Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Saturday, 15 December 2012

THE GOUROCK SEA SERPENT - METAPHORICALLY EXHUMING A LONG-BURIED CRYPTO-MYSTERY

Representation of the Gourock sea serpent carcase, based upon a sketch by eyewitness Charles Rankin (Dr Karl Shuker)

The history of cryptozoology is embarrassingly well-supplied with classic cases of lost opportunities, and the long-running saga of the sea serpents has provided quite a number of these over the years. One of the most notable examples took place on the shores of Gourock, on Scotland's River Clyde. This was where, in summer 1942, an intriguing (if odiferous!) carcase was stranded that was closely observed by council officer Charles Rankin.

Measuring 27-28 ft long, it had a lengthy neck, a relatively small flattened head with sharp muzzle and prominent eyebrow ridges, large pointed teeth in each jaw, rather large laterally-sited eyes, a long rectangular tail that seemed to have been vertical in life, and two pairs of 'L'-shaped flippers (of which the front pair were the larger, and the back pair the broader). Curiously, its body did not appear to contain any bones other than its spinal column, but its smooth skin bore many 6-in-long, bristle-like 'hairs' - resembing steel knitting needles in form and thickness but more flexible.

Rankin was naturally very curious to learn what this strange creature could be, whose remains resembled those of a huge lizard in his opinion; but as World War II was well underway and this locality had been classed as a restricted area, he was not permitted to take any photographs of it, and scientists who might otherwise have shown an interest were presumably occupied with wartime work. Consequently, this mystery beast's carcase was summarily disposed of - hacked into pieces and buried in the grounds of the municipal incinerator, but which have since been converted into a football pitch. All that remained to verify its onetime existence was one of its strange 'knitting needle' bristles, which Rankin had pulled out of a flipper and kept in his desk, where it eventually shrivelled until it resembled a coiled spring.

Great white shark - was this, or some similar canivorous shark species, the identity of the Gourock sea serpent?

When considered collectively, features such these bristles (readily recalling the ceratotrichia - cartilaginous fibres - of shark fin rays), the carcase's lizard-like shape, vertical tail (characteristic of fishes), lack of body bones, and smooth skin suggest a decomposing shark as a plausible identity (i.e. adopting the deceptive 'pseudoplesiosaur' form so frequently reported for rotting basking sharks).

Yet the large pointed teeth argue against this traditional basking shark explanation in favour of one of the large carnivorous species. However, if Rankin's estimate of its size was accurate, it must have been a veritable monster of a specimen - the world's largest known species of carnivorous shark, the notorious great white shark Carcharodon carcharias, rarely exceeds 20 ft.

If only some taxonomically-significant portion of the Gourock sea serpent's body could have been retained for formal examination - in particular its skull, a flipper, or at least some teeth. Instead, they have presumably been pounded ever deeper into the earth by the studs of a succession of soccer teams - oblivious to the cryptozoological treasure trove lying forgotten beneath their feet.

Diagram revealing how a decomposing basking shark (top) transforms into a deceptively plesiosaurian carcase, known as a pseudoplesiosaur (centre), with a genuine plesiosaur (bottom) for comparison (Markus Bühler)

Incidentally, it hardly need be said that the local council would definitely not be best pleased if anyone should attempt to dig up the grounds in search of this creature's remains without having first received permission to do so!!
 
 

13 comments:

  1. Did not Ben Roesch weigh in in favor of the basking shark explanation? He went to great lengths to study the carcasses of sea monsters.
    http://web.ncf.ca/bz050/

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  2. IF (though obviously it's always a big IF with eyewitness descriptions) the carcase was described accurately, it cannot have been a basking shark because this species does not possess large teeth.

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  3. His description certainly was not accurate at least in every detail. He stated that "this animal show no signs of rotting. It was absolutely complete. Unmarred." We both agree in thinking that this was not the case. So after thirty years(!) he used his first distal phalanx bone to show the length of the supposed teeth. I can hardly imagine that this was accurate.

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  4. It may not have been a precise measurement, but the very fact that he used a finger at all suggests that the teeth were significantly bigger than those of a basking shark would be, which is why this case intrigues me so much.

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  5. "large, pointed teeth in each jaw?
    A decaying whale, turned into a pseudo-plesiosaur, would display teeth only in the upper jaw, the bottom jaw having rotted away.
    Or did he mean both sides of the upper jaw?

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  6. A decaying whale wouldn't turn into a pseudoplesiosaur - only shark carcases do that, due to the gill apparatus falling away to yield a long 'neck'.

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  7. Decaying whales usually yield either globsters or 'tusked' sea serpents - the 'tusks' being the two halves of the lower jaw.

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  8. Interesting post and comments. I was always told that thing was virtually intact with little to no decomposition, had large teeth and was more along the lines of the marine saurian. If only a picture had been taken.

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  9. It is true that Rankin claimed the carcase to be virtually intact, but he also stated that it lacked bones other than a backbone, which seems to point toward a shark identity, rather than a saurian or some other tetrapod, large teeth notwithstanding. It is definitely one of the most enigmatic 'sea monster' carcases on record.

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  10. Only some days before Karl published this article we've talked elsewhere about it and I became newly interested in this case. So I've done some research and now finished my own article (a little bit hastily I admit). In contrary what was thought the incident wasn't such a secret and Mr. Rankin wasn't the only one reporting about it. Three articles of local newspapers stated that it was a basking shark and also indicate that there was an expert who had done this identification. In addition I had my own thoughts into this case and some speculations.

    Nevertheless some uncertainties and open questions remain and in view of this I would appreciate anyone contacting me who can assist with new information regarding this case. And naturally I appreciate every comment to the discussion either here, via Email, in my discussion board or anywhere else.

    Gourock-Kadaver

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  11. Interesting work Markus. Keep at it.

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  12. It seems that, if we are looking for sea serpents in beached carcasses, that may not be a good place to look. Accounts generally have them moving easily on land so they would not get beached like whales but would free themselves.

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  13. I suppose that the real explanation of the mystery of whale beaching is not so much things like magnetism. I think it is usually orcas chasing them. Orcas are known to slide up on beaches to snatch seals. Whales would have to get so far up the beach to avoid them that they could not get back in the ocean. Better to die from suffocation on the beach than be torn to shreds by a pod of orcas.

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