Super Eel

A category of SEA MONSTER identified by Bernard Heuvelmans.

Physical description: Serpentine or cylindrical body. Length, 30-100 feet. Several color varieties apparently occur. One is blackish-brown or blue on top and white underneath; others are speckled or reddish. Head may be blunt or pointed. Large eyes. Mouth is either at the end of the head or at the bottom. Neck is a continuation of the body. A continuous, translucent dorsal fin begins some distance from the head. A pair of pectoral fins is sometimes reported. Long tail tapers to a point.

Behavior: Swims on the surface with a rapid, undulating motion. Mouth opens and closes spasmodically when moving forward. It has been seen fighting with whales.

Habitat: Abyssal depths of the ocean. Comes to the surface only in exceptional circumstances.

Distribution: Cosmopolitan, though the speckled variety seems confined to the Mediterranean Sea.

Significant sightings: In the 1740s, Sicilian fishermen were familiar with large, speckled serpentine fishes—possibly large moray eels—that ruined their nets and let the tuna they had caught escape.

On October 15, 1870, John Adams and the crew of his boat saw a 30-40-foot, reddish animal about a mile off the coast of Norfolk Island

Sea serpent resembling a SUPER-EEL. From Konrad Gesner, Historiae animalium (Zürich: Christ. Froschoverum, 1551—1587). (From the original in the Special Collections of Northwestern University Library)

in the South Pacific Ocean. Its head was flat on the surface of the water, and its body was coiled up, while the tail hung down several fathoms below the surface. It raised its head as they passed within a yard of it, then slowly straightened out and moved off.

Capt. J. F. Cox of the British ship Privateer saw a Sea serpent like a huge eel "as black as coal tar" in the North Atlantic 100 miles west of Brest, France, on August 5, 1879.

On December 7, 1905, British naturalists E. G. B. Meade-Waldo and M. J. Nicoll were tak ing a research cruise on the yacht Valhalla 15 miles off the mouth of the Rio Paraiba, Brazil, when they saw an animal 100 yards from the boat. It appeared as a 7-8-foot head and neck followed by a 6-foot-long, rubbery fin sticking 2 feet out of the water. The eye and neck had a turtlelike appearance. It swung its neck back and forth as it swam slowly along.

In the spring of 1912, the crew of the British steamer Queen Eleanor watched an eel-like animal with a long neck and two humps in the Mediterranean Sea off Akra Tainaron, the southern tip of Greece. It was about 30 feet long and had a speckled color. The chief engineer took a shot at it with his rifle, and it disappeared.

Capt. P. de Haan and the crew of the steamer Bawean, at sea off Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, on July 25, 1925, saw a black Sea monster about 25 feet long with an erect fin about 12 feet long behind its head. Though Heuvelmans classes this as a Super-eel, it could just as well be some sort of Beaked whale (Family Ziphiidae). Possible explanations:

(1) Various types of giant, abyssal, eel-like fishes. A major reason why Heuvelmans considered giant eels a viable explanation was because Anton Bruun, on the oceanographic vessel Dana, in 1930 discovered an abyssal eel larva 6 feet long. Known as a leptocephalus, the larva of the Common eel (Anguilla anguilla) grows into an adult about thirty times larger. If the Dana leptocephalus were to grow at a similar rate, it would become an adult 108-180 feet long. However, in 1970, Miami ichthyologist David G. Smith identified the Dana specimen as the larva of a Spiny eel (Notacanthus spp.), which does not grow much larger than its larval stage.

(2) A giant form of Swamp eel (Family Synbranchidae) was suggested by Constantin Rafinesque in 1817. These eellike fishes live in freshwater and occasionally brackish tropical water worldwide. They have no pectoral or pelvic fins and only rudimentary dorsal and anal fins; the caudal fin is small or rudimentary or lacking altogether; and the gill-membranes are joined together under the throat. Most are primarily air-breathers. The largest is the Obscure swamp eel (Ophisternon aenigmaticum), a Central American species that grows to more than 2 feet 7 inches. Sources: Antonino Mongitore, Delia Sicilia ricercata nelle cose piu memorabili (Palermo, Italy: Francesco Valenza, 1742-1743); Constantin Samuel Rafinesque, "Dissertation on Water Snakes, Sea Snakes and Sea Serpents," American Monthly Magazine 1 (1817): 431-435; J. Linton Palmer, "Extracts from a Letter from Mr. John Adams, of Pitcairns Island, Relative to the Sea Serpent," Proceedings ofthe Literary and Philosophical Society ofLiverpool 31 (1877): 68-69; Times (London), September 24, 1879; E. G. B. Meade-Waldo and Michael J. Nicoll, "Description of an Unknown Animal Seen at Sea off the Coast of Brazil," Proceedings of the Zoological Society ofLondon, 1906, pp. 719-721; Michael J. Nicoll, Three Voyages ofa Naturalist (London: Witherby, 1908), pp. 21-26; "Een Zeeslang?" De Zee, July 23, 1925; Bernard Heuvelmans, In the Wake ofthe Sea-Serpents (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), pp. 389, 562-563, 568; "Giant Leptocephalus," Nature 230 (1971): 278-279.

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