Supposed MERBEING of Australasia.
Etymology: Barok (Austronesian) word.
Variant names: Ilkai (Sursurunga/Austrone-sian), Pishmeri (Pidgin, "fish-woman").
Physical description: Dark or light-brown body. Length, 5-7 feet. Human head, arms, torso, and genitalia. Long head-hair. Eyes in the front of the head. Protruding mouth. Females have breasts. Arms are fused to the side of the body. Palms are ridged and calloused, and the fingernails are long and sharp. The lower trunk terminates in a pair of flippers. Internal body fat is said to be yellow.
Behavior: Aquatic. Swims horizontally and rolls on the surface. Submergence time is about ten minutes. Whistles or whispers. Humanlike cry of fear. Eats fishes. Said to sleep on sandbars. Barok fishermen will occasionally net and eat it.
Habitat: Shallow coastal water.
Distribution: New Ireland and Lihir Island, Papua New Guinea, to Buka and Bougainville Island, Solomon Islands; north coast of Papua New Guinea.
Significant sightings: In November 1979, anthropologist Roy Wagner watched an animal with a long, dark body swimming along the surface of Ramat Bay, New Ireland. It disappeared when a sawfish jumped out of the water in front of it.
Gale Raymond, Roy Wagner, and Richard Greenwell observed a Ri from a distance in Elizabeth Bay, New Ireland, on July 5, 1983. The animal surfaced for a few seconds at ten-minute intervals. Expedition members caught glimpses of the same or a similar animal on other occasions. Attempts to capture a specimen with a net failed.
On February 10, 1985, members of an expedition sponsored by the Ecosophical Research Association and led by Thomas Williams observed a Ri from the deck of their well-equipped diving ship ReefExplorer. A local man identified the animal as an Ilkai. Capt. Kerry Piesch went into the water with scuba gear and photographed a greenish-gray, 5-foot animal that moved underwater gracefully with undulations of its tail. Other surface and underwater observations convinced the expedition members that they were seeing dugongs. On February 15, they saw villagers pulling a large animal that someone had killed with a rifle out of the water off Nokon, New Ireland. It was conclusively identified as a dugong. Possible explanations:
(1) The Dugong (Dugong dugon), a sirenian with a bulky body, moves slowly in the water at an average 6 miles per hour. It does occasionally roll on the surface. Its dive time can extend to ten minutes. Adult males are
8 feet-9 feet 6 inches long and weigh 550-920 pounds. Australia has the largest remaining dugong population in the world, although the numbers have shrunk by accidental capture and overhunting. New Ireland was certainly part of the dugong's historical range, and the animal is still seen in coastal areas of the Bismarck Sea. When the animals are stressed by disturbance or removal of the sea grass on which they feed, dugongs are known to travel a long distance away from their usual range. The 1985 Thomas Williams expedition conclusively demonstrated that the animals called Ri or Ilkai by the native people of Nokon Bay were dugongs.
(2) The Finless porpoise (Neophocaema phocaenoides) has a dorsal ridge but no fin. Adults are 4-6 feet long. However, it is not known in these waters; the closest it comes is on the western coast of New Guinea. Tail flukes are rarely visible above the surface. Its submergence time is slightly over one minute.
(3) The Southern rightwhale dolphin (Lissodelphis peronii) is only found in temperate waters. It has a jet-black back and a white underside. Adults are 6 feet-9 feet 6 inches long.
(4) A supposed Southern Hemisphere variety of Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas), though this whale is lighter than the Ri described in most reports. Belugas are known only in Arctic waters.
(5) An unknown population of Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) on the north coast of New Guinea. It is known to frequent coastal waters of northern Australia and the southern coast of Papua New
Guinea. Adults are 7 feet—8 feet 6 inches long.
Sources: Roy Wagner, "The Ri: Unidentified Aquatic Animals of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea," Cryptozoology 1 (1982): 33—39; Roy Wagner, J. Richard Greenwell, Gale J. Raymond, and Kurt von Nieda, "Further Investigations into the Biological and Cultural Affinities of the Ri," Cryptozoology 2 (1983): 113-125; Thomas R. Williams, "Identification of the Ri through Further Fieldwork in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea," Cryptozoology 4 (1985): 61-68.
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