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The Hook Island sea monster

A little spookiness leftover from Halloween! Further reading:  https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/the-amazing-hook-island-sea-monster-photos-revisited/ 

Here's the colored, sharpened version of the photo:

Here are the close-ups of the monster's head:

You decide!

Show transcript:

Welcome to the Patreon bonus episode of Strange Animals Podcast for the first of November, 2019!

Hook Island is a small island off the coast of Australia, specifically Queensland in northeastern Australia. It’s one of 74 islands in the area, and hardly anyone lives on this particular island because most of it is a national park. Tourists visit it to dive among the coral off its northern coast, and occasionally die from jellyfish stings. But for the most part it’s just a quiet, picturesque part of the world.

But in 1964, a man named Robert Le Serrec was boating in the area with his family and a friend and took three pictures of something enormous in the water. It’s known as the Hook Island Sea Monster.

Le Serrec was a French photographer, and in 1965 he wrote about his encounter with the sea monster in a magazine called Everyone. He, his wife and kids, and an Australian friend named Henk de Jong were spending the summer on Hook Island, which back then wasn’t off-limits to foot traffic and in fact even had an inexpensive wilderness resort for people to stay in while they were there. Le Serrec had a motorboat and on December 12, 1964, which remember is summer in the southern hemisphere, the group was crossing Stonehaven Bay when Le Serrec’s wife saw something at the bottom of the shallow water that looked like an enormous tadpole. And I mean ENORMOUS.

At first they estimated it was 30 feet long, or over 9 meters. But when Le Serrec and de Jong dived into the water to try and get film footage of it, they realized it was over twice that length—maybe as long as 90 feet, or over 27 meters. When it opened its mouth and started moving toward them, naturally they decided to get out of the water again. While they were returning to the boat, though, the monster swam off.

Here’s a quote from Le Serrec’s article that describes it.

“It was only when we got to within 20 feet of the serpent that we could see its head clearly. The head was large, about 4 feet from top to bottom, with jaws about 4 feet wide. [that’s about 1.2 meters] The lower jaw was flat like that of a sandfish. The skin was smooth but rather dull, brownish-black in color, the eyes seemed pale green, almost white. The skin looked more like that of a shark than an eel. There were no apparent scales. Nor did we see any parasites around. We supposed the flexible tail would have shaken any off. There were no fins or spines, nor were there any apparent breathing openings, although there must have been some. Perhaps we didn’t see them because our attention was focused mainly on the creature’s menacing mouth, the inside of which was whitish. The teeth appeared to be small. A fragment of some dark substance hung from the upper row of teeth, possibly a fish. As the monster was lying on the sandy bottom, we could not see the color of its belly. The creature was about 90 feet long. Behind the head the body was about 2 feet 4 inches thick and remained that way for about 25 feet, then it gradually tapered into a whip-like tail. The general color of the body was black with one-foot-wide brownish rings every five feet, the first starting just behind the head. The skin was smooth but dull.”

The eyes were near the top of the head with slit pupils, and Le Serrec also thought he saw a wound on its tail.

The main photo shows something with what looks like a bulbous head and a long body tapering to a point, although it’s just a dark shape in the water. Two other photos were taken at closer range and show the head, including the small pale eyes.

Several famous cryptozoologists investigated, including Bernard Heuvelmans and Ivan Sanderson, both of whom you may remember from the Minnesota Iceman episode. They were skeptical but open-minded, which is the best way to approach photographs of gigantic tadpole-shaped sea monsters.

Sanderson suggested that if it wasn’t a hoax or something like a big piece of plastic mistaken for a living creature, it might be a giant swamp eel. Swamp eels are freshwater fish that look like eels and live in tropical and subtropical areas. The swamp eel especially likes marshes and ponds, and can breathe air and even wriggle on land to move from one pond to another, sort of like the walking catfish. Its mouth and throat contain a lot of blood vessels that absorb oxygen and act as a primitive lung. Most swamp eels start life as females, and after a few years they change into males, although some start out as males and stay that way.

The swamp eel has smooth skin, almost no fins, and is dark brown. But the largest species, the marbled swamp eel, only grows to about five feet long at the most, or 1.5 meters, and it only lives in fresh water. So it’s pretty certain that whatever the Hook island sea monster was, it wasn’t any kind of swamp eel.

As cryptozoologists investigated, though, some iffy things came up. In the late 1950s, Le Serrec had told people he had “another thing in reserve which will bring in a lot of money…it’s to do with the sea-serpent.” Five years later, surprise! Here are some sea monster pictures, with Le Serrec shopping them around to magazines to find who would pay him the most for them. And it turned out that Le Serrec was wanted by Interpol, apparently for taking money from people to fund his sea monster expedition in the 50s.

But the photos themselves show something suspicious. Usually the photo you see online is a colorized, sharpened picture of the original photo, the one taken from a distance showing the whole monster. It’s pretty spectacular. But the original photos were black and white and not super high quality. In the closer-up photos, the edges of the monster’s head look like they’re covered in sand—not in the way a real animal’s body looks when it’s partially buried in sand, but a sort of waviness that looks as though someone had covered the edges of a plastic or cloth bag with sand to weight it down. Then again, other people have said that’s a natural result of photographing something through water.

The photos are in the show notes, so you can make a decision for yourself. It would be really neat if the monster turned out to be real, but I’m doubtful. But you never know.

The next episode in the main feed will be about some interesting birds. Thanks for your support, and thanks for listening!

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