Friday, 4 February 2011

Sea Monster

I'm reading Journey by Junk by Willard Price. It's an old discard from the San Diego Public Library, unearthed in a used book store in Olympia, Washington. (Library discards are a favourite of mine. You get the rarest, most interesting reads there.)

The book is interesting, an account of a summer Price and his wife spent gunkholing Japan's Inland Sea shortly after the Second World War. But what caught my attention last night was the following passage:
Leaving Nushima, we sailed straight across an arm of the incoming Pacific with nothing between us and America -- except some five thousand miles of salt water. Sleek black porpoises played around the ship. Far out we saw the spout of a whale. But the most astonishing spectacle was the sea serpent.
What it could actually have been I have no idea and I have a fair acquaintance with the denizens of the deep. It swam with its head well out of water (sic) and its tail licking the surface some ten feet behind. Its head was irregular and crested like that of a mythical dragon or giant iguana. It was not the streamlined head of a sea snake or moray eel or conger eel. It never went down during the twenty minutes we watched it. Evidently it was a land creature, quite without gills, yet it was many miles from shore and headed straight out to sea. It did not swim with speed of a fish, but slowly and with effort as if propelled by the wriggling of the body rather than by fins. It showed no fear of the ship, even when we sailed within a few yards of it, and when we turned aside to make port it calmly continued on its course towards San Francisco.
As Price notes, he was an experienced naturalist, and wrote among other things a long sheet of children's books on exotic fauna that were required reading for boys in the post-war period. What the hell was this thing? A Google search didn't even net a mention of the mystery, let alone a resolution. None of the usual suspects are in the dock; Price makes it clear this was no fish, so oarfish, squid, whale sharks, rays, and the like are out. It also was apparently not mammalian, or even aquatic. One wishes Price could have been more specific. Colour? Order? Body type? What's ten feet long, lives in Japan, and occasionally swims to San Francisco?

Ideas welcome.

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