Wednesday 23 March 2011

Sea monsters and opportunities missed

I was looking at some old sea monster reports.
One by Captain James Stockdale from  May 1830. Stockdale and his  crew of the barque Rob Roy were near the island of St Helena when they heard a  noise in the water. They were astounded to view the head of “a great thundering sea snake” whose head rose six feet( 2 metres) out of the water “as square with our topsail, his tail was square with the foremast”. Stockdale said his ship was 171ft long ( 56 metres)with the foremast 42ft ( 14 metres)from the stern, which would make the monster 129ft long( 42metres). He wrote in his report to the ship’s owners  “If I had not seen it I could not have believed it but there was no mistake or doubt of its length – for the brute was so close I could even smell his nasty fishy smell.”

A Board of Trade file from 1857 contains a report, from near the same South Atlantic island , by a Commander George Henry Harrington of the merchant ship Castilan, of a similar sighting. On the 13th of  December  he and two officers saw “a huge marine animal” which suddenly reared out of the water just 20ft( 6 /7 metres approx) from the ship.It had a  long neck and a dark head, shaped “like a long buoy” , white spotted,  “with a kind of scroll or ruff encircling it”. The creature submerge, then reappeared, leaving no doubt they were watching a sea monster “of extraordinary length moving slowly towards the land”. The boatswain, who watched it for some time, estimated  that it was more than double the length of the ship, which was 250 feet long . This makes the sea monster 500 feet long(165 metres ).

What I wonder is why nothing seems to have been done at the time. No one seems to have gone to investigate the stories. Maybe they thought the crew had been on the rum or at sea too long? I wonder if it happened today would we investigate? I suspect even today, if it was no threat to shipping ,that no one would bother. At the heart of everything lies commerce and if there is no threat to that commerce ,things will be ignored. I can’t help feeling so many opportunities will have been missed by scientists , because something unusual  was no threat, and the reports being filed away in MOD or other organisations files as not important. By the time the general public get to read the reports/ files it is too late to have an investigation. What wonders have been missed, what creatures remain undiscovered, or that may now be extinct?

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