Saturday 30 June 2012

An Extraordinary Underwater Sea Serpent

     In the first week of 2003, I was lying in bed at night, when I received a phone call from a Mr Mike Cleary. He was seeking specific information on Australian cryptids for the husband of his niece in the UK. Unfortunately, I was not able to help him. Then he told me an incredible story.
     He has been a diver for more than 35 years. About 10 years or so beforehand he was in a diving bell with a companion off the south-east coast of Japan, checking bottom sites for an oil rig. They were at a depth of 1,700 feet when an unknown creature approached the bell and circled it.
     It was about 25 foot long. It had no visible scales, and the skin changed colour in the light from the bell (which, I gather, is common occurrence at this depth). It swam with horizontal undulations. There was only a single, elongated dorsal fin, extending down the body. I got the impression that it was like an eel's. He couldn't say much about the tail, but didn't think there was a tail fluke.
      The head was like a sea horse's, the eyes like a cow's, and teeth like a barracuda's.
     There was no constriction between the neck and body, but one ran into the other. However, 8 feet from the front was a pair a limbs, about 4 feet long. There was also a pair of hind limbs. I questioned him about this in particular, but he was emphatic that these were not fins, but webbed limbs.
     What sort of creature could this be? The elongated dorsal fin and the horizontal undulations mean it had to be some sort of fish – but what? The obvious choice is some very large eel, or elongated shark – although none, to my knowledge, are of such a size. However, it is the limbs that are the real problem. As you are no doubt aware, the vast majority of fish, the teleosts, possess rayed fins, which could hardly be mistaken for limbs, or even paddles. The largest fishes tend to be sharks, but their fins are also hard to mistake for limbs, and most people – especially divers – would be familiar with them. But there once existed a vast array of lobe-finned fish, of which only a few relic species are now known to exist. One is the Dipnoi, or lungfishes. The other is the Crossopterygians, whose lobed fins evolved into the legs which all land vertebrates now walk on. However, except for the two species of coelacanth, they all went extinct about the same time as the dinosaurs, and were on the way out for a long, long time before that.
     So, if Mr Cleary's perception and memory were accurate, something very strange was swimming around off the coast of Japan.

Monday 4 June 2012

What Terrifies a Congo Pygmy?

    The Mbuti pygmies of the Ituri Forest in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are hunter gatherers who live in a symbiotic relationship with the taller agricultural villagers. They hunt small mammals by beating the jungle and driving them into nets, but also go after larger game, such as okapi, and even elephants, with spears. As hunter gatherers, they would have an intimate knowledge of the local fauna. So what is the jungle denizen, which is heard but never seen, which terrifies even these knowledgeable children of the rainforest?