In a paper published today, a team of scientists conclude that three new unusual species might await discovery, all of which may belong to the group of marine mammals known as pinnipeds. The best known pinnipeds are seals, sea lions and walruses.
The team used a combination of statistical analysis and eyewitness reports to evaluate the existence of unknown large sea animals.
Led by doctoral student Mr Michael Woodley of Royal Holloway, University of London, who worked with Dr Darren Naish of the University of Portsmouth, and Dr Hugh Shanahan, also of Royal Holloway, the team used two different statistical models to estimate the number of unknown pinnipeds. The paper was published in the academic journal Historical Biology.
“While the low number of three possible new pinniped species matched our statistical expectations, there is a need for scepticism as all known pinnipeds are noisy animals with close ties to land”, said Mr Woodley.
“These pinnipeds would have to possess some exceptional characteristics, if they exist.”
One of the team’s two models suggested that 15 such species might remain to be discovered, however that was regarded as a significant overestimation, Mr Woodley said.
According to the researchers the discovery of several large marine animals during the last 30 years demonstrates that there are sea mammals in existence which have so far remained undiscovered.
Examples of these animals include the Lesser or Peruvian beaked whale, a strikingly marked whale from the eastern Pacific, which was discovered in 1975; the Megamouth, a giant, filter-feeding shark known from tropical seas worldwide, discovered in 1976; and the Indonesian coelacanth, a deep-sea fish with a striking metallic sheen, was discovered in 1998. Omura’s whale, a close relative of the gigantic Blue whale, was only discovered in the late 1970s.
The study of animals that have yet to be verified by science – sea-serpents and similar enigmatic creatures – is known as cryptozoology. According to Mr Woodley, cryptozoological literature includes hundreds of accounts of mysterious large marine animals, many going back hundreds of years.
“Many sightings have been made by trained observers, including military personnel and experienced naturalists,” he said.
“Over the years, cryptozoologists have suggested that several sea-serpents might be unusual types of pinniped.”
Among the best known of these is a creature sometimes called the merhorse. Supposedly a gigantic, long-bodied, deep-water animal 4 to 30 meters long, it is not only known from sightings, but also from a carcass found in the stomach of a whale in 1937.
A second relevant mystery animal is the long-necked sea-serpent, supposedly a plesiosaur-like sea lion with a 2-3 meter long neck. A third creature is the Tizheruk, a semi-mythological seal-like water monster of the Pacific Arctic is described as long-bodied, and with a snake-like head.
“We consider that if such creatures as the merhorse and long-necked sea-serpent exist, they must be extremely rare. They must also dwell in remote and seldom visited regions of the oceans,” said Mr Woodley.
But that is what the CFZ, and in particular the Weird Weekend is all about. A Conference should be more than just a social occasion; it should be a place where new allegiances are forged and new working relationships made. This proves that the Weird Weekend and the CFZ are doing their job.