I missed the first go-round of the “Montauk Monster,” a creature that washed up on the beach in Montauk, NY this summer, and based upon the news picture, originally thought it resembled a turtle out of its shell. I find it very difficult to avoid being fascinated with any good “sea monster” story.
From this picture showing the “monster’s” back, limbs and tail and beaklike head process, it looks like it could be a turtle – except turtles don’t have that type of teeth, and the hindquarters are very mammal-like.
From this side, the creature clearly has “parts” and looks much more mammalian. Fur is also visible in other areas, making it also look more mammalian.
The “monster” is a raccoon that has been in the water long enough to begin to decompose. The soft tissues of its snout have worn away, leaving the “beaklike” front of its jaw exposed.
The nasal cavity present on the raccoon skull matches the similar area seen on the “monster”.
Sea monsters are nothing new. Around 500 million years ago, a large number of new species appeared that were nothing like the animals we know today. This is a picture of one of the Burgess Shale animals, Anomalocaris.
These creatures were so different from the body types (i.e. tetrapod, arthropod) that we know today that they were initially reconstructed very differently from their true forms. One, Hallucigenia, was originally reconstructed upside-down, while the mouth appendages of the big predator at the time, Anomalocaris, were thought to be a completely separate, shrimp-like animal.
Those are eyes on stalks up there on the head, and the “shrimplike” appendages serve to push food into its mouth. Anomalocaris is now thought to be the terror of the Cambrian seas, about two feet in length, a fast swimmer, and aggressive eater.
Today, similarly rare and unusual creatures abound, though we may not realize what they are at first. A few years ago, walking on the beach in Northern California, I saw hundreds and hundreds of small, deep blue creatures about the size of the palm of my hand washed onto the beach. Each had a clear, plastic-like half-circle on its “back” or top. The color was so brilliant, and the “plastic” appendage so unusual, that I had to learn what the creature was. No one on the beach, or in the nearby town, would admit to having seen these creatures before, and no one could say what they might be. They were velella vellella– a hydroid similar to a jellyfish, with the common name of “By-the-wind-sailor”.
How beautiful is this small creature? How much like an “alien” in its color, form and nature?
They are long-distance travelers who “sail” on the ocean surface with the help of the “sail” on their backs. What appears to be plastic is actually a type of clear, transparent chitin that is attached to the deep blue, jellyfish-like float of the body. Sometimes, the winds lead the small creatures off-course, causing the vellela to wash up on the beach, exactly as I saw that day.