Crocodile-like creature on Rhossili beach, 2018

On May 24, the tabloids report about a “mystery alien-” or “crocodile-like” “thriller” sea creature found at Rhossili beach between Llangenith and Rhossili (Swansea, GB). During a walk with her three dogs Ms Beth Jan(n)etta from Dunvant found the said creature, approximately 5 feet long with a one metre head and an elongated, tapering tail. Ms Janneta is cited that “it looked like a well rotted cetacean to me”. She posted the photo on Facebook where it caused big discussions. “Other people think it is something different, like a crocodile”.

Dr Dan Forman, of the department of biosciences of Swansea University, offered explanations: “Its jawline suggests it is like a cetacean whale or a dolphin. […] The jaw is thin in places and it looks from the picture like it is upside down. When you look at it the first time you may think it is a crocodile, but it is not. There is a big bulge on the base of the skull which is characteristic of a cetacean”. Mr Mark Hipkin, area ranger of National Trust, collected the specimen from the beach and confirmed it to be a porpoise: “It is only about five foot long. We picked it up on a Land Rover […] and reported it to the council. We have porpoises washing up quite regularly, as well as dolphins and seals and sometimes sheep” (Adu, 2018; Dalling, 2018; Forsyth, 2018; “Gower: Mystery sea creature washes up on Rhossili beach”, 2018; Ikonen, 2018; Wheaton, 2018).

Beached deceased harbor porpoise from Twin Lakes State state park, Santa Cruz, California. (Bass-Deschenes, Cary. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/bastique/8559025743/. Used under license CC BY SA 2.0).

Beached deceased harbor porpoise from Twin Lakes State state park (Santa Cruz, California) as symbol picture and for comparision. (Bass-Deschenes, Cary. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/bastique/8559025743/. Used under license CC BY SA 2.0).

Obviously confusion was caused as Bethan Jannetta on “Love Gower”, a Facebook group, posted two photos of two different carcasses from the same location – the first “crocodile-like” carcass with the “big bulge on the base of the skull” and the second carcass with the thin jaw in places and two dogs near to it. Ms Jannetta contacted the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) for identification but so far no answer was published publicly (Jannetta, 2018). Meanwhile commentator Sian Beynon (2018) published a third photo and revealed with it, that the second creature was also there one week before.

Both photo show cetacean species. Subsequent anatomical description and terminology of the skeleton is derived from Tinker, 1998 and Pyenson et al., 2012; Marx, Lambert & Uhen, 2016.

While superficially the first carcass resembles a crocodile due to the head and the tapering tail, it actually is most probably a porpoise. The skull is typical for Odontoceti (toothed whales), showing a “telescoping” of several bones. Especially the concave facial area (housing for example the melon) with the prominent roof formed from the posterior ends of premaxilla , maxilla and nasal, is visible. Adding to it is the somewhat massive mandible, also typical in form for some toothed whales. Together with the position and shape of the dorsal fin this points strongly to a porpoise (Phocoena). As for the tapering tail, a zoom reveals that the tail is twisted and the fluke stands upright. The left, sun-burnt side upright and the right side in the sand.

"Crocodile-like" carcass from Jannetta, B. (2018, May 23). Retrieved from http://www.facebook.com/groups/lovegower/permalink/627321394269406/. Used according to § 51 Urheberrechtsgesetz as photo-citation in (popular-)scientific work. Skull of Harbour porpoise from Pedersen, Dawn. (2017, March 22). [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/paintedbydawn/33796942010/. Used under license cc-by/2.0.

„Crocodile-like“ carcass from Jannetta, B. (2018, May 23). Retrieved from http://www.facebook.com/groups/lovegower/permalink/627321394269406/. Used according to § 51 Urheberrechtsgesetz as photo-citation in (popular-)scientific work; Skull of Harbour porpoise from Pedersen, Dawn. (2017, March 22). [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/paintedbydawn/33796942010/. Used under license cc-by/2.0.

The skull of the second carcass (Jannetta, 2018) indeed is turned upside down. The cranium therefore shows the ventral side with teeth and tooth-sockets as well as premaxilla and maxilla bones. Together with the third picture (Beynon, 2018) it’s clearly of a dolphin species. Interesting is also the fluke, as the left part is (again) sun-burnt and upright while the right part is more or less covered from the sand.

References

Adu, A. (2018, May 24). Mystery sea creature ‘like a crocodile’ found washed up on beach in Wales baffles experts. Retrieved from http://www.thesun.co.uk/news/6371174/mystery-sea-creature-crocodile-whale-rhossili-beach-swansea.

Bass-Deschenes, Cary. (2013, March 11). Beached deceased harbor porpose. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/bastique/8559025743/. Used under license CC BY SA 2.0).

Beynon, S. (2018, May 23). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10214111756095332&set=p.10214111756095332&type=3&permPage=1&ifg=1.

Dalling, R. (2018, May 24). This really weird looking creature has washed up on one of Wales’ best known beaches. Retrieved from http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/local-news/really-weird-looking-creature-washed-14699762.

Forsyth, L. (2018, May 24). Mystery as five-foot-long rotting carcass of unidentified ‘alien-like’ creature washes up on Welsh beach. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5767655/Mystery-five-foot-long-rotting-alien-like-carcass-washes-Welsh-beach.html.

Gower: Mystery sea creature washes up on Rhossili beach. (2018, May 24). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-south-west-wales-44237827.

Ikonen, C. (2018, May 24). Mystery ‘alien-like sea creature washes up on Brit beach. Retrieved from http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/705019/sea-creature-beach-uk-wales-animal-news-swansea-animal.

Jannetta, B. (2018, May 23). Retrieved from http://www.facebook.com/groups/lovegower/permalink/627321394269406/.

Marx, F. G., Lambert, O. & Uhen, M. D. (2016). Cetacean paleobiology. Chichester, UK; Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Pedersen, Dawn. (2017, March 22). [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/paintedbydawn/33796942010/. Used under license cc-by/2.0.

Tinker, S. W. (1998). Whales of the world. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Wheaton, O. (2018, May 24). Carcass of mysterious creature washes ashore in Wales leaving experts baffled. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/sea-creature-wales-beach-skeleton-washed-up-rhossili-gower-a8368981.html.

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