The oceans of our world are a vast, untapped trove of new species lurking in the briny depths, the likes of which we have only begun to uncover. It never ceases to amaze the fantastic creatures that have been brought up into the light from the inky darkness of the abyss, yet looking into old newspaper accounts it seems there have been rather sensational, groundbreaking discoveries of new sea creatures that have, well, just seemed to have fallen off the map. As an intrepid researcher of the unexplained I spend quite a large amount of time perusing newspaper archives looking for interesting topics, and one that I have uncovered is the surprising amount of inexplicable creatures that have been pulled up from the watery depths of our seas, sometimes even claimed to have been exhibited and examined, yet which have ultimately melted away into obscurity and the relentless passage of time, to slip away through the cracks of history. Here are some of the weirder that I have found.
A very curious fish of some type was apparently hauled up off the coast of Honolulu, Hawaii on September 20, 1905. According to a news report in the San Francisco Call, Volume 98, Number 119, a Japanese fisherman was in for a surprise when he caught what went on to be called the “frog fish.” The creature in question was described as having gills and fins just as a fish would have, but also possessing four well developed legs and feet complete with toenails. According to the report, the bizarre creature was put on display at the aquarium in Waikiki, but that “no one who has viewed it has been able to identify it as belonging to any recognized family of fishes.” What could this fish have possibly been and what happened to the specimen that was supposedly on display at the aquarium? No one really seems to know.
Something stranger still turned up in the May 22, 1912 edition of the same newspaper. According to the report, a fisherman named Steve Ghio was fishing in Southern California off the coast of San Diego when he pulled up in a net what must have looked like some beast from another planet. The deeply bizarre fish was said to be 2 feet long, supposedly had eight legs, and purportedly “barked like a dog.” The creature was put into an improvised tank and brought to San Diego, where it was reportedly led around the wharf by a rope tied around its neck, just as a dog might be, as hundreds of curious onlookers gawked at the unusual sight. The original news report would say of the creature thus:
The strange, unclassified creature has teeth like a canine and gills and dorsal fins, as well as scales like a fish. It Is two feet in length and slender. The feet are without nails and covered with soft fur. It will not eat meat, but this afternoon eagerly devoured raw potatoes whole and seemed fond of seaweed. It ate out of Ghio’s hand, but could not remain out of water long.
The whole surreal story ends proclaiming that the fish was going to be examined by a Doctor Ritter of the biological station at La Jolla, and that it would be put on display if it survived its ordeal, but then there is no further word on what happened to it or what it was, at least that I have been able to locate. It is yet another frustrating case of an obviously new species, in this case something seemingly quite unlike any other fish out there, with an actual physical specimen in hand, that has just sort of faded away into obscurity, lost to the tides of history. One wonders just what in the world kind of barking, furry-footed sea creature they had walking along like a dog on leash on eight legs eating whole potatoes out of people’s hands, and what became of it. It seems to me that someone, somewhere, would have recognized the importance of such an extraordinary find, but no. No further mention of it.
Another monster of the deep was allegedly captured on December 6, 1919, when several newspapers reported on a massive fish of some sort found by a city official of Venice, California named Frank Benedict on the beach. Described as being composed of mostly “mouth, head and tail,” the creature was said to be 9 feet in length, with four rows of jagged teeth set within huge jaws, and eyes the size of dinner plates. All in all, the creature was described as looking like “an enormous tadpole.” What was it? Where did its body go? Why didn’t anyone do a more thorough examination? Who knows?
Even larger than this was a massive, freakish fish that was allegedly caught in 1923 by a Capt. Charles H. Thomp off the coast of Katanning, Western Australia. If the July 18, 1923 report from the Great Southern Herald is to be believed, then this was a creature of truly gigantic dimensions, measuring 45 feet long and 8 feet wide, with a 3-foot long dorsal fin and weighing approximately 15 tons. It was said to be quite unlike a whale, and is described as a fish with gills and spots on its head, which sported a formidable mouth filled with thousands of sharp teeth.
When the monster was opened up and its stomach examined, it was reportedly found to have recently devoured a 400 pound octopus, a 1,500 pound “blackfish,” and, oddly, 500 pounds of coral. For fiber? I guess? Based on its apparently very small eyes and 3-inch thick hide, it was speculated that the creature lived in the deep dark sea and had been brought up to the surface by some sort of undersea upheaval such as a volcanic eruption. As if this isn’t all completely weird enough as it is, the article claims that scientists had looked at it and determined it to not even be full grown yet, saying:
Although the fish is the largest ever captured, American naturalists claim that it is only a baby of its kind and that, had it lived, it would have become at least twice the size.
It sounds like something that would not be out of place in a Cthulhu story. And again, what happened to the body? What was this humongous beast and where did it come from? Surely with such a fantastic find there must be more to this story? However, it sadly all remains a mystery. In 1930 there was another strange specimen caught by fisherman Henry Smith at Redondo Beach, California. According to the Madera Tribune, Number 120, 14 March 1930, “The creature is unlike anything known and is believed to have come from a deep cavern below the cliffs.” It was described as being 5 feet long, with a squat, stout body, a 5-foot long tail, making it a full 10 feet in length, and a formidable wide mouth full of sharp fangs, with which it snapped viciously at curiosity seekers who ventured too close to the net it was being kept in. By all accounts it was extremely aggressive and able to survive out of the water for surprisingly long periods of time. In 1945, the same newspaper reported that four fishermen from Lynn, Massachusetts, had brought in a 20-foot long beast that looked like an eel with a “balloon head,” which they claimed had dragged their boat for over a mile out to sea before being subdued. In both of these cases, the fate of these potentially very important specimens remains unknown.
It might be easy to dismiss these as little pieces of sensationalist fluff for a slow news day, and skeptics will like to point out how newspapers of the era were not above exaggerating such stories or even straight making them up. However, it must also be remembered that although papers did, and obviously still do, spruce up stories, there are also many other seemingly fantastical creatures reported of in the news that have turned out to be very real indeed. Take this article from the November 19, 1976 edition of the Desert Sun, which reads:
Scientists today eagerly awaited shipment of a mysterious 12-foot shark with a mouth that apparently glows in the dark. Navy crewmen hauled up the creature from 3,000 feet below the surface near Hawaii after it became entangled in some testing gear. The dead shark was given to the Waikiki Aquarium for eventual shipment to San Francisco’s Steinhart Aquarium. Leighton Taylor, director of Waikiki Aquarium, told Steinhart director John McCosker the shark’s species and genus is unknown to scientists.
Sounds pretty far-out, doesn’t it? I mean, a 12-foot shark with a glowing mouth lurking 3,000 feet down in the cold abyss hauled up by a Navy ship in the middle of nowhere doing who knows what? It sounds like something straight out of a science fiction horror story, and is just about as strange as any of the other tales we have looked at here. It might be similarly written off as a bit of creative journalism, that is, if the creature in question didn’t end up turn out to be very real indeed, and just as strange in real life as it sounds in the article, if not more so.
The article is referring to the discovery of the megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios), the very first known specimen of which was caught on November 15, 1976 off Kāneʻohe, Hawaii, by the United States Navy ship AFB-14. With its outsized mouth, blob-like flaccid body and rubbery lips, the megamouth is quite a strange sight indeed, and even has a “glowing mouth” in the form of luminous photophores lining its gaping maw for the purpose of luring in small fish and plankton. Indeed, if anything the article is actually downplaying the discovery, as the reality is that the first megamouth caught in 1976 was closer to a full 15 feet long. The capture of the megamouth shark was one of the most exciting new large animal discoveries of the 20th century, and shows that not all of these newspaper articles are full of beans or merely sensationalizing.
Newspaper archives, especially older ones, are chock full of stories like these, featuring incredible tales and stories that seem to hold promise of some new type of creature, yet for every megamouth there is another weird thing dredged up from the depths, say, a freaking 8-legged dog-like fish, that seems to have just been mentioned and then simply dropped off the face of the earth. Often there is no further mention of them, despite the fact that the creature has been reported as being captured and even put on display. These are things that would be phenomenal discoveries, invaluable to science, yet they have been somehow forgotten. What were these fish and where did they go? Were they ever even real at all, or were these obscure creatures really just the denizens of not the deep, but a bored journalist’s own imagination? Did these specimens just get sort of forgotten and stored away at the back of some huge warehouse to collect dust? It is unlikely that the answer will ever be totally clear, but it all certainly makes one wonder.
In the meantime, the oceans of our world continue to be full of surprises. We have really only scratched the surface of what lies out there, and the depths of our seas see some of the highest rates of new species discoveries, with many every bit as bizarre or wondrous as any beast of fiction. As we delve further into the murky depths of the ocean we are certain to peel back more layers of weirdness, but let’s just hope they don’t get brushed over and forgotten in the news.