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Authors: Karl P.N. Shuker

The Beasts that Hide from Man (35 page)

An unusual but very large form of shark, lacking a prominent dorsal fin, and lying in wait for its prey on the sea floor; known locally as the ground shark, and inhabiting the Timor Sea. Conceivably a giant form of wobbegong or carpet shark (Ley, 1941; Shuker, 1997d).

Colossal sharks occasionally spied in the South Pacific, closely resembling the great white shark
Carcharodon carcharias
but much longer and sometimes pure white in color; termed the Lord of the Deep by Polynesian fishermen. Sightings support the possible survival into modern times of the megalodon shark
Carcharocles megalodon
, which is known to have attained a total length of at least 43 feet (i.e. twice that of the great white), and may have survived until as recently as the Pleistocene’s close (Ellis & McCosker, 1991; Shuker, 1995f, 1997d).

Strikingly marked manta ray, with a 10-foot wingspan. Predominantly dark brown and faintly mottled, but with conspicuous white wing-tips and a pair of broad pure-white bands extending halfway down the back from each side of its head. Spied by William Beebe and crew members of his vessel
Noma
on April 27, 1923, as they sailed toward Tower Island in the Galapagos Archipelago, when the ray collided with
Noma
and then sped off along the sea’s surface. No known species of manta possesses its white markings, and its cephalic horns were more straight than incurved, unlike those of other mantas (Beebe, 1924). A somewhat similar manta was filmed in the 1980s off southern Baja California (Sehm, 1996; Shuker, 1999).

Planctosphaera pelagica
, a mysterious acorn worm (enteropneust) species, whose adult form is still unrecognized by science. Its tornaria larva, resembling a transparent gooseberry-sized sphere and much larger than the tornaria of any known acorn worm, was first seen in 1932, when the
Michael Sars
Deep-Sea Expedition collected two specimens at a depth of 830 feet from the plankton of the North Atlantic’s Bay of Biscay (Spengel, 1932; Shuker, 1993b).

Lophenteropneusts—name given to a taxon (conceivably a class) of hitherto-unknown and still uncollected invertebrates whose morphology resembles a combination of features from the two presently recognized classes of the invertebrate phylum Hermichordata, i.e. the acorn worms (Enteropneusta) and the pterobranchs (Pterobranchia). Lophenteropneusts were first photographed in 1962, during the PROA Expedition of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, employing the research vessel “Spencer E Baird,” which took approximately four thousand photos of the sea bottom at hadal depths in five trenches in the South-West Pacific. Various of these photos depicted continuous coils and/or loops of fecal strings on the sea floor, some of which revealed an animal present at the end of the string. Measuring two to four inches long, these animals had a cylindrical hyaline body, with an anterior ring of tentacles, thus resembling pterobranchs, and a terminal anus, as in acorn worms (Lemche, et al., 1976).

Mysterious marine arthropod, never collected, but photographed several times at depths of approximately 13,616 feet in the Peru Basin on February 12, 1989, during the expedition DISCOL 1 (Disturbance and Recolonization Experiment in a Manganese Nodule Area of the Deep South Pacific). It possesses a small triangular fore-body measuring 0.52 inches long, and a hind-body measuring two inches long, separated from the fore-body by a narrow waist. The fore-body has five pairs of appendages, all jointed. The last three pairs seem to be long, slender walking legs. The first pair may function as feelers or assist in food uptake. The second pair is carried high above the body, mostly slightly bent downwards, and is even longer than the walking legs. This cryptid has been tentatively placed within the chelicerate class Arachnida, near to the amblypygids (Pedipalpi), and if correctly classified would constitute the first living species of deepwater marine arachnid (Thiel & Shriever, 1989).

Mystery squid represented only by paralarval specimens, described in 1991. Although only tiny, these paralarvae are very distinctive, with big eyes and possessing a pair of strikingly large lateral fins, on account of which this squid has been aptly dubbed “big-fin.” Its taxonomie family, genus, and species are presently unknown. It may constitute the juvenile of an undescribed big-finned adult squid form videoed alive in several deepwater regions by submersibles during recent years but so far uncaptured (Young, 1991; Shuker, 2002b).

Unidentified, extra-large form of marine polychaete worm, some specimens of which may measure upward of 15 feet long, often observed by guests at the Anse Chastanet resort in Soufrière, St. Lucia, during night dives on the beach-access reef here, and popularly termed “The Thing.” Partial specimens (all lacking the head) have been obtained. McGill University polychaete expert Dr. Susan Marsden deems it likely that “The Thing” belongs to the family Eunicidae. It could be a new, currently undescribed species, or an example of gigantism in a known species. A giant polychaete may also exist in the sea off Barbados (Roesch, 1996).

Colossal specimens of scyphozoan jellyfish, some with enormously long tentacles and typical bells, reported from Bermuda and the environs of Fiji; others of flattened shape, lacking tentacles, and of deepwater habitat, possibly including the legendary
hide
of Chile (Mangiacopra, 1976; Shuker, 1995f, 1997d).

FRESHWATER FORMS (1) In Cold Temperate Lakes and Rivers In Europe (Palearctic Region):

Aquatic mystery beast from Ireland known as the
dobhar-chu
, resembling a giant otter and also referred to as a master or king otter. Traditionally mythical, but one such beast is also claimed to have been the killer of a young woman called Grace Connolly, who was fatally attacked one morning in September 1722 while bathing in County Leitrim’s Glenade Lake, near her home. Her grave still exists in Conwall Cemetery in the townland of Drummans, and on the tombstone is carved a distinctive otter-headed canine-bodied animal representing the
dobhar-chu
. Moreover, sightings of a mysterious quadrupedal beast closely resembling the creature sculpted on Connolly’s tombstone were made near Sraheens Lough in Achill Island, County Mayo (to the west of County Leitrim), as recently as May 1968. Unless an unusually large version of the European otter
Lutra lutra
is involved, the
dobhar-chu
remains unexplained (Tohall, 1948; Shuker, 1995c, 1997d, 1998f, 1999).

In Cold Temperate Asia (Palearctic Region):

Giant salmon-like fishes, reputedly more than 30 feet long, and bright red in color with spiny dorsal fin, regularly spied in Lake Hanas, within China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, by locals for several decades, and even by eminent Xinjiang University biologist Prof. Xiang Lihao during a student field trip there in 1985. Claimed by skeptics to be nothing more than the huchen (taimen)
Hucho taimen
, but this species does not exceed six and a half feet (Greenwell (ed.), 1986; Shuker, 1993b, 1997d).

In North Africa and Middle East (Palearctic Region):

Small but lethal black fish allegedly inhabiting Iran’s Shatt al Arab River and currently unidentified by science, but said to have killed 28 people with a swift-acting venomous bite (Caras, 1975). If true, it could be related to
Meiacanthus nigrolineatus
, a small blue-grey and yellow species of freshwater blenny inhabiting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez and Aqaba. This fish does have a venomous bite, though it has not been shown to be fatal. Alternatively, it may be based upon confused reports of a small black catfish called
Heteropneustes fossilis
, which has poisonous spines in its pectoral fins, and which was fairly recently introduced into the Shatt al Arab River from Thailand and India as a food fish. There is even the possibility that young long-tailed moray eels
Thyrsoidea macrura
, swimming up the river from the sea, are implicated, as their bite can cause septic wounds (Shuker, 1996c).

In North America (Nearctic Region):

Very large type of salamander reportedly five to nine feet long, claimed to inhabit deep lakes in Trinity Alps, the Sacramento River, and elsewhere in California. Certain reports were based upon an escapee Chinese giant salamander
Megalobatrachus davidianus
called Benny. However, some authorities believe that others imply the existence of unrecorded populations of the American giant salamander (hellbender)
Cryptobranchus alleganiensis
, officially known only from the eastern U.S., or even an undiscovered American species of
Megalobatrachus
(Rodgers, 1962; Coleman, 1989; Shuker, 1995f). There are also reports of extra-large pink-colored salamander-like creatures, sighted in New Jersey and Florida, which may represent an albinistic morph of a giant salamander species (Hall, 1992; Shuker, 1995f).

(2) IN TROPICAL LAKES, RIVERS, AND SWAMPS
In Asia (Oriental Region):

Extra-large form of freshwater turtle, up to six and a half feet long, recently sighted and videoed in Hoan Kiem Lake, situated in modern-day central Hanoi, Vietnam, and also represented by a stuffed but unclassified specimen presently exhibited at a small temple on an island in this lake. According to Hanoi National University biologist Prof. Ha Dinh Due, who is studying this sizeable freshwater chelonian, it is likely to prove to be a new species (Shuker, 1998g).

A six-foot-long species of lungfish in Vietnam, judging from excellent first-hand anecdotal reports collected by Dr. Roy P. Mackal (Shuker, 1991b).

Unidentified mudskipper-like fish observed in a river on the Indonesian island of Seram (Ceram) by tropical agriculturalist Tyson

Hughes in 1986, and which glows a bright pulsating red color at night. Hughes attempted to catch a specimen, but was unsuccessful (Shuker, 1995b, 1999; Gibbons, 1997).

In Africa (Ethiopian Region):

Greatly feared aquatic cryptid from Burundi known as the
mamba mutu
. Local eyewitnesses (mostly from villages on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and along the Lukuga River) describe it as half-human, half-fish, in the classic mermaid mold. However, they also firmly believe that it kills people, eats their brains, and sucks their blood. It has been suggested that a lake-dwelling population of African manatees, transformed by native superstition into vampiric monsters, may be the solution; or that an unknown species of giant flat-skulled otter is involved (Bonet, 1995).

In Central and South America (Neotropical Region):

Aquatic feline beasts with large canine teeth and yellowish, unpatterned pelage, reported from Patagonia
(yaquaru)
, Guyana
(maipolina)
, also called water-tigers. Often confused with otter-like
iemisch
and ground sloth-like
ellengassen
. Possibly a surviving machairodontid (sabre-toothed cat), secondarily adapted for an amphibious existence and thus paralleling Africa’s so-called water-lions, water-panthers, and water-leopards (Shuker, 1989,1995f).

Anomalous pink river dolphin, resembling the bouto (inia)
Inia geoffrensis
, except for its dorsal fin, which, instead of being triangular, possesses a regular series of notched projections, so that it resembles the edge of a circular saw. Seen, photographed, and filmed on two separate occasions during the mid-1990s by English writer/explorer Jeremy Wade in and near a lake beside one of the Amazon’s countless southern tributaries in Brazil. Known to the native people and possibly constituting a rare freak of nature, as the precisely formed shape of the notches would seem to eliminate an injury-induced explanation for its “sawtooth” dorsal fin (Wade, 1996; Shuker, 1997f).

Huge toothless shark claimed by Lieut.-Col. Percy Fawcett to exist in the Paraguay River, and given to attacking and swallowing people if presented with the opportunity (Fawcett, 1953). Yet very few sharks inhabit fresh water, and those that do are far from toothless. Assuming, therefore, that it is not some dramatically new species of shark, it has been tentatively suggested that this aquatic cryptid may be a giant sturgeon (Grayson, 1998). More likely, however, is that it is a species of giant catfish, some of which are indeed toothless, and there are already more species of catfish documented from South America than from anywhere else in the world (Shuker, 2000).

TERRESTRIAL FORMS
(1) In Europe (Palearctic Region):

Hungarian reedwolf—mysterious canid of controversial identity often reported from Hungary and eastern Austria until early 1900s, but may now be extinct. Many believe that it is a small race of wolf, but others still favor an extra-large form of common jackal. Time for DNA analyses, utilizing museum skins? (Éhik, 1937-1938; Tr atz, 1958; Shuker, 1991b).

Unidentified, brown-colored, burrow-dwelling lizard, one foot long, with orange-sized head, pronounced dewlap, and long tongue; known locally as the
cenaprugwirion
, or
genaprugwirion
(“daft flycatcher”), and reported from Abersoch, North Wales (Wallis, 1987). Presumably comprising a naturalized population of some non-native species of lizard, originating from accidental escapes of specimens from private collections into the wild. An extremely remote but tantalizing alternative is a naturalized population of New Zealand’s famous lizard-like “living fossil,” the tuatara
Sphenodon punctatus
—a very hardy, long-lived, burrow-dwelling species of comparable size and appearance, which was often maintained in captivity in Britain during the 19th century (Shuker, 1997b, 1997d).

Controversial population of chameleons discovered around Pylos Lagoon, Greece, by biologist-photographer Andrea Bonetti; studied by her since 1996. Larger than the European chameleon
Chamaeleo chamaeleon
, they bear a much closer (but not exact) similarity to the African chameleon C.
africanus
. If not conspecific with the latter, it is conceivable that these previously overlooked lizards represent a new species (Bonetti, 1998).

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