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Thursday, 9 February 2012

Longnecked Seals: the Case of the Missing Specimen

The following article still follows several of the ridiculous and cliched arguments of the anti-Plesiosaur camp. However that is not the main question here, the main question is the allegation of real physical evidence of that other fabulous creature, the longnecked seal...

In the 1600s, the specimen of a curious long-necked seal emerged. It could explain tall stories of sea serpents – if only it hadn't been mislaid

[NB that the drawing of the longnecked seal is based on a poor partial-description only-DD]

Lost treasures: The Loch Ness monster that got away

In the 1600s, the specimen of a curious long-necked seal emerged. It could explain tall stories of sea serpents – if only it hadn't been mislaid
Despite centuries of alleged sightings, no Loch Ness monsters or sea serpents have ever been found. But in the 1600s, the specimen of a curious long-necked creature emerged that could explain where such aquatic tall tales may have originated - if only it hadn't been mislaid.
In the late 17th century, the botanist Nehemiah Grew published a catalogue of oddities held by the Royal Society in London. The book, called Musaeum regalis societatis, contains the first scientific description of a skin belonging to an unusual seal. He writes: "Wherein he principally differs, is the length of his neck; for, from his nose-end to his fore-feet, and from thence to his tail, are the same measure." By contrast, most [common]seal necks are only about a half the length of their lower body. In 1751, Grew's description was cited by James Parsons in the Royal Society journal Philosophical Transactions (vol 47, p 109). Parsons included it in his list of known species.
Nobody has seen the skin since, and no further specimens have emerged. Could long-necked seals really exist? The idea persists but is now relegated to cryptozoology, the search for semi-mythical species. Cryptozoologists argue that many legendary creatures have actually existed and point to the colossal squid or king cheetah as examples.

Lurking monsters

Among the most enduring mythical creatures are "sea serpents". The Loch Ness monster is a land-locked example, but most claims are marine. One popular idea is that such animals are plesiosaurs: long-necked marine reptiles that died out 65 million years ago. The idea doesn't stand up. For one, they could not lift their heads into the swan-like pose attributed to Nessie. And while other creatures thought to be long-extinct have been found lurking in the oceans today - such as the coelacanth fish - it's unlikely the plesiosaur would be absent from the fossil record for 65 million years.
In 1892, the Dutch zoologist Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans argued in his book The Great Sea-serpent that such monsters were long-necked seals. The idea met with a chilly reception, but it was revived in 1968 by cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans in his book In the Wake of the Sea-serpents.
While the existence of a long-necked seal today is speculative at best, there is some circumstantial evidence. In 2009, Michael Woodley, then of Royal Holloway, University of London and colleagues estimated that up to 15 species of pinnipeds, the animal group that includes seals and walruses, might remain undiscovered (Historical Biology, vol 20, p 225).
Woodley also points out that no living animal has taken over the long-necked grazer niche vacated by the plesiosaurs. And fossils of Miocene seals called Acrophoca - a possible ancestor - have proportionally longer necks than seals today (Palaeontology, vol 45, p 821).
No new pinnipeds have been discovered since 1953. So if a new species emerged, it would be a big deal. The lack of confirmed sightings suggests the species wouldn't need to surface as frequently as other seals to breathe or breed. Of course, it could also mean it doesn't exist at all. If Grew's seal skin turned up though, cryptozoologists would be delighted.

--Without going through all the bother to refute all of the anti-Plesiosaur propaganda (Including the obvious observation that not all Plesiosaur necks were equal and different lengths of necks meant different degrees of flexibility), the allegation about Acrophoca is incorrect: the animal does not measure out as having a neck longer than living pinnipeds. Not by a long stretch.The question of what kind of seal is being discussed comes up. And here I would like to make a pertinent remark on that score-we are not talking about a swan-necked seal in that the seal in question does not have a thin neck. Indeed the thickness of the neck is not described as unusual. And the seal in question does NOT have to look like a Plesiosaur.

In dealing with the Long-necked seal proposition, Ivan Sanderson remarks that certain existing sea lions, the length if the head and neck is indeed already almost the same as the length of the trunk in the same animal. So we are still talking about an ordinary sea lion. Sea lions would however be unknown animals around the British Isles at any time in the historical period. Seals but not sea lions are known to inhabit the waters around Britain. A sea lion or fur seal could well be the size as specified in this skin as an adult (Six or seven feet long) And so we are not talking about a new kind of freakish mammalian Plesiosaur, we are talking about a now-vanished and previously unexpected kind of North Atlantic Otariid.

Best Wishes, Dale D.

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