The information I am about to convey is coming from the following type of individual: One who, at one time or another, came from both perspectives. In the beginning, I was convinced the creature was a species of plesiosaur, an animal claimed to be long extinct by mainstream science. Later, I came to the belief that, indeed, the animal was a beaked whale. Now . . . well, that is for the reader to discover.
So join me as I share a few thoughts, and then, with these thoughts in mind, I ask that you endeavor to make that ultimate, long-debated decision for yourself.
- J.P. Niednagel
The Discovery, The Area
Details of the initial discovery aren't known. Similarly, little is known about the discoverer, Charles Moore. The year was 1925, and the place a remote beach roughly two miles north of Santa Cruz. Dubbed "Moore's Beach" at the time, it is known today as Natural Bridges State Beach. Apparently, three connected arches carved out of a sandstone cliff inspired the naming of the area. The annual migration of monarch butterflies is a featured attraction, and the shore is backed by a eucalyptus grove, where the monarch butterflies arrive by the thousands in the fall.
One would think, after the name change, Moore would soon be forgotten. He wasn't. A creek in the vicinity, which drains into the ocean, is named Moore Creek. It is home to a number of ducks, coots and occasional migratory visitors of various kinds. Where it empties out at the beach, a wide and shallow pool has been formed that is popular with waterfowl.
I'd like to take a moment to describe an incident which reportedly happened some time before the discovery. A report was published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel of an account of a "terrific battle" between a dozen or more sea lions and a monster fish that had been observed by a Mr. E.J. Lear, days before Charles Moore found it. As stated by Mr. Lear himself:
"I was driving a team toward Capitola, when suddenly I was attracted by some young sea lions not far out. They were lined up and several large lions were swimming back and forth in front of them. Much farther out I saw the water being churned to foam and thrown high up in the air. It was shiny and I took it for a big fish. A dozen or more lions were battling it, and every once in a while all would raise out of the water. It looked to me as though all the sea lions were attacking it beneath as the monster came out of the water several times. In telling of the battle of that night I estimated its length at 30 feet.
"The battle continued as long as I could see it from the road. I was driving toward Capitola with a load of sand. I have not seen the monster on the beach, but it may have been that which I saw."
Evidence such as this should be taken with a grain of salt, though taken nonetheless. If the account be true, the strange animal was surprisingly mauled to death by sea lions, only to wash ashore a few days later. As to why it was mauled, that is zoologist guesswork.
Disappointing. That's the only way to put it. The accounts and descriptions of the Moore's Beach Monster are so varied that one would think folks were describing two completely different animals. Similarities, however, do exist, and by pinpointing and identifying them one can seemingly come up with a generally good idea.
We'll begin with a well known Monterey merchant of a half-century ago. When telling of the beast, he described it as being a "serpent-like monster" approximately fifty feet in length, two feet in diameter, with a fish's tail, and a duck's head. Strangest of all, he took note of "elephant-like legs every few yards along the body," along with numerous "ivory toenails" on each one.
Our next description comes from the Monterey Peninsula Herald, which referred to the creature as a "freak of Father Neptune." They described it as being thirty-five feet in length, five feet in height, possessing a duck-shaped head, a tail like a whale, and "an odor which kept curious ones at a respectful distance."
According to the Santa Cruz News, the specimen was thirty-four feet long, its head bigger than a barrel, and its eyes bigger than an abalone. Also, it had a great oval shaped body with a neck seven feet long and thirty-six inches in diameter. Its body was covered with a coat of "semi-hair and feathers," and its mouth was like that of a duck's bill.
"In the Wake of Sea Serpents," Bernard Heuvelmans' authoritative book, discusses the monster in the following terms: "It was a strange creature, with a huge head longer than a man, tiny eyes and sort of duck's head beak. It was joined to the main body by a slender neck that seemed to be about thirty feet long."
We now come to perhaps the most intriguing description of them all, given by one of the most scientifically competent of them all. Mind the reader, not most competent, but one of the most competent. His name was E.L. Wallace, a man who served twice as president of the Natural History Society of British Columbia. He had the following to say about the animal:
"My examination of the monster was quite thorough. I felt in its mouth and found it had no teeth. Its head is large and its neck fully twenty feet long. The body is weak and the tail is only three feet in length from the end of the backbone. These facts do away with the whale theory, as the backbone of a whale is far larger than any bone in this animal. Again, its tail is too weak for an animal of the deep and does away with that last version.
"With a bill like it possesses, it must have lived on herbage . . . I would call it a type of plesiosaurus."
A stunning conclusion, no doubt. Later, Mr. Wallace offered the theory that the monster may have been preserved in a glacier for millions of years, finally being released by the gradual melting of ice, eventually ending up cast upon the shore in Monterey Bay.
In line with the "prehistoric" idea, another observation was offered by the respected Santa Cruz Judge W.R. Springer. Although he wasn't sure as to how to classify the animal into which "prehistoric" category, he was confident it was a monster from long ago. He described it as possessing a duck-like head, a twenty foot long neck, and "evidences of two short feet (or flippers, or fins) beneath the ugly gigantic head." In photographs shared later, you will see for yourself what he was referring to. Judge Springer was also quoted in a Santa Cruz newspaper as stating, "A monstrosity of the sea would probably best describe the strange creature. Should such a head as it possess be protruded over the rail of a vessel, it would be enough to put the hardest kind of an old tar on the water wagon for life."
Enough with the written descriptions. Let the reader see for himself, as below we provide most if not all of the photographs taken of the Moore's Beach Monster. (Credit - Special Collections, University of California at Santa Cruz)
In a short time, these photographs will be examined more closely. Before we do so, however, we must first familiarize ourselves with one particular species of animal that has been the focal-point of the Moore's Monster controversy.
Berardius bairdi, Baird's Beaked Whale
Visit virtually any site on the world-wide-web, read nearly any book ever authored, search far and wide for a detailed description and comparison of the Moore's Beach Monster in relation to the infamous Baird's Beaked Whale, and you will, my friend, come up empty-handed. Why? To my knowledge, no one has simply taken the time. The universal passage you will find is something similar to the following: "After several noted scientists scratched their heads for months over the strange duck-billed creature, officials from the California Academy of Sciences carefully inspected the creature's skull, and officially announced to the waiting world that the mysterious monster of Moore's Beach was a North Pacific type of beaked whale. This creature was described as being so rare that no name, except its Latin one, Berardius bairdi, had ever been bestowed upon it."
In short, this is pathetic research. Perhaps at the time, roughly around the year 1925, little was known about Baird's beaked whale. Today, however, there is much we do know. From photographs to migratory patterns to dietary habits, this "rare" species of whale is no longer rare, and no longer shrouded in a cloud of mystery. It is my pleasure, then, to introduce you to this mammal of mystique.
Berardius bairdi are the largest of the beaked whales, reaching a length of over 40 feet, though typically are smaller. They are in the family Ziphiidae, or beaked whales, and are in the Cetacean order. Listed as non-threatened, they inhabit deep waters (over 3,300 ft.) of the North Pacific Ocean.
Physically, Baird's beaked whale has a distinctively narrow beak, with the lower jaw extending beyond the upper. A pair of large teeth protrudes at the tip of the lower jaw, and behind these is a pair of smaller teeth. Female whales are generally larger than males and lighter in color, but have smaller teeth. Interestingly, adult males are commonly marked with scars, caused by their own species, suggesting that there is much rivalry and competition for leadership of groups of breeding females. The normal social unit is a group of 6 to 30, led by a dominant male. The whales mate in midsummer, and gestation lasts for 10 months, sometimes longer.
This species of whale holds to a strange migration pattern. The opposite of normal whale migration, they spend the summer in warm waters to the south of their range off California and Japan, then move northwards in winter to the cooler waters of the Bering Sea and similar areas. These movements could possibly be connected with the local abundance of food supplies. Deep divers, Baird's beaked whales feed on squid, fish, octopus, lobster, crabs and other invertebrates.
One explanation against the theory that the Moore's Beach Monster was a Baird's beaked whale is the idea that they don't come as far south as the central coast of California. This is false. Though rarely seen, they are a highlight of whale watchers. To rest the issue, the first head photograph above was, in fact, taken in Monterey Bay. Other evidence, however, does present roadblocks to the Baird's explanation, as we shall now analyze.