Newfoundland fishermen snag sea monster in nets

Lance Cove fisherman says he's seen one

Published on March 2, 2010
Above is an illustration of the sea creature described by fisherman John Marsh of Lower Lance Cove, Trinity Bay. The carcass of the creature was entangled in a net belonging to his son and nephew. The carcass sank before Marsh could secure a sample. Illustration by Robert Simon/The Telegram

The depths of the Atlantic Ocean are filled with all kinds of strange critters and creatures - maybe some we've never seen or heard of before.
Maybe John Marsh has discovered one of them.
Marsh, a fisherman in Lower Lance Cove, Trinity Bay, for nearly 60 years, says he's never seen anything like the animal found caught in his son and nephew's caplin traps last summer.

The depths of the Atlantic Ocean are filled with all kinds of strange critters and creatures - maybe some we've never seen or heard of before.

Maybe John Marsh has discovered one of them.

Marsh, a fisherman in Lower Lance Cove, Trinity Bay, for nearly 60 years, says he's never seen anything like the animal found caught in his son and nephew's caplin traps last summer.

In a letter to The Telegram, Marsh describes in detail the creature he tried to help out of the trap, from its rounded teeth and camel-like lips to the end of its three-pointed tail.

"It's almost too strange to talk about. It almost don't sound real, but I told you the story of it and we've seen it," Marsh says over the phone from his Lower Lance Cove home.

The day his son and nephew were out fishing, Marsh says he was called to help them cut something out of the nets - a whale got caught, they thought.

But he immediately noticed its eight- to 10-foot-long neck and the fact that it didn't have a blowhole like a whale.

It was "smooth as glass," with pretty green and blue skin, he says.

"If it was a whale or anything like that he would have had old barnacles and scratches on it and stuff like that, but this was perfectly clean just like he come from a washer," he says, explaining that leads him to believe it was probably living near or in fresh water.

He didn't have a camera with him and had to leave to go to a doctor's appointment, Marsh says, explaining he'd hoped to go back for the carcass, but when he did it had sunk.

"I could have made a fortune on it," he says. "It's amazing I'm telling you."

Jack Lawson, a marine mammals research scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, says he wishes Marsh had of taken a tissue sample of the animal so testing could have been done.

He read the letter Marsh sent to The Telegram and says he's never heard of anything with that combination of traits.

"Obviously, if he saw something, it would have been great if he could have cut a piece off it or kept it. That's the frustrating part for me. I would have loved to have seen what it was," Lawson says. "I love mysteries.

"If it were a new species it would be really exciting for something that large to have never been seen before."

Although he'd love to have proof of a new sea monster, Lawson says it's possible what Marsh saw was any one of number of things that are already known to be in the Atlantic Ocean.

"I know that some of the large whales that we've seen off shore that have been vessel struck end up having unusual shapes to their bodies. The configuration that we're used to seeing for a whale gets quite changed when they decompose," Lawson says.

"We do occasionally get unusual things cast up. Usually it turns out to be dead sharks or dead whales that have decomposed to the point where they're not easily identifiable. And we've had - for instance on the south coast - my supervisor was down there in 2002 looking at a sea monster down there, and it turned out to be a sperm whale, but you wouldn't have known it until they did the DNA on it."

It's also possible Marsh saw a cadborosaurus, says Lawson, citing a much-rumoured, long-necked creature spotted hundreds of times on the west coast of Canada.

But after being shown descriptions and artist renderings of the cadborosaurus, Marsh said that's not what he saw.

Either way, Lawson has hope there are other things out there to discover, and perhaps Marsh's monster is one of them.

"They certainly seem to be discovering new animals every year," Lawson says.

"It's possible that we have things out in our waters that just haven't cast themselves up on shore yet."

Sea monster sightings certainly aren't a rarity in this province.

In April 2000, Bonavista resident Bob Crewe swore he saw something similar to what Marsh says he saw last summer.

Crewe said at the time he was driving along the cape when he spotted something in the ocean. He stopped his truck and got out for better look at the animal, which he described to be like a wide snake with a snout at the end of its long neck.

Crewe also didn't get pictures of the creature he saw swim off towards the lighthouse.

In May 1997, in Little Bay East, Fortune Bay, fisherman Charles Bungay described seeing a creature with a long neck and gray, scaly skin.

Bungay and a fishing partner spotted what they thought were floating garbage bags and decided to haul them aboard their boat. When they got close, however, the creature reared up its head. He described it has having a neck about six feet long, a head like a horse, horns or long ears, and dark eyes. He estimated its overall length at about 30 to 40 feet.

The creature slipped under the water and disappeared.

At the time, some people suggested the Fortune Bay fishermen actually saw a giant squid.

A Bay L'Argent fishermen saw a similar creature four or five years prior to that sighting. He described it as being like a dinosaur.

And if you want to see a sea monster this year you might want to try in Robert's Arm on the Northern Peninsula, where the town's Come Home Year will focus on "Everything Cressie," or the monster in Crescent Lake.

According to local folklore, in the 1950s two men said they spotted an overturned boat in Crescent Lake as they walked the shore, concerned they started to help but the "monster" turned and slipped into the water.

The 10-day event this July asks former residents to come home and spot Cressie.

Anyone spotting anything strange from under the sea can get in touch with Jack Lawson at whalesighting@dfo-mpo.gc.ca or jack.lawson@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

amorrissey@thetelegram.com