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

Monday, December 30, 2013

Hagan Carcass Comparison Images (Part 5—Conclusions)

Eyewitness sketch of the Hagan carcass (middle) and images of the two most plausible identities (above and below).
(Part 4 can be found here)
In this, the final installment of the Hagan Carcass Comparison Series, I will review two possible hypotheses which I have formulated after researching possible identities for the enigmatic carcass reported by Ms. Julie Hagan. The first hypothesis involves a scenario of misidentification: the carcass being that of a known species. Commenters have suggested a wide variety of animal species which could have been misidentified in this case, from oddly decomposed sturgeons to false catsharks. While many aspects of sturgeon morphology are in disagreement with those described for the Hagan Carcass, false catsharks can grow to a length of ten feet and can have a similar appearance to the carcass with their wide angular heads and other body features1. These sharks are also rare deep-water fish1, and thus would likely not be identified by the average person if found swollen and slightly decomposed on shore.
Comparison between Ms. Hagan's sketches of the Hagan carcass (middle), an image of a false catshark carcass (top), and several images of decomposing sturgeon carcasses (bottom).
(False catshark image is from here, sturgeon carcass image at upper left is from here, sturgeon carcass image at upper right is from here, and sturgeon carcass image at the bottom is from here)
Please click to enlarge

However, not all false catshark specimens have the same appearance as the one in the comparison above, and it seems that a marine mammal is a much likelier explanation based off of Ms. Hagan's description. Going off the likelihood that the carcass was mammalian in nature, it seems that the carcass was possibly that of a known beaked whale species (or a different cetacean species known to science). As eyewitnesses are notoriously bad at recalling features of animal carcasses which are unidentifiable to them, this seems to be a quite plausible explanation. The hind flippers alleged to have been present on the carcass may have been an atavistic trait (as seen on this four-flippered dolphin found off the coast of southwestern Japan), a mangled dorsal fin which was twisted in a manner which was lateral to the body (also suggested for the "Gambo" carcass2, although it wouldn't explain the appearance of two hind flippers), or possibly mutilated strips of flesh which were hanging off the carcass giving the appearance of hind flippers (as suggested by cryptozoological researcher Tyler Stone in correspondence with me). Looking at Ms. Hagan's sketches of the carcass, it appears that the animal had a characteristically domed head which indicates a melon. Modern day, advanced cetaceans possess this fatty structure which is located in the forehead and acts as an acoustic lens for echolocation sound production.3 Thus, it seems that a very plausible explanation for the identity of the Hagan carcass is that of a known cetacean species.
3D models of the melons of various cetaceans (including a beaked whale: Ziphius) compared to Ms. Hagan's sketches of the unknown carcass. (Source for image at left is here)
 A possible candidate for the species which the Hagan carcass may have been representative of is the giant ziphiid known as Baird's beaked whale, as previously suggested by Scott Mardis. These marine mammals grow to maximum lengths of 42 feet (males generally reach sexual maturity at 32-36 feet) and have a range which includes the southern California/Baja region, although they are rarely sighted.4 Their heads have a distinctively bulbous forehead (location of the melon) which slopes steeply into a long and rather thin beak.4 These cetaceans also have small, triangular dorsal fins and crescent shaped blowholes which are located near their large foreheads.4 The aforementioned features and the 15 foot length of Baird's beaked whale juveniles4 point to the possibility that the Hagan carcass was the decomposed/mutilated or mutated body of such a cetacean (or a similar species). Furthermore, the fact that carcasses of these beaked whales have been misinterpreted as relict archaeocetes and even relict plesiosaurs strengthens the notion.
A drawing and images of Baird's beaked whales compared to the Hagan carcass drawings.
(Source of the image at the top is here; image at upper right is from here; image at middle right is from here; image at lower right is from here)
Aside from the mutated or mutilated known beaked whale hypothesis, there is the possibility that the carcass belonged to an unknown or relict cetacean species. Could it have been a form of unknown beaked whale, as Coleman and Huyghe have tried to explain the Gambo carcass as2? This notion is certainly plausible as beaked whales are very elusive animals, with some species growing to the size of an elephant yet still never seen alive.5 The reported presence of four flippers on the Hagan carcass brings another possibility to the cryptozoological surface. As discussed in previous articles on the matter (here and here), this is the idea that the Hagan carcass belonged to a relict member of Archaeoceti. The thought of relict archaeocetes being behind some unknown aquatic animal reports is not a novel one, as other cryptozoological researchers have previously suggested this. In his book Follow The Whale, biologist and cryptozoological researcher Ivan Sanderson briefly wrote on the possibility of relict forms of archaeocetes (including smaller species like those previously suggested to be related to the Hagan carcass) and suggested that "perhaps there are Acrodelphids still cruising the oceans, Zeuglodons browsing in lakes, lochs, and fjords, the ancestors of these in tropical rivers, and even some 'First Ancestors' on their banks."6 Although cryptozoological researcher Bernard Heuvelmans felt that Sanderson was a bit too enthusiastic at times (quite a justifiable feeling, in the opinion of this author), he thought that Follow The Whale held "the key to the whole of the problem of the great serpentiforms": the point that the bodies of sea-animals tend to be more elongated with increased body size.6 Heuvelmans himself hypothesized that witnesses of "sea serpents" which possessed a string of dorsal humps, a narrow medium-length neck, a dorsal fin, and a bilobate tail were seeing relict archaeocetes which he referred to as "Many-Humped sea-serpents."6 These hypothetical unknown aquatic animals are, according to Heuvelmans, close relatives of the basilosaurids which grow between 60 and 100 feet, have a longitudinal series of humps forming a crest like that of sperm whales, move in vertical undulations which produce an effect "like a caterpillar's motion", primarily inhabit regions of the North Atlantic, and have been reported approximately 59 times since 1968.6 Noteworthy in regard to this article, as the Hagan carcass was reported to have small wiry hairs on its body, Heuvelmans also suggested that some reports of whiskered "sea serpents" may have been sightings of relict archaeocetes.6 He backed this suggestion by pointing out that newborn cetaceans tend to have a few hairs around their mouth, possibly hinting that their ancestors had "moustaches."6 While details of the Hagan carcass do not fit with what Heuvelmans defined as his "Many-Humped sea-serpents", it has been pointed out in a previous article that the carcass does match Bruce Champagne's Type 2B "sea serpent." I do not feel that overviewing the possible archaeocete candidates for the Hagan carcass is necessary again because, as mentioned before, I and other authors have written extensively about them before. The fact that several other cryptozoological researchers have hypothesized that Archaeoceti lineages may still survive suggests that the concept of the Hagan carcass being the body of such an animal is plausible.
A rendition of Heuvelmans' "Many-Humped sea-serpent" by Oberon Zell. (Image Source: here
Sketches from reports which Heuvelmans cited as anecdotal evidence of relict archaeocetes; most appear to have been standing waves or
 known animals/groups of known cetaceans. (Source of images is here)
(Please click to enlarge)

In conclusion, I feel that the hypothesis that the Hagan carcass belonged to a mutilated or mutated known beaked whale species is most likely. The archaeocetes hypothesis suffers from multiple factors such as the ghost lineage in the fossil record which would have to exist for such species to have survived to the modern day and advanced cetacean features which the sketches indicate the carcass possessed (notably, the blowhole and possible melon). Occam's Razor would suggest that, as deceased beaked whales have been misinterpreted as unknown animals before, this is the most plausible explanation. I am not doubting Ms. Julie Hagan's reliability or observation skills by saying this, but I feel that past occurrences and other information infers that she witnessed the carcass of a known member of Ziphiidae (possibly Baird's beaked whale). Thus, she did likely see an elusive and enigmatic marine animal after all, just not an entirely unknown species. However, in the absence of photographs or samples from the carcass itself, researchers are left to speculate. Perhaps the carcass did belong to an unknown animal, one of the sea's many remaining secrets; it's impossible to be certain for now. While this seems to sadly be another dead end, it is an interesting report which may gain much importance if a similar carcass arises in the future. Thank you for taking the lengthy dive into these anomalous depths with me, an endeavor which began on that fateful June day. With a final thanks to Ms. Hagan for being so kind with discussing what she witnessed with me, I end my research into the Hagan carcass....for now.

Beaked whales are extraordinary cetaceans; growing to stunning sizes and often remaining unseen from humans.
My research indicates that Ms. Hagan most likely witnessed the carcass of such a bizarre beast.

(Please click on the "Hagan Carcass" label located on the right side of my blog for my previous articles on the subject)
The previous Hagan Carcass comparison articles are as follows:Hagan Carcass Comparisons (Part 1—Introduction)
Hagan Carcass Comparisons (Part 2—"Gambo" and Type 2B "Sea Serpents")
Hagan Carcass Comparison Images (Part 3—Mammals)
Hagan Carcass Comparison Images (Part 4—Marine Reptiles)

  1. "False Cat Shark, Deep Sea Sharks, Deep Sea Animals, Sea Sharks." False Cat Shark, Deep Sea Sharks, Deep Sea Animals, Sea Sharks. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.
  2. Coleman, Loren, and Patrick Huyghe. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003. Print.
  3. "Cetacea." Tree of Life Web Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
  4. "Baird’s Beaked Whale." American Cetacean Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Dec. 2013.
  5. Black, Richard. "Beaked Whales - into the Abyss." BBC News. BBC, 29 Sept. 2008. Web. 29 June 2013.
  6. Heuvelmans, Bernard, Richard Garnett, and Alika Watteau. In the Wake of the Sea-serpents. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968. Print.

1 comment:

  1. hello i just think this is true basked whales have these look,
    but what me startle is the extra set on fines.
    I know that there is captured bottlenose dolphin who has a exra set of fins?
    Hagen describe a complete fresh carcas with just a wound.
    I think what she have seen was a extraorinary animal, with a mutated fins.
    Please tell me if my thoughts could be correct.


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