A giant Turtle, one category of Sea Monster identified by Bernard Heuvelmans. Etymology: From a Sumatran legend. Variant name: Aspidochelone (Greek, "snake-turtle").
Physical description: Tortoiselike head. Large, prominent eyes. Wide mouth. No teeth. Medium-length, slender neck. Rounded cara pace with a saw-toothed ridge. Large scales on the back. Two pairs of flippers.
Behavior: Breathes through its mouth, making a whistling noise.
Distribution: North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
Significant sightings: As his three caravels sailed east along the southern coast of the Dominican Republic in early September 1494, Christopher Columbus and his crew saw a whale-sized turtle that kept its head out of the water. It had a long tail with a fin on either side.
On March 30, 1883, the schooner Annie L. Hall sighted what looked like a capsized ship on the Grand Banks (or off the Azores if you go by the longitude provided) in the North Atlantic Ocean. However, it turned out to be a turtle "40 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet from the apex of the back to the bottom of the under shell." The flippers were 20 feet long. This report was apparently confused in contemporary newspapers with a more conventional, 100-foot-long Sea Monster sighting that took place in November 1883 by Capt. W. L. Green and some fishermen off Long Branch, New Jersey.
On March 8, 1955, L. Alejandro Velasco was stranded on a raft off the Gulf of Uraba, Colombia, when he saw a yellow turtle about 14 feet long.
In June 1956, the cargo steamer Rhapsody reported a 45-foot turtle with a white carapace south of Nova Scotia. It had flippers 15 feet long and could raise its head 8 feet out of the water.
On September 13, 1959, Tex Geddes and James Gavin were fishing off Soay in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland, when they saw the head and back of a huge animal approach them until it was only 20 yards away. Its body was 4—8 feet broad at the water line, and the back was 2 feet—2 feet 6 inches high. They watched it for five minutes, after which it dived and swam further out to sea.
In August 1971, nessle-hunter Tim Dinsdale discovered a huge, dead turtle in a storage shed in Mallaig on the coast of Scotland not far from Soay. He estimated its weight at 1,500 pounds.
(1) The Atlantic leatherback turtle
(Dermochelys coriacea coriacea) ranges throughout the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to the British Isles and can reach a length of 7—8 feet. It has longitudinal ridges on its back but no jagged ridge. It rarely exceeds 800 pounds. (2) A surviving Archelon ischyros, the largest known turtle, measured up to 16 feet long and 12 feet wide, and may have weighed as much as 11,000 pounds. It lived some 70 million years ago in marine seas of the Late Cretaceous. Fossils have been found in South Dakota, Kansas, and Colorado. Sources: T. H. White, The Bestiary: A Book of Beasts (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1960), pp. 197-198; Hernando Colon, "The Life of the Admiral by His Son, Hernando Colon," in J. M. Cohen, ed., The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus (New York: Penguin, 1969), p. 184; "A Large Turtle," Scientific American 48 (1883): 292; "Ship Reports Giant Sea Turtle," New York Herald Tribune, June 8, 1956; Tex Geddes, Hebridean Sharker (London: H. Jenkins, 1960); Maurice Burton, "The Soay Beast," Illustrated London News 236 (1960): 972-973; Maurice Burton, "Was the Soay Beast a Tourist?" Illustrated London News 239 (1961): 632; Bernard Heuvelmans, In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), pp. 271, 564-565; Tim Dinsdale, Project Water Horse (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), p. 167; Ulrich Magin, "In the Wake of Columbus' Sea Serpent: The Giant Turtle of the Gulf Stream," Pursuit, no. 78 (1987): 55-56; X, "The Gigantic Turtle of 1883," INFO Journal, no. 70 (January 1994): 14-15.
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