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BioFortean Review: Reprints

Roy Chapman Andrews and the "Double-Finned Whale"


To my mind a killer whale was responsible for the story of the "Loch Ness Monster" in Scotland which made headlines in the public press a year ago. For some reason the man-in-the-street likes to think that sea serpents do exist; that somewhere in the ocean depths or in some far-off sea there may be strange creatures, survivors of the Age of Reptiles, still living. In spite of the fact that there isn't a shred of scientific evidence in support of such a belief it will not down. It has existed for centuries and I suppose will continue to exist for more centuries to come. All the sea serpents that have been reported, if they ever were captured have proved to be some already known fish or animal.

Faulty observation is responsible in most cases. An animal at sea, as a rule, gives only a brief glimpse of itself. Perhaps it is a whale or a shark or a seal which is unknown to the observer. He sees it for a second or two, and only part of the body at one time. If he has a lively imagination he can make it look like almost anythingand really believe that he saw what he thinks he saw. A sea serpent, to fit the popular conception, should have a long neck and a head like a camel. Why a camel, God only knows, but a camel-like head it must have.

Our observer tells of his apparition to a news hawk. A sea serpent story is just duck soup to a reporter. The story appears with a few added embellishments. Then the game is on. All over the country, along every seacoasteven in little frequented ponds and lakessea serpents will begin to appear. And they will all have a head like a camel! You watch for the next one and see if I am not right. Heated arguments with newspaper men have been my lot when I have scoffed at the sea serpent myth. The last one was with the editor of a great New York paper.

"What I can't understand," said he, "is the pig-headedness of you scientific fellows. Just because you haven't seen it you think it can't exist. You make me tired. You ought to put a sign up on your Museum 'Abandon all individual opinions ye who enter here.'"

Arguments are of no avail. The average person wants to believe in sea serpents and he or she is going to believe in them, no matter what facts are presented to the contrary. I suppose they feel as I felt as a child when other children tried to make me believe that there wasn't any Santa Claus. Newspaper men like sea serpents, of course, because they give good copy. A story like that can be kept alive for days.

I've said that most of the stories are the result of faulty observation. I'll explain what I mean. When we were hunting devilfish off the Korean coast, Captain Melsom and I saw a whale swimming directly across our bows, half a mile away. It had two dorsal fins. Now no whale known to science has two dorsal fins. None at all, or one, yes; but not two! Nevertheless there it was. Melsom saw it, I saw it and all the crew saw it. There was not a man on the ship who would not have sworn an affidavit that we had seen a whale with two dorsal fins.

I said to Melsom, "We've just got to kill that whale if we follow him a week. It's something new to science. If you kill it I'll name it after you."

The whale was loafing lazily along at the surface, apparently not going anywhere in particular. Melsom changed course to come up astern of the whale and we slid along quietly, engines at half speed. We were pretty close and the dorsal fins began to look rather strange. They weren't in line as they ought to have been. Then suddenly the whale dived. A great tail hove out of the water and right beside it a smaller tail. The mystery was solved. It was a mother finback whale with a half grown calf pressed close to her side. The calf was in such a position that its dorsal fin appeared just behind that of its mother. As we first saw them, with the calf on the far side and completely invisible, it looked exactly as though the mother had two dorsal fins. If we had not followed it up, I most certainly should have announced that I had seen a double-finned whale. It would have gone into scientific literature and remained as a recorded fact, backed by the statements of the other men on the ship. That's what I mean by faulty or incomplete observation.

The Loch Ness Monster was seen several times and photographed once. The picture, as it appeared in the New York Times, showed a long curved neck surmounted by a small head. Evidently it had been retouched by an artist who was obsessed by the "camel head" complex. I got a copy of the original from the Times and it showed just what I expectedthe dorsal fin of a killer whale. A killer's dorsal is six feet high and curved. It would make a wonderful neck for a sea serpent. The head could easily be supplied out of the imagination as the newspaper artist did, in fact. Doubtless what happened was that the killer made its way through the narrow gate of the Loch from the open sea and remained there for some days. It may even have gone in or out several times.

But wasn't I unpopular with the Loch Ness supporters when I said what I believed the "Serpent" to be! As a matter of fact the mythical creature was a boon to the dwellers near the Loch. Tourists came there in thousands and the canny Scotsmen did their stuff. No tourist got away without leaving a certain amount of "siller" to help keep the wolf from the door. I have a collection of picture postcards purchased at Loch Ness and the "monster" is shown in half a dozen forms, none of them alike.


Historical Reprints:

Cryptozoology: Science and Speculation

Historical Bigfoot Stories

Big Snakes

Great Sea-Serpent

Blue Tiger

Missionaries and Monsters

Cryptobotany Fiction