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

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Ambiguous Gary Liimatta Footage: A "Cadborosaurus" On Film?

Unidentifiable marine animals have been reported numerous times throughout history, but footage of such animals seems to almost never be produced. Could the Gary Liimatta footage show an unknown denizen of the deep? (Artwork by Thomas Finley)
While browsing cryptozoological documentaries on YouTube, I came upon a small clip of footage which caught my interest. The film in question was recorded in 1969 by Gary Liimatta while he was on a pleasure cruise off the coast of Vancouver Island.1 It appears to show an animal with rather large head atop an eight foot long neck, and was described by Gary as looking rather similar to a very large turtle without a shell. While a few details of the description do initially bring a leatherback turtle to mind, the animal in the footage is quite clearly not an individual of this species. I have shared links to segments of the documentary which exclusively features the Liimatta footage below. Although these clips are rather short, Gary Liimatta and Dr. Paul H. LeBlond are featured giving some brief input.

The segment featuring the Liimatta footage starts at 9:50 and proceeds until the end of the video.

The segment featuring the Liimatta footage starts at 0:00 and ends at 0:30.
The Facebook page "Lake Monsters" posted this excellent video which contains the full footage without the other segments which are in the documentary clips above.

Although the subject of the footage is unfortunately unclear, I did put together some comparative images between stills from the footage (these do have a slight contrast filter applied, but nothing artificial has been added) and the appearances of other alleged "sea serpents" and a few candidates for the identity of such reported animals. The first paste-up, shown below, compares the eyewitness sketches of two large-headed and large-eyed "sea serpents" (Isle of Man animal at the left and the Easington animal at the right) with two stills from the Liimatta footage. While the allegedly unknown animal seen off the Isle of Man by Major W. Peer Groves, his wife, and their children in 1928 could be initially dismissed as a mangled recounting of a known pinniped, it is worth noting that Michael (Grove's son who shared details of their encounter with Bernard Heuvelmans) was an oft traveler and was knowledgeable in zoology.2 The observation also apparently took place at a fairly close range and lasted for a lengthy period of time.2 Michael drew Heuvelmans a sketch of the witnessed animal which had a distinctly diamond-shaped head, large eyes which were described as gentle-looking, a wide mouth, a cylindrical neck, and sparse long whiskers.2 The account which Major Groves originally gave to the Daily Mail in 1933 included features such as the head being about as large as that of a bull with a long snout similar to that of a dog.2 The "sea serpent" reportedly seen by Joan Borgeest while she was on the coast of Easington, England around 1938 has a striking similarity to the Isle of Mann animal, although it does seem to have displayed some more reptilian characteristics. The animal was described as having a green colored body, a rather flat head, large protruding eyes, a mouth which opened and shut as it breathed, and movement through a 'humped glide'.2 It was approximately 100 yards away from Mrs. Borgeest and dived once she called out to other people nearby.2 While the similarities between the reported animals and the subject of the Liimatta footage may be seen as merely superficial, it does demonstrate that "sea serpents" with large heads and medium length portions of their neck held above the water have been reported in the past.
Isle of Man (top left) and Easington (top right) "sea serpent" sketches compared to stills from the Liimatta footage.
(Eyewitness sketches are from Cameron McCormick's Biological Marginalia Tumblr)
Heuvelmans interpreted these "sea serpents" as being the same species as his hypothetical "Merhorse", on account of their diamond-shaped heads and large, striking eyes.2 Under his summary of reported details for merhorses, Heuvelmans writes that the head of these animals is generally described as tapering in profile, looking like a horse's or camel's, but that it is also very wide, making it look diamond-shaped from in front and thus like a snake's.2 Although this sounds like a puzzling connection between two seemingly contrasted features, it is worth noting that the skulls of some plesiosaur specimens can give different impressions based on the viewing angle.
Two different views of a toothless Cryptoclidus oxoniensis skull, with one angle giving the appearance of a wide head and the other
showing a more tapered appearance. (Image from Scott Mardis; original source unknown, although this specimen does appear to be
from the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris.)
Unidentifiable marine animals similar to those reported by Michael Groves, Joan Borgeest, and several others have been reported in the waters off British Columbia, where they are often referred to as 'cadborosaurus'. But before hypothesizing that the Liimatta footage shows an actual "sea serpent", the ever-present possibility of misidentification should be considered. Cryptozoological researcher Dale Drinnon suggested that the footage showed nothing more than a Northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris), a large phocid species which can grow 14-16 feet long and weigh 3,000-5,000 pounds.3 These impressive mammals dive to deep depths in order to obtain prey, typically 1,000-2,000 feet deep but one dive was recorded at a stunning 5,000 feet.3 Male elephant seals often 'stand' vertically in the water when surfacing, sometimes raising their head about a meter above the water, giving the superficial appearance of a "sea serpent" with dark eyes and an overhanging upper lip.4 Could the alleged shelless turtle-like "sea serpent" seen by Gary Liimatta have been a case of misidentification involving an elephant seal? The following comparative image juxtapositions two stills from the Liimatta footage with a male elephant seal, a female elephant seal, and a sea lion (as suggested by a commenter on a forum regarding the footage) in reared up positions. While the rounded heads of the elephant seals do liken them to the animal shown in the Liimatta footage, the rather elongate neck of the allegedly unknown animal does not seem to be a similarity shared with the seals. However, this could be due to a variety of factors such as that the selection of photographs I chose are not representative of every elephant seal appearance or that the camera angle was different. Either way, it does not appear that the animal in the footage can be immediately identified as an individual of Mirounga angustirostris.

A male elephant seal, female elephant seal, and a sea lion (respectively) compared to stills from the Liimatta footage.
Other cryptozoological researchers, Scott Mardis and Chuck Pogan, have both remarked to me that the animal filmed and described by Gary Liimatta does seem to have some reptilian characteristics. Chuck noted that the way which the animal slowly submerges reminds him of some aquatic turtles; a detail which also brings reports of "sea serpents" that are described as 'leisurely' submerging to my mind. Scott Mardis told me that he used to have a copy of the eyewitness sketch which Gary Liimatta apparently drew of the creature he filmed. According to Scott, the sketched animal looked rather similar to a pliosaur with a large head and flippers like those of a leatherback turtle. However, Scott does not have the sketch currently in his possession and we will have to rely on his description for its details. 
File:Rhomaleosaurus BW.jpg
Rhomaleosaurus pliosaur which is illustrated as similar to a leatherback turtle in some aspects of its appearance.
(Image Source:

While the poor quality of the footage may cause suspicion to some, it is important to remember that conditions at sea such as inadequate lighting, fogginess, rain, and several other factors often prevent clear images. Still, such indefinite footage cannot be regarded as definite evidence for the existence of unknown marine animals, and it is best to leave it as inconclusive. Thus, my creation of an article focused on the film is representative of an interest due to its being one of the few videos which is allegedly of a "sea serpent" and is accompanied by good eyewitness testimony rather than confidence in its legitimacy.

  1. "The British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club." The British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2014.
  2. Heuvelmans, Bernard, Richard Garnett, and Alika Watteau. In the Wake of the Sea-serpents. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968. Print.
  3. "Introduction to Elephant Seals." Friends of the Elephant Seal. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.
  4. "The Cadborosaurus Wars." Scientific American Global RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.


  1. The "Turtle without a shell" comparison, as also used by D.Hall to describe
    his close up sightings of Champ is interesting. A Leatherback or Softshell
    (Dermochelys or Trionychid) type carapace might go un-noticed as a shell at all.
    These type of Chelonians can look like they've been "tool-dipped" in hot plastic,
    and the identification of a separate shell is minimized by the flexible, smoothed
    out and continuous contours, further compounded in this case by the darkness of night.
    Additionally, with these turtles, there can be a homogenous color scheme over the shell and body which can result in enhancing the impression of no shell at all.
    The "furry face," if and when mentioned on any Longneck report, could be a face
    full of barbels, tubercles and/or sensory folicles, of which Snake Neck Turtles (Chelidae) are known to have in abundance, especially around mating season.
    Because living Turtles are familiar to science, and their present diversity, great size
    (over 1 ton for Dermochelys) and resistance to extinction are well documented, it shouldn't be far fetched to be of the opinion that it's possible that Longnecks could be uncategorized members of the order of Testudines, with both Cryptodires and Pleurodires fielding possible Sea Serpent and Lake Monster contenders in respective camps.
    Kudos to Jay for addressing this surreal, nocturnal footage. Great job !

    1. Yes, and a turtle-like comparison has also been used by the two naturalists who saw a "sea serpent" while on board the Valhalla and by the individual who claimed to have photographed a "sea serpent" off the Devon Coast. Scott Mardis has pointed out similarities between some reported unknown aquatic animals and mata matas which is featured in another one of my articles. I need to amend that one, as the possiblity of the "horns" being reported on these animals as tubercles like those of mata mata turtles is seeming more and more likely to me. Thanks for this thought-provoking comments.

  2. Hello,

    Yes, even the sketch made by McCleary in relation to the Pensacola incident shows clearly some type of unknown turtle :

  3. Convergent evolution IMO, Garry Liimata's drawing also depicts obviously a turtle. For instance Ocepechelon did partially managed to look like a Pipefish, so it's not really a big stretch for one to look like a Plesiosaur... Besides Karl Shuker thinks now those marine leviathans are in fact crocodilians rather than mosasaurians, and if those latters didn't survive until up our era, I don't see why the same couldn't be applied to Plesios.

    1. Yes, you do have an excellent point there. However, the turtle hypothesis still doesn't exactly sit with me in that it doesn't account for the descriptions of variable humps (unless they're juveniles which have climbed onto the backs of adults, as suggested by Chuck Pogan), the rare reports of fish-like teeth, or the liklihood that these animals give birth to live young.

  4. But what about the Clark brothers 100 ft sea serpents cavorting in sf bay,which approached Clark,and shook its also held its head,and had a dragon type face,as painted on animal x?

    1. My interpretation of the San Francisco reports is a probable mix of observations of standing wakes and possibly a few genuine longneck reports. This is assuming that the Clark Brothers are being truthful.

    2. Did you watch the videos? You can see the snake like bodies,arcing and diving.the forensic vid expert confirmed it was real and longer than 100 feet.
      Animal x

    3. In my opinion, the video really is far too ambiguous for judgement to be made. I have seen an analysis which suggested that it was a flock of birds, which it does initially look like to me. However, some of the other analyses I have seen show "arches" similar to that which is shown in a photograph from Loch Ness (can be found at ) and what looks like possible head and necks in the act of periscoping. But these are simply possibly interpretations and I am not suggesting that those are what they actually are. So I think it could be a group of longnecks, but it also could be a flock of birds or something else which is already known.

    4. I've met and spoken with the Clark brothers, they saw this thing up close when it was chasing a sea lion. Really up close. See their comment below and check out their blog. It wasn't birds or turtles.They thought it was a snake at first but it was way too big and the face was not like a snake, plus it had fins.

    5. Interestingly, there was a "sea serpent" described as being like a huge eel with antennae seen killing seals near the Queen Charlotte Islands and a plesiosaur-shaped animal seen doing the same off Cornwall. So, as pointed out by Dale Drinnon, it seems that there is a trend of reports of such animals killing or hunting sea lions. The Clark Brothers did report a reptilian animal, correct?

    6. Correct, it had scales. The face they described sounded dragon-ish - my word, not theirs. Roz Palmer

  5. Jay and Anon, If you want to know more about our sightings and videos of sea serpents in SF Bay as well as the other sightings of sea serpents in SF Bay since 1873 then go to our blog at where we have posted a lot of information. Bill and Bob Clark

    1. Hello, and thank you for commenting here! I will definitely check out your blog. If you'd ever like to talk about you sightings or videos, I have open ears and would be very interested. My email is


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