|In the Footsteps of the Komodo Dragon|
|By Nik Petsev|
From Mountains to Archipelagos
A mammalian duck? A billed beaver? One can assume that these thoughts ran through the scientists' heads. Many words can be used to describe this animal that abashed the scientists so.
The cadaver of the long-dead specimen stood there sprawled out before them. It can be inferred that the effacing body cast a horrible smell into the air, yet it was not this stench that held the scientists afar. It was the mere conception of the existence of such a creature; one with a furry back that flowed astern into a rather otter-like tail, while the front beheld a face like that of a duck. There were no feathers or other similarities to support its duck-like semblance apart from the rumour that it lay eggs. This peculiar visage led some researchers to conclude that it was no more than a hoax, one made of the remains of different animals, all sewn together. One must keep in mind that this is with a dead specimen laying beneath their noses, wrinkled in an act of refuting, one that can still be detected to this day in perhaps a more subtle form.
206 years came to pass and the physiognomy of this perplexing creature has become known. For many years erstwhile the capture of this animal, legends and stories abounded from Australia and proliferated outward until they came in contact with the sceptical minds stationed under the roof of the British Museum of Natural History. Among the first accounts came in 1797 around the waters of Hawkesbury River, near Sydney. David Collins described what he concluded to be a water mole, having the "upper and lower mandibles of a duck." People, white settles and other folk stationed atop the continent's vast land, reported fantastic tales; those of an animal with the likeness as described atop this page. As mentioned above, it was also said to lay eggs, something rather uncommon in the mammalian kingdom, only shared by two other animals, both of the spiny-anteater kind, echidnas. Monotremes, egg-laying mammals, were not known at the time of the platypus' discovery.
But most perplexing of all was that, as insinuated from the accounts, this creature did not seem to belong to any known animal class. Before the shroud of captivity was cast over it, it was said to hold characteristics of reptiles, birds, fishes with some furry mammalian traits thrown unto the mix. Yet, this animal was not existent only in people's minds. It was also present in the wild, as would be learnt that very year 1797 when one was pelted with lead and sent to the local governor, who in turn then sailed it off across the ocean. In 1798, it was thus studied and for a while pronounced a fake, until 1802 when it was finally affirmed to be true and there was no residue of doubt left. Its examination was conducted by George Shaw. This specimen remains within the halls of the museum to this day, and to this day one can see the marks left by Shaw's scissors as he probed the beak in attempt to see if it was indeed swindled. Its name was given separately by two scientists, Shaw and a German anatomist under the name of Blumenbach. Their two propositions for the name were combined to form by what it is still referred to by scientists: Ornithorhynchus anatinus.
Today, the duck-billed platypus, as it has come to be known, is a rare species, though one acknowledged by science. Its tale is one relatively uncommon by today's standards, but not quite eradicated. In a world of data and technology, it is difficult to believe in stories and legends pouring out from the world's hidden corners. Stories of animals that hold sizes, which make the sceptics giddy and say, 'if its size is so as you say, than how has it evaded detection for such prolonged periods of time?'
New species are scuttling out from hidden away spots monthly, amounting in vast amounts over the course of, say, ten years and continuing so in a steady rate. Many of them, however, are too small to arouse serious interest. But, just as with the duck-billed platypus, there are tales of creatures filtering out of the dense shrub of the rain forests of Africa and the evergreen forests of North America, tales of large creatures. However, too much effort has been spent on looking at the present and not enough in the past. China's hairy hominids or the Congo's dinosaurs will not be discussed here. In what is to follow, it will be gazed upon the past. Stories of negation and disbelief will be sought out in attempt to show that there just might be a large, hairy sloth lurking in the Amazonian jungles or some titanic creature beneath the rolling waves of the seven oceans. These stories are not meant to transform people into believers, but rather, decrease scepticism. Scepticism is certainly not a bad thing, but excessive scepticism slows down progress, the single path to what is left to be discovered.
Cryptids From China
Ailuropoda melanoleuca. That was the name given to a creature that is very well known today, a prime target for poachers, and an international symbol of peace. However, the story of this tranquil beast goes back to the 19th century. To get there, one must head against the movement of the sun to the Orient.
Although this animal has been described for thousands of years by the Chinese, where one must go to find this animal, it was in 1869, March the 23rd, that it was described for the first time. A French missionary, Pere Armand David, was shown the dead body of an animal shot down by hunters. As he described the creature and the situation:
"My Christian hunters returned today after a ten-day absence. They bring me a white bear, which they took alive but unfortunately killed so that it could be carried more easily, The young white bear, which they sell me very dearly, is all white except for the legs, ears and around the eyes, which are deep black. The colours are the same as those I saw in the skin of an adult bear the other day at the home of Li, the hunter. This must be a new species of Ursus, very remarkable not only because of its colour, but also for its paws which are hairy underneath, and for other characteristics."
Ailuropoda melanoleuca, following that description, is clearly a panda bear. That is, of the 'giant' variety. This peaceful giant, as mentioned above, has not gone unnoticed by the Chinese people. Something with a description strongly resembling the panda we have come to know is mentioned in The Book of History and The Book of Songs, both written during the Western Chou Dynasty, roughly 3000 years ago. There, the animal is referred to as 'Pi'. The creature grew to be a symbol of bravery and was recorded in numerous other writings in the 30 centuries to follow, taking on different names such as zhu yi, bai hu, and simply mo.
Moving back into more modern times, yet again to 1869, the French missionary wrote an excited letter to Alphonse Milne-Edwards, in which his enthusiasm clearly shows: "I have not seen this species, which is easily the prettiest kind of animal I know, in the museums of Europe; perhaps it is new to science!"
Monsieur Milne-Edwards received a dead specimen from his correspondent in the heart of China in 1870. Naturally, a dissection followed. A surprise was to ensue. With its blunt ears, stocky legs, and round body, the creature seemed to be a bear. Unbeknownst to Armand David, he had incorrectly placed it in the Ursus genus. Anatomically, it shared more characteristics with the red panda, Ailurus fulgens. In the end, he decided to place it in its own genus and own branch of the tree of life.
And yet, even with knowledge of this animal's existence, it eluded man for many years to come. It wasn't until 1914 that one was finally seen alive, 45 years after its initial discovery. German zoologist Hugo Weigold was the personage privileged to be first to see the giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca.
Surprise came in 1901 in the form of a cloven animal no larger than a cow. As would later be learnt, it is related to the giraffe, although upon looking at it, it seems that it shares little more than genes. It was in 1890 that Henry Morton Stanley labelled the animal as an African donkey and it reached the ears of the Western world for the first time. For the next few years, its form took an amorphous shape.
About a decade later, in 1901, Sir Harry Johnston, High Commissioner of Uganda, set out to search for this animal in hopes of adding a new animal to the list of all the oxygen-dependent, resource-consuming, waste-producing Animalia found, a new organism to which a Dichotomous Key would yield alien results. He obtained tangible evidence in the form of stripped hide from the natives. The hide was of a brown colour that slowly faded away into white hide near the rear haunches with black stripes dashing across. Once unpacked by the scientist at the British Museum of Natural history, its image changed from that of a donkey to some form of a zebra, understandably so because of the striping.
With a group of pygmies to assist him, Johnston followed up his first expedition in hopes of even more success and a definitive classification of this uncatalogued beast. Amid the thick foliage of the Ituri Forest, he found a cloven print in the ground, leading him away from the zebra visage and into the belief that it was some form of an eland, one of two large African antelopes beneath the genus Taurotragus. But not long thereafter, he was allowed to examine a dead body and finally concluded that it was indeed of the giraffe family. This Mammalia was christened after Johnston, Okapia johnstoni, the okapi as it is commonly referred to as today.
This poor beast has faced numerous enemies; from the stealthy leopards that lurk behind the thick foliage, to the natives which have been using them as a source of energy for numerous years past, to these new Westerners coming in across the sea just to run their fingers through its fur. And because of these factors, it faces extinction, like the leopard, as it creeps closer. Conservation has helped in multiplying the numbers of individuals and has led to an insight into the animal's way of life: one that is solitary, with little or no contact between animals unless it is time to mate. They draw their energy for their life needs from over 150 different types of plants, more or less abundant in the area. Plants suitable for consuming, and as shown by the okapi's story, for hiding.
Black Apes Below
It was large and covered in a thick coat of black fur that was spread out over its ape-like features. It lived far from prying eyes… Sound familiar? Bigfoot or the Yeti usually come to mind when such a description is given. However, this is not central Asia or the Americas. Such stories came out of Africa around the 1900s. Could some large undiscovered ape be living in the mountains of Rwanda? This question seems all too familiar today, although it's not Rwanda that is rumoured to bear some mysterious creature. But back at the turn of the 20th century, Rwanda was the focus of all attention. Particularly because of some findings made by a German Captain named Robert von Beringe.
Adding a new branch to the family tree of apes was not his goal as he set out with some fellow friends and a group of 20 Akaris to guide them across the treacherous land in Usumbura. Accompanying him that 19th of August, 1902 was Corporal Ehrhardt and Dr. Engeland, a physician in the event of some disaster. Along with porter guides to show the way and a machine gun to ensure that the physician was never needed, the group set out to pay a visit to Sultan Msinga of Rwanda. Afterwards, they planned to continue North to a row of volcanoes, which marked the beginnings of German East Africa, beyond which were numerous outposts. All went well, and upon reaching the volcanoes, the party decided to attempt scaling Kirunga ya Sabyinyo, a peak with a height that von Beringe estimated at 3300 metres above sea level.
As his report on the expedition describes, he set out on October 16th with Dr. Engeland, several Akaris, and only but the most crucial necessities for survival. After a day of hiking, they stopped to spend the night on a plateau about 2500 metres above the dense trees below. Natives climbed up to "generously supply us with food". The next day, they continued their journey upward. As they ascended, vegetation lessened until the terrain consisted of rocks, blueberry, and blackberry bushes. As the angle of the slopes beneath their feet increased, vegetation disappeared altogether. Angle measures continued to grow while the air became thinner and thinner.
Soon, they reached a ridge that, although unsuitable for camping, was the most fitting spot they could find. They collected moss, which would serve as the bedding for their temporary quarters, and soon faced the challenge of erecting their tent. The ridge was so narrow, the pegs of the tent had to be "secured in the abyss". Their Akari guides found caverns in the rocky landscaped that served as adequate protection against the rising winds. Then, from his high viewpoint, Captain von Beringe sighted something of interest.
"From our campsite we were able to watch a herd of big, black monkeys which tried to climb the crest of the volcano. We succeeded in killing two of these animals, and with a rumbling noise they tumbled into a ravine, which had its opening in a north-easterly direction. After five hours of strenuous work we succeeded in retrieving one of these animals using a rope. It was a big, human-like male monkey of one and a half metres in height and a weight of more than 200 pounds [about 91 kilograms]. His chest had no hair, and his hand and feet were of enormous size. Unfortunately I was unable to determine its type; because of its size, it could not very well be a chimpanzee or a gorilla, and in any case the presence of gorillas had not been established in the area around the lakes"
This single, prized specimen suffered on its descent into civilisation as a hyena felt prompted to bite off one of the hands. Soon, what remained of this animal was safe beneath the canopy of the museum in Berlin. However, efforts continued to be thrown at these remote regions.
Among these numerous journeys to the colourful continent, one was led by Carl Akeley and headed for the heart of the Virunga Mountains. His objective was to bring back specimens of this newly found primate, named Gorilla g. beringei by a Dr. Matschi after von Beringe, to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He was the first to burn the animal's image into moving 35mm film through the use of a camera that he built by himself. He succeeded in killing one gorilla, a silverback he affectionately named 'The Old Man of Mikeno'. However, glancing at its frozen humanoid face and black, lifeless eyes led him to a change of heart.
He and his party returned with 5 specimens, 5 animals whose dry eyes shall never gaze upon the rising mountains and swaying trees. Akeley wanted to keep that number at bay, and soon worked with the Belgian government to set up a sanctuary. The 5 animals he brought back remain sheltered beneath the ceiling of that very museum. The remaining exemplars of the species remain in their mountainous abode, also protected to this day.
A mere 12 years after the turn of the 20th century, a party of pearl fishermen set foot on a chain of rather vaguely-known islands in the southern seas, named the Lesser Sundas. Upon returning and alongside the story of the island, they brought back tales of giant and ancient lizards, dragons they called them, and they said that they thrived amidst the thick brush and rocky shores of the island of Komodo. They elaborated, stating that the natives were very well aware of the animal's existence, and that they feared it.
At hearing this, W. Douglas Burden showed immediate interest. The thought of getting his hands on the rough and pebbly hide of this perplexing animal certainly lured him and provoked a childlike passion. He heeded the creature's size, the horrible, putrid smell it carries about with it, the 5-centimetre claws, the muscular tail. It ran down buffalo, as told by the fishermen, something unheard of from the reptilian kingdom; the way reptiles move about causes friction between the rocky ground and the scaly stomach of the animal. However, being called a 'land-crocodile', this dragon ran without making any contact with the ground besides with that of the soft pads on each foot. Its hunting ability, as would later be learnt, is also due in part to its saliva. Over 52 separate types of bacteria thrive into the viscous substance, commonly seen dangling from the mouth of their host in this symbiotic relationship. 72 hours after those serrated teeth penetrate one's skin, the body subsides to the numerous bacterium and dies. Sometimes, it is quicker. Meanwhile, the attacker hovers nearby, waiting for the moment when all life escapes the body of its victim.
Burden prepared an expedition, yet he was aware that his weren't the only efforts being thrown at the tiny island of Komodo, 3 oceans away. P.A. Ouwens, director of the Java Zoological Museum in Buitenzorg had already dispatched people in that very direction in hopes of capturing this mystifying beast. Yet, at that point, he had not gotten his hands on that prized specimen his men were seeking. He had, however, produced a scientific name to suit this creature for when it finally fell in the sights of mankind: Varanus komodensis; he had thus correctly sorted the animal into the Varanus genus, part of the family of varan lizards.
Not long thereafter, Burden made his proposition to the museum: that they go investigate this animal, and if at all possible, bring back specimens. Specifically, he was hoping to make a new addition to the New York Zoo. At hearing these words, Henry Fairfield Osborn was delighted (especially since all expenses were coming out of Burden's pocket). And Osborn being the President of the American Museum of Natural History, things were soon underway.
With approval from the museum granted, Osborn now sought out men he found suitable to go along with him on this treacherous journey. He found F.J. Defosse to be just the part. Scurrying the Indian jungles, Defosse was a big-game hunter. And the animal that they sought out was just that: big game. And to examine this 'game' came Dr. E. R. Dunn, Smith College, as the herpetologist, the expert in the cold-blooded Reptilia.
After prolonged talks with the Dutch Colonial Government, Burden was granted permission to kill up to 15 dragons, and was even provided with transportation in the form of a steamboat. The 24,135-kilometre journey began, and with stops in Singapore and Bali, where a photographer was picked up, and the hull of their steamboat finally scraped against the rocky shores of Komodo. Rocky they were, as Burden describes them: "[With] its volcanic chimneys bared to the stars, it was a fitting abode for the great saurians we had come so far to seek." And so after some trouble materialised in the form of monsoon rains, the expedition finally threw anchor at Python Bay and not long thereafter, next morning to be precise, set out looking for a place to camp. In doing so, the group found some gigantic footprints in the mud. And though they shared a semblance with prehistoric prints found in museums, their age could not have been more than a few days.
At 610 metres above the ground, a camp was set up in a village. Protection from the rain was yielded by no more than a few wooden huts. Needless to say, the next few days did not pass quite uneventfully. Burden was attacked by a water buffalo and the strangely assorted types of wildlife present in the area were observed. But the strangest wildlife had yet to present itself to the explorers.
Gun at hand, Burden set out one morning to shoot down some game to feed the village within which they were temporarily leading their lives. Commotion atop a nearby rocky hill stirred up rocks and sound waves. Burden crept forth with his gun ready to pelt anyone, or anything, that might prove dangerous or of value. What Burden was about to witness was both. "He swung his grim head this way and that," he recalled later in his journal. "Obviously hunting, his sharp eyes searching for anything that moved. A primeval monster in a primeval setting." The preceding words described the monster that he sought: one with leathery hide like "woven steel armour" dotted with numerous scars, a long, forked tongue that tasted the air, black and empty eyes, four thick, clawed feet, and a long, tapering tail.
Soon, they began trapping the animals using dead boar as bait to lure them, allowing abundant amounts of time to observe their grotesque manner of feeding. The cameraman would film the animals as their deadly saliva, something yet to be discovered, fell from their mouth and as their steel jaws crushed muscle and bone. And numerous film, several close calls, sighting of a gigantic 3-metre reptilian, and 12 dead dragons later, the expedition finally decided to head home. And with them they brought the 300-kilogram carcasses that prove the existence of these magnificent creatures and that would lead many people to slip into awe and amazement. Not many people have hunted and captured dragons.
Goblins in the Seas
Heading back to folklore, if you thought finding a dragon was not impressive enough, then what about a goblin? At least, a sea-dwelling goblin. When the dead body of this animal was first hauled up out of the water and on the ship's wooden deck, that was the immediate name bestowed upon it.
However, European folklore has little to do with the initial location of the discovery of this cartilaginous fish. It was the year 1898 and a group of Japanese fishermen were treading about in the 'Black Current' little ways off of the shores of Yokohama. Although recognised as something not quite ordinary, little did it excite the fishermen. Having peculiar looking Animalia pulled out of the convection currents of the ocean numerous times before, this shark was not of much interest. They named it 'tenguzame', which roughly translates into 'goblin shark'.
Their description was very fitting: the animal certainly had the unmistakable body of a shark with a rather straight tail ahead of which are 2 dorsal fins and below which are the pectoral fins, the 2 ventral/ pelvic fins, and the single anal fin. Then, moving again up front to 5 gills for separating oxygen from water on the two sides of the shark's head. However, the front was unlike anything that had been pulled from the waters before. The back flows frontward into a long, 60-centimetre, and very sharp shovel-like snout. Beneath the base of the snout are two small, beady, green eyes whose reflective nature (common in deep-water species) sharply contrasts the pinkish-red body. Beneath the snout is the mouth which protrudes forward with rows of sharp, needle-like teeth housed in the mouth that project outward as well, giving the shark a grotesque façade.
Upon closer examination, this sea goblin measured 107 centimetres. It was relatively undeveloped, juvenile, meaning that these sharks did mature into grander forms of this easily discernible species. Yet this young bottom-scurrying male had more surprises in store. As with the coelacanth (to be discussed further down), the creature was not entirely new to science. Not unlike the coelacanth, the teeth of this fish had been found in limestone beneath the iridium boundary that separates the Cretaceous from the Tertiary, the Mesozoic from the Cenozoic.
The spindly teeth were abundant in rock 100 million years old. This peculiar shark had lived alongside the dinosaurs, and as evident by this discovery in the waters off of Japan, still lives today. Yet another prehistoric survivor gliding along the ocean depths.
The diet of this animal is poorly understood and researched. But confined within the reddish skin, within the animal's paunch remains of crabs and partially digested fish vertebrae and fins have been discovered. A specimen caught later off the coast of South Africa held a partially digested octopus. Another shark caught in 1998 off of Kaikoura, New Zealand, had the beaks of squid and exoskeletons of some crustaceans partially effaced by gastric acids. Because many sharks, when caught, tend to regurgitate whatever they fed upon earlier, it is often difficult to figure out exactly what species one shark may depend upon for energy. From what has been seen from the goblin shark, it appears to feed on relatively small ocean-dwelling animals.
Another strange aspect of this shark, named Mitsukurina owstoni, is its skin. Most sharks have a rough layer of skin that feels akin to sandpaper. However, the goblin shark had a smooth dermal layer. What's more, its skin was translucent, which also accounted for the red coloration: tiny red capillaries transporting oxygenated blood formed a web beneath the animal's skin, the red blood presenting itself through the diaphanous layer.
Although only 45 specimens have been examined and then discussed in scientific literature, the shark is not all that uncommon. Of these 45 individuals, 25 came from Japan, 6 from New Zealand, 4 from Southern Africa, and the rest came from numerous locations around the globe, including Portugal, the Medeiras, the American coast, et cetera, the largest of these goblins being over 3 metres. It is likely that each of these animals stands for a much larger population that lives in some secluded spot on the ocean bottom, far from prying eyes.
Prehistoric Fish Soup
With billions of gallons of water still left unstirred by humanity's hand, it comes as no surprise as the next great find in zoology originated from someplace none other than the blue abyss. However, this discovery differed from what has been mentioned up until now in the sense that it was not some species discovered afresh, not something new to science in its entirety, rather with the likeness of the goblin shark discussed above. Among many things, it became the primary example used by researchers in supporting the belief that the great saurians that once shook the earth many eons ago may still be present in some recluse part of our planet. When someone utters a laugh at this notion, supporters turn to the coelacanth.
As with most, if not all, animals discussed here, the locals were well aware of this animal's existence for many years prior to Westerners getting their hands around its scaly skin. This fish was first brought to attention in 1938 by Captain Goosen, who had captured one specimen in his nets that were intended for the capture of sharks at the mouth of the Chalumna River. Goosen sensed the significance in this strange fish, judging by its appearance, and displayed his find to the local museum in the small nearby South African town named by its British settlers 'East London'.
The mysterious specimen fell to the hands of Miss Marjorie Courtney-Latimer, director of the museum at the time. Befuddled by what she was bestowed, she passed the dead body on to Dr J.L.B Smith, a prominent African fish biologist. He soon determined that this strange but rather unimpressive looking fish was much more amazing than can be judged from its numerous grey flippers and dull overall colour. Identical fish have been found before. However, the only place where they had been found was encrusted in rock hundreds of millions of years old. A living fossil, unchanged for millions of years, had been caught in the waters off the South African coast.
Coelacanth fossils have been found 360 million years aback, foregoing the goblin shark by over 2,800,000 centuries. This is truly significant; the Devonian Geologic period was then, a time unsurprisingly of abundance in fish. And one of the fish species that treaded those primeval waters multiplied until it became extremely abundant sometime around 240 million years ago. It continued onward, being witness to the fall of the great reptiles of the Permian period and the rise of the dinosaurs. The earliest fossil dates back to 80 million years. Scientists were unaware, however, that this fish also saw the fall of the 'terrible lizards' 65 million years ago and was witness to the mammals taking hold of the planet. The fish was there during the numerous ice sheets that proliferated about the globe, and it still remains to this day, living in a small population off of the Comoros Islands.
Because of the limited evolution over the course of these 360 million years, the coelacanth still retains some features that led to excitement in many scientific communities. It is believed that it is a direct descendant of the tetrapods, all land animals, including the Komodo Dragons, Okapis, Duck-billed platypuses, and of course, us. Its appendages, though useful in swimming, move in a manner much like our own.
In 1998, coelacanths were discovered nearby to the Sulawesi Islands by UC Berkeley researchers. It had a different coloration than its cousins by the Comoros and it was given its own species name in 1999, Latimeria menadoensis. The other fish was bestowed the name Latimeria chalumnae, their genus name originating from Miss Marjorie Courtney-Latimer of the East London Museum.
Another interesting discovery was made by Dr. Mark Erdmann a year prior to its official revelation. He and his wife were on their Honeymoon in Indonesia, strolling about in a local Fish market, when his wife noticed the unearthly shape of the coelacanth being sold alongside more common sea-dwellers. Erdmann immediately recognised the fish and questioned the fisherman. As exciting as this discovery was, Erdmann did little more than photographing the fish. However, it was apparent that the native people were well aware of this fish. One can say that this fish was just as likely to be seen on a dinner plate as in the seas.
Numerous other discoveries would follow in the waters. Over 70% of Earth is water, most of it left undisturbed, and it comes as no surprise that so many new species are surfacing from their watery biomes. Taking a submersible beyond the twilight zone always leads to some new form of life. But perhaps the next significant animal to surface astern the public eyes was first discovered in 1976, and it presented itself; no submarines required. November 15th of that year, research vessel AFB-14 of the Naval Undersea Centre found something entangled in their parachutes. Now, a question commonly arises at this point: what were they doing with parachutes in the water? For the non-marine and saltwater incompatible types, a parachute anchor is a type of anchor made of woven nylon. Indeed, it looks like a parachute, opened against the currents and thus keeping a boat in place.
These anchors had been waving about gently at the depth of roughly 165 metres for a while. Soon, the time to haul them up to the planked decks of the AFB-14 came. But along with the parachute rose some other mass, its grey flesh clearly not woven or seemingly intended for gliding downward gently to earth or keeping a boat stationed in one place. Nor was it anything to be found in animal archives around the world. This amazing fish might have been thrown back into the 4600-metre abyss that stretched below the ship's hull, but luckily the crew identified the importance in their tangle with nature.
Upon closer examination, their mysterious fish was found to be a cartilaginous fish, of the Chondrichthyes, and it had the definite appearance of a shark. It measured 4.46 metres from its large and blunt nose and soft head to its mediocre tail. It had a greyish colour, though it can range from dark blue to a pale tint of grey with white tips marking the fins. This new large shark was later appropriately named megamouth for its gigantic mouth that scoops plankton, copepods, shrimp, and some animals of the Scyphozoa, jellyfish, variety as it glides along the ocean bottoms of nearby Hawaii, where the original specimen was found.
But in the ocean there are few boundaries that keep ocean life from spreading. Some time passed until the megamouth fell beneath human eyes again. But when it did, it was in a more Easterly location: Santa Catalina Island, California. It left the water for the last time on November of 1984 as it fell into the hands of scientists. This male, the second representative of his species to ascend before mankind was slightly smaller, measuring at 4.5 metres. More of these sharks were caught later at different spots around our globular quarters. If such a large animal had avoided humankind's eye for so long, what else could be lurking beneath the rolling waves?
Assembled here are some of the most significant discoveries within the last 3 centuries. And yet, these are only a few pages in an Iliad-sized catalogue of species and subspecies discovered anew. And this alterable book will continue to grow as time goes by. Will a page be bestowed to the hairy hominids of North America, to the serpents in the unstirred depths, or to the massive snakes of the Amazon? What about the hairy apes in the dizzying heights of the Himalayas? The flying pterosaurs of Africa? With keeping these stories in mind, these animals just might prove to be true. Animals that followed in the footsteps of the Komodo Dragon.
Martin Walters, Jinny Johnson, Steve Parker ed. Animals of the World. Parragon Publishing, 1999.
Bernard Heuvelmans, On the Track of Unknown Animals. Kegan Paul International, revised third English edition, 1995. Original print: 1955.
Wildlife Fact File, International Masters Publishers AB.