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Sunday, March 21, 2010

LINDSAY SELBY: Sea monster or...

...unidentified Pinniped?

An event on the west coast of Tasmania, Australia, in 1913, as related here by Hartwell Conder : "Monsters in Seas, Rivers and Lakes". “The animal was seen by Oscar Davies and W. Harris : www.authorsden.com/ShortStoryUpload/2411.doc .

However close a sighting is, if the creature is in the water, the witness does not see its whole body. Occasionally, a sea monster is seen on land. This happened on the west coast of Tasmania, Australia in 1913, as related here by Hartwell Conder.

The animal was seen by Oscar Davies and W. Harris. I have known both of them for a number of yours [sic], and can guarantee their intelligence and accuracy. “They were walking along the coast when at a distance they noticed a dark object under the dunes, which surprised them by showing signs of movement. “They advanced toward it and came within gunshot. When about 40 yards off, it rose suddenly and rushed into the sea. After getting out about 30 yards it stopped and turned round, showing only the head, then withdrew under the water and disappeared. It was 15-feet long: had a very small head, about the size of the head of a kangaroo dog; it had a thick, arched neck; it had no definite tail and no fins; it was furry, the coat resembled a horse; it had four distinct legs, and it made definite footprints with a diameter of nine inches. There was no evidence of webbed feet.

The creature travelled very fast. When first discovered, it reared up and turned on its hind legs. Its height, standing on the four legs, would be from three-and-a-half to four-feet tall. Both men were familiar with seals and sea leopards. They could find no resemblance.

Bernard Heuvelmans commented on this sighting in his classic book, In the Wake of the Sea Serpents. He says the animal reminds him of a sea lion except that there are none in Tasmania and no sea lions are more than eight-feet long. Their footprints would not be so big, nor their heads small. Even such a close sighting as this takes us no nearer to identification.

An unidentified pinniped perhaps? Sounds like one, or maybe even Stellar’s sea cow.


Dale Drinnon said...

This is one of the sightings that Heuvelmans singled out as exmplary of his Long-necked sealion, the same type as the one seen off of the Island of Hoy by J. Mackintosh Bell. And actually, after several years of discussions about the matter, I think he was probably right. one thing is, the sketch of the Hoy creature swimming at full length underwater does not quite jibe with the reported measurements and it must be seen as a sort of a caricature. The neck would not be so long and thin and in fact both the Bell report and this one by Conder's men specify that the creature has a THICK neck.
It is also obviously neither an elephant seal or a seacow because it has four flippers and of the sealion type.

I was willing to go ahead and say this genus deserved to retain Heuvelmans' name for it, Megalotaria, and that basically it is a type of sea lion as large as a walrus, occasionally straying inland and being caled a Bunyip. Charles Paxton disagreed with me and said that the actual recognised discoverer of the creature deserves the right to name it. I still think it would be a nice gesture, though.

Aaron T said...

From the description I'd favour "unidentified pinniped", and then suggest it could have been a leopard or elephant seal. Both are known in Tasmania, unlike Stellar's Sea Cow which wasn't much of a fast mover on land anyway. A.

shiva said...

The dimensions seem a bit dodgy on this - a quadrupedal mammal 4 times as long as it is high, without a tail? With the dog-like head, the description makes me imagine something looking like a gigantic dachshund... or maybe some sort of super-mustelid? But then, otters, mink, etc all swim with their tails... i'm having difficult imagining a large aquatic (or even semi-aquatic) mammal without either flipper-like feet or a large tail for swimming with - unless it "walks" on the bottom like a hippo or something...

It does sound slightly reminiscent of a Dobhar-chu, or even of some of the Scottish/Irish "water-horse" cryptids (in their quadrupedal, land-visiting form).

Definitely not a Steller's sea cow, or any sirenian, however, as they lack hind limbs altogether and are as incapable of locomotion on land as a whale.

Richard Freeman said...

Steller's sea cow could not move around on land in the way seals and sealions can.