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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

VOID Sea-Serpent Category 4: Many-Finned or Cetacean Centipede

Different Conceptions of the Cetacean Centipede. Heuvelmans' version is last.

While I have been busy with other matters and temporarily off the blog, I have also been getting a steady string of messages from the young person who asked me about the Sea Wolf and Sea Ape matter recently.


I follow several blogs either on cryptozoology or featuring content on the subject. One of them is Cameron McCormick's blog, The Lord Geekington. I was recently going through the posts on his site when I came across two on the Many-Finned Sea-Serpent:

The first lists all of the sightings listed by Heuvelmans and Coleman and Huyghe, and does a very good job of explaining most of the sightings. The second post basically shows that the Many-Finned reports end up belonging more with other categories than each other. I hope you will find these interesting.

Also, here are a couple links to photos showing how ordinary dolphins can become a many-finned sea-serpent.

I especially like this photo, especially when compared to the St. Olaf sea-serpent, which Heuvelmans thought was a Many-Finned:

Oops. Maybe the Many-Finned I.D. was just a little off.... :) and this is why I prefer to call this type The Porpoise Parade.

This also brings me to the subject of the Along Bay Dragons. The main reason Heuvelmans believed it was Many-Finned was because of this:

[Con Rit carcass]
This stranding, of course, is basically worthless. Due to its age and its second/third-hand nature, we cannot take any stock in it. So much for having multiple fins. But then there was this sighting:

[Hanoi SS]

Heuvelmans's reasoning behind why it looked so different from the other dragons was that the poor lighting and poor health (?) of the creature distorted its image, and that the description of the back showed that the dragons had jointed armor (!) on their backs. And this is complete bullsh*t. It's the mental gymnastics that he himself scorned. It's quite obviously a turtle of some sort, and I have no idea why he didn't call it a Father-of-all-Turtles. Then again, it may simply be a misidentified known species of some sort.

[Lord Geekington suggests a Leatherback turtle but it could also represent a pair of leatherbacks, one showing the head and the other showing the body, turned at 90 degrees from each other.

The ridges on the body section in the drawing are an almost exact match for a Leatherback's shell in this orientation.

This could happen if two leatherbacks were at the surface preparing to mate or sliding away from each other after having mated, and the two of them together could easily span a distance of 20 feet or more. Or else it (they?) could still represent a larger Archelon-type turtle. It is probably significant that at least half a dozen Sea-serpent enthusiasts including myself have gone to that drawing and each said independantly "Turtle!" without any hesitation whatsoever]

However, I do take stock in the other "Dragon" reports. I would discount them as many-humped/wave sightings were it not for the fact that the humps were described as scaly and had saw-toothed ridges. Actually, this sketch from Australia matches quite closely to the descriptions from Along Bay:

It is of course a poor sketch, but it at least gives us an idea of what we're dealing with: a scaly, serpentine animal with a medium-length neck, which moves by undulating vertically and appears as two or three humps at the surface. This isn't really that outlandish, and I'm sure the humps would be rather lower than in the image. The range of sightings of this type is not too unreasonable either; they appear to range from the South China Sea down to the north coast of Australia. I leave you this category to evaluate as you wish.

Now, there is one more sighting type I want to ask you about, because it completely stumps me as to what could cause this. It is a feature commonly described in Caddy sightings: the humps of the creature appearing as like half a tire. I include these links to demonstrate (I tried to copy and paste the sketches, but for whatever reason my computer simply copies a screenshot of the page):

and two computer-generated images demonstrating the effect:

Some of the sketches are clearly either wakes or Long-necks. What I am interested in are the sightings which appear to show loops of a serpentine body coming clear out of the water. As far as I know, no known vertebrate has a spine that can undulate vertically and show more than two "humps" above water, let alone move the body clear out of the water in multiple coils. These sightings have me stumped and I want to know what your take is on these sightings.


{I shall refer to the "Half-tyre" sightings at the finish of this blog entry]

There is also the sequel email,

Thank you Dale.
The explanation for the half tires [That they are long necks] certainly does make sense. And I agree with you that the many-finned is not a valid category. Again, I prefer to call it the Porpoise Parade :)

However, I am still bothered by the description of the Along Bay dragons. I would dismiss them as many-humped sightings but they generally only appeared as maybe three humps and these were described as scaled and sarrated. I cannot decide if they belong in another category {if they are typical Longnecks] or if they reprsent a different creature altogether. The description if serpentine bodies doesn't match any other categories.

[Princess SS]

Also, I am rather uneasy about the Princess sighting. The description has little detail and the sketch is quite strange. On its own, the only thing that I can thing of resembling it would be a large cetacean surrounded by a pod of small sharks. Then again, it seems likely that McCormick's view is correct: it appears that it's a composite sketch, and im not sure it even depicts the sighting itself, but looks rather like an attempt at depicting the "creature" that was seen. Whatever it is, it seems to be the only sighting to depict a creature with many fins, and its complete singularity makes it difficult to put any stock in it.


It is also useful to see the two Lord Geekington Many-Finned Blog Entries together

As a matter of fact, I came upon Lord Geekington's blog entries early in 2010 and commented on them at the regular Yahoo group Frontiers of Zoology. The charts indicating cladistics are still on file in the photos section of that group.

My comments on the category of Many-Finned went public when that group opened up in 2006, although I had come to the conclusion several decades before. The 2010 CFZ yearbook printed a version of my suggested amendments to Cryptozoological checklists. Page 87 of the yearbook includes this information: [In my assessment], Four categories are extinguished as valid categories. These are:

VOID 1: "Classic Sea-Serpent"
VOID 2: "Waterhorses" (As opposed to Longnecked Sea-Serpents PLUS Merhorses)
VOID 3: "Dinosauria"
VOID 4: "The Great Sea Centipede"

Then going to the following explanatory text:

VOID 4:"The Great Sea Centipede" (Heuvelmans' "Cetioscolopendra" or "Many-Finned Sea-serpent" category) ALL of the reports [characteristic of] this category COULD well be mistaken views of ordinary finbacked animals in compacted arrangement. There is an additional problem in that there is a variance in proportionate widths per approximately similar lengths that can be as small as three feet but up to fifteen feet wide across the back [in different creatures estimated to be sixty feet long], a difference of the greatest estimate being five times the least measurement. this is a difference in the with being 1/20 of the length up to its being 1/4, obviously illustrating the difference of how closely the creatures are clustered together to create the appearance of a "Row of fins" effect. With this sort of a variability of the reports it is excusable to wonder at the accuracy of such statements as "Fins turned bfront to back". At least one of the possible Sea-serpent reports in Heuvelmans' collection is admittedly even more likely to be a small school of cetaceans (the HMS Narcissus report)

At the same time I clarified to my correspondant that none of the Along Bay series of reports fell into that category and that I counted them separately, including the mention that I thought the Hanoi SS was a turtle. So that basically we agreed on those points. Statistically the Along Bay reports fall in closely similar to the basic Longneck+Merhorse reports worldwide and when broken down into similar geographic areas for statistical analysis. I also mentioned that information from my Vietnamese informants specified that the male sea-serpent recognised locally as Thoung-Luong was recognisably a standard description of a maned "Merhorse"

Traditional Vietnamese Dragons Illustrating The Common Sea-Serpent traits. The blue one is a china water-jug.

One important case that deserves special treatment is the case of the Osborne Sea-serpent case of 1877.

[Scientific American 14 July 1877 ]
The Sea Serpent Sighted from a Royal Yacht.

The Osborne, paddle royal yacht, Commander Hugh L. Pearson, which arrived at Portsmouth from the Mediterranean on Monday, June 11, has forwarded an official report to the Admiralty, through the Commander-in-Chief (Admiral Sir George Elliot, K.C.B.), respecting a sea monster which she encountered during her homeward voyage.
At about 5 o'clock in the afternoon of June 2, the sea being exceptionally calm, while the yacht was proceeding round the north coast of Sicily toward Cape Vito, the officer on the watch observed a long ridge of fins, each about 6 feet long, moving slowly along. He called for a telescope, and was at once joined by other officers. The Osborne was steaming westward at ten and a half knots an hour, and having a long passage before her, could not stay to make minute observations. The fins were progressing in a eastwardly direction, and as the vessel more nearly approached them, they were replaced by the foremost part of a gigantic monster. Its skin was, so far as it could be seen, altogether devoid of scales, appearing rather to resemble in sleekness that of a seal.
The head was bullet-shaped, with an elongated termination, being somewhat similar in form to that of a seal, and was about six feet in diameter. Its features were only seen by one officer, who described them as like those of an alligator. The neck was comparatively narrow, but so much of the body as could be seen, developed in form like that of a gigantic turtle, and from each side extended two fins, about fifteen feet in length, by which the monster paddled itself along after the fashion of a turtle. [The exposed length of head, neck and back was taken to be about 50-60 feet long]
The appearance of the monster is accounted for by a submarine volcano, which occurred north of Galita, in the Gulf of Tunis, about the middle of May, and was reported at the time by a steamer which was struck by a detached fragment of submarine rock. The disturbance below water, it is thought probable, may have driven up the monster from its "native element," as the site of the eruption is only one hundred miles from where it was reported to have been seen—Portsmouth (Eng.) Times.

-In my opinion the first drawing by the officers of the Osborne shows a pod of humpback whales bubble-feeding: the pointed objects would then be noses of the whales and not fins. It is my impression of the drawing that they are gathered around in an oviod or circular formation rather than in a line or two lines of "Triangles." When the Osborne got closer, one of the whales breeched at them, giving them a view of the large pectoral flippers. The view of the upper jaw coulsd well look like a longish head and neck as seen from behind, and the other descriptions as being bullet-shaped, seal-like from the back or having a face like an alligator would all fit. A humpback whale is also the only animal KNOWN to have 15-foot-long pectoral flippers. In which case the estimated length of 50-60 feet long is very close to reality and this is basically a very good set of observations. The sketches are rough and a little misleading, but that is normal in such cases.

Views of humpback whales bubble-feeding in Alaska at top, and then two of humpbacks breeching: copyright owners have watermarks on the photos, The breeching whale with flippers down is seen from the top of the head, which is indeed shaped much like an alligator's head. The lower view shows just the nose-end looking like a "Seamonster" head and neck.

[Poonah SS]

[St Olaf SS]

[Interpretation of St Olaf SS by Pristichampsus on Deviant Art]

[Princess SS]

{Many-Finned SS as an Odontocete by Pristichampsus on Deviant Art,
Obviously influenced by the Princess SS sighting especially]

[Con Rit interpreted as an enormous Arthropod by Pristichampsus on Deviant Art]

For the information of readers who have not seen the material we are discussing,
The following is an extended quote from Coleman and Huyghe's The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep.

Great Sea Centipede

This unique marine animal generally is quite large, 30 to 60 feet in length [to reportedly over 150], with a relatively thin neck. Its body may be segmented and displays lateral projections, plates, or fins that stick out prominently from its sides. This animal routinely sprouts what appears to be water vapor from its hairy nose or mouth area. This visible breath is one of the diagnostic features of this kind of Sea Serpent.

Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans called this type the Many Finned, and noted that its many lateral fins and segmented, jointed armor of bony dermal plaques “were common among archaic whales.” The multiple finned structures have been reported in a variety of configurations, and Heuvelmans points out that the rigid nature of the animal may cause the fins to be seen from different angles when the animal turns radically. Because of the animal’s movement, therefore, these triangular fins can give an appearance of a massive jagged crest, when the cryptid is swimming on its side.

We have renamed Heuvelmans’ Many Finned, the Great Sea Centipede, which hacks back to the original—and more appropriate– original Roman name.

Heuvelmans said this type is found only in the belt of tropical and subtropical waters around the world, living in some of world’s warmest waters. A close study of the distribution of sightings of this distinctive creature appears to demonstrate a restricted range for this tropical marine animal, from south of Asia to Arabia, at 15 degrees north, to 15 degrees south near Madagascar, with only a few reports coming out of the normal range. A specific, well-documented population has historically been reported from the South China Sea off of the old Indochina, east to the Gulf of Aden. Reports from Madagascar to the south, and sightings in the Mediterranean Sea reinforce the restrictions of this type to the world’s warmer marine environs.

The first modern discussion of these animals took place in the sixteenth-century work, L’Histoire entiere des poissons by the “Father of Ichthyology” Guillaume Rondelet. What he called the “cetacean centipede,” had “a multitude of feet,” the “oars with which it propels itself.” This cetacean, which was frequently seen in the Indies, stated Rondelet, was first described by Aelian (d. 230 A.D.) in his On the Nature of Animals (200 A.D.), as the “great sea-centipede.” Aeliad told how this animal sometimes beached and witnesses would describe the lobster-like tail and hairs of the large nostrils.
Though the legacy of the Great Sea Centipede is centered on the South China Sea, sightings in other parts of the world give hints of an earlier, more widespread, distribution of this type.
One detailed record of a sighting was noted by the Illustrated London News. It came in the form of a letter from Edmund J. Wheeler, who was quoting from the log book of his company’s ship, Princess, recently returned from China. When going around South Africa (latitude 34 degrees 56’ S, longitude 18 degrees 14’ E), Captain Tremearne saw a “large fish, with a head like a walrus, and twelve fins,” six on each side, a great tail, some 20-30 feet in length. It was sprouting something from its mouth. The Princess’ crew fired on it and felt they had hit it around the head. This all took place at 1 P.M. on July 8, 1856.
Commander Hugh L. Pearson, captain of the Royal Yacht and his Lieutenant W. P. Haynes, both of the H. M. S. Osborne, cited in an official report to the Admiralty, that they had seen a sea monster, but not one that was serpent-like, off Cape Vito, near the north coast of Sicily, on May 2, 1877. Remarkably, it displayed a long row of fins, over thirty feet long, which appear to have been seen sticking out from the side of the animal, rather than from the back, as Sea Serpents are sometimes described. This certainly appears to be the case, because when the gentlemen grew closer to the creature, it showed a head with a smoothness down its back “like a seal” and front flippers.
The next year, another sighting followed in which the witness told an investigator that what she saw looked exactly like what had been seen from the Osborne. In December 1878, an Englishwoman named Mrs. Turner was aboard the P & O liner Poonah anchored off Suez or Aden (she could not remember which), at the Gulf of Aden when saw her creature. She related her experience to Robert P. Greg, who subsequently wrote a letter to biologist Antoon Cornelis Oudemans. What she said she saw, a mere 150 feet away, was a strange animal motionless on the surface. Greg relayed that “She saw both the head and 7 or 8 fins of the back, all at the same time in a line. She cannot remember exactly how many dorsal fins there were, but they were large, slightly curved back and not all the same size…. The head looked 4-6 feet diameter, like a large tree trunk…. The color was nearly black like a whale. The whole length appeared considerable, perhaps as long as an ordinary tree, or moderate sized ship!”
But most of the sightings of the Great Sea Centipede are tied to Indochina, and the excellent records the French kept of sightings from 1890s through the early 1900s, as French and others ships were opening the markets off the South China Sea. A record of a stranding of one of these animals took place in 1883 (see descriptive case). Good sightings of sea-going unknowns with many fins occurred off of Indochina in 1893, 1896, 1898, 1902, 1903, 1904, and 1908. Sightings near Somalia occurred in 1923 and 1928, and near Madagascar in 1926. In the 1920s, A. Krempf, Director of the Oceanographic and Fisheries Service of Indo-China, formally considered these animals to be real and part of the zoological sphere to be described and collected. Heuvelmans’ view is that this Vietnamese cryptid is the prototype for the Oriental dragon.
More recent sightings are rare, but one report of a Sea Serpent seen by Chinese students in about 1968, near Hong Kong, suggests the continued existence of this type.

Dermal plating has been an evolutionary adaptation for aquatic environments, as it is to be found in certain fish groups, including the ancient fossil plated fish (Placodermi), and the present day examples of the sturgeon (Chondrostei), the seahorse (Teleostei), and the armored catfish (Teleostei, Loricariidae, Hypoptopoma). Even the coelacanth, of course, possesses a form of dermal plating that survives from 65 millions years ago. Having the body covered with an exoskeleton of horny epidermal scales with the addition sometimes of bony dermal plates, is the design of most reptiles (alligators, turtles, snakes). But did ancient whales have dermal plating? Convergent evolution could have produced some ancient whales with armored dermal plating.
Bernard Heuvelmans certainly thought so and designated this animal and its relatives, the Cetioscolopendra aeliani (“Aelian’s cetacean centipede”), linking it to the ancient whales – perhaps even the zeuglodons. One such a primitive, extinct whale (or zeuglodon) that Heuvelmans thought may have evolved a plated form was the Basilosaurus, an Archaeoceti whale from the Eocene epoch, 50 million of years ago. This snake-like whale had 44 teeth in its long jaws. It was about 65 ft (20 m) long, and had small hind legs and a reduced pelvis.
Heuvelmans noted that a few dermal scutes had been discovered in association with one basilosaur fossil, and some amorphous rounded lumps were found in associated with a fossil squalodont (a primitive toothed whale). Both finds were interpreted as evidence that primitive cetaceans were “armored.” However, in private correspondence in 2002, British paleontologist Darren Naish reports that the basilosaur scutes turned out to be from a leathery turtle and the squalodont “lumps” were either petrified wood or unidentifiable. No evidence of dermal plating, therefore, exists for cetaceans, extant or extinct.
Due to this lack of precedent, the rarity of good sightings, and their limited range, most cryptozoologists today feel that the Great Sea Centipede is one of the least likely of the Sea Serpent types...

The following is from George Eberhart’s Mysterious Creatures:

Con rít. Sea monster of the China Sea.
Etymology: Vietnamese (Austroasiatic) name for a millipede [centipede]with a toxic bite.
Physical description: Length, 60 feet. Dark brown above, light yellow below. Body composed of armored segments 2 feet long and 3 feet wide. A pair of thin appendages, 2 feet 4 inches long, is attached to each segment.
Distribution: Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Significant sighting: Tran Van Con and other Vietnamese found a carcass washed ashore at Hong Gai, Vietnam, around 1883. The head was gone, but the remainder was formed of odd segmented joints that rang like sheet metal when hit with a stick. It smelled so badly that it was towed out to sea.
Possible explanations:
(1) The backbone of a whale, though the vertebral structure should have been obvious and described in a different way.
(2) The caudal vertebrae of an Oarfish (Regalecus glesne). However, its bones are shaped differently and this fish generally only grows to 36 feet.
(3) Surviving archaic Basilosaurid whale, similar to those in Heuvelmans’s Multifinned sea monster category, which he theorized had armored plates. However, it’s now known that Basilosaurids were not armored.
(4) A surviving Sea scorpion (Class Eurypterida), a group of arthropods that flourished from the Ordovician to the Permian periods, 500–250 million years ago, had an abdomen divided into 12 segments, but no appendages were attached to them. In addition, they actually lived in brackish or fresh water instead of the open sea, and the largest one, a species of Pterygotus, only reached 16 feet in length.
(5) A giant crustacean of an unknown type, proposed by Karl Shuker. The carcass represents only the exoskeleton and limbs. However, the largest known living crustacean is the Japanese spider crab (Macrocheira kaempferi), which has a claw span of 10–12 feet but a body size not much over one foot—nowhere near the size of the Con rit.

[The largest known land Arthropod from fossils was the 6-foot-long Carboniferous millipede Arthropleura, which had the appearance of a tremendous elongated trilobite. Some of the discussion on some of the blogs tends to favor the idea that the Con Rit could be something like a gigantic marine Arthropleura. I need hardly point out that it would have to be supposedly ten times the length of the fossil form]

It is important to bear in mind that "Con Rit" only names the one very dessicated carcass in question and not the entire seies of sightings at Halong bay.Thus the champions of the invertebrate school are in a very precarious position indeed because the description very likely is only approximately correct and distorted after decades of memory. There is also the suggestion that this carcass was associated with other reports of vertebrae that were not whale vertebrae in a different one of Heuvelmans' footnotes.

I tend to the Oarfish expanation myself, with the body being very long exposed to the air and extremely dried out-basically a long strip of tough oarfish pemmican. It could thus have the proper consistency to be comparable to a crab's shell. The long crest would then be described as the filaments on the one side and there are a few corresponding long fins on the other side: it just needs enough to make the effect and it does not need complete rows of filaments on both sides. The tail end would then look like the diagram for the Con Rit carcass, as Eberhart states. The length of sixty feet would very likely be exaggerated and at any rate would only be approximate. The width is more likely to be correct, the segmented appearance because of the way the muscles are arranged along the sides. It would be a very old mummy when discovered, and sitting in the sun with the one side up for a long time. That would account for the top being darker and the bottom being lighter in colouration. And the vertebrae would look nothing like a whale's or a shark's when encountered separately.

In answering the first message quoted above I indicated why a Longneck's neck might arch out of water while it was swimming. I also pointed to Heuvelmans that anything that floats that high out of the water in order to make the looped effect is most likely inflated with air and incapable of swimming IN the water: sea creatures need about the same specific gravity as water and thus they would ride lower in the water.

After I sent the reply another thought came to me, the illusion of a "Loop" could be due to an illusion caused by a wave in the water actually being made out of water. Artist's courses tell you to show a wave crashing on the shore with a lighter-coloured window in the wave where the light from the other side comes through. If you had a "String of buoys" seen from the side but caused by a standing wave effect, you might also get the illusion of multiple windows in them if the light were right. There wouldn't actually be any holes in the water but it might look as if there were. So my explanation would be that the witness is actually looking at the water and not realising it if they report a long "train of loops"


  1. Great article as always.

    How about some giant species of Bichir =)

    Or far more plausibly a sturgeon?

    Of course both are rather rigid animals and can't explain for the loops.

  2. I assume that you chose the bichir for the fins and the sturgeon for the armour. Actually, the problem remains that Heuvelmans never really demonstrated that those features occured together and armour is not characteristic for the type. The one clearly "Armoured" report is the "Turtle" one.

    As to the possibility of a bichir, my explanation of the Many-finned in eel mode was that the back fins would work like bichir fins and the creature could change their position at will. That discussion was toward the end of the discussion on Bruce Champagne's Sea-serpent categories:
    And making a "Manyfinned" creature in that orientation also matches some reports but too few actually, and contradicts more reports than it is in agreement with. The comment I made at that time was The "Manyfinned" is the most dubious of all of Heuvelmans' categories and all the reports could admittedly be mistaken views of small pods of sharks or toothed whales. which also did not count the Halong Bay Dragons as that same category even then.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.


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