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Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Early Merhorse Art by Thomas Finley, and Longnecked Seals in General

"Merhorse" by Thomas Finley 2013.
Thomas Finley said when he made this illustration:
 "This painting captures an elusive Merhorse both above and below the waves and gives a special over all view of the size of the creature. This is a special request for the Bizarre Zoology Blog Series."
I then objected that Bernard Heuvelmans had made several specifications about the Merhorse, including that it was supposed to have enormous eyes. After some discussion (and submissions of competing artworks by both of us), Thomas Finley developed what we thought was a good and authoritative  Merhorse ex Heuvelmans.
However it seems Jay Cooney had originally intended this painting to represent a more generic giant pinniped which could account for reports contained in the Merhorse category. We can perhaps equate this to Peter Costello's version of the Longnecked Seal theory more than Heuvelmans' version per se (There is a good reason for saying so and we shall be getting to it directly)

 This is an image of Bernard Heuvelmans' Merhorse. It comes from a
 series of such illustrations as added in the next blog...
Thought to be a head-on view of a Merhorse by Heuvelmans. This could just possibly be an attempt to represent a sighting of the Hoy Island 1919 SS type head-on, assuming this face goes with that type. I feel pretty definitely this is a pinniped at least.

biomarginalia (Presumably Cameron McCormick) writes:
[Regarding]Bernard Heuvelmans’ “Long-Necked" sea serpents: the Hoy “sea serpent" is fascinating, although rather than evidence for a long-necked species of pinniped, I wonder if it was an encounter with a very very wayward (and exaggerated) eared seal. As for the others, it is within the realm of possibility for mirages to create the impression of a long-necked creature (I’ll have to track down that diagram). Confusingly, it is not explained why the Tonny and Orme’s Head encounters are classified unambiguously into this category (and not, say as Super Otters or Many-Humped); amazingly the Orme’s Head sighting was published in the rather improbable venue of Nature. It may be a bit more difficult to publish a sea serpent report there today. [These drawings were published in the recent blog on Longnecked reports in general-DD]

Bernard Heuvelmans' version of the Long-necked giant Sea lion, his "Megalotaria"

Reconstituted J Mackintosh Bell sighting creature, seen off the island of Hoy in the Orkneys, 1919.
This would presumably be a female. Length from nose to tail would be 13-14 feet, the size of a walrus but of course with the neck being more elongated.

This would be the hypothetical male and female of the species
As a sort of "Northern Bunyip" it is possible that the male would have a mane of thick hair all over the neck and not just a stripe of hair along the spine: the female's neck would be hairy too, but that would perhaps not be so obvious. The male might be up to 18-20 feet long maximum, the size of an elephant seal, although once again not built the same way and not weighing as much.
There is an earlier blog entry giving good reasons why this model is to be preferred to something more closely similar to the original drawings produced to illustrate the sighting.
In the version below, taken from Heuvelmans, the reader is led to believe the witness produced these drawings himself. In fact when checking Rupert T. Gould's retelling of the original report, it is clear that Bell had difficulty in making a good representation of the creature and these drawings were made by his wife. the drawing is decidedly amateurish and with wavering uncertainty of the outline
The measurements which were specified are actually in conflict with this drawing. The length of the neck is just about equal to the width of the back: the length of the body is about twice as long as the length of the back. The rear flippers are again about the length of the back. The whole length of the creature is about seven times the length of the head, the neck being twice and the body being four times the length of the head, plus the length of the head for itself. The corrected proportions are as redrawn above.  Length including the tail flippers for the male is 20-25 feet long and for the female is 15-18 feet long

The head and neck was made under the impression that it resembled the 1893 Lochalsh sighting by Farquahar Matheson out of the illustrations which Gould provided for reference.

 In his account, J. Mackintosh Bell had stated that the neck above water was as thick as an elephant's foreleg and all rough looking. An elephant's foreleg is a much thicker object than is shown in the original drawing and an attempt to make an appropriate corresponding thickness of neck is what is shown in the above paste-up.

There is one good Scientific account and illustration of a longnecked seal, made in the late 1700s and evidently making reference to a creature sighted around the British isles and not actually seen by the artist himself. This is nonetheless the only really substantial documentation of the allegation. In this case, a young male was said to measure 7 1/2 feet long and the projected size of an adult male would then be between 20 and 25 feet long (Pehaps 30 feet long counting the outstretched rear flippers)
(The adult male sea lion is about three times as long as the pup, a statement affirmed by Heuvelmans)

This information was provided by Darren Naish:
 James Parson wrote a paper in 1751 in which he described five “species” of Phoca, among them he mentioned a Dr. Grew’s “long neck’d seal” from an unknown locality. This peculiar seal was actually part of the Royal Society’s Museum, and as such it was included in a Catalog published in 1681, where it was described as follows:From his nose end to his fore-feet, and from thence to his tail, are of the same measure [4]
Grew's original text long necked seal

Heuvelmans' composite is not a good match for the Long-necked Sea lion:

But it IS just possibly a good match for the J Mackintosh Bell/ 1919 Hoy SS, allowing that neither drawing was going to be precisely accurate:
And as a final check, matching the full reconstruction to the Hoy SS proportions, we see there is a severe difference in proportions. The heads, flippers and bodies are not so much different in relative size, but the neck is actually drastically shorter. and that is the major difference, the actual Longnecks have a Plesiosaur-like neck which typically measures 10-20 feet in adults (Estimating a total length of 28 to 55 feet going by Oudemans' charts and reducing the tail lengths appropriately: the average 15 foot long neck belongs to a 40 foot long adult)

The lengths given by Peter Costello for his big eared model of the long necked seal are a minimum of about 18 feet for females and a maximum of about 30 feet for the males.(In Search of Lake Monsters p 288) This is no way comparable to the basic Longnecks (including the averages of such sightings as alleged at Loch Ness) but is a pretty exact match for the predictions based on the Hoy SS redrawn model. The drawing made at the top of the page by Thomas Finley is a pretty decent portrayal of the type: BUT the big ears in this artwork and as specified by Costello do not go with this type, they go with the Master-Otter and other kinds of Water-Monsters. This model would NOT account for the majority of reports in Loch Ness, Lake Okanagan, Lake Champlain or Lake Storsjon, BUT they might do well to account for SOME of the Irish reports and some of the "Long-Necked Seal" Bunyips that are explicitly described as such (ibid pp 273-276)(at a total estimated length of 5-15 feet long, which I consider a fair match, and not measuring the rear flippers in with the length)

As I had said it before, I prefer to refer to the Long necked Sea Serpent reports collected by Heuvelmans as "Megalotaria longicollis" to represent two types, the majority being the Longneck longicollis but this series as typified by the 1919 Hoy Sea Serpent retaining the genus name Megalotaria (Big Sea lion). I would have preferred to retain the name Megophias preferred by Oudemans for the Longicollis creature, but I have heard some very persuasive arguments why that name should not be maintained. Incidentally the colloquial term "Long-neck" as a reference to the long-necked plesiosaurs (and as distinguished from the short-necked plesiosaurs) runs back as far as the middle 1800s (the middle of the 19th century, and old enough for the term to be understood since before the American Civil War. References to Oudemans' composite creature as a Long-neck or a Long-necked seal were not merely descriptive, they were making a direct acknowledgement that his Megophias looked like a long necked Plesiosaur) Thus the uses for Long Necked seal and Long Necked Plesiosaur are almost equally as old as each other: it cannot be objected that the term is a modern one or that Heuvelmans made it up.


  1. Nice article Dale, I absolutely agree that Heuvelmans's representation is most likely not an accurate depiction for the long-necked Pinnipeds being seen. I also think your representation of the male and female long-necked pinniped is accurate in the sense that the female has a longer neck and the male has a thicker built body with a mane. I tend to think that the males are the animals behind some of the sightings which Heuvelmans classified as "Merhorses", which is what I had related to Thomas. I do think that the male and female have a stubby tail which is of greater length than that of known Pinnipeds, but that's just me hypothesizing that these animals are behind all longneck reports which I understand you do not agree with. Very nice article, I'll share this on my blog if you don't mind.

  2. The really key issue on Longnecks is HOW LONG the long neck is. In the case of the longest-necked Longnecks, there is virtually no chance of their being mammals at all. In the case of these less-long-necked ones, the situation is different and these are not breaking any known laws of Nature. As it turns out, the length of the tail is pretty much immaterial: if you have a tailless Plesiosaur, then all you have is a tailless Plesiosaur. There won't be anything remotely mammal-like about it.

  3. A nice article on possible unknown pinipeds, but it didn't address Mr. McCormic's suggestion that observations of longnecked pinnipeds could be exaggerated descriptions of known eared seals (after all; most sightings occur days, weeks, months, years, or even decades before they are reported; this would likely affect the way the witness remembers the event) or are simply mirages. (I myself, though, am convinced of the likliness of smoe of these reports being of genuine unknown pinnipeds because there is general consistancy between sightings worldwide, and the same thing with reports of more plesiosaur-like longneck sightings.)

    1. Absolutely not the case: what I am proposing actually IS essentially a standard eared seal of exceptionally large size in a range unknown for eared seal. Cameron McCormick must account for both the unusually large size as well as the new range hitherto-unrecorded for eared seals along with the suggestion of a longer neck. The neck is not actually too long when you consider other eared seals, which I have mentioned in other earlier articles on my blog. And for some peculiar reason the younger crop of Cryptozoologists has trouble in keeping eared and earless seals straight in their minds. For your information: 1) There are not supposed to be any eared seals native anywhere in the North Atlantic let alone in the vicinity of the British Isles, and 2) Eared seals the size of a walrus are also particularly uncommon anywhere else, so we are not talking about an accidental introduction of a known species. Furthermore 3) you seem to have a VERY poor idea about what I think or even what I have specifically stated on this blog. I have specifically stated that several reports of sea and lake monsters are due to pinnipeds "That were not supposed to be there", I have identified several size-grades of them and pointed out their peculiar characteristics; and to me this is no especially big deal. And Lord help us if you should start listing "similar" seal sightings world-wide, I sincerely doubt that you would make any coherent sorting of them and you probably just have one grab-bag "Unknown Pinnipeds" category. That would never do, of course, especially when the current crop of Cryptozoologists are not even aware that it is generally the eared seals that have the longer necks, and therefore for that reason they are forever championing the cause for the existence of a longnecked-shortnecked eared-earless seal as being a suitable explanation for the reports.


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