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Sunday, January 16, 2011

DALE DRINNON: Traditional Northwest- Coast Sea Monsters

TRADITIONAL NORTHWEST-COAST SEA MONSTERS
sea_serpent
The Northwest Coast area is that part of the Pacific coast between Southern Alaska and Northern California. In anthropological terms this is a distinct cultural area with an economy that thrives largely because of the abundance of annual salmon runs. It is also an area where there are a lot of sea-serpent reports in more modern times, which has also been linked to the abundance of salmon in the region.

There does not at first seem to be a direct link between the traditions of the indigenous peoples of the region and the more modern sea-serpent reports. The traditions are a little peculiar. One attempt to collect the traditions and define a cryptid category accomodating them is an article by Michael D. Swords which can be found here:

http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/jse_05_1_swords.pdf

WhaleEater-SeaWolf

Which is the source of much of the information floating around the internet on the subject. Swords defines a single type of Sea-monster on the basis of the Traditional Wasco or Wasgo, the Sea-Wolf, the Sisiutl or two-headed sea-serpent, and the more crocodylian or dragon-like Haietlik. Because of his equation, several "Monster Encylopedias" speak of them all as equivalent. They are not the same but they are often very much confused with each other. Swords also equates all of the types with Mackal's version of the freshwater monsters of the area, which Mackal calls Naiatakas, and he uses Mackal's identity for the creatures, a sort of longnecked zueglodon. At the same time, he includes the Pal-Rai-Yuk along with the other "Monster" types while Mackal uses that Traditional creature to explain Steller's Sea Ape.

figure045

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My own independant research into Sea Wolves came about because I was researching possible Folkloric connections to Steller's Sea Apes. I found several references to Seadogs or Waterdogs, which appeared to be the same as the Sea Apes and appeared to be large otters, generally corresponding to the reports of the Irish Master-Otters in size and shape. And then again there were the stories of the Sea Wolves or Sea Bears, Wasco. They were supposed to chase, capture and eat whales. At the time I thought the "Sea Wolf" description matched up with the Seadogs, except for the size, and so I said the battles must be some sort of Shamanic conflict in which the Totems are all imagined to be of more-or-less equivalent size. Like Japanese Giant Monster movies. I also mentioned that Thunderbirds were also imagined as being of large enough size to do battle with killer whales similarly to the Sea Wolves, and the actual reports we have of "Thunderbirds" are ordinarily nowhere nearly that big.

art_96_wasco

At that time I had not considered that there was a confusion between the different Seamonster types and that basically a reference to the smallest kind was transferred to the largest kind owing to a similar, overall lizard-shaped, body plan. The smallest kind is also indicated under the name "Sea Serpent" in the art print indicated at the top (Haietlik) and this name is also used elsewhere to name the "Sea-Alligator" spoken of locally

figure056-Dragon

SeaDragon

and also the largest kind of Wasgo or WhaleEater. The smallest kind is only something like two or three meters long overall, perhaps up to four, and is clearly the same as the basically otterlike Waterdog (said to have sharp ears and a sharp snout as in Steller's Sea Ape AND as the definitive marks of the Irish Master-Otter) The biggest kind is sometimes said to be a hundred feet long, maybe more, and the intermediate kind is obviously a version of Bernard Heuvelmans' Marine Saurian. I believe the WhaleEater is actually the largest kind of Marine Saurian and that it came to be called the same as the "SeaWolf" through a basically similar shape and through an overly-generous classification system which allowed all the SeaMonsters to be spoken of interchangeably.

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whale-eater

"Whale-Eater" is a name that turns up in different places and it is the same as the largest Taniwha. That would be what Shuker calls the Leviathan, and both Shuker and I think that is a very large Mosasaur, the same type of creature as killed by the crew of the Monongahela. The Monongahela creature had remains of a large shark and a pilot whale in its stomach. It is apparantly adapted to take prey in that size range and whalers have reported it following after small pods of whales, no doubt with the intention of snatching young ones if possible. For this reason I do refer to it as a "Cetiovore" (Whale-eater), but as yet this is only informally.

figure071

The Sisiutl is something different and it may be related to the Longer-necked SeaSerpent types seen more commonly in the area in more modern times. Incidentally, one of the petroglyphs reporduced here seems to be of the Long-necked sort, number 71. I shall review the Sisiutl images in a second part to follow this, but it seems on the face of it to have nothing to do with the more lizard-shaped seamonster reports we are talking about here. I do think that the "Naiataka" petroglyphs from Vancouver Island which Mackal mistakenly placed near Lake Okanogon ARE meant to represent the Longnecked types BUT they are stylized along the lines of other petroglyphs intended to be Wasgos (the Whale-Eaters)

'Wasgo'

[Petroglyphs are from the internet site:

http://danielleen.org/petroglyphs.html

All photos taken from various internet sites and reproduced here for educational purposes. No copyright infringment is intended or should be inferred ]


1 comment:

NGagnon said...

A researcher myself, I saw an interesting totem pole in display within the lobby of The Dept. of the Interior, blocks away from all the Smithsonian museums in Wash. DC. The second carved creature depicts a "mythical sea monster". If you're interested in my totem photo, I could send it to you. Thanks
Norm