Sea Serpents Down Under

By Tony Lucas

New Zealand, being quite literally an island nation has its fair share of sea serpent stories, some of which have been proven to be true, but more of that later.

However, one of the great anomalies is the extreme lack of lake monster encounters. As most of the New Zealand lakes are either glacial, volcanic or tectonic in nature this is not surprising as this seems to be the case worldwide. Any creature entering a lake must have / or have had access from the sea. this still does not count out anomalous creatures found in these freshwater bodies.

One great mystery that has caught a lot of attention in the cryptozoological world is the possibility of colonies of the supposedly extinct Mosasaur thriving and breeding off mainly the Eastern coastal areas of New Zealand

The Hauraki Trench would provide abundant food and if these creatures avoided the shipping lanes, not hard to do as our oceans have become very noisy places in the last century, they would be able to maintain a very healthy population which would be relatively undisturbed.

If we consider the possibility that these creatures were endothermic, it would give them an added advantage in the cooler Waters and a great advantage when it came to catching prey.

If you take into account the number of squid, pinnipeds whales and dolphins that migrate through these areas there would be an abundant supply as well.

Another large denizen of the deep is the Giant Squid and now its even bigger relative the Colossal Squid, both species have now been proven to inhabit the deep waters off the New Zealand Coast.

Areas such as those around Kaikoura, where an uprising of nutrients provides an incredibly nutrient-rich, abundant food supply which is extremely attractive too many of the deepwater marine species such as Squid, small fish and other marine organisms which in turn predate upon these and make them ideal especially for species such as sperm whales which in turn feed upon the squid, including the giant squid which in turn also at times May feed on the sperm whales along with other species of Whales, squid and other marine creatures of suitable prey size.

These creatures have also been known to breed in New Zealand Waters as young specimens have been found showing strong indications that the giant squids of New Zealand are permanently resident within the area and have been so for quite a long time if we are to believe some of the reports from early last century.

Shallow Bays which are warmed by the Tasmanian current, which brings warm waters into areas such as the Bay of Plenty, which coincidentally borders on the Kermadec Trench, would be ideal habitat for these animals, warm waters, shallow bays and a deep nutrient and hence food rich area would create the ideal living conditions for such creatures.

Interestingly a high percentage of observations of these beasts have been made in these very waters.

Stories of Mosasaur like creatures outnumber reports from almost every other country.

They are so numerous that some Paleontologists have suggested that New Zealand may be “a breeding ground”.

One New Zealand Paleontologist Alan Marks was the founder of a theory that a small population of Mosasaurs do still exist in the depths of the Pacific Ocean though occasionally the Atlantic and Indian Oceans are also frequented by these animals.

This theory has gained some support by overseas paleontologists and some even stand by the theory strongly.

Although generally this theory is unknown or kept to oneself to avoid demeaning many paleontologists credibility. It is not proper among paleontological circles to envisage mosasaur’s reveling in Pacific waters.

There are, however, no shortage of sightings even in contemporary times.

In April of 1971, the crew of the Kampia Maru saw what they described as a “bug-eyed monster said to resemble a crocodile”, 30 kilometers off the Coast of Lyttleton in the South Island. They said it had fins rather than legs as they witnessed it leap out of the water.

The following year, 1972 in Temuka, also in the South Island, three women were Whitebaiting, which would put the time of this sighting between August and November, the official Whitebaiting season, at the mouth of the Orari River. About 30 meters away they watched a large creature wallowing in the breakers.

They described it as a dark grey lizard about 5 meters long. At one point, it opened its cavernous mouth revealing numerous small, and exceedingly looking sharp teeth.

In 1983, an Unnamed female witness claimed a giant mosasaur-like creature circled the small raft she was in far off the coast near Picton.

She estimated the animal to be about 7 meters in length and when its snout emerged from the water it displayed some very gruesome looking teeth.

During the summer of 2001 a group of teenage boys were Bogey Boarding in Paekakariki, suddenly an enormous monster exploded out of the water in front of them. All 5 boys were extremely shaken but went on to describe perfectly the description of a Mosasaur.

In 2006, Ivan Levy was to be involved in an incident that would leave him both shocked and Boatless, after an encounter with a pair of vicious Mosasaur like animals. The Attack began by them ramming his boat. He stated the animals were like large "lizards with Fins" and were roughly 6m long, although he did say they may have been slightly smaller or longer. (“RICHARD FREEMAN: Mystery Animals of New Zealand”) After an hour of the ceaseless attack, the pair of creatures lost interest in this object of their frustration and swam away. Ivan Levy made it back to shore with a severely damaged boat. Speculation and rumor abounded that he had deliberately caused the damage to the boat in the hopes of collecting the insurance money for the vessel, but unfortunately for him, the boat was uninsured and so this can be ruled out as a motive for an explanation of what happened. The only thing Mr. Levy gained from the whole incident was a few short local headlines and a considerable amount of ridicule.

Was this a breeding pair and Mr. Levy had his boat in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This sounds extremely like territorial behavior to me.

The most recent report of these magnificent creatures occurred in 2007 When a Raumati woman and her infant daughter witnessed a large animal “the size of a whale” splashing in the shallows.

it was once said the nearest Saltwater Crocodile seen near New Zealand was spotted by plane 400km north of Cape Reianga, the most northern point of New Zealand.

This seems very out of the way for such a creature and could it have been a mistaken identification of a Mosasaur, which from a plane would look very much like an adult saltwater crocodile.

One argument against these creatures continued existence is being air-breathing why aren't they seen more often?

My answer to this enigma is they don't need to be.

Today's shipping follows set routes or shipping lanes if you will, all any large creature must do is stay outside these areas and its chances of being sighted at the surface are greatly reduced.

Another factor is our oceans have become very noisy, with all the engine noise and other noises from naval tests and other experimentation any creature would pick up the noise long before the source of the noise was visible and would immediately submerge and disappear.

You notice during the days of sailing vessels a lot more pictures were drawn of sea monsters often in the form of Mosasaur like creatures. This was probably due to the lack of engine noise.

Through association, most creatures would consider such noise a threat as was the case with a Naval Frigate. Which was attacked by an unknown animal that left gouges and a tooth in the rubber antifouling sonar cover to this day the source of this damage was never identified.

Yet many who stray from well-established shipping lanes report unusual encounters.

Why do these creatures never wash ashore? The answer is firstly they would be an open ocean species, secondly most of the creatures that wash ashore contain a percentage of blubber or ammonia which acts as buoyancy causing the carcass to float and therefore end up ashore, and yes Crocodile and Alligator bodies do float for a short time, but this is dependent on the amount of air in their lungs with which they adjust their buoyancy, but Mosasaurs used a different buoyancy system.

A reptilian creature would not have such a buoyancy mechanism, in fact, it has been proven creatures such as Plesiosaurs and Mosasaurs swallowed and used stones as ballast, once dead this would more than likely cause the body to sink.

Also, when you consider most of its hide was made up of boney sclutes, very similar to a crocodile. Added to that, you also have the large bone structure of a mighty carnivore, thus making the animal quite heavy and more likely to sink in the Deep Waters and remain undiscovered.

Another creature of curiosity is the Giant Long-finned Eel - Anguilla diefenbachii (Grey 1936), they are well known for their great size and ill temperament.

Most countries where Eels are found have their legends of these creatures growing to gigantic proportions, the same is so of New Zealand.

Regrettably the Long-finned Eel is becoming exceedingly rarer in New Zealand as fishing diminishes their numbers as they are more sought after than the more common Short-finned Eel - A. schmidtii (Schmidt 1927)

The males of the species are smaller than the females and migrate down the rivers to breeding areas near Tonga, often dying after breeding.

All the gigantic Eels, and I think this would be true for possibly all the monster Eels spoken of in other countries are non-breeding females.

Eels can live up to 80 years, although some have been found to live up to 106 years old, as the females age, they become more sedentary and resist the urge to migrate, spending the rest of their days in freshwater fattening up and growing to gargantuan proportions.

Once they have reached sizable proportions these Colossus's then prefer to live in deep, slow flowing, vegetation-filled streams where they become the alpha predator and scavenger as these creatures prefer an opportunistic feeding style. They will happily consume living or dead flesh.

Their main advantages in New Zealand waters are copious food, a distinct lack of competition for that food one they reach a certain size and an abundance of suitable habitat allowing them to avoid detection. In New Zealand, they have the distinct advantage of the lack of freshwater competitors that are found in other countries, such as Pike and other carnivorous fish to cope with.

Subsequent research carried out on the compatibility of Eels with other species of fish proved that the extermination of Eels was detrimental to the Trout.

Although there were more trout in the Eel free rivers, they were a lot smaller and in poorer condition than those trout in rivers which contained Eels.

These Eels are said to be intelligent enough to have learned all the tricks to remain hidden from man, sticking to the deep waters and keeping out of sight during the day, confining their hunting activity to the night when the probability of predation, especially from man is limited.

Tales of these creatures reaching impressive proportions date back to the times of early Maori Colonisation right up to recent times.

One interesting tale refers to a very mystifying tale of an Eel-like creature in the Bay of Plenty, in the North Island near what would one day become the Town of Whakatane.

This creature was known as Tuna Tuoro and resided in a local river. Oral legend has it that its touch was able to paralyse a person. Could this be an account of some unknown and now extinct species of Electric Eel?

Another fascinating tale relates how a farmer from the Wairarapa region of the North Island was cleaning a sheep carcass to feed his dogs, a widespread practice on many New Zealand farms.

He was at the top of a small cliff which had a stream running below it, he proceeded to dress the animal, hurling the offal over the cliff and into the stream. (“GUEST BLOGGER TONY LUCAS: Giant eels in New Zealand”)

Suddenly there was a great uproar coming from over the cliff and the farmer peered down to see the water below him in massive commotion as two immense Eels tugged at each end of a scrap of offal, he had just thrown over the crag.

It is not only the large, long-finned Eel that are a threat.

There was a tale of a man travelling from Dunedin who ran off the road in an accident and ended up in the river, unconscious. During the night as he lay unconscious eels ate the lower part of one of his legs. They had been attracted by the blood as a result of injuries from the accident.

One of the interesting defence mechanisms that these Long-finned eel species have been that their blood contains a toxin.

Extraordinarily little is known about its chemical nature, what is known however is that it appears to be proteinaceous since it is destroyed by Trypsin and cooking (Ghiretti and Rocca 1963, Rocca and Ghiretti 1964; Russel 1965).

There is not much reference regarding the symptoms of Ichthyohemotoxcism.

In humans if it is ingested, however, symptoms include diarrhoea, bloody stools, nausea, vomiting, hypersalivation, skin eruptions, cyanosis, apathy, paralysis, respiratory distress and in some cases death.

Three tablespoons of straight blood are enough to kill the average size man.

Topically, if the blood meets a sensitive area such as the eyes, lips, tongue etc. inflammation results.

Oral symptoms include burning sensations and a redness of the mucosa, as well as hyper salivation (Halstead 1988), contact with the eyes results in a burning sensation and redness of the conjunctivae, and severe swelling of the eyelids.

These symptoms may persist for several days and then spontaneously disappear.

You may be questioning the point of being toxic if you are still going to be eaten?

It is beneficial to the species for one individual to die to deliver the toxin then for the predator to go on hunting more individuals of that species.

The sacrifice of one individual protects the rest of its kind from further predation.