Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the 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), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), 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), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Thursday 16 September 2010


South Africa's original Trunko attacked by killer whales as envisaged by American artist Bill Asmussen

When documenting Trunko in various books of mine, I have noted briefly that a second, much less famous Trunko of sorts has also been recorded. Here is what I wrote about this 'Son of Trunko' in From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997):

"In November 1936, the carcase of a 24-foot-long elephant-headed sea monster with white fur and a 14-foot tail was found on Alaska's desolate Glacier Island. Yet despite being examined by a team led by W.J. McDonald, supervisor of the Chugach National Forest, its remains were not preserved, and its ultimate fate is unknown."

And here is my version of events as included 10 years later in Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007):

"As I noted in From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), which also contains coverage of Trunko, in November 1936 the carcase of an elephant-headed, white-furred, long-tailed sea serpent measuring 24 ft in total length was discovered on Alaska’s desolate Glacier Island. This time, moreover, its remains were examined, by a team led by Chugach National Forest supervisor W.J. McDonald, but no news of their findings has ever been released, and, as with Trunko, the Glacier Island sea serpent’s remains were not retained."

Not long after that book was published, I read a very brief note somewhere online that the examination of this carcase had in fact revealed it to be that of a minke whale Balaeonoptera acutorostrata, but no further information was provided.

Thanks to two documents (one hitherto-unpublicised) kindly made available to me yet again by longstanding German correspondent and Trunko co-investigator Markus Hemmler, however, I am now able to reveal here, for the first time in any cryptozoological publication, not only the complete history of the Glacier Island Trunko carcase but also its conclusive identification and current location (complete with museum catalogue number!).

The first of these two documents is an article dated 2 May 2008, written by Dixie Lambert, that was published in Alaska's Cordova Times newspaper. In it, contradicting earlier accounts (including my own), the date of the carcase's discovery is given as 10 November 1930, not 1936, and it was found floating on its back in Glacier Island's Eagle Bay amid icebergs from the Columbia Glacier by fox farmer Jerry O'Leary and his employee Charles Gibson. The only flesh remaining on it was confined to the mostly-intact mid-section; the head and tail were totally denuded. After they had towed it to shore, they chopped off the flesh, to use as fox bait. They also saved the skeleton, whose total length (including the skull) was said to be anything from 27 ft to 42 ft, and which was distinguished by its long tail and unusual flat, triangular head. The men speculated that perhaps it had previously been entombed within the Columbia Glacier before breaking off and floating away.

When word of this remarkable find reached W.J. McDonald, district forest supervisor of Alaska's Chugach National Forest, and also Charles Flory of the U.S. Forest Service, they organised an expedition that included several other interested parties, to visit and document its remains. When the expedition reached the carcase and examined it, they found that it measured precisely 24 ft and 1 in. Moreover, quoting from the Cordova Times article:

"Its snout or beak from the tip to the center of the forehead was 3 feet 3 inches with a width of 11 inches at midsection and a circumference of 29 inches. Only the upper left jawbone was found, and it was described to be devoid of teeth.

"The head was 4 feet 7 inches long and 3 feet wide at the widest part. The body section from the back of the head to the end of the rib cage was 6 feet 2 inches, and the tail was 14 feet long. The head attached directly to the torso with no visible neck. The skeleton's flippers were 3 feet 11 inches long with an average width of 8 inches.

"The width of the skeleton at its widest part was 3 feet 2 inches, not including the flippers. It contained 37 vertebrae and it was thought that the skeleton was missing a few on the tail."

Numerous photographs of the carcase were taken by expedition member Howard Stewart, who sent them to the Associated Press, and the skeleton was tentatively identified as that of a pike whale (another name for the minke whale). In January 1931, taxicab company owner Tom Vevig paid the sum of $600 for the skeleton, planning to mount and exhibit it, which is precisely what happened, with its debut taking place on 12 February 1931 in the Seattle Room on First Street in Cordova. Later that same year, Vevig and his wife transported the skeleton in a specially-outfitted truck far and wide across the USA, Canada, and also Mexico, exhibiting it as:

"Alaska's Prehistoric Monster – Millions of years old. Nearly 30 feet long. Baffles the scientific world. Queerest monster ever found. Discovered in Columbia Glacier. Now on Exhibit. Here for a short time. Don't miss it. 25 cents Adults, 15 cents, children any time."

At the end of their grand tour, before returning home to Cordova in September 1931, the Vevigs donated the skeleton to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC (administered by the Smithsonian Institution). Concluding her article, Dixie Lambert commented:

"I was able to confirm that the skeleton is in storage at the museum and has been identified as that of a minke whale. It is said to be one of better specimens owned by the museum and has been made available to researchers from around the world."

Nevertheless, just like the Wide World Magazine article from August 1925 that contained two photographs of the beached Trunko carcase, documented by me in my previous blog, its public existence has somehow managed to remain undiscovered by cryptozoological investigators and chroniclers for decades - until now.

Verifying its continuing presence at the National Museum of Natural History, the second document sent to me by Markus Hemmler is a listing of this specimen's details as recently prepared by the Museum's Department of Vertebrate Zoology, which confirms that the skeleton (including its skull) is retained here, its original collection date was indeed 10 November 1930, and its National Museum of Natural History catalogue number is USNM 256498.

Another mystery beast is a mystery no longer!


  1. Yes, I had posted about the Glacier Island Minke Whale identification a while back based on a tip-off from Chad Arment, and Markus just posted the information at Frontiers-of-Zoology in reply to my original posting only yesterday morning.
    Markus is very keen on such matters and I know of no other researcher that investigates all these old alleged Sea Monster corpses so dilligently.

  2. Remarkable. This is a textbook example of how cryptid research should be done. I am by no means a crypto snob, but as one who hopes that one day we will finally discover some of our most elusive cryptids (or will they prove "illusive" ?), I've been embarrassed before by how quick some of our ranks are to accept uncritically the most dubious claims about unknown creatures; e.g., the hoopla surrounding the pic of what turned out to be an ape costume and some pig guts in a freezer 2 years ago.

    I think this incident shows us that often the reports and memoranda made by disinterested professionals and skilled amateurs from an after-the-fact-examination can be of more value to history than generalized and second-hand accounts of alleged eye-witnesses to an event. In this case we can now be confident that witnesses to the 1925 event did NOT see a monster "fighting" two orcas; but rather observed killer whales playing with the dead carcass of what was likely a decomposing Minke Whale.

    You are to be commended, Mr. Shuker and Herr Hemmler, for a job well done. A successful search for the truth is always a victory, regardless of whether the results support our hopes. Now we can dispense with Trunko as a case of mis-identification and wishful thinking, and concentrate on more likely cryptids. Bravo, gentlemen.

  3. Thank you Jum for your very kind words - receiving such kind praise makes all the efforts worthwhile in investigating and documenting cases such as these, whose complexities and sheer outlandishness pose serious problems when seeking the truth behind the decades-old reports and confusion.

  4. Dear Karl Shuker, concerning the Trunko I have one interesting piece of information you may or may not already know of.

    On page 354 of the book Mythology: Myths, Legends and Fantasies, I have seen an ancient drawing relating to Classic of the Mountains and Seas-a Chinese anthology of stories collected in the 1st century BCE. On the picture there is a boat and several fantastic sea creatures. One of these looks like an enormous fish with the head of an elephant.
    My initial thoughts on this were that this just might be evidence of the existence of Trunko's species. I have since learned from your Extraordinary Animals Revisited that Trunko was likely just a decomposing carcass. Still, the ancient Chinese could have come across such a carcass (or carcasses) and interpreted them as the remains of elephant headed fish. Its an intriguing thought.

    The ancient picture also shows what just might be stylised pictures of mosasaurs, pliosaurs and/or thallatosuchians, though they may of course just be stylised pictures of ordinary crocodilians.

  5. Too bad it was a fake.

    You know, it's always possible that this second carcass could be old Trunko himself, floated halfway around the world! If so, maybe he isn't lost after all! Of course, it WAS a fake, but poor old Trunko deserves some respect. After all, he DID confuse a lot of people in that "whale fight" and was one of the most controversial globsters ever. Someday, I hope that he will be put on display at the museum. May Trunko live on in memory, and thanks for revealing the truth Prof. Shuker.

  6. I'm not a biologist, but i suppose that Makara of the Hindu mythology is based on an unknown marine species.

  7. I forgot to add something; Makara is depicted as half elephant half fish.