found on the shore near Effingham on Vancouver Island, Canada, in 1947. Like the vast majority of "sea serpent" carcasses, it was determined to be the body of a decomposed basking shark.
The "prehistoric animal" that washed up on a beach in Hendaye, France, in 1951 turned out to be the usual suspect--a decomposing basking shark. The much-discussed "antennae" protruding from its head are actually the shark's rostal cartilages, which support the skull.
35 tons of something was found on the beach in Tecoluta, Mexico in March, 1969 and whatever it was, it certainly received a great deal of publicity. The strange carcass's serpent-like body was covered with hard jointed armor. A 10 foot bone tusk--estimated to weigh a ton--protruded from its head. UPI reported that biologists thought that the creature might have been a narwhal--which has a long tusk--but that after seeing the carcass, "they could not match it with any sea creature known to man." The international press reported that a prehistoric monster of some sort had been beached and the world awaited further word on the carcass.
A seven-man commission of scientists reported on April 20, 1969 that the monster was a rorqual whale, known as the finback whale. The monster of Tecoluta may have been a whale rather than a thawed dinosaur, but that did not stop it from attracting sightseers from everywhere. Scientists insisted that the creature be buried, as it was rotting rapidly and they felt they had nothing to learn from it. After a great political battle, the mayor of Tecoluta overruled the scientists and said that the monster would be kept as a tourist attraction, despite its stunning smell. The scientists were satisfied with their explanation, which curiously did not address the existence of the creature's ton-size tusk.
When the English trading steamer Emu was at Suwarrow Island (a Pacific sea island near Samoa) on her way to Sydney, Australia, they were told by natives that a huge "devil fish" had been beached. Mr. A. H. Bell, of the Emu, told of their search for the carcass, and of its horrible odor. "We secured as much of it as we could, and we have now on board the first sea serpent ever brought to Australia or anywhere else," Bell announced modestly. The Emu arrived in Sydney with a part of the creature.
The monster was covered with hair and was brownish. According to the captain, the head was like that of a horse. He estimated the weight to be seventy tons and guessed that the creature was 60 ft. long. The skull alone was three feet long. The English Mechanic, (No. 69, April 7, 1899, p. 17) noted that, "there was evidence of two tusks at the extremity of the lower jaw, and the natives said the monster had flappers like a seal when it was originally washed ashore." A scientist at the Australian Museum determined that the monster was actually a badly decomposed beaked whale. This would account for the two "tusks." A decomposed beaked whale is a monstrous thing, and resembles no earthly animal.
Readers of the November 26, 1930 New York Times learned that the carcass of a giant lizardlike creature with fur had been found on Alaska's desolate Glacier Island.
"Ice Bares Strange Animal--Alaskans Suggest Prehistoric Origin"--it would be hard to find a much better location and premise for a horror film. The creature, described as being in perfect condition, was said to be 42 feet long with a 6-foot head, a 20-foot body, and a 16-foot-long tail.
"The theory has been advanced," the article explained, "that the carcass is that of a prehistoric animal or reptile that has been preserved in the upper reaches of the Columbia glacier."
Three days later, there was more news of the monster. "Monster in Ice Has Long Snout," proclaimed the New York Sun on November 28. "Confirm Finding of Pre-Historic Monster in Ice," read the headline in the (New York) Evening World.
W. J. McDonald, supervisor of the Chugach National Forest, and a party of six others went to Glacier Island to investigate the report. Alaskans were skeptical until McDonald's party reached the site and reported back on their firsthand examination of the creature. McDonald described the animal as being shaped unlike any other creature known to have existed anywhere in the region, having "a long tail and tapering head, like a dinosaur."
McDonald's measurements were much more specific than the early reports: the head, described as being much like that of an elephant, was 59 inches long; the snout, from the end to the center of the forehead, was 39 inches long; the width of the snout at midsection was 11 inches with a 29-inch circumference; the widest part of the beast's skeleton was 38 inches; and the bizarre animal's length was 24 feet, with a 14-foot tail that started at the rib section.
The Glacier Island Monster was estimated to have weighed 1,000 pounds. Charles Fort mentions the case very briefly in his book Lo!, in which he states that there was "considerable flesh" found. McDonald's report states that "only a small portion of the body had flesh on it." The flesh was described as resembling horse flesh.
MacDonald believed that the creature became encased in the Columbia glacier and was carried to the sea with the movement of Glacier Island in the past centuries. However, as Fort pointed out in his mention of the case, just because something was found in ice doesn't mean that it was preserved in the ice for ages. The case dropped out of sight; paucity of follow-up articles on strange phenomena is common. The tantalizing case of the Glacier Island Monster carcass remains unexplained.