Tuesday, September 29, 2009

crypto-Whales Weep Not

I wonder what you would have thought? One day I was enjoying a trip to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and found myself taking in one of the best kept secrets of the world of art: Haida, Kwakiutl, Tlingit Pacific Northwest Native Peoples artifacts. That would have been just fine in itself. There on the wall was a map and an informative commentary on these images that I was seeing. The commentary said that the tribal or clan nature of the peoples honored certain animals as particularly sacred to them : as in each clan having a "totem" animal as it's main guide and strength. And then it gave this list of the animals commonly seen so portrayed: Hawk, Orca [killer whale], Shark, Raven, Frog, Beaver, Bear, Eagle, Seal, and Sea-Wolf. What thought goes through your mind? Mine went: WHAT? Sea-Wolf? That sent me on an exploration to see what this mystery was. The museum said it was "like a wolf,with long muzzle, and narrow,pointed teeth, but with curled tail, flippers, and fins--often shown with whales in mouth." Really? I wonder why no one told the biologists? This sent me reading literature on Pacific Northwest Coast "myths" and looking at things like rock-carvings and paintings. [as above]. It all told an unexpectedly consistent tale. People of the region had been claiming to see these beasts for centuries all along the coastal islands and up rivers as well. Otherwise why choose something that had no physical reality when all your rivals had totem animal-spirits which were physically real? Paintings, rock carvings, AND tales. These tales were not only "folk wisdom-around-the-campfire-style" tales but many were just like encounters...this big violent thing suddenly showed up and we had to try to kill it. The fact that some of these encounter tales were "modern" really added the zest to it. Could the Wasgo/ the Sea-Wolves/ the Sisiutl, be the [or one of ] legendary "sea monsters"? It seemed not terribly unlike other sea monster reports from far afield and it even had a possible known candidate for what it was [from the palaeontological record: a primitive whale, or zeuglodont].
Above at the bottom left are a drawing of the "whale" of the Nazca Plain in Peru, and the tail-similar painting of what seems to be a Wasgo from Nazca pottery. How did the early Nazcans know about Wasgo or zeuglodonts unless they occasionally saw one? When I was at Nazca and in the local museum at Ica, I was practically tripping over the fossil bones of zeuglodonts [alongside the museum director] which had been scattered on the museum floor because they had no other place to lay them out. Something very like Wasgo lived there once anyway. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Lets tell a tale or two. March 1953: Dungeness Spit, Juan de Fuca Strait. A biologist and her sister-in-law and their two sons were boat watching when a big creature, originally thought to be a tree limb surfaced. "I think all of us gasped and pointed. We could distinctly see three humps behind the long neck...we could distinctly make out color and pattern, a long floppy mane [the wolf's mane] and the shape of the head...the animal was rich deep brown with large reticulations of bright burnt-orange". What stretched out of the water was the seven foot long neck and head. How long the body was ...who knows? New Years Day 1937: Yachts, Oregon. A couple was watching a stormy sea when a big beast showed above the water. It came to within 100 feet of them. The neck was about 15 feet long, and the head shaped somewhat horse or camel-like. It had either two upright ears or two small horns. It had a mane the color of seaweed. The barrel of the body was 6 feet in diameter and its total length 55 feet. As in most of these cases there isn't anything to the story but the beast itself--but Wasgo-hunters like Dr. Paul LeBlond of the Oceanography department of the University of British Columbia has collected dozens of them. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"Sea monsters" like the Wasgo have been reported worldwide for many centuries. In the middle collage on the left are actual rock carvings from British Columbia with inserts of Prow Carvings of representations of sea dragons from Viking ships. Just below is an iconic form of what is known as the "Pictish Beast" of similar North Sea raiders. One hesitates to mention that Loch Ness is in the same geographical area. To the right is the famous Mesopotamian carving of the sea-beast goddess Tiamat, the destroyer. The business of picturing her with only forelimbs--counter-intuitively but correct for Wasgo, Pictish beasts, AND zeuglodonts--is, well, a trifle uncanny. And on America's east coast, there it is again: the elongated water-beast with a horsey head and only front limbs. In my opinion it's almost a done deal.

However... when I look at the palaeontologists' reconstruction of the zeuglodont, I wonder if we should be all that joyful at the "welcoming back" of zeuglodonts to our waters.[by the way, the artist here has reconceived one of the earliest of the retro-whales--ones "just" back to the water and not yet having lost their back limbs, which are relatively useless for deep-water swimming, and it's fluid-dynamically faster to be smooth like a porpoise back there]. Obviously these characters are carnivores with large appetites. It would be a bit of a downer for the first successful cryptozoologist wading pleasantly in Juan de Fuca to suddenly shout "Hey! It's an AARRRRR!" If no more distant cryptozoologists were in sight, we wouldn't even know he'd discovered the AARRRRR....hmmmm, maybe this has already happened. "They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all." [Zeuglodonts] Weep Not by D.H. Lawrence


  1. Fascinating stuff. Good eye in the museum! This sea-wolf I spotted might make a nice hairy snack for the Sisiutl sea-wolf:

  2. I had a 3 part dream 2 years ago, before I knew what a Sea wolf was, of a 80-100 long animal, covered in black fur and draped with seaweed, it looked like a giant Portuguese water dog, it emerged out of the waters outside of Sechelt off Trail Island. It was surrounded by nipping orcas and the 2nd part of the dream it had an orca in it's mouth. The 3rd part of the full coloured dream was of 3 Sea wolves, submerging traveling east with orcas in tow.

    It was the most graphic dream I've ever had. It happened the day after spending the night on North Trail Island following a full moon.

    I've been fascinated ever since. I imagine them waiting in estuaries covered in aquatic debris waiting for unsuspecting prey.

    I think the Haida call him the lazy son-in-law

  3. The art/craft of the PNW amerindians often pictures the Wasgo with an Orca in its mouth. Symbolizes its dominant power in the sea, I believe.



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