Free Willy, Moby Dick... it suddenly becomes clear

April 15, 2005

A "most dreadful" sea monster that was sighted off the coast of Greenland in the 18th century may have been an excited whale with an impressive erection, researchers have revealed, writes Anna Fazackerley.

Researchers at St Andrews University examined four historical accounts of the serpent-like monster - which was spotted in 1734 and has been a regular feature of sea-monster books ever since - and tried to link it with known animals in the North Atlantic.

Charles Paxton, who led the research, said: "We think they saw a whale which was for some reason feeling very happy. It reared out of the water, fell onto its back and they saw this thing that they assumed was a tail."

The researchers, whose findings are published this month in the Archives of Natural History , noted that the monster was described as blowing like a whale and waving huge flippers. It was reportedly covered in shell-work, which may have been barnacles.

They concluded that it may have been one of the last remaining Atlantic grey whales - a rare species that witnesses might not have recognised.

But Dr Paxton admitted that the excited whale theory had one potential flaw. He said: "You wouldn't expect to see a whale in this state on its own."

The researchers point out in their paper that whale penises are unlikely to be a universal source of sea-serpent sightings - although they have pinpointed one other possible mistaken penis sighting in 1875.

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