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Thursday, 23 June 2011

Re: Gambo and Ambon

Continuing with the discussion with my anonymous correspondant, the most recent one concerns my earlier posting on The Gambo carcass and the Ambon sea-serpent. I asked him if he'd rather have the credit for the piece and he gave his permission to include his name. So his submissions shall not go uncredited any more: he is Tyler Stone.


Last night I was reading your checklist of aquatic cryptids from the CFZ blog. The section I found most interesting was the one on Marine Saurians. I had already seen your blog posting on Gambo and the Ambon sea serpent, and I agree that they do seem to form a type separate from the traditional Marine Saurian. What is not clear is the identity; as you stated, it can't be a crocodile because of its smooth skin, and it can't be a whale because it has four flippers. I began doing research into other common candidates to try and find a suitable match.

It can't be an archaeocete. It has too many teeth. And aside from that, no archaeocete that I know of matches Gambo's anatomy.

Gambo (left) compared to Rhodocetus (center) and Protocetus (right). I don't include any more advanced archaeocetes (i.e. Basilosaurus) because they match even less. (All images from wikipedia)

Likewise, I am unable to find a pliosaur species that specifically matches Gambo's anatomy, especially in the shape of the head.

Gambo (left) compared to Macroplata (center) and Liopleurodon (right). Note the neck length in Macroplata compared to Gambo, and likewise compare the shape of Gambo's head to that of Liopleurodon. (Images again from wikipedia)

Likewise, it can't be a mosasaur because, even if they're body shapes DID match, we have fossils showing that mosasaurs had scaly skin, unlike the smooth skin reported in Gambo.

So what candidates DO we have left? After searching the internet for other candidates, I came across a page on wikipedia about a rather obscure group of plesiosaurs called the Polycotylidae. Here's the definition from wikipedia:

Polycotylidae is a family of plesiosaurs from the Cretaceous, a sister group to the Leptocleididae.

With their short necks and large elongated heads, they resemble the pliosaurs, but closer phylogenetical studies indicate that they share many common features with the plesiosauridae and elasmosauridae. They have been found worldwide, with specimens reported from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Morocco, the USA, Canada, the former states of the USSR and South America.[1] In 2010, Thililua was transferred to Leptocleididae.

I began searching for images of these creatures and was immediately struck by the similarity to Gambo and the Ambon sea-serpent.

The Polycotylid Trinacromerum (left) and the Ambon sea-serpent (right). Note in particular the shape of the head.

Gambo (left) compared with the skeleton of Dolichorhynchops (right) from wikipedia...

...and with a reconstruction of a living "Dolly" from National Geographic. Note the shape of the head of "Dolly" compared to the shape of Gambo's head.

Gambo by Pristichampsus (Tim Morris) at, compared to Edgarosaurus from wikipedia.

One reason why a Polycotylid would be a good candidate is their size. Dolichorhynchops grew 12 to 15 feet long; Gambo was reported as being 15 feet long. Also, Gambo was reported as having smooth skin. We know from fossils of the plesiosaur Attenborosaurus that plesiosaurids had smooth skin; it is therefore inferable that the closely related polycotylids would have also been smooth-skinned. Admittedly, tooth count is still a problem; Gambo still has twice as many teeth as fossil polycotylids do. Likewise, fossil polycotylids had nostrils located near the eyes, as opposed to the end of the snout. However, because the general anatomy of a polycotylid fits with Gambo and the Ambon sea-serpent, I am willing to dismiss these discrepancies as minor problems.

I propose, then, that the smaller Marine Saurians, such as Gambo, the Ambon creature, and the Java creature, represent a form of surviving polycotylid plesiosaur. I also propose that they are removed from the larger Marine Saurian group and are put in their own new category, one closer to the long-necked sea-serpent.

Please write back with your thoughts, criticism, and any corrections needed. I hope this may help in clearing up the identity of Gambo and kin.


Tyler Stone

To which I replied that this sounded like a very good case to call an invocation of Occam's Razor and therefore I was in favor of making the adjustments to all future versions. I mentioned that Pliosaurs were regularly included as candidates for Marine Saurian reports by other authors and that the thought that some reports could be Polycotylids had occured to me before along with the possibility that some of the larger Marine Saurian reports could be something like Liopleurodon, but I chose not to mention that on the blogs (mostly to simplify things) However in this case, I second the motions that Tyler has advanced. Against the idea we have the possible objections that the reconstructions of Gambo show the flippers too short and the tail too long to be one of these Plesiosaurs, but the reconstructions are only rough guides and not the productions of actual eyewitnesses.

Polycotylids are some of the more recent Plesiosaurs and actually an offshoot of the longer-necked Plesiosaurs like Elasmosaurs, and which became shorter-necked secondarily. By doing this, they became faster and more manoeverable, and so they gained a competetive edge. And I have heard of Freshwater Monsters that might also fit the same description: some people have spoken of them as "Nothosaurs" but up to now the best explanation has been that they were the young of the longer-necked Plesiosaur-shaped creatures, but which had not grown the longer necks. Their distribution is irregular but on the other hand they are alleged to be captured fairly often (The 4 foot long creature Sir Arthur Conan Doyle saw off Greece and called either a "Plesiosaur" or an "Ichthiosaur" on different occasions could be one, and if so, the shape would be the reason why he had a confusing use of labels for it. He said he had heard of something similar being caught in a net off Australia. That could also be useful information.)

Best Wishes, Dale D.

[PS, Pristichampsus AKA Tim Morris has granted me permission to use his images from Deviant Art. Just in case anybody is wondering about that part.]


  1. An interesting post, but like so many others who attempt to identify present-day cryptids by comparison with prehistoric marine reptiles (by which I mean Cretaceous or earlier), it fails to take into account that whatever Gambo was, taxonomically (always assuming of course that it did exist and was accurately described by its eyewitness, though I do believe that it did and was, as I know the person well and have no reason to doubt his word), it is the product of at least 65 million years of continued evolution, and is therefore extremely likely to look very different from its prehistoric ancestors. This makes it very hazardous indeed to attempt any kind of close comparison between its morphology and that of any prehistoric reptile, whether it be a pliosaur, or a mosasaur, or a thalattosuchian crocodilian, etc. Even archaeocete whales are known only from fossils many millions of years old, and so once again, continued evolution from those forms into a present day species is bound to create many morphological modifications. It is interesting to make loose comparisons, but that is all that can be done. All the best, Karl, Dr Karl Shuker

  2. There was somewhat of a misfire when I just tried to post a reply, so I'll have to do it over again. My comment intended to say that the proportions of Gambo's tail and limbs seems to be wrong generally for ALL of the candidates and thus there is reason to suspect some evolution has been going on there (as well as reason to suspect the impression given by the Gambo drawings are probably less than 100% accurate). It is possible given the pattern of evolution of the Polycotylids that the ancestors of Gambo were the surviving Longnecked Plesiosaur-shaped Seaserpents which later re-developed shorter necks through parallel evolution and thus they would be novel forms developed from within the Cenozoic.

    However, if Gambo is a Crocodylian, it has lost the armour and if it is a Mosasaur, it has lost the scales. If it is an Archaeocete it is from that precarious stage between ancestral four-leggedness and descendant fluked whales-tails. So Tyler's suggestion is actually the one that requires the least amount of modification of the prototype to arrive at the Gambo stage.For that reason I see his theory of being preferable on the principle of Occam's Razor as I mentioned: it is simply the most direct interpretation to date.

    There is another problem in that it is pretty much impossible to predict what unexpected modifications might appear in a Lazarus taxon without knowing what they were beforehand. It is rather like trying to predict something you actually don't know.

    So kind of you to comment!
    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  3. Tyler wished that I should also add this, to Dr. Shuker's attention:
    "I do understand that 65 million years of evolution can cause a great amount of change. The reason I doubt the archaeocete identity is because it would have to have evolved from the "in-between" archaeocetes, which were almost completely aquatic but still had four webbed feet. So far, the fossil record does not support the possibility of a Gambo-like whale evolving from this group.

    "This is basically the same for the other candidates; there would need to be a rather large amount of change to end up with a Gambo. Occam's Razor simply does not support the idea that Gambo is a thalattosuchian, mosasaur, icthyosaur, or archaeocete.

    "Also, it's worth noting that, since Gambo has such a similar anatomy to a polycotylid, it is inferable that it would have the same lifestyle. According to natural selection, the features needed for this lifestyle are more likely to be passed on over generations. So, in theory, we should expect any surviving polycotylid to be similar to its ancestors."

    Tyler also invites Dr. Shuker to contact him for further discussion if so desired, and I can provide Dr. Shuker with Tyler's email address.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  4. mabe Ross can help you guyz out . . . !

  5. OK, I'll bite. Just what did you mean by THAT one? And who is "Ross"?

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  6. Aren't Gambo's flippers a little short for a Polycotylid?

    Best Wishes,

    Noah Eckenrode,

    Amateur Cryptozoologist

  7. Yes, and the tail: but then we cannot be too certain about the accuracy of the measurements.

    BTW, I can make up an extremely detailed and cross-referenced composite for Longnecks reported world wide and the proportions are for the most part remarkably consistent. I have NOT got a good handle on the proportions for creatures in this class because detailed measurements are rarely given, and even less so for a good set of measurements on the same specimen that proportions could be drawn from. Personally I would like to see proportions coming out of statistical analyses of the reports which supported the hypothesis better, but so far I do not seeany good measurements or proportions coming out of such reports as we have in the category. And we have possible reports going back to "Sea Dragons" in the 1750s-just not any good statistical base yet.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  8. Dolichorynchops probably couldn't have become "gambo" over a period of only 65 million years because the body plan of plesiosaurs had remained much the same for hundreds of millions of years.

  9. I believe there is a vagueness in the description of Gambo which allows for some leeway in the interpretation of its proportions. It might well actually have been closer to the proportions of Dolichoryncops that it is generally pictured as being: the usual drawings are largely guesswork and not made by anybody that actually saw the body. Furthermore we are not supposing it had to be Dolichoryncops exactly, but rather something generally in the same ball park

  10. While your above assumption is possible, gambo's proportions (as they are drawn in every reconstruction i've seen)seem more lime those of a mosasaur; there is no conclusive evidence of mosasaurs having tail fins and there scales were tiny so they would likely not have been noted in the desc ription of gambol. I'm not actually proposing that gambol is a mosasaur (the youngest mosasaur fossils are 65 million years old) I'm just saying they may be the best anatomical match for gambol.

  11. Scott Mardis has recently posted an article which calls into question your statement that there are no finds of post-Cretaceous Mosasaurs. As in the case of Plesiosaurs there are actually many samples alleged. In this case, I assume you are making a statement toward the overall ongoing debate? It was Dale Drinnon's identification that Gambo was a small Mosasaur (some Mosasaurs were indeed small): Tyler Stone was offering an alternative identification above. In the above comments section I was trying to be impartial and to give Tyler the benefit of the doubt, since this was HIS article.

  12. Sorry Dale, I thought you shared Tyler's opinion on this matter.
    I also forgot to note that the other problem with the mosasaur theory is that the mosasaur would have to relocate its nostrils to the end of its snout ( just like a polycotylid would have to.)

  13. As I understand it the matter of the nostrils being on the end of the snout was not definitely asserted. Certainly the candidates provided by other authors generally also do NOT place the nostrils at the end of the snout: most critics hold that it was a kind of a cetacean. A crocodilian would have the nostrils there, but a witness that only thought the head looked like a crocodile's head might have asserted the nostrils actually were on the end of the snout when in fact he had not observed it, it was merely his belief that it must be so. I tried encouraging Tyler here and I told him it was a good-looking theory. But the actual fact is that before he said so I had stated my support for the Mosasaur theory. Currently I allow there are several options and that Tyler's theory is probably a better fit than the one I had before. That does not mean that the matter is settled for me, but rather that I'd like to hear an ongoing discussion of the matter considering both options.

  14. Many cryptozoologists (Chris Orrick, for instance) now think gambo was nothing but a decomposing Shepard's beaked whale.

  15. That "Most Cryptozoologists believe" any sort of an opinion in no way makes that opinion true, as you should very well know. I prefer not to state any theory as being correct on the matter now, But I will admit to being more inclined to admit the possibility that it was an ordinary cetacean badly described now. In this article, that does not count either because we are talking about Tyler Stone's opinion.


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