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Monday, 26 December 2011

The Shark Eating Monster

    I have always said and written,and I’ll always continue to do so,that there are quite probably unknown sea creatures awaiting discovery by science.  The “fabled” Kraaken has proven to be real –a giant squid [Architeuthi sp.],other “sea monsters have proven to be Ribbon Fish [genus Trachipterus] and so on.  The Coelacanth fish was thought extinct until they started getting caught and identified by scientists in the 20th century. 

    It is highly possible that many of those sea “monsters” identified and classed by Bernard Heuvelman [see Some Things Strange And Sinister] may exist,though some could be out there not yet classified or,perhaps,even reported for fear of ridicule. 

 Sadly,with Man depleting food sources and polluting waters,not to mention the various pieces of naval military hardware undersea [there is still reasonably strong evidence –if circumstantial—that some whale pod beachings may be caused by such equipment] it might just be that numbers of any existing unknown-to-science species are falling.

    Every time a new “mystery monster” is washed ashore somewhere I check it out as well as I can.  To date,decomposing,partially eaten whales,angler fish and known species have all been the culprits. 

    In 2004 I rushed to Severn Beach,South Gloucestershire,after a phone call from two men who had been out in a boat and seen a huge silvery,semi-submerged creature moving slowly not far from the beach.  When I got there I realised that the “mass” was around 70 feet [almost 22m] in diameter.  It was silvery,reflecting light but tinged with a green colour and to the rear [more seaward] end was what looked like very long,dark ribbons of matter extending out at least 20 feet [6m].  As I got closer the rush of adrenalin began to die down as I got a much better view.  Two locals walking dogs helped me pull the “globster” ashore.  It was a huge piece of industrial cellophane with bubble wrap under it and pockets of hair.  As it had been in the water some time it had a greenish slime on parts of it.  The ribbon like material was a mass of seaweed.

    It was a danger to fish and seabirds so at least we got it out of the water and disposed of.  The two men who had reported to “thing” turned up with a trailer attached to their vehicle and a huge water-tank on it in case the thing needed preserving and taking somewhere.  They were very apologetic and felt worse than I did:I did make them promise that they would call me if they saw anything odd again –better a wasted journey than lose the chance to find a new species or odd sea creature.

    But Eric Frank Russell,the science fiction author and,it seems,a devotee of “Forteana” has left a very annoying legacy in the shape of a 1953 report to origin of which I still have not tracked down after ten years!
    According to Russell’s account [1]: 

Echizen kurage, Nomura's jellyfish --

Above:Don’t panic!  A Jelly-fish but with a diver Photoshopped in to make it look like a giant.  A diver would have to be insane to get that close to a real giant –though would still not be large enough to be the 1953 creature.
Below:The recognised size of a giant jellfish  Nomura’s Jelly-fish [Nemopilema nomurai] (c)National Geographic

Photo: Diver tagging Nomura's jellyfish

           ”A report dated 1953,made by an Australian diver working in the
           South Pacific,tells of something that may have been more familiar
           to the ancients and formed the source of a few of their best horror
           stories.  Wearing the latest type of diving-suit,the narrator had been
           testing it by trying for a depth record in deep ocean.”

    Then comes the mind-boggling account:

           “All the way down I was followed by a fifteen foot shark which
           circled around full of curiosity but made no attempt to attack.  I
           kept wondering how far down he would go.  He was still hanging
           around some thirty feet [9m] from me,and about twenty feet [6m]
           higher,when I reached a ledge below which was a great,black chasm
           of enormous depth.

           “It being dangerous to venture farther,I stood looking into the chasm
           while the shark waited for my next move.  Suddenly the water became
           distinctly colder.  While the temperature continued to drop with
           surprising rapidity,I was a black mass rising from the darkness of the
           chasm.  It floated upwards very slowly.  As at last light reached it I
           could see that it was of dull brown colour and tremendous size,a flat
           ragged edged thing about one acre* in extent.  It pulsated sluggishly
           and I knew that it was alive despite its lack of visible limbs or eyes.

           “Still pulsating,this frightful vision floated past my level,by which
           time the coldness had become most intense.  The shark now hung
           completely motionless,paralysed either by cold or fear.  While I
           watched fascinated,the enormous brown thing reached the shark,
           contacted him with its upper surface.  The shark gave a convulsive
           shiver and was drawn unresisting into the substance of the monster.

           “I stood perfectly still,not daring to move,while the brown thing sank
           back into the chasm as slowly as it had emerged.  Darkness swallowed
           it and the water started to regain some warmth.  God knows what this
           thing was,but I had no doubt that it had been born of the primeval slime
           countless fathoms below.”
*1 acre = 4046.86 square metres or 43560 square feet –so this was sizeable!

    There are some odd aspects to this.  We know that sharks will start to sink if they stop swimming but what made this one hang motionless rather than swim off if it sensed a dangerous predator?

    A report published in the journal Nature describes a remarkable gel found in the shark snouts that allow them to detect minute temperature changes. Such a sensitivity to such differences could help lead sharks to thermal fronts in the ocean that are teeming with quarry.  Being cold-blooded,sharks rely on external water temperatures to keep them warm.

    A shark head contains a number of sensors known as ampullae of Lorenzini that can help the animal detect electric fields emitted by the earth's magnetic field or by other sea-dwellers.

    There are many things that affect where shark species are found.  One being the temperature of water,the amount of light available,the amount of salt in the water, or even the water currents.  The kinds and amounts of food sources available as well as the types of predators all have an effect.   Possibly the most important of these factors is temperature.  It is interesting to remember that sharks cannot stand  large changes in temperature.  This means that shark species that  like cold water stay near the Arctic,while shark species preferring warm water stay in the tropics. That said,sharks that like cold water can easily live in warmer places by simply swimming down to the depths where the water is colder.  Many kinds of sharks live near the water's surface,and a few live deep in the sea.

    The diver noted the sudden drop in temperature prior to the creature rising from the chasm.  The shark,in this case a warm-water dweller,hit suddenly by a wave of cold could become inactive.  This would explain the sudden inactivity.  But surely it could have detected the other creature using its natural senses?  It seems quite obvious,the cold wave hit the shark before it sensed any danger.  This would explain that particular aspect.

    The assumption is that the creature was some huge form of jelly-fish.  But this seems almost unlikely.  An experienced diver,particularly one expert enough to depth-dive in new gear would be equally experienced,especially in those warm waters,to seeing jelly-fish.  Surely he would have said “the biggest jelly-fish I had ever seen –an acre across in size”?  He does not.  From this we suppose that it did not look like such a creature,even if sounding a little like one.

    The jelly-fish tentacles could be described as looking like “cooked noodles” and hang underneath the body and can be as long as 1 cm to 120 feet [36.5m] which is longer than,say,a basketball court.  Tentacles can number a few to as many as 800.  These tentacles are concentrated around the mouth because,after the prey is stung by the tentacles they then pull the food up to be eaten. The stinging cell is located at the top of the tentacle;when its prey swims by the jellyfish will touch the fish with its tentacles –automatically killing it.

    However,the diver did not mention tentacles and the shark was seen to convulse after being touched by the upper-side of the creature –an electrical charge rather than stinger?  The shark was then drawn up into the creature’s mass which does sound like a jelly-fish or an animal that consumes its food in a similar way.  It would be far more comforting to say this was a phenomenally huge jelly-fish unknown to science but are there similar reports?

    In 1865 a giant lion's mane jellyfish was found in the Massachusetts Bay. The bell was 7.5 feet[2.28m] and it's tentacles measured 120 feet[36m] long and a width of 245 ft.[74.6m]. 

    In 1969  two divers reportedly encountered a jellyfish that they claimed was 150 to 200 ft  [45.72 -60.96m] in diameter.   There also have been reports over the years of giant jelly-fish attacking small boats and pursuing divers.

    One of the most famous encounters,sadly in the days before phone-cams,digi-cams or even video-cameras,occurred during 1973.   The ship “Kuranda” was sailing toward the Fiji Islands when it hit a storm and,colliding with a big wave,found a “gigantic jellyfish” .  Captain Langley Smith estimated it to have a weight of around 20 tons and it had ended up spread across the deck to a depth of two feet[60cms]; it also possessed a fine set of tentacles that the captain believed would have stretched in excess of 200 feet[60+m] .  Sadly,one seaman who was hit by the jelly-fish tentacles came away with severely burned skin and died from the injury.   

    The weight of this jelly-fish also started to push the ship down and an SOS resulted in help from the vessel “Hercules”.  The Hercules crew managed to get the jelly-fish off the Kuranda with a high pressure hose.   Some slime from the jelly-fish was saved and upon later analysis proved to come from a species known as “Lion's Mane”. 

    The “Lion's Mane” jelly-fish [Cyanea capillata] is the largest known species. Its range is confined to cold,boreal waters of the Arctic,the northern Atlantic and northern Pacific.   They are seldom found farther south than 42°N latitude,though a similar jelly-fish,that may well be the same species,are known from the seas off Australia and New Zealand.   The Arctic Lion's Mane is one of the longest known animals –with the largest recorded specimen having a bell [body] with a diameter of 7 ft. 6 ins.[2.3m] and the tentacles reached 120 ft.[36.5 m].

   But,again,a diver should recognise a jelly-fish whether it was huge or not.  The photograph in this chapter shows a photoshopped fake image of a diver near a giant jelly-fish while the other photograph shows the real size of these giants known as “Nomura's Jelly-fish” [Nemopilema nomurai ].  Even the faked image does not compare in size to the Kuranda or 1953 creatures.

    What I find interesting is the fact that this creature took the shark.  No eyes were seen so how did it know the shark was there but ignore the diver who stood as motionless as he could be?  I do not believe that this was a lurk,wait and attack incident.  I have to wonder whether this thing –whether an unknown jelly-fish or something else— simply rose into warmer waters to touch/kill anything that happened to be around and stunned by the rise of colder water such as fish;the shark was just in the wrong place at the right time?  The diver was lucky that he saw it before it “saw” him.

    I will continue to try to track down this account’s original source –though it is a mammoth task with no exact date—and,hopefully,perhaps additional.  This really was something strange and sinister.

1.      Russell,Eric Frank,Great World Mysteries,Dobson Books Ltd.,

2.      Fanthorpe,Lionel, and Fanthorpe,Patricia, The World's Greatest Unsolved  
         Mysteries,Hounslow Press,1997. Quotes the account but no source credited.

3.      Eberhart,George M.,Mysterious Creatures: a guide to cryptozoology,
         v.2:p.197  [again quotes but no source].

4.      ditto:p.197

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