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Monday 13 May 2013

New England Sea Serpent

 It seems that all of these early New England SeaSerpents were NOT Multihumped at all: they had a body plan that was basically Plesiosaurian with a head and long neck in front, large body with two or three humps, interpreted as being the  coils of a snake's body poking above the water as it swims (Which is not physically actually possible) In the picture above, the one creature with a man in his mouth has seized him by the head in the seal-killing method reported of these creatures. This is something we have discussed on other occasions) The limbs are presumably not there and so are not depicted. But even going on drawings like these, the proportionate lengths of the neck to the body length, and both to overall length, are close to the statistical norms for Longneck sightings.

Cape Cod Sea Serpent
The earliest recorded sighting in Atlantic waters was made by a four passers-by off Cape Anne Massachusetts in 1639.

They told me of a sea serpent or snake, that lay coiled up like a cable upon a rock at Cape Ann; a boat passing by with two English on board, and two Indians, they would have shot the serpent, but the Indians dissuaded them, saying that if he were not killed outright, they would be in danger of their lives.

John Jossely, An Accoiunt Of Two Voyages To New England, (1641)

After that, there weresporadic encounters between men and serpents but the next recorded one was in 1805 when David Lee saw a one hundred foot sea-snake off the shores of Cape Breton Island. "Its back was dark green and it stood in the water in flexuous hillocks and went through it with an impetuous noise."

"String of Buoys" version of a "Waterhorse" or "Horsehead" or a "Long Horse"
In many early cases, these were sightings of swimming moose making a prominent and characteristic wake. At this late the only way to really know this is because of the size and shape of the hairy head.

The Gulf of Maine was visited in1817, when the Sandy Bar monster put on a memorable aquatic show for several hundred people. In that year there were numerous mass sightings of “a monster snake with a mountain range like body,” in the shallows through many days of the summer.
The continued sightings caused the Linnean Society of Boston to form a committe “for the purpose of collecting any evidence that may exist repecting a remarkable animal denominated as a Sea Serpent, reported to have been seen in and near the Harbour of Gloucester (Massachusetts).”
The Gloucester committee’s report finally came back as a small pamphlet in December of 1817. It contained the sworn testimony of twelve individuals who had observed the monster. It was conclude that all of them had seen a single sea serpent about the dates August 10 to August 28 within the Harbour.
After that, until, October 5, the creature was seen within Long Island Sound. Observations took place over periods of time ranging from a few minutes to two hours and the sight-seers were a distances that varied from a few feet to perhaps a mile. The serpent was seen at all hours of the day and was sometimes in rapid motion but was also seen at rest on the water. Its back appeared to undulate at times but in other instances it was seen as smooth and barrel like. It looked like a land-snake, black or dark-brown in colour, having a diameter of about three feet, tapering toward the extremnities. Its length was variously guessed to be between twenty and a hundred feet. Most observers though the skin was smooth but two said it was rough in texture. The head was said to be like that of a conventional serpent and three witnesses said that had seen a tongue projecting from the mouth. One witness compared the eyes to that of an ox. No fins, gills or mane were seen and there was also unanimous agreement that the animal was extremely fexible.
This sea serpent appeared to have little interest in the human observers and totally ignored the firing of guns from the shore. It made no sound and was not afraid of the shore for it was once seen lying partially out of the water. [Neck out on land?]
gloucester sea serpent
The naturalists who interviewed the observers were not content to publish this general information but attempted to create a hypothesis regarding the sighting: A month after these singular events a small black snake was found on the beach at Loblolly Cove and this three foot “beast” was slain using a pitchfork. It was presented to the Linneans who afterwards gave their iopinion that it was the young of the sea serpent whose “eggs” might have been deposited on or near the shore.
Examining the carcasse some of the Committee were “delighted” to find a series of small humps on the animal’s back and soon published the fact that “no material difference” had been found between the large and the small animal. The specimen was named Scioliophis atlanticus and appended to their report was an anatomical description based on their dissection of the smaller animal.

European critics of the report quickly identified the two drawings as representing the more common Coluber constrictor, apparently suffering from tumourous growths. The science community took the Committee’s report with “a calmness bordering on indifference,” and this helped to sea the animal’s fate as a fabulous creature. In the end the twelve honest burghers of Glucester came under the gun as being credulous, and the town gained a reputation for tall-tales.

[Allowing for the consistent tendancy to count the "String of Buoy" humps as being the actual body instead of the wake, the basic creature reported is modest enough and is a possible Longneck. It is between twenty and forty feet long and has from one to three humps. It commonly hoists its head, which is like that of a snake or a turtle, to a height of five or six feet out of the water, and the width of the neck at the base is two and a half to three feet. Behind the neck the body is barrel-shaped.]

This led to many practical jokes, and fictious sea-serpents were generated and reported tongue-in-cheek by the Press. Worse still, in the following year, Captain Rich of Cape Ann outfitted a ship from Boston and claimed they were going to track the monster. When they came to shore they reported they had caught the beast and thousands came flocking to see it. At the shore-line they found a 600 or 700 pound "macquerel,' which was a great curiosity, although not as billed. Those who had previously decided against the existence of sea serpents proudly took credit for their superior judgement, discrimination and clear-headedness. Even the few who had been believers now turned coat and most admitted they had been deceived. There was less tendancy to be open about sightings after that incident.

School of whales reported as a single gigantic sea serpent. Although this mistake is a lot less common than it might seem, sightings at both New England and Scandinavia, and rarely the world over, are best explained as small pods of whales.

There was however, another in Halifax Harbour on July 15, 1825. One person who was present described it as having, “a body as big as a tree, with eight coils or humps to its body, and it was about sixty feet long.” A similar creature was seen in the following year by William Warrburton in the waters south of Newfoundland.

At Mahone Bay in 1833, two members of Her Majesty's Royal Navy saw a beast they claimed resembled an gigantic but otherwise unremarkable sea-snake. A periodical, The Zoologist for May 1847 reported this incident. It was said that a party had set out from Halifax "in a small yacht" on a fishing expedition. The group included Captain Sullivan and Lieutenants Maclachlan and Malcolm, all army officers stationed in that small town.
The weather was cloudy and the winds becoming ubfavourable so that they deliberated on the wisdom of continuing their excursion. However, deciding that there were a lot of emergency landing places on their lee stuck to their original course. They intended to fish near Iron Bound Island at the mouth of Mahone Bay but having received incorrect compass bearings before leaving town they ended up further from shore than intended.
The men were nevertheless quite relaxed and were sitting on deck, getting their fishing tackle ready to fish for Atlantic salmon. They were then surprised by a sudden flurry of fish passing by in the water "in an unusual state of excitement."

At this, they gave off smoking cigars, and took to amusing themselves by firing shots at this "immense shoal of grampuses [the term can mean a kind of fish or a kind of a whale. here they are clearly called fish]." They were not ceertain where they were located but thought they might be off St. Margaret's Bay. Captain Sullivan's attention was now redirected by their steersman, a Mr. Dowling" who shouted out "Oh sirs, look here!" Everyone did, and saw an object "of wonder and surprise."
"We were surprised by the sight of an immense shoal of grampuses, which appeared in an unusual state of excitement, and which in their gambols approached so close to our little craft that some of the party amused themselves by firing at them with rifles. At this time we were jogging at about five miles an hour, and must have been crossing Margaret's Bay, 'when suddenly,' at a distance of from a hundred and fifty to two hundred yards on our starboard bow, we saw the head and neck of some denizen of the deep, precisely like those of a common snake, in the act of swimming, the head so far elevated and thrown forward by the curve of the neck, as to enable us to see the water under and beyond it.  The creature rapidly passed, leaving a regular wake, from the commencement of which to the fore part, which was out of water, we judged in length to be about eighty feet, and this within rather than beyond the mark. It is most difficult to give correctly the dimensions of any object in the water. The head of the creature we set down at about six feet in length , and that portion of the neck which we saw the same [the head and neck together formed a 'periscope' of twelve feet long]; the extreme length, as before stated, at between eighty and one hundred feet. The neck in thickness equalled the bole of a moderate-sized tree. The head and neck of a dark brown or nearly black colour, streaked with white in irregular streaks. I do not recollect seeing any part of the body [above water]."

In short, what the men saw and swore a statement to seeing, was about a replay of the Daedalus sea serpent case, except in this case the back definitely did not break surface and the length was judged to have been longer. Since we are talking about the estimated length of a submerged body, the point might well be moot. Oudemans estimated also that the creature sighted by the Daedalus was ninety to one hundred feet long in full, by including a prolonged tail as part of the estimate" presumably these men had done the same.

 A statement to this effect was signed by these three men and two others present on the yacht, Ensign B. O'Neil Lyster and Henry Ince, and ordinance stores officer.
""At the distance of from a hundred and fifty to two hundred yards on our starboard bow, we saw the head and neck of some denizen of the deep, precisely like those of a common (sea) snake, in the act of swimming, the head so far elevated and thrown forward by the curve of the neck, as to enable us to see the water under and beyond it. The creature passed rapidly, leaving a regular wake, from the commencement of which, to the fore part, which was out of waterm we judged the length to be about eighty feet, and this within, rather than beyond the mark. ..There could be no mistake, no delusion, and we were all perfectly satisfied that we had seen a view of the "true and vertible sea-serpent", which was generally considered to have existed only in the brain of some Yankee skipper, and treatred as a tale not much entitled to belief."

Dowling is said to have noted: "Well, I've sailed in all parts of the world, and have seen rum sights too in my time, but this is the queerest I ever see!"

On his second visit to America in 1842 the geologist Charles Lyell was told of a sea-serpent that had the misfortune to become stranded on Merigomish Beach, on the Northumberland shore of Nova Scotia: “It was about one hundred feet long, and nearly aground in calm water, within two hundred feet of the beach. It remained in sight about half and hour, and then got off with difficulty.” One witness thought that the head was seal-like, and on its back spotted a number of humps, which some thought were due to the flexing of the body wall. The colour appeared to be black and the skin was rough in texture. There was no indication of side flippers. [There is the distinct possibility the report describes the corpse of a whale which washed up on a beach but then later washed back off again "With difficulty" meaning it was being beaten by the waves for a prolonged period before beiong washed away again]

In 1844 a similar creature appeared at nearby Arisaig, on this same
coast. There being a slight breeze, it was easily seen by a millwright from Pictou, who stood on land within 120 feet of it. He estimated the length at sixty feet, the thickness of the body at three. There
were humps on the back which he thought were too close together to represent bends in the body. As the creature undulated, its head and tail were sometimes seen simultaneously. Later that fall a similar animal was seen from the eastern shore of Prince Edward Island, which lies immediately across the Northumberland Strait. [These are almost certainly views of wakes in the water]

In 1849 four fishermen sighted an eel-like monster swimming off
South West Island near the entrance to St. Margaret’s Bay, in southern Nova Scotia. They launched a boat and tried to approach it. Again the animal was seen to be black in colour, its back covered with scales. No caudal fin was observed but they saw a very high fin, or perhaps a row of spines erected along the back. Each was judged to be about an inch in diameter at the base, and the set continued along the back for perhaps a third of the animal’s length, each end being equidistant from the head and the tail. At some point the animal opened its mouth and looked hostile so the men, “pulled vigorously for shore, followed for some distance by the snake.”[possibly an oarfish due to the fin]

A fisherman, returning from Port George to Victoria Beach in 1890, held his ship parallel to the black basalt cliffs but became momentarily unsteady when he spotted a "horse-head" racing through the water. The captain claimed that "it rolled hoop-like" beside his craft, each loop taking up thirty to forty feet of water. Since the eyes were "as large as saucers" and the creature was following closely the crew put on extra sail in spite of a threatening gale. They were trailed as far as Point Prim light. Two other vessels made similar sightings before week-end, but it was not seen afterwards.
["Horse-heads" are usually swimming moose, so that it is likely this one is a moose also]          

N.C.Wyeth painting of a Sea Serpent "Periscope"

In 1913 a sea-serpent which had a giraffe-like head was spotted by Allen Line personnel travelling across the Grand Banks in the steamer Corinthian. The First Officer confused the creature with an overturned ship and approached to within 60 metres before a curious haed arose from the water. The Second Officer went immediately for his rifle but was disuaded from shooting by its “great blue eyes.” For a few moments the sea-giraffe churned the waters near the boat and then cruised away uttering a wail,“altogether out of proportion to its size.” Those who heard it claimed the sound was not unlike that of a disraught child.

Before they could photograph it the animal dove out of sight. The four witnesses agreed that what they had seen was [Snakelike in the front or neck,] 60 feet in length, “crocodile-like” in shape [in the body], having four limbs “with powerful webbed feet [or flippers] and a long tail tapering to a point.”

Vintage Illustration of a Plesiosaur
The Sable Island sea-serpent was spotted by veteran fishermen over a period of five days in July 1976. On the fifth of that month Eisner Penny made the first report from a position in the vicinity of Pollock’s Shoal. He thought at first that he was looking at a whale, but later concluded that it was, “bigger than anything I have ever seen at sea.” He approached it to within seventy feet and described it as having, “a massive peaked head, with a longish mouth like an alligator.” He watched it for a half hour before it vanished in the distance.[this was said to be a baleen whale poorly described]

Two days later, Keith Ross and his son Rodney saw the creature again. They agreed that the head was eight or ten feet above the surface of the water. When the mouth opened the younger Ross ducked into the cabin to save a confrontation. The two men said they were close enough to see that the beast had two tusks, “two and a half feet long, three inches thick at the base, with rows of smaller teeth as well.” On top of the head they observed a mass of brown flesh protruding from the neck. The protruding eye sockets was it.”[the description fits the decaying corpse of a baleen whale]

The next appearance of this great serpent was near the coast of Maine, where it was seen by the entire crew of the schooner Madagascar which was en route Lubec. During the morning watch, at 6 o'clock July 28, 1901, the vessel was standing under sail moving north along the coast at six to eight knots. The watch sighted an object on the starboard bow which had the appearance of a huge log. As the drew closer, Edward Ray, a sailor from Ellsworth, Maine, said that he thought the "log" was moving. The mate, Len Armstrong of Lubec, saw the object floating on the surface but was not as certain there was movement. As they approached within a sea-biscuit throw of the object, the two sailors were astonished to have it raise a great snake-like head and glide sinuously away from the ship.
They were close enough to observe minute details: In shape they said that the creature came closest to a snake but it was 30 feet long, covered with scales, ranging in colour from green to brown, and strangely refractive of the sun's rays. Along the back, from head to tail, they saw a spinal points, which seemed an extension of the back bone. Just below the head was a huge dorsal fin, or spine, thick, dark in colour, and about the size of a man's hand. The crew agreed that the body diameter must be about two feet, tapering slightly beyond the head and drastically towards the tail. As far as they could see there was no difference between the body tone or colour from the top to the bottom surface of the animal. [despite the strange colouration this is most likely an oarfish]

After the monster was safely separated from the ship it lay quietly upon the water for a number of minutes, seemingly appraising events. For a half hour more, the men watched it making fast skipping motions through the water, traveling only a short distance with each burst of energy. It appeared entirely fearless, showing no alarm at any of the tacks made by the vessel.

In speaking of the incident, Edward Ray told the "Saint Croix Courier" that he had been a seaman for nine years and had sailed the Atlantic from Africa to Labrador, but had never seen anything in the sea that resembled this creature. Asked if he thought it might have been possible to trap the animal, he said that no crew could have taken such a creature alive, and he guessed it would have been dangerous to injure it with a harpoon.

Again, the "St. Andrews Beacon" reported another sighting, August 2, 1906: This time the serpent was seen close to land by Thebold Rooney, keeper of the Sand Reef Light. Rooney thought that the monster had been draw to land in the wake of schools of herring, which he may have been pursuing. If so, he was not after food, for after moving quietly about he moved away from the lighthouse in the direction of Clam Cove.

Rooney got out his binoculars and reported the animal to be between 25 and 30 feet, judging by background objects. The head was small and snake-like and he guessed it to be the diameter of a weir stake. The keeper said that he might have taken it as a shark except for the lack of any dorsal fin. As the serpent moved out of sight it flipped up a tail in whale-fashion, and was lost to sight.

Rooney said that this was not the first "sea-snake" he had seen in St. Andrews Bay. Several years earlier he had been in the company of several other fisherman when one went scudding by making "a great deal of noise". For their part, the editors of the newspaper supported the keeper noting he was "not a man given to seeing snakes other than sea serpents."

Visiting the region, Ganong noted this flurry of sightings, and published a paper in 1907 edition of The Bulletin Of The New Brunswick Natural History Society, noting: "For the past few summers the local papers have often reported the appearance of "sea-serpents" at Passamaquoddy and the Saint Croix. The animal is really there but it is according to testimony of observant persons, a White Whale... Locally it is stated that it came into the Bay with the war-ships during the Champlain celebrations, June 25, 1905. But in this belief we have nothing but an illustration of another wonder tendency, viz. the habit of linking together, as casually connected, prominent events which are merely contemporaneous; for the data in my possession shows that the animal was seen in the bay at least one season before 1905."

horned serpent

A Jipjakimaq [Abenaki Sea Serpent] as seen by a rock artist at Kedjemkujik Park, NovaScotia

Above: This picture, created in 1910, purports to depict the sighting of a sea serpent near Ipswich, Massachusetts. The existence of a sea serpent in New England waters has long been rumored (see the Gloucester sea serpent). Note the legs dangling from the creature's mouth.[Museum of Hoaxes]
[The legs dangling from the creature's mouth is a feature derived from the antique illustration at the top of the page.]

Previously on the Frontiers of Zoology Blog:

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