Friday, April 10, 2015

DOWN IN THE CRYPTO-DUMPS, part 2: Lost at Sea

Here's a second pass at the Crypto-dump-box pile: Sea Monsters. {I was too lazy to make a "cases grid" this time, and the structure of this part didn't lend itself as well to a list, so let's just "dive in".} 


This is Olaus Magnus' great old 16th century map. As we know it's full of sea monsters, and I can't help liking it. Our old cartographer, who was really a Catholic Archbishop, claimed encounter information existed for all of these things. 

He wasn't alone. Above are the monsters from Sebastian Munster's book published in Germany {to be} in 1598. It's a delightful crew. A and B are mountain-sized whales and Physeters, as described by our favorite ancient cryptozoologist, Pliny. Sea serpents and pretty ugly critters abound. The bird-headed thing is a Ziphius. The bottom giant is another superwhale. A nice little trading run in the seas of Norway was a walk {swim} through a meaner Jurassic Park. 

Modern cryptozoologists tend to give the sea serpent the most attention [this is one of Olaus'], and they are not alone --- so, apparently did the "older folks". Magnus said this about them:

"Those who sail up along the coast of Norway to trade or fish, all tell the remarkable story of how a serpent of fearsome size, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, resides in rifts and caves outside Bergen. On bright summer nights this serpent leaves the caves to eat calves, lambs, and pigs, or it fares out to sea and feeds on sea nettles,crabs, and similar marine animals. It has ell-long hair hanging from its neck {an ell is almost four feet long}, sharp black scales and flaming red eyes. It attacks vessels, grabs and swallows people, as it lifts itself up like a column from the water."

I can't help but wonder how our good bishop got that information, as he certainly seems to believe it. 

My personal puzzlement about these claims in this geographic area is further complicated by claims by two more priestly fellows {frequent readers know that I am a Catholic, and tend to have a bias to witnesses "of the cloth" --- well, at least I'm honest about it.} 

The above are two renditions of the famous sea serpent of Hans Egede [semi-legendary missionary to Greenland], and based upon Egede's description and a sketch by a traveling companion, Pastor Bing. Egede says:

".... that most dreadful Monster that showed itself upon the surface of the water in the year 1734, off our New Colony in 64 degrees, this Monster was of so huge a size that coming out of the water its head reached as high as the Mast-head; its body was as bulky as the Ship, and three or four times as long. It had a long pointed snout, and spouted like a whale-fish; great broad paws, and the body seemed covered with shell-work, its skin very rugged and uneven. The underpart of its body was shaped like an enormous huge Serpent, and when it dived again under water, it plunged backwards into the sea, and so raised its tail aloft, which seemed a whole ship's distant from the bulkiest part of the body." 

That re-telling leaves me torn by two images: a large elongated serpentine critter, and the totally different "leaving the area" behavior of a cavorting humpbacked whale. {recall the famous Prudential  commercial}. I know that humpbacked whales cannot be used as answers to the serpentine aspects of the tale, but if our good missionary had only described the "leaving", then that would have been sufficient. 

In the 1700s another sea monster commentator again zero'd in on the Norwegian Sea Serpent, with a firm piece of artwork declaring it a very big snake-like thing indeed. From the Middle Ages to the 18th century then, interested parties seemed to converge on the idea that the Norwegian Sea Monster was a big Serpentine thing, and was real. 

In 1845 this thing was reported again. This time it was a long serpentine entity [greater than 40 feet in length] with two forward flippers and none behind [note that this is characteristic of a primitive whale "zeuglodont".] It undulated like a snake [a Zeuglodont would not do that, as that is reptilian, not sea mammalian, motion]. The skull was domed and had a sharp snout. It was dark brown. No "mane" was noticed.

Again in 1847 it appeared. This was another elongated serpentine creature, over thirty feet long. Its body was about two feet in diameter and it had big five inch diameter red "sparkling" eyes. There was a mahogany-colored mane which was similar in color to the skin on the head [body color not described]. Again the swimming motion was described as undulating. 

The writer who brought these to the attention of the English public, Henry Lee, a London fisheries expert, believed that the reporters of the first case meant that the motion, while snakelike in its curves, was actually up-and-down wavelike --- leaving the door open that both were mammals. 

But then he went All-Calamari on us and suggested that the real nature of these beasts was that they were partial seeings of Giant Squids. Well, full marks for novel thinking, but, as so often happens, this seems to violate the witness testimonies, especially those witnesses who say that they clearly saw the head and eyes. {How DO theorizers simply disregard things like that?} 

I have another [very small potatoes admittedly] reason for rejecting the theory of Lee. When I was doing my research on the PNW sea serpent [Wasgo/ Sisiutl] of the Haida, Tlingit, Kwakiutl peoples, I came across an artifact in a museum case [photographed above] labeled "sea serpent" or "sea monster", I forget now just which. It was rearing pretty much like Egede's Norwegian monster. "My" Sisiutl turned out to be far more like a primitive elongated whale/zeuglodont than other candidates. 

Mid-1800s, an era of Sea Monster enthusiasm.

It seems that many people were fascinated by the idea of the sea monster in those days. Not only were they being reported, and Henry Lee writing and commenting, but the great pre-expressionist painter JW Turner began some never-finished paintings called "Sunrise and Sea Monsters." And over in the USA something weirder, well at least more spectacular was happening. 

The Director of the St.Louis Zoo "discovered", reconstituted, and exhibited the bones of the Thing Itself. A born showman, Albert Koch called it Hydrarchus, King of the Sea. So --- pretty much proves that the sea monster existed once, right? And with all the witness reports, it still must. 


Koch was more Barnum&Bailey than Baron Cuvier but he wasn't entirely an ignorant man, and he knew something about early palaeontology, but mainly he was an enthusiast who wanted to publicize wonders and make money for himself and the Zoo. He ended up creating such a sensation that he got invitations to pack Hydrarchus up and take it to other cities for exhibit.

Above is a letter from a Mr. Albee to his wife describing his trip to see Koch's monster. It reads:

"Though I found here well on towards an half a million of people I was never more alone {I think this fellow is in NYC}. .... I then went to the Apollo buildings where there is exhibiting the greatest wonder that naturalists have ever discovered. Dr. Koch calls it the Hydrargos. 

It is about 100 feet long, the bones are a good state of preservation. I here made the acquaintance of Dr. Koch of Dresden, of Prof. Silliman, Mr. Locke, the writer of the famous Moon Hoax and other scientific gentlemen ... I was perfectly delighted with the conversation and amply paid for all the attention I have devoted to Geology.

This monstrous skeleton was found in Alabama, everybody here who has seen it believes in the existence of the sea serpent." 

It turns out that they WERE looking at a sea monster, or rather, FIVE of them. Koch. not knowing what he was doing, and having a preconception of sea monster in mind, had tinkered pieces of five Basilosaurus skeletons together to make the beast. 

I leave this long [but to me anyway interesting] trip back into time at this point. For me, the Koch story was fun, but the intrigue is in the many straight-up sounding reports of the sea orms of Norway and elsewhere. Physically real? Candidates for Biology text books? Folkloric Entities of the Waters? Spirit Entities of the Ocean? As usual they seem real and not real at the same time. 

But on to a short series of "other deep water stuff" from this SITU crypto-dump.........


Some nice 1900s serpents.

... and some from the 40s {30s?} too. 

And two from FATE in the 60s.

Below: one that came to SITU after Ivan, but he probably knew about the claim.

In 1981, Gary Mangiacopra sent a news-article-type of possible publication to the SITU editorial board. Somehow it got lost in the correspondence confusion and [I'm almost certain] was never published in PURSUIT. {Gary has since published an expanded version two decades later}. He had uncovered a sea monster claim with a photo in a newspaper file from 1908 [San Francisco Examiner]. Because it seemed forgotten and it had a photo, he rightly considered it noteworthy. This photo was not a sharp photo as Gary was forced to take it from the paper page on which it was printed and under poor conditions, but one does what one can. The whole photo is above, and Gary made separate shots of the two sides of the paper, and sent the negatives to SITU to accompany a possible publication. The negatives, turned positive by me [except for one where I left both a negative and positive] are below. I've tried to clean them up and get as good a contrast as I could.

The Negative version above

Neither of the experts [one was the Smithsonian's George Zug, a pro-Nessie biologist] were impressed with the pictures. Zug told Mangiacopra that he thought the picture could be a fake of a relatively small object. When added to the non-facts about who took the picture and where, this case has been generally dismissed, and perhaps rightly so. 

My humble contribution here is probably valueless, but hope springs eternal. The article states that the picture was taken from the yacht Emerald, as if a reader should recognize that name. AND, if you were alive in 1908, you would. The schooner yacht Emerald, pictured above, was the most famous "Yankee" yacht in the world, and the pride and joy of the Eastern Yacht Club, sailing out of the Boston area. In 1908, the Emerald [owned by a guy named Clarke who was very famous at the time] was making voyages up and down the Eastern coast [racing or just showing off in yachting displays], and so the location of the picture-taking would likely be between Boston Harbor and either North to Maine or perhaps south towards NY. But near the coast. 

But the photographer remains mysterious. Undaunted by lack of evidence for my wild speculations, I offer the following weak sauce: 

The photographer is named in the article as "Professor Sharpe", also as if you should recognize the name. Much later in the 1930s another mention of this case occurred listing him as "BA Sharpe", despite there being no source or hint as to why the new initials. I'm going to disregard these added initials. Why? Well, it makes what I'm about to theorize make more sense, and I think that there's no evidence for "B.A." anyway. So with that B.S. on my part, who could a famous East-Coast Professor Sharpe be? 

Sadly, I can't find any. But I did find THIS guy: Professor Dallas Lore Sharp, Professor of English at Boston University and probably the most honored Nature Writer of his age. 

Hmmmm.... famous.... nature writer..... Boston area.... OH NO!! Wrong spelling!! {Could the news article have gotten it wrong?} 

Well, that's my baloney on this one. IF this picture was taken aboard Clarke's yacht on a Boston-to-Maine run with guest naturalist Dallas Sharp on board, well, THAT would put a rather different light on the credibility of this thing. I'll leave you with that romantic door ajar.

The Chesapeake Bay Sea Serpent. 1982 era.

This is the film frame shot by Frew:

and a later offering by Mike Frizzell of The Enigma Project:

Of course, like almost every cryptozoological picture, this doesn't have much stand-alone value. The Smithsonian could only say "animate but unidentifiable object". 

One last thing for today: 

Ivan had a Popular Science [October 1959] article in his files. I read it, and I liked three of the cases that I've indicated in red in the text. It's a small [5pp] article, so I'll leave it here for your perusal.

More than enough for now, eh? 

Hope that some of it was interesting. Next time maybe I can sort out the ABSM part of the Crypto-dump. Till then, Peace and Good Fortunes.


  1. that's a lot of info to take in ... just scanning some of the articles, the "dispose, for all time" of the Loch Ness Monster back in 1959 due to food seems pragmatically on the mark, the Daedalus sighting is still a head-scratcher due to the detail and strength of the witnesses, the warning by the Coast Guard
    of a 45 foot long turtle draws a chuckle (I personally saw a 2-foot wide alligator snapping turtle in a small lake in Illinois as a boy hiding under a small boat - which I was in alone - still gets my pulse racing) , and I can't help but wonder if a general unfamiliarity with whales and their brethren 100 or 200 years ago didn't account for many of these sightings.

    1. Comments welcome. On the unfamiliarity of the oldsters with whales: time and time again I find that we underestimate how smart these oldsters were, especially about the things related to their livelihoods. If something is in the category of "natural" and "human scale" [i.e. not overly micro- or macro- scopic, or physically hidden due to them not having the technology to uncover it], then the oldtimers seem to be at least as observant of those realities as we are --- sometimes more so, due to our "observational prejudices".

      As to 45 foot turtles ... sigh, yes, I think no way. But the world would be a better place, methinks, should they be frolicking in the Seas.

    2. yes, anyone who spends a lot of time due to occupation on the water and has "seen everything" should be given a lot of weight , but I wonder if rarer whales like narwhals or animals 'out of place' might confuse even a good observer. I'd like to think there are still some unknowns out there, but if so they are doing a great job of staying that way. I guess the Megamouth shark was only discovered in 1976, so who knows ... nobody checks Anomalist more than I do hoping something new is found.

  2. Two of the accounts- Deer Island Catch and The Sea Serpent Report- both involve canoe/rowboat craft. I wonder if the creature looks upward and sees the outline of another of his kind (the canoe being the body with the oars as the flippers), and comes closer to take a peek?

    Mrs. C

    1. Anything's possible with the unknown, but my speculation would say no. Many animals of the sea are simply curious, going towards any unusual stimulus which is not emitting violent sound or action. Most predators would be attracted to non-violent sound in the sea [or chemical stimuli/odor] rather than sight, until you get very close. The canoe and the humans don't have the pheromones to attract, nor the correct sounds. If the unknown was a seal-eater, or some similar prey, then maybe the silhouette might look a little like that, but we don't have sightings which point to that. The animal, if thus it is, is reported as being somewhat curious, but rarely right-in-your-face curious, tending to move away when a boat gets too near. ... and the majority of sightings are not associated with rowboats [in the ocean-going cases, but even in Lochs there are lots of incidents where one gets the feeling that the humans moved towards the entity, not the entity sought them out.]

  3. Yes, that does make sense. I forgot how dark it can be with depth and something of that size probably can really dive into the gloom. <"} Mrs. C



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