The headline seems silly: “Sea Monster” Washes Ashore in Australia. But photos of what looks like something straight from your worst nightmares or the imagination of Hollywood horror-film producers have made their way around the internet lately. The creature looks like something put together by a mad scientist, with the body of a sea serpent and the head of a crocodile.
Local resident Robert Tyndall photographed the creature near Swansea in New South Wales, Australia, about 20 miles north of Sydney. Tyndall explained that he, along with a few other people, encountered it on the beach and were perplexed. In the photo it looms large, looking like a huge submarine monster, and once the photo hit Facebook and other social media, speculation became rampant â€” everything from a botched biology experiment to mutation due to pollution, to a surviving dinosaur or a Photoshop hoax was suggested. People in particular noted the seemingly random combination of features â€” the fish or eel body, the crocodile-like head and the almost dolphin-like snout â€” combined with the seemingly gargantuan proportions of the creature, as indications that something was very wrong.
Turns out, the real answer is just as interesting. First of all, itâ€™s no Photoshop job; this is an actual creature. And while the pictureâ€™s angle does seem to make the animal look bigger than in real life, the photographer stated that it was about 4.5 feet long, so not exactly a small creature â€” but a mutation or dinosaur it is not.
The animal was identified by biologists as a pike eel, a large animal known to grow up to 6 feet long, and one that packs a very nasty bite. They hunt at depths of up to 300 feet, and are largely nocturnal. They sometimes find their way into nighttime fishermenâ€™s nets, who get quite a surprise when they haul the eel into the boat. There have been reports of serious injuries following pike-eel bites, and an old fishermanâ€™s tale in Australia says that â€œthere is room in a tinnie (a small, metal-hulled boat often used by recreational fishermen) for a fisherman or a pike eel, but not for both.â€
Because pike eels are nocturnal and prefer deep depths, they are not well-known to the general public. They have, however, been spotted by swimmers and scuba divers along Australiaâ€™s coasts, particularly along New South Wales, where theyâ€™re particularly numerous for some reason. Unless caught or cornered, they are not considered dangerous, and local scuba divers consider them an impressive sight in the waters. So it wasnâ€™t a dinosaur or a mutation after all â€” but the reality is no less fascinating.