(OCEANS/ANIMAL DISCOVERY) Recent pictures of unknown marine animal remains have sparked interest around the globe. Scientists speculate the animal found on a beach in Spain is likely a shark, but could possibly be an oarfish. However, because of the similarity of the remains to legendary sea monsters, such as the Loch Ness Monster, the remains are attracting attention. Read on for more details in the full article. — Global Animal
NBC News, Alan Boyle
Horned sea monster? Dragon? A long, smelly carcass that washed up on the Spanish coast may never be conclusively identified — but experts say it sure looks like the remains of a giant oarfish or thresher shark.
The latest in a string of “sea serpent” stories has sparked an online buzz in the past few days, thanks to the gnarly-looking pictures that surfaced in the Spanish press last week. The carcass washed up on Luis Siret Beach in the Andalusian village of Villaricos, according to the local publication Ideal, and sparked jokes about the Loch Ness monster and mutant fish.
“A lady found one part, and we helped her retrieve the rest,” Civil Protection coordinator Maria Sanchez was quoted as saying. “We have no idea what it was. It really stank, as it was in the advanced stages of decomposition.”
Sanchez said conservationists with the Program in Defense of Marine Animals, or Promar, were trying to identify the remains. However, Europa Press quoted a coordinator of the group, Francisco Toledano, as saying that any identification would have to be made on the basis of the images — because the decomposing remains were buried by sand.
Toledano said the preliminary analysis suggests that the 13-foot-long (4-meter-long) carcass came from a “species of fish,” but he wasn’t more specific. Almeria24h.com said some experts speculated that the creature could be a thresher shark (also known as fox shark, Alopias vulpinus, or “peje zorro” in Spanish). Such sharks have a distinctive caudal fin that can stretch out as long as the shark’s body itself.
“It’s hard to tell,” David Shiffman, a University of Miami shark researcher who blogs about marine biology on Southern Fried Science, told NBC News in a Twitter exchange, “but the official guess that it could be a thresher shark seems plausible.”
Shiffman said it might also be a giant oarfish (Regalecus glesne) — a ribbony fish that’s typically 10 feet (3 meters) long but can grow to lengths in excess of 33 feet (10 meters). Oarfish sightings have been thought to inspire tales of sea serpents, and it’s only been recently that the beast has been caught on video in its deep-sea environment.
And what about the “horns” in the photos from Spain? Oarfish have dorsal fin rays on their heads that can look rather hornlike, but it’s also possible that the horns are actually bones or segments of the creature’s tail.
“Certainly the tail looks oarfish-y,” Shiffman wrote. “It maybe could be a thresher shark — but nothing else.”
What do you think it is? Feel free to share your guesses in the comment section.
Update for 9:25 p.m. ET Aug. 21:
The mystery has been solved — at least that’s the way Florida State University ichthyologist Dean Grubbs sees it. Grubbs is a specialist on the biology of fish species, and especially sharks.
“That is definitely a shark skeleton,” Grubbs told NBC News in an email. “The elements toward the back were confusing me, but those are the lower caudal fin supports. The ‘horns’ are the scapulocoracoids which support the pectoral fins.”
He had me at “scapulocoracoids.”