Friday, December 6, 2013

Scott Mardis' Plesiosaur Paradigm And Some "Horned" "Sea Serpents" [Updated]

Scott Mardis recently posted the preceding comparative image on Facebook, and I thought that it was thought-provoking enough to be shared here. The paste-up compares features of the animal allegedly seen at Loch Ness in 1934 by Patrick Grant (at upper left), the long-necked and maned "sea giraffe" reported by the second officer of the H.M.S. Corinthian (at upper right), a drawing of a mata mata turtle (at lower left), and Scott's drawing depicting a possible appearance of the skull-crested plesiosaur known as Umoonasaurus (at lower right). The barbels of the mata mata, the "beard" of the Patrick Grant animal, and the whiskers/beard of the Corinthian "sea serpent" are compared in this image. The tubercles of the mata mata, "horns" of the Patrick Grant animal, "ears" of the Corinthian "sea serpent", and crest-ridges of the Umoonasaurus are also compared in the image. The aforementioned aspect of the comparison is what will be focused upon in this article.
Interestingly, the plesiosauroid Umoonasaurus had three, distinguishing crest-ridges on its skull. Could these have had a horn-like
appearance, as Scott Mardis suggests? (Image Source unknown; posted on Facebook by Scott Mardis)
I  made the observation, which I relayed to Scott, that his hypothetical Umoonasaurus reconstruction has similarities to the "sea serpents" allegedly seen by Sir Arthur Rostron and Reverend James Joass. The unknown animal reportedly seen by Rostron while he was onboard the Campania had 'very small ears' on a head which 'rose eight or nine feet out of the water'. Although the eyewitness sketch (shown below) is quite simple due to the lack of other details able to be seen by Rostron, it does show the pointy 'ears' of the longneck. Sir Arthur Rostron was incidentally the man who saved more than 700 survivors of the Titanic among floating ice, and was likely trustworthy due to his position as chief officer of the Campania.1  
Sir Arthur Rostron's sketch of the "sea serpent" which he claimed to have seen. (Image Source is here)
The animal reported by Reverend James Joass was described as having 'diaphanous and nearly semi-circular flaps or valves over-arching the nostrils,' and is especially relevant to Scott's reconstruction because Reverend Joass felt that it was a relict plesiosaur.1 As the alleged "sea serpent" 'drifted along with the tide' for some time before slipping under1, I can't help but wonder if it was possibly the carcass of a basking shark with the horn-like pectoral girdle visible.

An ambiguous sketch which Reverend James Joass made depicting the "sea serpent" which he allegedly saw.
(Image Source is here)
The horn-like pectoral girdle of a basking shark. (Image Source: Scott Mardis
large photo
Photograph of the thirteen foot "horned mystery carcass" which washed up in Spain this year. Experts identified it as a shark of some
species, with the horns likely being the pectoral girdle showing. Could the animal seen by Joass have been a similar "pseudoplesiosaur" carcass? (Image Source is here)

The suggestion of the "sea serpent" seen by G. Batchelor (the second officer of the H.M.S. Corinthian) off Grand Banks of Newfoundland, Canada as a plesiosaur is not a novel one. In fact, Batchelor himself made the comment that "zoologically speaking, as I got a good view of the creature when diving, I could only describe it as identical with the Sauropterygia." However, basing such a contention off of Batchelor's sketch may be of error due to its obvious stylization. In line with this thinking, some researchers feel that the 'fins' which adorned the animal's head may be part of a stylized mane.2 As mentioned in the article which I linked to previously, Dale Drinnon feels that the 'fin-like ears'  of the "sea serpent" were part of a reptilian mane composed of long cutaneous filaments. However, I feel that these were legitimate protrusions which may be tubercles like those of a mata mata or actual pinnae if the animal was a pinniped (as suggested by Bernard Heuvelmans). In reference to the fact that the Corinthian animal was reported to have 'large liquid blue eyes'1, Scott pointed out that alligators can have blue eyes. However, biological researcher Cameron McCormick sent an image of a blue-eyed sea lion (which is shown below) in reply to Scott's pointing out blue-eyed alligators. Regardless of the Corinthian "sea serpent's" identity, this aspect may not matter, as the eye color reported in such unconfirmed animals is variable and likely depends on the way which light strikes their eyes.1
A leucistic alligator with blue eyes. (Image Source unknown; posted on Facebook by Scott Mardis)
A blue-eyed sea lion pup with rather horn-like pinnae. (Image Source is here)
From erectile snorkel-like tubules on evolved plesiosaurs to pointy pinnae on giant elongate-necked pinnipeds, a variety of hypotheses have been formulated regarding the identity of the "horns" or "ears" which have been reported on "sea serpents." Scott's suggestion that these protuberances are synonymous with the tubercles of a mata mata or are flanged out forms of crest-ridges like those on Umoonasaurus is quite novel and plausible, in my opinion. Hopefully, the discovery of a type specimen for one of these elusive animals (if they exist) will confirm the true nature of these unconfirmed animals' cranial protuberances.



References:
  1. Heuvelmans, Bernard, Richard Garnett, and Alika Watteau. In the Wake of the Sea-serpents. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968. Print.
  2. Coleman, Loren, and Patrick Huyghe. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003. Print.

14 comments:

  1. The Captain of the Corinthian also specified he was looking at a Plesiosaur and NOT a seal, He could not possibly see fur on the creature that far off, the description of the body meant it was SMOOTH as it can plainly be seen in straight reading: the tail split into fins is ambiguous enough it cannot be taken as an indicator of anything specific, The Captain Di NOT, Repeat NOT represent anything remotely like pinniped ear-pinnas, he depicted FINS and as to the mane he drew a FIN and not any HAIR. You are repeating Heuvelmans and every single point you made is either wrong or very badly misleading.

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    1. Actually, the description in that section is based soley from Batchelor's own report. I think you are relying on his sketch too much, which is clearly stylized (as you have even said yourself). I am simply pulling data from Batchelor's own words, not trying to make anything up based on my own hypothesis. Furthermore, just because Batchelor felt that what he saw was a plesiosaur does not mean that it was one. He also made the bizarre speculation that the animal had something to do with the sinking of the Titanic. Just because something looks like the popular conception of a plesiosaur does not mean that it is one. That would be akin to saying that the "Mokele Mbembe" or "Ropens" are sauropods or pterosaurs (respectively) just because that's what eyewitnesses specify they are. Evolution tends to repeat body plans/features.

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  2. Oh and Heuvelmans takes the blue eye colour to represent the way the light strikes the creatures eyes in the way that a dog's eyes will seem to have a blue or greenish glint if the light strikes them the right way. This is also not specific enough to make anything out of it
    And although you did not make an issue of it, it seems the "Whiskers" I this case are composed of material being held in the mouth and hanging out both sides. My guess is that it is the same fleshy material that the "Fins" are made of and that one male has ripped out part of the "Mane" fro another male.

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  3. Speaking of Mokele Mbembe and Ropens, what are your thoughts on these popular cryptids, Jay?

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  4. In regard to these cryptozoological animals, I agree with Dale. People who report Ropens are, in my opinion, likely seeing large forms of hornbills and manta rays which are leaping out of the water (among other known things). I think there are a variety of animals being lumped under the "Mokele Mbembe" term, based on locality. These, in my opinion, likely include giant monitor lizards, forest rhinoceroces, and large soft shelled turtles (among other things, once again).

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  5. And speaking of cryptozoology in general, question: Do you think Safari Ltd. (a toy company well known for producing educational and in some cases museum quality figures and replicas) should have a "cryptocollection" with realistic figures to represent cryptids such as longnecks and sasquatch?

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    1. I definitely would not be opposed to it, as even if the featured "cryptids" aren't real, cryptozoology can help people learn about things such as eyewitness reliability or cultural mythos. There actually is such a collection, however it is far from being "realistic" (at least in comparison to reports). They feature two nonsensical hoaxes (a furred trout and a jackalope) which have absolutely no place in cryptozoology. Also, their yeti figurine is the typical "white snowman" of Rudolph fame, ignoring that "yetis" are typically reported as reddish brown. Lastly, their Loch Ness Monster is simply the common conception of a plesiosaur (complete with a dragon-like head and an unnaturally green color) rather than based off of reports.

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  6. Follow up question: If Safari Ltd. ever decides to do this, who do you think they should consult for instruction on how the longnecked sea serpent figure should be sculpted? (I personally consider Bruce Champagne and Tim Morris to be worthy candidates).

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    1. Yes, I agree that Bruce and Tim would be excellent candidates for consultants. However, if they really wanted to be accurate in comparison to anecdotal data, they could consult eyewitness reports such as the Umfuli, Lochalsh, or Hoy sightings.

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  7. A note about the Hoy sighting: Dale Drinnon has said that the proportions of the Hoy sea serpent as shown in the commonly used drawing (done by the witness's wife) are inaccurate because they don't match the proportions reported by the actual witness, which conjure up something resembling a large sea lion rather than a mammalian plesiosaur.

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    1. I do consider the Hoy "sea serpent" to have been a longneck (albeit a possible young specimen, in my opinion). The appearance of the animal's head is similar to that of the Lochalsh "sea serpent" and the sketch indicates that it had bristly hairs running down its neck, possibly the beginnings of a mane? It's reported size which is smaller in comparison to the reported sizes of other longnecks does make me think that it was a young adult, however.

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  8. Read more at ForteanZoology.blogspot:

    DALE DRINNON: Some Corrections to the Witness Sketch Under Direction of J. Mackintosh Bell of His Sighting Off the Island of Hoy, Orkneys in 1919

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  9. What are your thoughts on this, Jay?

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    1. I have shared my thoughts above. By the way: what is the source for this claim that Mackintosh Bell's wife drew the image? It's not in "In The Wake of The Sea-Serpents" or any of the other books I have which feature the report.

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