Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Large End of "Merhorse" Reports

Bernard Heuvelmans recognized that there was an ambiguity in his division of Sea-serpent reports and the determining features he used. He mentioned that his super eel category could be divided up into two different size range categories, one peaking around 30 feet in length and the other about 100. Fairly early on I realized that the same thing also worked for Merhorses,
Manes turned out to be non-determing factor in sorting since most kinds o f Sea Serpents seem to have some sort of a medial backfin or backbone ridge accentuator. But in this case the larger "Merhorses" were associated with other features such as a much shorter and thicker neck and an enormous eye a foot across or "The size of dinner plates"
Below  I'm   outlining several features from several distinct  reports WORLD-WIDE

Above and below, large Mosasaur reconstructions by Charles R Knight, including the medial backfin. The medial fin does have a reason to be there, to provide stability in a very long body swimming, even as Bernard Heuvelmans had argued  for a long low stabilizer down the middle of the back for Basislosaurus (zueglodon)

Dart SS_sighting_by_Pristichampsus (Tim Morris) on Deviant art
Above the Merhorse variant sighting from the Dart/Captain JM Dawson/ Dundee 1878 report which was said to be suspicious by Heuvelmans in that it was .said to be like no other report.(In the Wake of the Sea Serpents, p 363) But for the fact that it was said to have had a mane down its back, on the contrary, it sounds very much like the famous Rotomahana report that Tony Lucas thinks is a Mosasaur (On the bais of the plan drawing  above I would tend to go along with that interpretation now) Below is the Grangense SS used to represent the usual run of "Marine Saurian" reports.

 Grangense SS_sighting_by_Pristichampsus (Tim Morris) on Deviant Art

The U28 and U108 Sea Serpents in World War I were most likely the same type,
Seen in cold waters of the North Sea and North Atlantic in the summer, and said to be about 100 feet long

Weird Los Angeles: The San Clemente Sea Monster

Believe it or not, Southern California's San Clemente was once a sea serpent haven. The June 1934 issue of Esquire Magazine For Men featured an intriguing article by a Ralph Bandini who spoke quite openly of his two encounters with the San Clemente Monster. In his article "I Saw A Sea Monster," Bandini commented, "San Clemente Island is a lonely, wind-swept bit of rock and sand lying some fifty miles south of Los Angeles Harbor. It is little frequented except by fishermen. Its waters are lonely too...The Thing itself appears to like this remote bit of ocean - that windy channel between San Clemente and Santa Catalina."

During the early 1900s there were rumors that a strange creature was roaming the Avalon waters, and that some thirty people had seen the monster, but spoke little of it. Baldini was tuna fishing in the southern Californian channels when he first spotted the leviathan. He was ten miles off Catalina when the beast emerged from the water about a mile away. It was no whale. No sea elephant. It was a monster. It was a glistening, dark beast that rose out of the water, and remained exposed for a minute or so before sinking majestically back into the depths.
Baldini chose not to speak of the sighting, despite the possibility of some publicity and small fortune. He respected others who'd seen the beast, and all witnesses he could track down sketched a monster that matched every other sketch he'd seen. Then, in the September of 1920 Ralph had a very close encounter with possibly the same form.
He was swordfish fishing with a Mr Smith Warren. They'd been positioned at Mosquito Harbor and were passing White Rock when something caught Baldini's eye. Just three-hundred yards away he saw what he described as, "A great barrel-shaped Thing, tapering toward the top and surmounted by a reptilian head strangely resembling those of the huge, prehistoric creatures whose reproductions stand in various museums. It lifted what must have been a good twenty-feet. Widely spaced in the head were two eyes - eyes such as were never conceived of even in the wildest nightmare."
These eyes were around a foot in diameter, like dinner plates, belonging to some great, hulking monster seemingly spewed from one of H.P. Lovecraft's fictional terror tales. But this was real.
The men headed for the creature and got to within one-hundred feet. It appeared as though it was covered in [had a mane they thought was made up of] short, dark bristles, (with) a reddish hue. All that protruded from the water was a huge neck and head. Goodness knows what length and mass lurked beneath the waves it frothed around it. And then it was gone...slipping back into the murky domain.
Only a few witnesses to the San Clemente sea monster remain today. Many have surely never spoken of the great beast, and others died with their secrets. However, what we do know is that out there, somewhere, there still may be one, two, or more sea serpents eluding science, and stirring the waves of legend.
Sources: Strange Ark
Contact the author of this article or email with further questions, comments or tips.

[When Tabitca Cape ran this story on her Crypto-osicty blog I immediately saw it was no typical Merhorse sighting but it did also have several measurements in common with the following famous report, and to the Sea Serpent said to have been killed and flensed by the crew of the Monongahela--]
On the 12th of December 1857, the ship Castilian, bound from Bombay to Liverpool, was, at six in the evening, about ten miles distant from St. Helena. A monster that suddenly appeared in the water was described by the three chief officers of the ship—Captain G. H. Harrington, Mr. W. Davies, and Mr. E. Wheeler; the description was entered by Captain Harrington in his Official Meteorological Journal, and was forwarded to the Board of Trade. Nothing can be more plain than the honest good faith in which the narrative is written. The chief facts, in the captain's own words, are as follows: 'While myself and officers were standing on the lee-side of the poop, looking towards the island, we were startled by the sight of a huge marine animal, which reared its head out of the water, within twenty yards of the ship; when it suddenly disappeared for about half a minute, and then made its appearance in the same manner again—shewing us distinctly its neck and head, about ten or twelve feet out of the water. Its head was shaped like a long nun-buoy [a conical shape]; and I suppose the diameter to have been seven or eight feet in the largest part, with a kind of scroll, or tuft of loose skin, encircling it about two feet from the top. [The Mane in this case was recognized as a continuous  frill of skin and it turned over, hanging down two feet from the top/median line of the spine]
The water was discoloured for several hundred feet from its head: so much so, that on its first appearance my impression was that the ship was in broken water, produced, as I supposed, by some volcanic agency since the last time I passed the island; but the second appearance completely dispelled those fears, and assured us that it was a monster of extraordinary length, which appeared to be moving slowly towards the land. The ship was going too fast, to enable us to reach the mast-head in time to form a correct estimate of its extreme length; but from what we saw from the deck, we conclude that it must have been over two hundred feet long. The boatswain and several of the crew who observed it from the top-gallant fore-castle, state that it was more than double the length of the ship, in which case it must have been five hundred feet. Be that as it may, I am convinced that it belonged to the serpent tribe; it was of a dark colour about the head, and was covered with several white spots.' Captain Harrington, some time afterwards, strengthened his testimony by that of other persons.
Article image
In Swedish ecclesiastic and writer Olaus Magnus's Carta Marina, many marine monsters of varied form, including an immense sea serpent, appear. Moreover, in his 1555 work History of the Northern Peoples, Magnus gives the following description of a Norwegian sea serpent:
Those who sail up along the coast of Norway to trade or to fish, all tell the remarkable story of how a serpent of fearsome size, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, resides in rifts and caves outside Bergen. On bright summer nights this serpent leaves the caves to eat calves, lambs and pigs, or it fares out to the sea and feeds on [octopus and jellyfish*], crabs and similar marine animals. It has ell-long hair hanging from its neck, sharp black scales and flaming red eyes. It attacks vessels, grabs and swallows people, as it lifts itself up like a column from the water.
[*since the jellyfish species named can grow up to three feet in diameter and  with tentacles trailing for 15-20 feet, we are talking a rather substantially-sized prey item. Other versions of the sea-serpents' prey list includes mention of squids and cuttlefish, seals, dolphins and small whales. The livestock items would have gone missing and were more than likely consumed by other humans while the sea-serpent was blamed for the neighbours' thefts. "Standing up like a Pillar" would mean as in the case of the Rotomahana mentioned in the passage above [And presumably also refers to the Physeter of antique maps]. In this case the dimensions would be doubled and the "Hair" a continuous backfin at about a foot or 18 inches high (Depending on the length of the ell as being used at the time-the ell is originally a cubit or 18 inches but several countries use the "Double ell" or yard as the standard and that would have been the "English Ell" at the time Olaus Magnus was originally writing.  ]

Physeter, Heuvelmans calls a Longneck.
Incidentally the large "Whale-eater" Marine Saurians are also reported to "Blow like a whale" when surfacing.

[It would seem that the largest "maned" sea serpents of tradition were of this type, and that the early Sea serpent reports commonly estimated as 100 to 500 feet and upwards were of this type. Heuvelmans does mention that some of the reports in his category were of this great length and it seems that the length could have been exaggerated because the animals were also seen around pods of whales and the estimates of length counted the whales along as part of the same body]
 Combined map for "Marine Saurians" around the world, less the Crocodiles


  1. Excellent article Dale!!! I'm gonna have to keep an eye out for similar reports as I read In The Wake. Your hypothesis really does make sense to me, and it also helps the hypothesis that "Merhorses" are male longnecks make sense as it eliminates some of the huge sizes which don't match with other longneck reports.

  2. It also makes more sense for Olaus Magnus' immense SS with its scales and aggressive diet.

  3. I like this hypothesis as it makes the classic sea serpent type an actual marine saurian. Unfortunately new discoveries have shown that mosasaurs did not have a mane/frill. The earlier artwork showing a frill was based on an error. You can read a good summary of it here...

    On the bright side new findings show mosasaurs did have a fluked tail like a whale or shark and fiberous bundles in the skin under the scales. Thus the old drawings showing sea serpents with flukes (like the one on the Greek vase) could be correct and a dead mosasaur would look furry as the skin rots.

    Of course a back fin could have evolved, perhaps only in the males, as the result of sexual selection. Wouldn't it be ironic if the whale-eater type sea serpent turns out to be a mosasaur with a back fin just like Knight painted.

    On the other hand could this type of cryptid be a cetacean? The blowing behavior combined with the flukes and dorsal fin sometimes depicted hints at that identification. A basilosaurid and a mosasaur don't look that much different to the layman, though I think a beaked whale would also be a good candidate. Is there anything about the reports that supports only a reptilian identity for this SS type?

    1. Thanks Tamara. NO THAT IS INCORRECT. And I have included the reason why that was incorrect in the article. Basically (as Bernard Heuvelmans explains at length in his book In The Wake of the Sea Serpents, any animal that is really devoted to swimming for a living has simply GOT to have some sort of stabilizer at its dorsal surface midline / midback, or it tends to roll with the water resistance: only a few animals that are exclusively aquatic and free-swimming lack some sort of a backfin or at least a low ridge. In the case of Mosasaurs, a low ridge is more likely. Heuvelmans was using this argument in the case of zueglodonts but it applies equally well for mosasaurs: besides we already have a good idea there was some sort of a fin on the tail, which means that some other form of stabilization closer to the head end is also more likely. And the preservation of specimens is not so good, nor do we have enough specimens indicating the skin at all, that we can be anywhere near so certain as to definitely assert that there was none

  4. Sorry, modern paleontologist disagree with you. The link I sent contains several sources by scientists that back it up. Also mosasaur fossil preservation is not a bad as you assume. New finds of Plotosaurus (specimen LACM 128319)preserves soft tissues including large portions of integument, a partial body outline, putative skin color markings, a downturned tail, branching bronchial tubes, and probable visceral traces. Good stuff. You can find the information here...

    Convergent Evolution in Aquatic Tetrapods: Insights from an Exceptional Fossil Mosasaur by Johan Lindgren mail, Michael W. Caldwell, Takuya Konishi, and Luis M. Chiappe.

    You can download the PLOS ONE paper here

    Also, according to Sea Dragons: Predators of the Prehistoric Oceans by Richard Ellis the four flippers possessed by mosasaurs kept them stable in the water.

    As you can see this is science not opinion. personally I like the frilled mosasaurs better. They look more realistic, especially as the only marine lizard currently existing (the marine iguana) has just that sort of frill. Note also that this lizard still has all four legs which sort of puts a monkey wrench in the 'it had four flippers so does not need a dorsal ridge' argument.

    Of course the modern species could have a fin. That is why I said it would be ironic if the marine saurian turned out to be a mosasaur that looked like outdated paleoart.

    I also agree that the gambo carcass may have been a juvenile rather than a separate cryptid. Thanks for the info on the teeth that is a point for a reptilian identity.

  5. The one thing does not negate the other SOME form of mid-dorsal stabilizer MUST have been there and no matter how good preservation might be, it just plain is not going to give you the same information as the original dead body did. I still vote against the notion and furthermore I reiterate, such experts as are saying this are ignoring some basic factors in physics when they say there s not and must not have been any such a stabilizer. And the discussion In Heuvelmans on the matter is pretty much cut-and-dried. Furthermore it need not be a complete or very extensive extension of the skin to fit the descriptions, no more than 1/5 the thickness of the shoulder part of the body, located AT that part of the body, and a continuous strip of skin from front to back that can "Scroll Over" at that point. it need not stretch more than a few feet either way from the juncture of the neck with the body. I see no records of adequate preservation of that particular part of any Mosasaur's body anywhere to disprove that much.

  6. I have seen your plosone article. Might I point out the following rebuttals:
    1) Plotosaurus is not the same as Tylosaurus or any other larger genus. The greater sized Mosasaurs might well have different physiological needs for stabilization than the small or medium-sized genera, which are the ones you are citing
    2) The back of the base of the neck (the area I specified as the "Mane" area) is not adequately preserved in this specimen to say there was no such a dermal structure there and
    3) the article further does not grant that elongated archaeocetes would have a similar midline-dorsal stabilizer which of course was the point that Heuvelmans was taking pains to make.

    Furthermore the statement that four flippers negates the need for a dorsal-midback stabilizer is not necessarily true, Ichthyosaurs retained the four external limbs and yet still had the need for a dorsal fin.

    In other words, I do believe your claim has exceeded the authority of the references cited.


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