Among all of the sightings of strange and mysterious creatures in the wilds of our world, there are some that seem to be coveted more than most. Among these are those made by trained scientists and professionals, and these always seem to generate a lot of buzz and grant a lot of heft to the phenomenon at hand. One such account that seems to be mostly forgotten in the realm of historical cryptozoology reports is an amazing encounter with some sort of sea monster that was fully witnessed by two very respected and emminent scientists and naturalists of their day.
Edmund Gustavus Bloomfield Meade-Waldo was a noteworthy English ornithologist and conservationist who was well-known for his fieldwork and conservation efforts for rare bird species in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, the Canary Islands and Spain. He was also over the course of his career Vice-President of the British Ornithologists Union, and an active member of the Zoological Society of London, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Society for the Protection of the Fauna of the Empire and the Society for the Establishment of Nature Reserves, as well as serving as Justice of the Peace for Kent. He was a noted and respected naturalist and scientist, in other words, he was no crank, and so a peculiar encounter he had at sea would become a sensation in his native England.
In December of 1905, Meade-Waldo embarked on a research expedition on the yacht RYS Valhalla off the coast of Brazil, along with James Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford, as well as the naturalist, entomologist, and fellow member of the Zoological Society of London Michael John Nicoll. At around 10:15 a.m. on December 7, they were on the vessel at sea on their way to Bahia about fourteen miles [22 kilometers] from the coast of Brazil near Para and fifteen miles east of the mouth of Brazil's Parahiba River, when both Meade-Waldo and Nicoll saw “a creature of most extraordinary form and proportions.” It started when they noticed an unusual rectangular fin or frill cutting through the water, measuring around four feet in length and projecting nearly two feet above the surface. It was quite the odd sight, indeed, and neither of them had ever seen anything quite like it. At first they thought it must be some very large fish or whale, but things would soon get very strange. Nicoll would say of what happened in his book Three Voyages of A Naturalist:
This fin resembled that of no fish I had previously seen, and I pointed it out immediately to Mr. E. G. B. Meade-Waldo, who was on deck with me at the time, and we watched it together for several minutes. At first all that we could see was a dorsal fin, about four feet [1.2 m] long, sticking up about 2 feet [0.6 m] from the water; this fin was of a brownish-black colour, and much resembled a gigantic piece of ribbon-seaweed. Below the water we could indistinctly see a very large brownish-black patch, but could not make out the shape of the creature. Every now and then the fin entirely disappeared below the water. Suddenly an eel-like neck, about six feet [1.8 m] long and of the thickness of a man's thigh, having a head shaped like that of a turtle, appeared in front of the fin. This head and neck, which were of the same colour above as the fin, but of a silvery-white below, lashed up the water with a curious wriggling movement. After this it was so far astern of us that we could make out nothing else. This creature remained in sight for a few minutes, but we soon drew ahead of it, and it became lost to view, owing to the ripple of the water. Owing to the fact that we were under sail at the time, it was not possible to go about and make a closer inspection, and with great regret we had to be content with the view we had had of this remarkable monster. This creature was an example, I consider, of what has been so often reported, for want of a better name, as the 'great sea-serpent.’
Meade- Waldo would also give his own account of these events, adding some additional details in the process. He would write his own version of what happened in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London as follows:
I was on the poop of the 'Valhalla' with Mr. Nicoll, when he drew my attention to an object in the sea about 100 yards [91.4 meters] from the yacht; he said: 'Is that the fin of a great fish?' I looked and immediately saw a large fin or frill sticking out of the water, dark seaweed-brown in colour, somewhat crinkled at the edge. It was apparently about 6 feet [1.8 m] in length, and projected from 18 inches to 2 feet [0.46 to 0.6 m] from the water. I got my field-glasses on to it (a powerful pair of Goerz Triëder), and almost as soon as I had them on the frill, a great head and neck rose out of the water in front of the frill; the neck did not touch the frill in the water, but came out of the water in front of it, at a distance of certainly not less than 18 inches [0.46 m], probably more. The neck appeared about the thickness of a slight man's body, and from 7 to 8 feet [2.1 to 2.4 m] was out of the water; head and neck were all about the same thickness.
The head had a very turtle-like appearance, as had also the eye. I could see the line of the mouth, but we were sailing pretty fast, and quickly drew away from the object, which was going very slowly. It moved its head and neck from side to side in a peculiar manner: the colour of the head and neck was dark brown above, and whitish below - almost white, I think. It made a wave as it went along, and under water behind the neck I could see a good-sized body. As we drew ahead we could see it swing its neck from side to side and it lashed the sea into foam. The eye and the edge of the neck had a turtle-like appearance to us both. We were so astonished at the time that we could neither of us speak! We then visited (late) Lord Crawford, and he said he would stop the yacht if it was any use; but we decided as we were making about 14 knots it would not be much use.
Although they lost sight of the beast, they spent the remainder of the day excitedly talking about it, and although at the time of this initial sighting no one else on board the Valhalla had seen it, this would change when another strange incident happened the following day. Nicoll would explain:
During the next fourteen hours we went about twice, and at about 2 a.m. the following day 8th December, in lat 7° 19' S., long. 34° 04' W., the first and third mates, Mr. Simmonds and Mr. Harley, who were on the bridge at the time, saw a great commotion in the water. At first they thought it was a rock a-wash about 100 to 150 yards [91-137 m] away on the port side, just aft of the bridge, but they soon made out that it was something moving and going slightly faster than the ship, which at that time was doing about 8 1/2 knots [15.7 km/h]. Mr. Simmonds hailed the deck, and one of the crew, who was on the look-out, saw it too. Although there was a bright moon at the time, they could not make out anything of the creature itself, owing to the amount of wash it was making, but they say that the commotion in the water it looked as if a submarine was going along just below the surface. They both say most emphatically that it was not a whale, and that it was not blowing, nor have they ever seen anything like it before. After they had watched it for several minutes, it 'sounded' off the port bow, and they saw no more of it.
The eyewitness testimony from such rational, well-educated scientists under ideal, clear viewing conditions left little doubt that they had truly seen something bizarre that they could not explain, and although they were notably an ornithologist and entomologist and not marine biologists the news was soon making headlines even as theories swirled on what they could have possibly seen. Meade-Waldo himself was unsure of what sort of animal it could be, offering no definitive conclusion other than to admit in a letter to famed cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans that it could be the same kind of creature seen in the famous sea serpent sighting of the crew of the Daedalus in 1848. In that well-known case, witnesses reported an animal resembling "a large snake or eel” with a mane or dorsal fin on its back and a visible length of 60 feet. For his part, Nicoll was much more detailed with his ideas and speculation on what the creature could be and its habits, and would say:
I feel sure, however, that it was not a reptile that we saw, but a mammal. It is, of course, impossible to be certain of this, but the general appearance of the creature, especially the soft, almost rubber-like fin, gave one this impression. It is often said that, if there were such a monster, remains of it would have been found long ago, but this is not necessarily so. Supposing the "sea-serpent" lives in deep holes, such as there were in the spot where we saw out "monster," then there would be little chance of remains being washed ashore, and the amount of deep-sea dredging that has yet been done is very small, so that it is not surprising that no parts of this creature have been obtained in that way. That it is not more often reported is not to be wondered at, when one realized how often it is that a ship may sail for says together without sighting another ship, even in seas where there is considerable traffic. Also it must be remembered that such ridicule is generally bestowed on the reports of sea-monsters that many persons hesitate to describe what they have seen. I know myself of several instances of unknown sea-monsters have been seen by reliable witnesses, who, to avoid the inevitable "chaff," would not publicly state their experiences.
So was this thing a mammal, a fish, a reptile, perhaps a giant squid, or what? There has never really been any true consensus on the matter, and considering we are working with a report that is well over 100 years old and which has few real details to latch onto, it is hard to say. What did these two scientists see out there? Is it something that can be rationally explained? Was it a misidentification or something truly strange and unusual? Could they have possibly seen an amazing creature unknown to science? If so was it a fish, mammal, reptile, or something else? For now there is no way to know, and considering the age of the report we may never get the answers we seek. However, considering the pedigree of the witnesses it certainly seems to be a case worth remembering.