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

Thursday, June 12, 2014

An Alleged Florida 'Sea Monster' Video And A Review of Sunshine State Reports

Alleged 'sea serpent' evidence rarely makes it into the attention of the general public, but when it does, I scrutinize it in light of my extensive research. (Artwork by Thomas Finley which, interestingly, bears some resemblance to a series of particular reports described in this article)
A YouTube video alleging to show a 'Loch Ness monster'-like animal in the shallow bay area of Sanibel Island, Florida has been making the rounds lately and puzzling those who have seen it. According to the individual who posted the footage, he was on a fishing boat with his fiancé when they witnessed what looked almost like a bus speeding through the water. Although they originally suspected it to be a manatee, it is stated in the video's description that the animal had a head which "resembled a sea otter" and a body which "looked like a giant 20 foot plus snake". Its length and width was likened to "a cement utility poll laying down horizontally". This video is quite ambiguous owing to its poor quality, thus the reason why viewers have been without a certain explanation for the animal's identity, but I have shared it below for readers to examine.
Supporting the idea of an unknown species of large marine animal visiting the waters off Florida is the fact that 'sea serpents' have been reported in this region before. I have attempted to compile every alleged sighting of a 'sea serpent' from The Sunshine State which I can locate with the resources available to me. While these may not bear any true relevance to the video in question, they are still interesting pieces of data which must be considered in regard to the aforementioned proposition. Two navy men stationed at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station reportedly observed a long-necked animal with 'antennae' atop a head similar to that of a dog.1 Two fishermen reported a similar animal on a separate occasion, reflecting some of the 'cadborosaurus' reports from British Columbia.1 In 1885, former President of the Humane Society Mr. Gordon reportedly observed a forty-two foot long carcass of an unknown nature in the New River Inlet. The animal carcass was missing a head and possessed a rather slender neck, two fore-flippers, a tail of great length, and protruding intestines and vertebrae.2 Like so many before and after it, the enigmatic carcass was lost after a storm washed it back into the sea.2 While some researchers had considered this to most likely have been a genuine 'sea serpent' carcass, Bernard Heuvelmans suggested a decomposed whale shark turned 'pseudoplesiosaur', an idea owing to the rarity of basking sharks off Florida.2 Charles M. Blackford III related several reports of strange marine animals from his former shipmates in the merchant navy to cryptozoological researcher Ivan Sanderson, one of which involved a sighting occurring between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.2 The several members of the crew aboard the Craigsmere described seeing, in July of 1920, an animal which was "long with dorsal fins somewhat like a porpoise, only several in number" and possessed a head which was "some distance ahead of the body and submerged".2 While Heuvelmans likened this report to 'sea serpents' with multiple lateral fins and round heads described elsewhere2, it sounds like a mistaken observation of dolphins to me. In March of 1943, former U.S. Marine Thomas Helm and his wife encountered an alleged 'sea serpent' while sailing in St. Andrew's Bay.2 When the animal was almost beside their boat, it turned its head and startled the couple with its peculiar appearance unlike that of an otter or seal.2 They reported the animal as having a basketball-sized head like "that of a monstrous cat" atop an approximately four foot long neck.2 It was covered with wet fur which was "uniformly a rich chocolate brown", and had glistening black eyes which were well-defined and about the size of a silver dollar.2 The animal appeared to have "a flattened black nose" and "a mustache of stiff black hairs with a downward curve on each side".2 Helm concluded his report by stating that "a great dragonlike head with tooth-studded jaws would be much easier to explain away than a catlike head as large as that of a Bengal tiger."2 As could be expected, his detailed and trustworthy report has continued to compel yet puzzle cryptozoological researchers to this day. However, Dale Drinnon has made the suggestion that Helm and his wife may have observed a female elephant seal, pointing out that "in some positions an elephant seal's neck could well look four feet long, especially if the fore flippers were held tight to the sides, and the neck would have a 'waisted' appearance behind the head, more narrow than the head."3 Arguably the most striking 'sea serpent' report from Florida (perhaps that of all the recorded anecdotes) is the alleged Penascola incident. On March 24, 1962, Edward McCleary and his skin-diving companions were supposedly the prey of a long-necked 'sea serpent' after attempting to dive to a shipwreck.2 The five teenagers were lost in the fog on a rubber raft when they suddenly heard a loud hissing sound and smelled a foul odor (a feature which has been reported at other locations like Lake Champlain, as researcher Chuck Pogan would surely point out).2 After a ten foot pole-like object which was described as leading up to a head like that of a turtle could be seen coming towards their raft, the divers panicked and went into the water.2 McCleary was apparently the only survivor to return, having spent the remainder of the night on the raft's wreckage.2 According to those who claim to have contact with him, he suffers from extreme 'survivor's guilt' to this day.1 Such an astonishing story and poor corroborative material have led some researchers such as Heuvelmans  and Matt Bille to consider the report to be a probable hoax, although others continue to look into the case. Alleged Florida 'sea monster' footage taken by Gene Sowerwine caused much excitement when it was revealed on an episode of MonsterQuest in 2007, but it was later found to show both a manatee with an injured tail and a wayward bearded seal.1 Lastly, it is worth noting that unidentified animals have been reported in Normandy (Dale Drinnon thinks that reports from this location are probably based off of large elephant seals), Lake Powell, and Lake Tarpon, but there are no specific reports which I feel are of importance to reproduce here.
A rendition of the New River Inlet carcass, by the superb artist Tim Morris, based off of Mr. Gordon's description and sketch.

Compilation of images related to the alleged Penascola incident from Scott Mardis: McCleary's sketch, a map showing the location of the supposed occurrence, and the cover of the Fate magazine originally featuring the report.
Illustration by Lawrence DeMeza depicting the alleged Penascola 'sea serpent' stalking its prey
While compelling reports, sometimes made by trained observers, certainly raise the possibility of an unknown form of marine animal occasionally inhabiting the waters off Florida, the video in question is not irrefutable evidence for this prospect. From initially viewing the footage, I had inferred that a large marine mammal of some form may have been shown. I suspected a small to medium-sized whale or perhaps a manatee: a null hypothesis which has been repeated by those who I have discussed the video with. However, owing to its ambiguity, we are in no way claiming that these are the only explanations. Biological researcher Cameron McCormick made the conjecture that a manatee was filmed, on account of the apparent rounded flukes. Cryptozoological researchers Scott Mardis and Dale Drinnon suspect that it may have been a small whale, although Dale also wonders if the animal was a large seal. Although I do not wish to accuse possibly-honest witnesses of exaggerating encounters with known marine animals in order to advertise a good or service, it should be noted that a link to Boka's Bike Creation, Rental, and Repair Studio is included in the video's description. This, along with the dramatic video title, leads me to feel some suspicion. Thus, I feel that it was most likely a case of someone trying to gain business leads through alleging ambiguous footage of a known marine mammal to show a 'Loch Ness monster'-like animal. While it is extremely unfortunate that such things happen, it is important that critical minded researchers weed through such material in order to determine if there is any true substance behind cryptozoological allegations. But perhaps it was an honest case of misidentification or the couple behind the video truly were unable to identify the animal: I invite them to contact me if this was the case. In the end, as with a lot of alleged cryptozoological evidence, this video alone is not definitive evidence for anything unknown and will simply remain as an ambiguity in some peoples' minds unless further data supporting it arises.

  1. Marlowe, Scott. The Cryptid Creatures of Florida. Great Britain: CFZ, 2011. Print.
  2. Heuvelmans, Bernard, Richard Garnett, and Alika Watteau. In the Wake of the Sea-serpents. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968. Print.
  3. Drinnon, Dale A. "Mediterranean Merhorse." Frontiers of Zoology. N.p., 8 July 2013. Web. 11 June 2014.


  1. Nice - You included important details of the Pensacola story, that are usually ignored. I'm out on the water down by point Romano here every week and we see unknowns all the time. Manatees are common and easy to identify, as are large Tiger Sharks, and we just saw a 10 foot Manta Ray last week up close. Whales are also easy to identify, but there is something else in the waters of SW Florida that we see often but are unable to get a good picture of. Something bigger than a manatee that moves away quickly when approached. I'm keeping my video camera handy just in case I get lucky. Great job Jay !

    1. Thanks, Chuck! Excellent; be prepared for quick action shots if need be. Perhaps you should try taking non-motored vehicles like kayaks out into the areas where you see the unidentifiable animals. That could possibly give you an edge of secrecy in finding out what your mystery animals are.

  2. The everglades has developed an alarming population of nearly undetectable Burmese Pythons, I think that's exactly what this is, and explains the "Lake Tarpon - Tarpie" sightings

    "I live on lake tarpon and have been wondering about "Tarpie" for the last few months since hearing about it...

    Bear with me for a second, this might sound crazy but I think I might have this figured out -

    Ever since the 1980's, the Everglades have started to develop an infestation of Burmese Pythons, native to parts of Asia, and imported into the US for trade as exotic pets. They have since been banned for being used as pets due to their hardy, NEARLY UNDETECTABLE, and extremely invasive nature when released into the wild.

    These snakes can grow up to 19 feet...(alleged Tarpie sightings depict Tarpie to be about 15-20 feet in length, long, slender and very reptile/snake-like) and once these "pets" get to this length they are extremely difficult to keep. And frankly illegal. They require a large cage/enclosure and plenty of food.

    I'm not sure why nobody else has considered the idea that if it's possible to develop a Burmese Python infestation in the Everglades...that maybe ONE PERSON who lived on Lake Tarpon (plenty of wealthy 2/3 story mansions (AKA - the typical exotic pet owner)) let their Python loose in Lake Tarpon, or perhaps broke himself out of his cage?

    Not like a pet owner would report an illegal pet missing....

    Ok so you think this is all pretty crazy...some huge snakelike monster MIGHT actually exist in the lake, and you know what else is pretty crazy about Lake Tarpon?


    So there's the possibility that if it's not a rogue exotic local pet, it might be an exotic pet that migrated from the Everglades...still think that's farfetched?

    My only other idea is a monstrous catfish with a remarkable growth defect. I know for a fact there is a substantial catfish population in Lake Tarpon, I can't stop catching them! I have a fishtank with a nice marbel channel cat, one from the lake. I don't think the description's of alleged Tarpie sightings sound like a catfish though, even a particularly large one at that....

    And furthermore I am not quite sure this "Wake" or whatever we want to call this water disturbance is conclusive either but this is the first result you get when you google Tarpie so I figured this might be a good place to post my theory.

    Lake Tarpon is known to have a HUGE alligator population, I think "Tarpie" is feeding on baby, and even larger gators. The water in Lake Tarpon is also very murky, and it has been said by researchers that the Burmese Pythons in The Everglades would eventually genetically adapt and spread north. Lake Tarpon would make the perfect home for a migrating python

    I think there's even a chance Lake Tarpon might even have more than one Burmese Python somewhere in the 120 ft depths of this "Gem of Pinellas" and it's surrounding nature estuary-esque region.

    I theorize Tarpie might live in, or around Brooker Creek in particular. One particularly detailed sighting of Tarpie takes place in Brooker Creek and depicts him as a 15-20 foot eel like creature rather than a snake like creature, I think this conception might be due to the fact Tarpie was drenched in water, with poor visibility and a bright shiny day giving the snake a particularly smooth appearance

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  4. This video fascinated and puzzled me, too. Someone in the comments suggested mating manatees in particular. I'd never seen their mating behavior. I found this video of mating manatees, and though it's some distance away, I think there are a lot of similarities with whatever was captured in Sanibel Island. I sent an email to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and asked if they thought the footage was consistent or not with manatee mating behavior. If I hear from them, I'll be sure to let you know.

    And I very much like your blog. Great stuff. Thank you.

    1. Maybe it's irrelevant at this point, but the FWC did respond to the video:

      "The video is not great but it does show some manatee tails. It is hard to say what the manatees are doing. Manatees are found around the coastal areas of Florida so it is likely that they would be off of Sanibel Island. If the area is really shallow then the female manatee is probably looking for a place to rest. She is pursued by several males that will jockey to mate when she is receptive to their advances. The larger bulls will often push the younger males out of the way so it can look like aggressive activity. Mating herds should not be disturbed and the animals are not in distress. The males are focused on the female and the female probably just wants to be able to come up to breathe during all of the activity... shallow areas are probably good locations for her to rest and mate.

      Thank you for reaching out to FWC for information.

      FWC Imperiled Species Management"

      I know this isn't any real surprise, since, as you point out, manatees or another large marine mammal were already a possible if not probable explanation. But I was fascinated by the commenter's suggestion of mating manatees and wanted to see if that could be ruled out. It seems that remains a viable explanation, though your final words in this post are well-taken: videos like this will probably remain ambiguous puzzles with little evidential value in themselves.


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