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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Monday, 9 March 2015

THE CAMP FIRCOM CADDY CARCASE - MONSTER OR MONTAGE? - REVIEWING A LITTLE-KNOWN SEA SERPENT CONTROVERSY


The two picture postcards (#1 top, #2 bottom) depicting the Camp Fircom Caddy carcase (public domain/FPL)

Few cryptozoologists will be unaware of the Naden Harbour carcase – an enigmatic serpentine animal carcase measuring 10-12 ft long, sporting what looked like a camel-like head, long neck, pectoral flippers or fins, a very elongate body, and a fringed tail-like section that may have been a pair of hind limbs and/or a bona fide tail. It had been removed from the stomach of a sperm whale by flensing (blubber-removing) workers in a whaling station at Naden Harbour in Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands one day in early July 1937, and had then been placed by them on a long table draped with a white cloth and photographed.

Tragically, the carcase is apparently long-vanished, presumably discarded, but three photographs of it remain, and portray a creature that is sufficiently strange in appearance to have incited considerable controversy ever since as to its possible identity. Almost exactly 20 years ago and based upon the surviving photographic evidence, Dr Ed L. Bousfield, currently a Research Associate at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, and Prof. Paul H. LeBlond, now retired from the Department of Oceanography at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, designated the Naden Harbour carcase (believed to be of a juvenile individual) as the type specimen of the longstanding serpentiform mystery beast informally known as Caddy or Cadborosaurus, the Cadboro Bay sea serpent, frequently reported off the northern Pacific coast of Canada and the U.S.A. In a paper constituting a supplement to the inaugural volume of the scientific journal Amphipacifica, published on 20 April 1995, based upon this specimen's morphology as seen in the photos they proposed that Caddy was a living, modern-day species of plesiosaur and they formally named its species Cadborosaurus willsi.

The Naden Harbour carcase - a juvenile Caddy specimen? (G.V. Boorman/public domain)

Far less familiar than the Naden Harbour carcase photographs, conversely, are two Caddy-linked pictures that were first brought to my notice 20 years ago. To my knowledge, they had never previously received any cryptozoological attention, and even today they remain little-publicised. Consequently, this present ShukerNature article reviews for the very first time the history and most notable opinions that have been offered to date in relation to the tantalising object(s) that these pictures depict.

Back in the mid-1990s, I was writing the text to my forthcoming book, The Unexplained: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Natural and Paranormal Mysteries, and Janet Bord of the Fortean Picture Library was supplying me with a number of illustrations for possible inclusion within it.

My book The Unexplained (1996) © Dr Karl Shuker)

Unfortunately, she was not able to supply me with any of the Naden Harbour images as these had not been placed with the FPL and there was some degree of uncertainty concerning who owned their copyright at that time (they are now in the public domain). So although I did document it in my book, I couldn't illustrate my coverage with one of the pictures of it. Nevertheless, Janet was able to find a couple of old picture postcards depicting an alleged Caddy carcase washed up at Camp Fircom in British Columbia, Canada, on 4 October 1936 (less than a year before the Naden Harbour carcase was retrieved), and which I had never seen before. Janet did not have any details concerning these pictures on file other than the handwritten captions that were already printed upon them, and I was unable to uncover any mention of them in any of the sources of Caddy information available to me. (As for the actual postcards themselves, I assume from their style and the rather primitive quality of their photographs that they were originally on sale in the Camp Fircom area not long after the carcase had originally been discovered there.)

Frustratingly, moreover, the deadlines for writing and submitting to the publishers each section of the book's text meant that by the time that I'd received these interesting images, I'd already written and submitted my full quota of allotted text for my book's Caddy entry, so I couldn't have documented them there anyway. All that I could do, and which is precisely what I did do, was include the more detailed of the two images (Picture Postcard #1), tagged with the following informative caption: "Postcard depicting an unusual marine carcase, possibly a Caddy, that was found on the beach at Camp Fircom, British Columbia, on 4 October 1936".

The Camp Fircom Caddy carcase, Picture Postcard #1 (public domain/FPL)

In truth, however, the more that I looked at these pictures, especially the close-up view afforded by Picture #1, the more confused I became about what precisely I was looking at, because they certainly didn't resemble the more traditional supposed sea serpent carcases that wash up from time to time and invariably prove to be the highly decomposed, distorted remains of sharks, whales, or oarfishes. Indeed, by the time that my book was published in 1996, I considered it likely that they showed nothing more than a collection of sea-divulged debris, which may or may not have been artfully arranged by person(s) unknown to look monstrous in every sense, and thence cash in (possibly literally, via the sale of the picture postcards depicting this deceiving creation?) on the tradition of sea monster sightings in this part of the world. Nevertheless, I was pleased to have been able to include at least one of these puzzling pictures in my book, just in case it elicited any responses from readers supplying additional information or opinions relating to it. And sure enough, this is precisely what happened.

During the second week of February 1997, I received a detailed report from a then-university zoology student of Southampton, England, documenting his opinion as to what Picture #1 actually showed. That student is now palaeontologist Dr Darren Naish, who, like me, has long been interested in cryptozoological subjects in addition to mainstream zoology. Having viewed the photo at length in my book, Darren reported that although there were certain superficial similarities to the Naden Harbour carcase (large skull-like object with an apparent eye socket, long thin elongate body with a pair of anterior lateral projections sited where pectoral fins might be expected to be), he considered it to be a hoax – consisting of a montage of objects that he suspected had been deliberately chosen and arranged to give the impression of a carcase. The supposed skull, he felt, did not actually possess any definite skull characters, and, tellingly, its eye socket, placed in just the right location to resemble a true eye socket was, in Darren's view, the shell of a mussel. As for the long elongate body, he considered this to be the stem of a large plant, probably kelp, with finger-like projections at its distal or 'tail' end resembling the root-like holdfasts that anchor kelp to rocks. In short, a collection of marine/beach detritus deliberately positioned to look like a serpentiform monster carcase, thus echoing my own view regarding this.

Mindful that he hadn't seen Picture #2, I sent Darren a photocopy of it, which he briefly referred to (and he also included sketches of both pictures) within an expanded, illustrated version of the original report that he had previously sent to me, which was published in the summer 1997 issue of The Cryptozoology Review, now defunct. In it, he reaffirmed his opinion that the carcase was a composite of kelp, mussel shell, and beach rocks. Interestingly, although I could see why he thought that the eye socket in Picture #1's depiction of the skull-like object was a mussel shell, in Picture #2 it seems to me to be a genuine socket, i.e. a hole, because when this picture is enlarged I am sure that the seawater behind the skull-like object can actually be seen through the socket. That aside, however, I definitely concur and reaffirm that the Camp Fircom Caddy may be monstrous in form but is merely a montage in nature.

The Camp Fircom Caddy carcase, Picture Postcard #2 (public domain/FPL)

Even so, are the main components of it truly botanical rather than zoological in identity?

At much the same time that I was corresponding with Darren regarding these two pictures, I was also awaiting a response from Prof. LeBlond, to whom I had sent photocopies of the pictures, enquiring his opinion as to what they may portray.

In his letter of reply, dated 3 March 1997, Prof. LeBlond noted that he had seen: "…pictures of a lot of Caddy-like carcasses which have usually turned out to be sharks. Most of them look a lot like the Camp Fircom picture". Of particular interest was his comment:

What makes me think that the Camp Fircom carcass is yet another shark is the uniform roundness of the vertebrae, especially as seen in the upper picture [Picture #1]. The Neah Bay shark bones looked a lot like that: a "log" made of a series of cylindrical vertebrae, without extensions or projections.

Shark remains are sometimes found washed ashore at Neah Bay and elsewhere along the Pacific U.S. state of Washington's coast, and needless to say there are many cases on file (from North America and elsewhere around the world) of such remains being mistaken by eyewitnesses for sea serpent carcases.

Basking shark vertebrae

Paul also stated that he had forwarded the photocopied pictures to Dr Bousfield, who very kindly wrote to me on 27 August 1997 with his own comments regarding them:

I tend to agree with Paul that the Camp Fircom carcase is very probably that of a basking shark. Local beach carcasses that have been attributed to "Caddy"-like animals appear similar to the remains of your photograph. Virtually all such remains, reported (with photographs) during the past 70+ years, have proven to be those of the large pelagic shark species common in surface waters of the North American Pacific coastal marine region.

The only photographs considered by us as reliably that of a "Caddy" carcass, are three fairly good images, taken from three different camera angles by two different photographers, at the Naden Harbour whaling station in 1937, and now deposited in the B.C. Provincial Archives here in Victoria.

Two of the three Naden Harbour carcase photographs are included in their book Cadborosaurus: Survivor From the Deep, published during the same year, 1995, as their more formal Amphipacifica paper.

Cadborosaurus: Survivor From the Deep (1995)
(© LeBlond & Bousfield/Horsdal & Schubart)

So might the Camp Fircom Caddy carcase be a highly-decomposed shark, or at least include some shark-derived components within a heterogeneous array of objects?

For a long time, this enigmatic entity attracted little if any additional attention other than its two pictures featuring in a handful of East European cryptozoological websites but with no attendant comments concerning them. In a guest article regarding the Naden Harbour carcase that appeared in Jay Cooney's Bizarre Zoology blog on 17 June 2013, however, Florida-based cryptozoologist Scott Mardis did briefly refer to the Camp Fircom carcase and included Picture #1. After noting Darren's opinion regarding its composition and then comparing it to some illustrations of basking shark vertebrae, Scott commented: "I'm not so sure, because it looks very basking sharky to me", and I agree that there is indeed a notable degree of similarity between the supposed carcase's elongate body and the vertebral column of a shark.

On 17 February of this present year, Darren posted his detailed sketch of Picture #1 on his Facebook page's timeline and tagged me in his post. He also now opined that the carcase's body certainly resembled a shark's vertebral column (thus updating his original identification of it as a possible plant stem back in his article from 1997), but remained unsure as to the nature of the carcase's other components. This elicited on my own Facebook page's timeline a number of detailed responses from German cryptozoological researcher Markus Bühler, who illustrated them with relevant images obtained online. Like Paul, Ed, Scott, myself, and now Darren too, Markus favoured a shark identity for at least some of the objects constituting the Camp Fircom Caddy carcase, and I am summarising as follows the various points that he raised in relation to this.

Screenshot of the opening posts in the Camp Fircom Caddy carcase discussion thread on my Facebook page's timeline – there were far too many posts to include screenshots of the entire thread, but it yielded an extremely interesting exchange of views

With respect to the carcase's supposed skull, Markus considered that Picture #1 possibly does show a cranium with a hole, but in a predominantly dorsal view, so that the hole is not an eye socket but is instead the epiphyseal foramen (a large dorsally-sited cranial opening that houses the pineal body in living sharks). If so, then the projections above and below it could be the upper parts of the laterally-sited eye orbits. He also noted that the skull may be from a shark but not a basking shark, perhaps instead from a species with very different cranial proportions from those of a basking shark, which could explain why it does not provide an exact match with a basking shark cranium.

Markus considered that shark-derived contributions to the carcase might principally consist of its cranium and vertebral column, but he did also wonder whether, if so, the finger-like projections at the right-hand side of the carcase's body, originally labelled as kelp holdfasts by Darren, may be parts of the shark's fin rays and he posted some online photos of a fully defleshed shark carcase found underwater that bore exposed fin rays resembling the 'fingers' of the Camp Fircom conglomerate. In addition, as he correctly pointed out, in some species of shark the spinal column between cranium and caudal fin is surprisingly short, so these 'fingers' may specifically be exposed rays from the lower lobe of the shark's caudal fin.

Concluding the Camp Fircom carcase discussion thread on my FB timeline, Darren reflected that he'd never considered that a shark may have contributed to this creation when preparing his original article, but still felt that its overall appearance was the result of an assortment of debris and that this was the key point. That is, the alleged Camp Fircom Caddy carcase was merely a conglomeration of objects from different sources, not a single entity – and I agree entirely with this assessment.

Reconstruction of the possible appearance in life of an adult female Caddy (© Tim Morris)

Regardless of whether its body derives from kelp or a shark, or whether its 'fingers' are holdfasts or fin rays, or whether its skull is a rock or a shark cranium, or whether the latter object's hole is an eye socket or an epiphyseal foramen or even just a deceptive mussel shell, there can be no doubt that what the Camp Fircom composite is not, and never could be, is a deceased Caddy. In short, this is one cryptozoological carcase (and mystery) that, finally, not so much rests in peace as in pieces – very different pieces from a range of very different origins.

I wish to offer my sincere thanks to Dr Ed Bousfield, Markus Bühler, Prof. Paul LeBlond, Scott Mardis, and especially Dr Darren Naish for sharing their views with me concerning the Camp Fircom Caddy carcase, and to Janet Bord of the Fortean Picture Library for so kindly bringing its two picture postcard images to my attention all those years ago.

Artistic representation of Cadborosaurus willsi (© Thomas Finley)







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