Member of The Crypto Crew:

Please Also Visit our Sister Blog, Frontiers of Anthropology:

And the new group for trying out fictional projects (Includes Cryptofiction Projects):

And Kyle Germann's Blog

And Jay's Blog, Bizarre Zoology

Monday, 8 July 2013

Mediterranean Merhorse

While pondering the indicated size and shape of the classical Hippocampus and looking for a possible pinniped to match the descriptions, I came to the conclusion that the best match was with an elephant seal nce again, which makes some bit of sense since the similar water-goats and water-leopards included in make the category sound as if it is the equivalent of the Makara. Basically it was the shape of the fins, especially the rear flippers, that swung the identification in that direction. The size was also a factor-depictions seemed to indicate a length generally in the range of 15-20 feet long, and the long nose of the male could make it look "Horsefaced" (A consideration encountered before in the "Cadborosaurus" cases) This could also be the source for reports of the Campchurch.

Combining the Mediterranean range with the Caribbean range and suspected reports in the North Atlantic yields the following composite map. I do not maintain that such creatures hold all this range currently, but in the earlier part of the historical period they held this range):

The Caribbean population has evidently included regular breeding colonies in past years but it is unknown whether they continue to be maintained.  Roy Mackal derived the White River Monster, as an elephant seal, from these colonies which have been regularly stated to be there but are not officially recognized. There is at least on clear photo of a young male elephant seal from the Atlantic shore of Costa Rica in the files of the SITU and I made a line drawing copy of it while I was going through the files there. The following information comes from Eberhart, George, Mysterious Creatures, 2002:

Wihwin (Water Horse) 

SEA MONSTER of the coast of Central America.
Etymology: Miskito (Misumalpan) word.
Physical description: Horselike. Sharp teeth.
Behavior: Goes ashore in the summer.[Forms breeding colonies-DD]
Distribution: Atlantic coast of Nicaragua and Honduras.
Source:Hubert Howe Bancroft, Races of the Pacific States of North America
  (New York: D. Appleton, 1875), vol. 3.

This also seems to be the same as the


Freshwater Monster of the West Indies.
Etymology: Huilla is a common name for the Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) in South America.
Physical description: Serpentine. Length, 25–50 feet. Scaly. Horselike head.
["Undulates vertically" and the length is exaggerated by counting in the wake as well as the body.]
Behavior: Amphibious. Swims swiftly by flexing its body into arches. Migrates from one body of water to another. Emits a high-pitched whistle. [Eats primarily fish but will eat offal. A snake cannot feed on such things as dumped entrails and blood, which is what the recent accounts allege]
Tracks: Three-toed.
Distribution: Ortoire River, Trinidad.: Orinoco River, South America
Sources: Edward L. Joseph, History of Trinidad (London: A. K. Newman, 1838); John O. Brathwaite (letter), Strange Magazine, no. 18 (Summer 1997): 2.

Several such reports also occur around Florida including the "Normandy Nessie" still ongoing. My first inkling there were elephant seals in these waters came from Thomas Helm's 1943 report. (This was incidentally about the same time as the "3-Toes" reports began to show up in Florida, which followed reports from Cuba, which followed reports from British Honduras, which are apparently the same as the tracks traditionally attributed to the Huilla and which go back into the 1800s in South America)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Zoological oddity: Thomas Helm's sea creature

In spring 1943, radio broadcaster, naturalist, and nature writer Thomas Helm was cruising with his wife in a small sailboat off Florida's Gulf Coast.  (Helm had been invalided out from the Navy after being severely wounded at Pearl Harbor).  What he says he saw very clearly was a beast so odd he couldn't even suggest an identity. Helm was thoroughly familiar with seals, sea lions, and mustelids like otters: indeed, short of a degreed biological scientist, you couldn't have had a much better witness.  A round head - like that of a tiger without visible ears - covered in chocolate brown fur and sitting atop a four-foot neck appeared in the water in front of him.. He had plenty of time for a good look, and altered course at one point to keep from coming too close (he originally saw it at 30-40 yeards, but does not say what his closest approach was.)  Helm was insistent this was no known pinniped (seal or sea lion) - among other things, it had a relatively flat face with eyes looking forward, not on the sides, and this is what reminded him of a cat. Cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans classified this as an example of his “Merhorse” type of sea serpent, although the head shape doesn't fit, while modern cryptozoologist Dale Drinnon writes it off as a normal pinniped.  A pinniped, though, seems wrong to me.  A seal or sea lion's head might give this appearance if the witnesses had had only a brief view straight on, but not when they had several minutes to watch it as they sailed by - they didn't see it from just one angle.  
Helm's description and drawing of the face remind me a bit more of a manatee more than a pinniped, but it seems an impossible error to describe a nearly-neckless manatee as showing four feet of neck of smaller diameter than the head.  There is no question this was a mammal - not only did it have fur, but definite whiskers.  Helm thought the head was about the size of a basketball.
Helm insisted in his book Monsters of the Sea that, prior to the incident, he gave no thought to "sea serpents" of any kind.  He asked local commercial fishermen if they'd seen anything like his animal, and they had not (though he noted almost all had their own tales to tell of odd sea creatures.)  Neither they nor scientists he approached could tell him anything useful.

Well, there it is - and there it rests. We have a solid witness (accompanied by another adult) and a description not only impossible to reconcile with a known animal but with any of the "sea monster" sightings I can think of in which the head was described.  Dr. Roy Mackal has suggested for some sea and lake monsters a kind of long-necked sirenian (a member of the group made up of the manatees and dugongs.)  IF such an animal exists - and the evidence is scant - then Helm's animal could reasonably be placed in that category.  As with so many cryptozoological sightings, this tale resides in a most unsatisfying limbo. It may be there forever.
Dale Drinnon said...
Dale Drinnon does not write it off as merely a pinniped: Dale Drinnon takes the specific comment made by Bernard Heuvelmans that the head was the same size as a female elephant seal's head and then goes on to conclude "All right, let's suppose this is a female elephant seal" in some positions an elephant seal's neck could well look four feet long, especially if the foreflippers were held tight to the sides, and the neck would have a "waisted" appearance behind the head, more narrow than the head. It matches all of the specifics of the sighting and therefore I am satisfied with that explanation.


Front on the face of a female Elephant seal is indeed flat and like a cat's
rather than long and pointed with the eyes at the side as Helm had presumed.

1 comment:

  1. The book 'A Wizard's Bestiary' by Oberon Zell_Ravenheart (which is a surprisingly good source) traced the hippocampus myth to the walrus. This is because the original name for the walrus was Rosmarine ('horse of the sea'.) Apparently the horse part was due to the walrus resembling the hippopotamus. As the elephant seal looks a lot like a walrus I say your theory is spot on.

    The Camphurcii (or Campchurch) is usually dismissed as the narwhal but the original report by Thevet in his 16th century 'Cosmography' described it as inhabiting the coastal waters of Molucca, in Indonesia. About as far from the icy habitat of the narwhal as you can get. The small horn on it's forehead seems to identify it as a male Southern elephant seal as that species has a bump atop it's trunk that can look very like a horn at some angles. I think this explanation fits the report and location very nicely, more so than the southern narwhal.

    I have always had an interest in these wayward elephant seal reports. Especially the ones from South American rivers and lakes. Love how the Huilla description calls it a snake but goes on to describe it's feet. Obviously one weird 'snake'!

    In your opinion is the Atlantic elephant seal a undescribed species or the same as one of the known species?


This blog does NOT allow anonymous comments. All comments are moderated to filter out abusive and vulgar language and any posts indulging in abusive and insulting language shall be deleted without any further discussion.