Tuesday 2 August 2011

Sea Serpent Carcass Accounts

In the light of the recent carcass washed up in Aberdeen but identified as a juvenile pilot whale (link), two accounts from long ago shows how recurrent this phenomenon is.

They are taken from the London Chronicle, Volume 9 in 1761. The first is on page 350 and there is a short piece there written by a William Fuller Maitland:

"They write from Calais, that a sea monster latterly ran on shore between that place and Boulogne, 48 feet in length, and 12 in thickness. It is not like a whale. When its mouth is open, the distance between the upper and lower jaw is five feet. One of its teeth weighed 17 ounces."

On page 526 comes another account of a similarly sized leviathan in Spain:

"On the 3rd of April ran ashore at Gandia, a little town in the kingdom of Valentia, part of Old Spain, a sea monster, 24 ells round, and only seven long, from head to tail. It had two rows of teeth, and its body was covered with large black scales. It produced 1250 quintals of oil."

The "ell" is an old measurement based on the length of a man's arm and according to Wikipedia varied between countries from 63.5cm to 137cm. Using the lowest measure gives a creature 15 metres long and 4 metres across which is almost identical to the Calais carcass.

A ratio of about 4:1 for the length to thickness is not quite sea serpent dimensions. Indeed, the term "sea serpent" may not even have been invented in 1761 hence the use of "sea monster".

Given the ease with which carcasses wash up these days and are soon identified as decomposed basking sharks, one wonders whether the same applies to these ancient accounts.

No strange carcass has ever been washed up at Loch Ness though one or two hoaxes have been perpetrated. The steep sides of the loch ensure that such an event is not likely. A decomposing carcass presumably may float to the surface but the peaty nature of the loch again makes such an event less likely compared to what goes on in the oceans and seas.

Of course, a dead Nessie grounded ashore would answer all questions but if the alleged old saying that "Loch Ness never gives up its dead" is true then we may be waiting a very long time.

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