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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Previously Undocumented Oregon Coast 'Sea Serpent' Report

Today, August 7 of 2014, has been officially recognized as Sea Serpent Day. Reports of unidentified marine animals often referred to by the probable misnomer of 'sea serpents' continue to be the most compelling form of cryptozoological matter to many researchers such as myself, and it seems that those who have disregarded all such accounts as mere oarfish or giant squid have little knowledge of the intriguing cases in this area of study. While anecdotal data is generally viewed as unpredictable, several scientific minds have found 'sea serpent' reports to be of interest in that they often involve trained observers like naval men as witnesses and frequently occur at a close range. Also, unlike other areas of cryptozoological study, it seems that the greed of media and misinforming reality or "mockumentary" television shows have yet to taint the research into 'seas serpent' sightings. I have spent about a year researching alleged reports and evidence of unidentified marine animals and will continue to do so in the hope that efforts such as mine may help to bring this cryptozoological question to the scientific forefront. To mark this special occasion I have written on a previously undocumented 'sea serpent' report, and I ask you to read on if you are interested...
A rather fanciful rendition of the 'sea serpent' described by Deah Lael; commissioned by Ray Gardner.
Several months ago, I was contemplating the idea of writing a book specifically focused on reports of 'sea serpents' with horse-like heads and manes, owing to my strong interest in such eyewitness accounts at that time. While I have since dropped the idea due to the lack of fresh material which could be produced, I happened to have a successful lead through this ordeal. Following a discussion on Facebook that B.S.C.C. founder John Kirk and I had about such alleged animals, sasquatch report researcher  Ray Crowe notified us that he knew of two witnesses of horse-headed 'sea serpents' off the Oregon Coast. He later emailed us with further details which revealed that the first witness supposedly had a sighting with her husband and that the second witness is a friend of the first and apparently photographed such an animal in 2013. Ray left the first witness' phone number in the email, allowing me to conduct a proper interview. While I am admittedly new to gathering details on reports, I based my inquiries off of those used in a 'lake monster' eyewitness questionnaire created by cryptozoological researcher Gary Mangiacopra.
An illustration based off of Bernard Heuvelmans' hypothetical "Merhorse" sea-serpent, by Cameron McCormick. The proposed book
mentioned early was to examine the anecdotal data behind this hypothetical animal, although I have since come to realize it as a messy
conglomeration of probable mistaken identity cases and possibly a few observations of genuinely unknown marine animals.

'Sea serpent' sleuths: British Columbia cryptozoological researcher John Kirk with me at the Ohio Bigfoot Conference.
The name of the aforementioned first eyewitness, which I have received permission to publically share, is Deah Lael. On June 16 of 1957, Mrs. Lael and her husband were strolling along a beach located ten miles south of Lincoln City, Oregon. The couple was at the location for their honeymoon, and were probably enjoying the warm weather present at the time before they were disturbed by an unexpected observation. Around one or two o'clock in the afternoon, Deah was standing on a three or four inch surf when she reportedly noticed an animal swimming about 100 feet offshore. The animal was approximately twenty feet in length (this estimate was made in comparison to the length of the cabin they had rented) and possessed a shiny, greenish black body with mottled-looking skin. There were three humps on its back which she estimated as measuring about two feet above the water. These protuberances were covered with what she interpreted as a bumpy ridge, described as "humps on humps". This animal had a small head which was similar to that of a horse, but apparently with an overall appearance which was "dragon-like". Distinct eyes and nostrils were not able to be discerned. Its head was situated atop a neck which stretched approximately four feet out of the water. Needless to say, Mrs. Lael was unable to identify it as any known marine animal species. She brought her husband's attention to the unidentified animal, but he seemingly didn't want anything to do with seeing something which was not supposed to exist. He promptly wrote it off as a group of seals before going back to their cabin, and he is apparently still reluctant to speak about the encounter. According to Deah, the animal kept pace with her for another block or two, almost as if it was observing her, before submerging.
Image of a segment of the Oregon coast near Lincoln City: potential 'sea serpent' habitat? (Image source is here).
When taking this account into consideration, it should be noted that there have been other 'sea serpent' reports similar in location and description. In Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans' 1968 epitome In The Wake of the Sea-Serpents, there is a brief description of an animal with a ten foot long neck and "astonished eyes" being seen at the mouth of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon by a halibut fishing crew.1 This 1939 account appears to have been the only Oregonian report which Heuvelmans included in his database, and he made the suggestion that the animal may have been synonymous with those similarly reported off British Columbia as "cadborosaurus".1 In their 1995 book Cadborosaurus: Survivor from the Deep, Dr. Paul LeBlond and Dr. Edward L. Bousfield also detailed reports from the Oregon Coast. The most interesting of the bunch is arguably that from off Yachats, Oregon: an encounter with what can only be described as a long-necked 'sea serpent'. Just after New Year's Day in 1937, Bill and Ila Hunt were sitting on a landing about two miles south of Yachats when they allegedly spotted a large animal swimming slowly towards the shore.2 This unidentifiable animal reportedly possessed a long neck around fifteen feet in length, a horse or giraffe-like head, a mane which was the color of seaweed, an overall length of fifty feet, a large body six feet in width, a "ridge" running along its back, and a tail which was about the same length as its body.2 The Hunts disagreed on a puzzling feature of what appeared to be protrusions on the animal's head: Bill described them as small ears which "fluttered incessantly" while his wife described them as small horns which were eight to ten inches in height and "the size of a small water-pipe."2 The stormy weather created rough waves, although these apparently did not affect its swimming in the slightest bit.2 A truck driving on the nearby highway caused the animal to look over twice before suddenly swimming southwards along the coast at a speed of about 25 knots.2 The Hunts apparently followed the 'sea serpent' in their car until it veered off, heading further out to sea.2 The couple and another individual who had stopped his car then watched the animal from a lookout until it submerged.2
Eyewitness sketch of the Yachats 'sea serpent'. (Scanned image from Scott Mardis; likely originates from a publication either by LeBlond and Bousfield or LeBlond and Sibert)
Alleged 'sea serpent' sightings were so common at the mouth of the Columbia River and neighboring Oregonian coastlines that the animals were given the encompassing nickname of "Colossal Claude". The aforementioned report from Heuvelmans (1968) is representative of this pocket of supposed sightings, as are the following three anecdotes which come from a 1967 newspaper article written by Peter Cairns. In 1934, L.A. Larson and other members of the crew aboard a Columbia River lightship described observing a forty foot long animal with an eight foot neck, a large round body, a "mean looking tail", and an "evil, snaky look to its head."3 Although details of this account are clearly sensationalized, the report was apparently confirmed by the captain and crew of the ship tender Rose.3 Skipper Charles E. Graham of the trawler Viv reported observing "Claude" in 1937.3 The animal allegedly possessed a tan coloration, a forty foot body with hair, a head like that "of an overgrown horse", and a "four foot waist measure."3 Captain Chris Anderson of the schooner Arpo described having a close encounter with a marine animal which had a head like that of a camel with coarse gray fur, glassy eyes, and a bent snout which it used to push a large halibut into its mouth after snagging it from the fishermen's lines.3 The last detail in Anderson's account is immediately reminiscent of the manipulative proboscises possessed by male Northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris), and thus it seems likely that this was a case of misidentification.
An illustration by Tim Morris based off of the reports of "Colossal Claude" from the Columbia River and surrounding coastlines.

While the Yachats 'sea serpent' and "Colossal Claude" are probably the most significant unidentified marine animal cases from off the coast of Oregon, a few others were also contained in Peter Cairns' article. Brief mention was made of an animal seen off Bandon, Oregon which had a bulbous nose and a twelve foot body like that of a cow covered in brownish hair.3 While Dale Drinnon suggested it to be a sea lion, the description of a bulbous nose is rather reminiscent of an elephant seal with the hair visible due to molting. Near the Nelscott Reef, an animal with "a slender neck, a snake-like head, and a fan-shaped tail" was reportedly observed by more than thirty people over several occasions.3 Off Empire, Ben Tanner supposedly watched a large animal approach his fishing trawler as it "smacked its mouth, rolled its long lashed eyes at the crew, then pointed its tail in the air and dived straight down."3 This report may also be identified with Mirounga angustirostris, as elephant seals possess eyelashes, often hold their head and tail above the surface forming a U-shape, and will submerge in a manner similar to that described when 'standing' vertically in the water. While some of these reports are rather interesting, a note of caution should be taken when reading accounts from Cairn's article in that they are only known second-handedly and the manner in which Cairn gathered and documented the data is not known. Original descriptions of the reports can hopefully be obtained someday in order to verify that which was reproduced, although this will likely be viewed as too strenuous of an effort for its worth by many.
The bizarre sea animal reported off Bandon, Oregon; illustration by Tim Morris
Looking at the multiple other 'sea serpent' reports from the Oregon Coast, Deah Lael's alleged sighting certainly is not without precedent. However, erroneous details in this report due to verbal description inaccuracies or eyewitness bias (which is a strong possibility considering the several years since her reported observation) must be considered as well. This leads to the question of whether Ms. Lael may have mistaken a known species of animal. Probably the only animal which compares to her report is the Northern elephant seal Mirounga angustirostris: an identity which researcher Dale Drinnon suggested after I sent him details of the eyewitness account.  Elephant seals definitely can take on a head profile similar to that of a horse at certain angles, and even experienced fishermen have mistaken them for unknown animals in the past. Males grow to large lengths of fourteen to sixteen feet4, and the neck length described for Lael's 'sea serpent' could possibly have been such an animal's forequarters held out of the water5. While it is conceivable that the puzzling humps could be accounted for by a seal's bunched up fat, other features of this report do not bolster the explanation in my mind. Contrary to Dale's suggestion, Scott Mardis pointed out that the prominent neck, horse-like head, lack of distinguishable eyes, three humps, and greenish color make this report similar to reports of long-necked mystery animals from other marine and freshwater locations around the globe. I noted this myself, and also felt it significant that mottled skin is also a recurring description for West Coast 'sea serpents'. Thus, while there may be inherent inaccuracies, this report may very well be reflective of an encounter with an unknown marine animal species.

Elephant seals floundering in the water in a relative row, almost giving an appearance like that of a many-humped "sea serpent", with an elephant seal exhibiting a rather horse-like head profile as an inset. (Image is from an article at Frontiers of Zoology)
I am very glad to have had the opportunity to contribute documentation of a previously unrecorded 'sea serpent' report to the extensive database, and thus my greatest gratitude goes out to Ray Crowe and Deah Lael. Such anecdotes may be considered worthless by some, but I consider these to be potential starter points for zoological discovery, especially considering the likelihood of large marine animal species remaining to be verified. As stated in the chapter on 'sea monsters' within Abominable Science, "Each individual sighting is its own mystery, resting on its own particular set of facts, posing its own challenge, requiring its own investigation. Most remain unsolved." Considering alleged 'sea serpents' have an expansive history and have been described in very recent reports, this phenomenon does not seem to be dying down. Future efforts will be made to locate the alleged photograph taken by the second witness referenced at the beginning of this article, with hopes that it may yield some compelling data. With further advances in submersible technology and the usage of eDNA techniques to identify the diversity of marine fauna, the discovery of a true 'sea serpent' may not be a mere dream lost in the depths of modern scientific thinking.


References:
  1. Heuvelmans, Bernard, Richard Garnett, and Alika Watteau. In the Wake of the Sea-serpents. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968. Print.
  2. LeBlond, Paul H., and E. L. Bousfield. Cadborosaurus: Survivor from the Deep. Victoria, B.C., Canada: Horsdal & Schubart, 1995. Print.
  3. Drinnon, Dale A. "Gambian Sea Elephant and Other Sea Elephants, Art by Pristichampsus." Frontiers of Zoology. Blogger, 10 July 2011. Web. 17 July 2014. http://frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com/2011/07/gambian-sea-elephant-and-other-sea.html.
  4. "Introduction to Elephant Seals." Friends of the Elephant Seal. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2014. http://www.elephantseal.org/E-Seals/intro.html.
  5. Naish, Darren. "The Cadborosaurus Wars." Tetrapod Zoology, Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American Global RSS, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 06 Aug. 2014. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/2012/04/16/the-cadborosaurus-wars/.

21 comments:

  1. Interesting stuff. Thanks, Jay.

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  2. Good article. In my opinion, of all cryptozoological creatures, sea serpents have some of the best evidence in favor of their existence. Ironically, they also happen to have among the least realistic-sounding names. I think it might be a good idea to invent a new name for them to improve their credibility, liike how the term Wood Ape was invented to replace Bigfoot/Sasquatch.

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    1. Thank you. Not sure about that one, as the name 'sea serpent' dates to antiquity, although you do have a point in that it's a probable misnomer. Still, there are those like Nick Nordström who have suggested that some reported 'sea serpents' like the Gloucester Bay animals, "Chessie", and some "Caddys" are actual giant aquatic snakes.

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  3. I've heard from some researchers who think that "cadborosaurus" sightings which really do involve marine animals uncatalogued by science so far could be of members of a group of pelagic lizards which slipped into the sea right about the time of the K-T extinction event and evolved to look like mosasaurs but with longer necks and without crescent-shaped tail flukes.

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    1. Perhaps, but Occam's Razor would probably rule such an idea out as we already know of animals which possessed similar features like pinnipeds and plesiosaurs.

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  4. BTW by "some researchers" I mean hyrotrioskjan on deviantart.com, who came up with the idea, I think. You should check out his gallery to see his speculative pelagic lizard sea-serpents, which I believe all make up the speculative family Natrixosauridae.





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    1. In hyrotrioskjan's case, I suspect that he was simply conducting speculative exercises rather than hypothesizing in seriousness. But maybe I'm wrong, as there are certainly other researchers who have suggested aquatic varanids as the identity for some 'sea serpents'.

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  5. It should also be noted that he has an Oligocene sea serpent which has a wide maw somewhat reminescent of "horse-headed" or "giraffe-headed" sea-serpent reports.

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    1. It's certainly worth noting that many animals, even reptiles, can give the appearance of a rather cameloid or horse-like head. Witnesses could certainly interpret or describe the appearance of these animals' heads in different varying terms (if 'sea serpents' exist).

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  6. He calls it anatonatrix stromeri, and it's supposed to have fed on small fish and crustaceans.









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    1. Well, it is certainly worth noting that there are quite a few 'sea serpent' reports describing the animals consuming fish. Dale Drinnon has relayed that Ivan Sanderson spoke of reports describing long-necked marine animals pursuing salmon runs and even herding the fish into denser schools. Dr. Bousfield has hypothesized that the alleged unknown animals behind 'Ogopoggo' reports are actually 'Cadborosaurus' which have headed inland following salmon.

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  7. Another one of his sea-serpents called navivenator horridus can grow up to 18 meters long and seems to have some kind of bright red mane-like structure running down its longish neck (aren't most sea-serpent manes reported to be duller in color, though?).


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    1. From what I recall, the manes are most often described as a reddish to mahogany color. A bright red coloration brings oarfish to mind.

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  8. Note: I believe he stated that the ancestors of natrixosaurs slipped into the sea shortly following the K-T extinction event, not during it.

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  9. Maybe natrixosauridae-like creatures are also behind certain freshwater serpent sightings at loch ness and elsewhere; if that were the case I would suggest that the famous "flipper photo" from '72 shows a diamond-shaped tail-fin rather than a hindlimb or forelimb.

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    1. Perhaps, although I still feel that hyrotrioskjan was simply taking part in speculative zoology rather than hypothesizing in seriousness.

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    1. I have individually responded to each of your comments above. Once again, thanks for the correspondence, Joe.

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  11. There was also a maned serpent sighting, similar to the 1937 account, off the Umpqua River (Oregon) reported in the New York Times, October 28th, 1888. It was seen by the captain, his wife, and crew. He tried to shoot it after everyone got a good look, but it was too far away.

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