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Sunday, March 27, 2011

LINDSAY SELBY: Sea monsters and opportunities missed

I was looking at some old sea monster reports.

One by Captain James Stockdale from May 1830. Stockdale and his crew of the barque Rob Roy were near the island of St Helena when they heard a noise in the water. They were astounded to view the head of “a great thundering sea snake” whose head rose six feet( 2 metres) out of the water “as square with our topsail, his tail was square with the foremast”. Stockdale said his ship was 171ft long ( 56 metres)with the foremast 42ft ( 14 metres)from the stern, which would make the monster 129ft long( 42metres). He wrote in his report to the ship’s owners “If I had not seen it I could not have believed it but there was no mistake or doubt of its length – for the brute was so close I could even smell his nasty fishy smell.”

A Board of Trade file from 1857 contains a report, from near the same South Atlantic island , by a Commander George Henry Harrington of the merchant ship Castilan, of a similar sighting. On the 13th of December he and two officers saw “a huge marine animal” which suddenly reared out of the water just 20ft( 6 /7 metres approx) from the ship.It had a long neck and a dark head, shaped “like a long buoy” , white spotted, “with a kind of scroll or ruff encircling it”. The creature submerge, then reappeared, leaving no doubt they were watching a sea monster “of extraordinary length moving slowly towards the land”. The boatswain, who watched it for some time, estimated that it was more than double the length of the ship, which was 250 feet long . This makes the sea monster 500 feet long(165 metres ).

What I wonder is why nothing seems to have been done at the time. No one seems to have gone to investigate the stories. Maybe they thought the crew had been on the rum or at sea too long? I wonder if it happened today would we investigate? I suspect even today, if it was no threat to shipping ,that no one would bother. At the heart of everything lies commerce and if there is no threat to that commerce ,things will be ignored. I can’t help feeling so many opportunities will have been missed by scientists , because something unusual was no threat, and the reports being filed away in MOD or other organisations files as not important. By the time the general public get to read the reports/ files it is too late to have an investigation. What wonders have been missed, what creatures remain undiscovered, or that may now be extinct?


Anonymous said...

I remember when we discussed the Castillian report before, Lindsay. If this newest report is the same sort of creature, raising its head two mwtres out of the water is not like a graceful swanlike neck because the head can be six feet thick or more.

This is the biggest type of "Sea-Serpents" I regularly recognise, The Whale Eater, the Monongahela crature, the same as Shuker's Leviathan. It IS supposed to grow to over a hundred feet long, but only a bit over that, and 129 feet is probably a bit of an exaggeration-500 feet more of an exaggeration but still within the standard range of size estimates for the reports. 250 to 500 feet long sounds really incredible but the real length would still be over a hundred feet.

I have reliable reports of such a creature being seen around Ireland and when we started this discussion, you had posted a report off California. More recently, Russian whalers have reported them chasing schools of whales in the Antarctic oceans. They are evidently an arresting and impressive sight. Their bodies are serpentine and can be seen writhing in great horizontal semicircles flat on the surface, which undoubtedly makes them look even longer. And several professional whalers did not mind saying that seeing such a creature made them very much afraid.

The head is reported as being as much as fifteen feet long and the great crocodile-like mouth splits the head in two so that the gape of the mouth at widest is twenty-five feet or more. And from all the reports what it like st eat is whales-calves commonly but up to fully-grown female orcas and pilot whales for a preference. It will also take moderately-large sharks. It swallows its prey whole. Pretty scary notion, hmm?

Jewish legends also state that the Leviathan feeds on the great whales. The legend exaggerates the size of both the Leviathans and the whales, but the idea is still there.

Tabitca said...

scary or not, I would love to see one :-)