An exploration of our Earth's ever-captivating fauna through musings on the bizarre side of Zoology, Cryptozoology, Paleontology, and Paleoanthropology

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Reported Interactions Between 'Sea Serpents' And Cetaceans: Predator or Perhaps Playful?


Artwork by Aleks Mats, depicting a long-necked 'sea serpent' which was reported to have been chasing dolphins.
I had recently asked cryptozoology enthusiast Aleks Mats, who has created artwork for this blog before, if he would be willing to do a painting based off of an intriguing 'sea serpent' sighting for me. The sighting involved a pod of dolphins which appeared to be fleeing from a longneck (a term used by cryptozoological researchers to refer to the long-necked mystery animals reported in the ocean and lakes). As Dale Drinnon pointed out in an article which he wrote on the subject, there were three specific reports involving such alleged predation habits in Anton Oudemans' comprehensive book The Great Sea Serpent. The first report of such a manner in Oudemans' book was near Northern Ireland, where an animal which was estimated to have been around fifty eight feet long with a long neck and head held above the water was reportedly seen swimming between a group of porpoises. The animal allegedly had smooth skin, eyes situated over its jaw, and eight "splits" which were interpreted by Oudemans as likely being folds in the skin on the neck. The second report occurred in Margaret's Bay, Novia Scotia, where a long-necked 'sea serpent' which had a skin coloration of dark brown or black with irregular streaks of white was seen in apparent pursuit of a pod of 'grampuses' (another name for Risso's dolphin). The third report in Oudemans' book occurred between Ireland and the Faroe Islands, where a longneck was reportedly seen in apparent pursuit of a pod of porpoises until it dived "head foremost, like a duck." This interesting and in-depth report involved a description of the 'sea serpent' as having a head like that of a horse, a neck estimated as being as thick as a man's waist, neck movement "like that of a swan", neck posture of a right angle when surfacing, and nostrils which may have been held wide open. Zoologist Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans also included such reports of dolphins and porpoises being 'chased' by longnecks in his book In The Wake of Sea Serpents. But could the cause of such intriguing reports of dolphins and porpoises being 'pursued' by longnecks be something other than predation by the longnecks? It seems that this is likely the case, which was the subject of a discussion that I had with two great cryptozoological minds: Matt Bille and Dale Drinnon.

Depiction of a longneck by Tim Morris, with dolphins and the average features reported in such sightings added by Dale Drinnon.

After I had shared Aleks' fantastic illustration on the Bizarre Zoology Facebook page, cryptozoological researcher Dale Drinnon started an intriguing discussion by pointing out that a longneck would likely find no benefit in trying to hunt dolphins. This inference is due to reports which indicate that the animals' heads would be too small to swallow or inflict major harm upon the marine mammals. Matt Bille had picked up on the conversation and pointed out that as dolphins and porpoises will often ride the bow waves of large animals such as humpback whales, could it be possible that the cetaceans in the reports were merely riding the bow wave of a longneck? Dale and I both thought that this was the most likely explanation, as dolphins or porpoises rapidly swimming in front of a longneck to catch the waves which it creates could certainly be interpreted as a predatory pursuit. Dale's interpretation of such an occurrence is above, in which he added bow wave-riding dolphins and the average features reported in such sightings to a longneck illustration by Tim Morris. Here are examples of dolphins riding the bow waves of a whale and a boat, demonstrating that such behavior which is similar to the reports in question does occur.

Go to 1:20 of the video above to see the dolphins bow ride off of a blue whale. Do note that if dolphins were to bow ride off of a faster swimming animal, they would need to swim ahead at a quick speed. The following video shows dolphins bow riding off of a ship, which allows you to see that they will swim ahead of a large object in a manner which could be interpreted as fleeing a predator.

I think that it should also be considered that the cetaceans could have possibly been engaging in a playful behavior with the longnecks, as dolphins and porpoises have been known to engage in such playful interaction with other mammalian species such as sea lions. Either way, I was glad to be a part of a discussion which may have solved a question that has puzzled fellow cryptozoological researchers.

References:
  • Oudemans, A. C. The Great Sea-serpent. An Historical and Critical Treatise. With the Reports of 187 Appearances ... the Suppositions and Suggestions of Scientific and Non-scientific Persons, and the Author's Conclusions. With 82 Illustrations. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1892. Print.
  • "Frontiers of Zoology: Longnecks Are Reported to Chase Dolphins." Frontiers of Zoology: Longnecks Are Reported to Chase Dolphins. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2013. http://frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com/2013/06/longnecks-are-reported-to-chase-dolphins.html.
Update:
At a time after the writing and publication of this article, I came in contact with marine biologist and cryptozoological researcher Bruce Champagne. Bruce is well known among the field of 'sea serpent' research for his thesis A Classification System For Large, Unidentified Marine Animals Based On The Examination Of Reported Observations. In this paper, he collected and analyzed 1,247 accounts of unidentified marine animals in order to create ten 'categories' of 'sea serpents' which were assigned a rating of likelihood based off of the quality and accuracy of representative reports. He has been so kind as to provide me with a copy of this unparalleled work, and I have been reading and scrutinizing it ever since. Cryptozoological researcher Dale Drinnon has written an excellent review of the 'categories' here, but I will refrain from doing so extensively until a later time. I have been especially interested in Champagne's long-necked 'categories', which he has dubbed the Type 1 Animals. There are two 'subcategories' under this type: the Type 1A Animal (described and illustrated here and here) and the Type 1B Animal (described in this article with an illustration below). One feature mentioned under the passage describing the latter alleged animal especially caught my attention in regard to this article, and I thought that it would be appropriate to review this as an amendment. According to Bruce Champagne's description as inferred from reports, the Type 1B Animal is a smaller and probably more primitive relative of the Type 1A Animal. It accounted for five reports in Bruce's database, a small number leading me to think that the allegedly observed animals are synonymous with the Type 1A Animals but were simply described or observed in a different manner. The Type 1B animals were only reported from the North Atlantic Ocean region near the British Isles and Denmark, where there are similar quantities of benthic biomass and phytoplankton/zooplankton production levels. They possess a muscular long neck and a head which has been described as similar in shape or appearance to that of a cow, horse, or giraffe. The head is commonly reported to be of a greater diameter than that of the neck, an apparent dissimilarity from the Type 1A Animals. Big round eyes, heavy brow ridges, large jaws, and a "ruffle" or series of grooves behind the head (likely elastic skin which has bunched up) has also been reported in the head/neck region. The body of these 'sea serpents' is described as being around seventeen meters (near fifty five feet) in length with smooth skin and a uniformly dark coloration. The thought-provoking feature which I mentioned earlier is that sixty percent of the recorded observations entailed the Type 1B Animals swimming in the presence of small cetaceans. Champagne notes that the cetaceans were not observed to be noticeably fleeing from the long-necked animals, and suggests that the 'sea serpents' were frequenting the pods in order to locate prey or be protected from predators. The latter concept makes the most sense to me, as the long necks of these unidentified animals would certainly be vulnerable to critical wounds if attacked by predators. Thus, an 'early warning system' consisting of cetaceans which would alert the longnecks to approaching predators would be of great benefit to the Type 1B Animals. This may be interpreted as suggesting symbiosis between the two marine animal species, with the long-necked animals gaining protection from predators and the small cetaceans riding the bow waves produced by the 'sea serpents'. However, this is pure speculation until future data arises, assuming that there is anything substantial to the idea. 

Tim Morris' illustration of the Type 1B Animal, as Bruce Champagne inferred from alleged observations.

5 comments:

  1. I am quite sure that Matte Bille is not a zoologist, nor does he claim to be such.

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    1. I must've read that wrong somewhere. Thanks for informing me.

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  2. Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Apparently I can't spell the last name of one of my closes friends haha, thanks Gavlier*!

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