Saturday, May 1, 2010

'What’s hair doing on any kind of our fish?'

Fortune Bay sea monster

Of the thousands of stories I’ve written as a Newfoundland journalist, one article has been read more than any other.

By more people around the world than any other.

It wasn’t about politics.

Or corruption.

Or any of the topics you might think.

The story was about a sea monster.

I came across the article this week on the website

Have a read.

If you dare.

‘Monster’ beached

By Ryan Cleary
The Telegram — St. Bernard’s, Fortune Bay
Aug. 8th, 2001

The locals here call it “the monster.”

“Any word on the monster yet?” they ask each other, looking to the sea for an answer. “We people have never seen the likes of it before, we never.”

Fishermen mutter the word “monster” with smirks on their faces. Grown men with leather for skin and salt water for spit talking about creatures from the bottom of Fortune Bay.

“Monster” isn’t a word that flows freely from their lips, not when there are no youngsters handy. But what else is there to call it, the dead thing that rests on Paltry beach?

“The hair is the biggest puzzle,” says Ed Hodder, the fishermen who found it. “What’s hair doing on any kind of our fish?”

Paltry is a stretch of coastline about 20 kilometres west of here, a 40-minute speedboat ride past pods of humpbacks and schools of mackerel.

Hodder, 42, has the lone shanty on the beach, a shack he often stays in to be closer to his cod and flounder nets. On Saturday, he steered his boat to shore and spied what he thought was an overturned dory.

Only it wasn’t a boat, but a creature.

Measuring about seven metres in length and covered in coarse white hair the length of an average man’s hand, it looked like nothing he’d ever seen before.

“I’d say it weighs three or four tonne,” said Hodder, 59, who’s spent as much of his life on the sea as off.

The “monster” has what appears to be a skeletal structure consisting of a backbone and ribs, although it’s impossible to tell which end is which.

There’s no obvious head and only a suggestion of limbs. Flaps of flesh on either side could just as well be ears as fins.

The stench of rot has made the hardiest of fishermen retch.

No seagulls fly here.

“The Loch Ness monster, that’s what we’ve got,” said Terry Hodder, another inshore fisherman from St. Bernard’s who sailed to Paltry early Tuesday to see the creature for himself.

“It’s no joke sure there it is on the beach for anyone to see.”

Tales of creatures roaming the waves of Fortune Bay are nothing new.

In May 1997, Charles Bungay, a fisherman from Little Harbour East, described a long, gray, scaly-skinned creature with dark eyes that looked right at him and made him shake for five or six hours after he landed onshore.

“All we could see was a neck about six feet long, a head like a horse, but his dark eyes were on the front of its face like a human,” Bungay said.

The overall length he estimated at about 10 to 12 metres.

He said it had ears or horns six or eight inches long. “He just looked at us and slid under the water and disappeared.”

When word of the find on Paltry beach circulated, Bungay was among the first to check it out.

“I don’t know what it could be,” he said Tuesday. “I couldn’t say for sure it’s the same thing I saw back in 1997, but it certainly resembles that creature.”

Bungay said the neck was much longer on the creature he saw, but it’s possible a portion of the “St. Bernard’s monster” is missing.

Scientists say the vast majority of strange carcasses are the decomposed remains of large basking sharks and other conventional sea creatures such as oarfish.

One interesting aspect of the transformation from basking shark to mystery carcass is that, as the shark decomposes, its fibrous muscle tissue takes on the appearance of a white hairy coat.

Later Tuesday, when the red sun slowly kissed the horizon, the fishermen of St. Bernard’s lingered on the wharves, drinking from plastic cups, whispering of the sea and its secrets.

Fisherman Tom Steward talked of the seals and porpoises and blue whales he’s seen. He said he’s never before seen the likes of the creature on Paltry beach.

“We feel it’s something strange,” he said.

“It’s no ordinary thing.”

“Maybe it’s a whale turned inside out,” said Hodder with a smirk. But he, like everyone else, was only half joking.

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