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Friday, 27 January 2017

THE SALTERN COVE CHAMELEON


Monster or Mirage
On Tuesday 27th July, 2010 at 3:30pm, a plesiosaur-like creature was seen hunting a school of mackerel, just 30 yards off shore by locals of Saltern Cove, Paignton. The fish were so alarmed that they swam into the shallows and beached themselves, in an attempt to escape the monster.

Gill Pearce who photographed the creature, described it as being about 3 meters long with a rounded greenish-brown hump, large flippers and a small reptile-like head on a two and a half foot long neck. She said that its proportions were about the size and girth of a sea lion.

Photo by Gill Pearce
A Chameleonic Chimera
Eyewitness Graham Oxley, 63, from Paignton, who was walking his dog along the beach at the time was amazed by this unusual creature. He said: "I went down to the beach with my dog and I saw what I thought was a turtle. I saw a black dome which was more rounded than a turtle's shell and its head kept popping out of the water every five minutes. It seemed to lurk over some weeds in about four foot of water for around half an hour. That was when I realised it wasn't a turtle at all. What I thought was the shell was actually the creature's back and it seemed to change colour like a chameleon. When it was in the shade it was a black colour and then when it swam off it changed to a greenish-brown colour. It seemed to camouflage itself. That's probably why not many people have spotted them. It was standing, feeding on the weeds and had its back arched."

He rushed home to get his camera, but when he returned the creature was already swimming away.

Can Canny Creatures Camouflage?
Is it possible that alleged lake and sea monsters of the plesiosaur variety might have a chameleon like ability to camouflage and change colour to match their surroundings?

While the author appreciates that it is quite a stretch of the imagination to add a scientifically improbable attribute to an animal that is widely accepted to have become extinct, he also maintains that this is a book of sightings, theories and conjecture, and if our witness says the animal changed colour, then we must allow for his assertion to be submitted and examined. In effect, we must initially take the witness at his word, and follow his lead until he be proved genuine, false or mistaken. Considering everything possible, taking courage in our convictions, enough at least, to 'go down the rabbit hole' and see where it leads us.

Pearly Plesiosaur, Iridescent Chameleon
Now, the witness reports that the creature was hunting mackerel in the shallows and hid amongst seaweed in about 4 feet of water, presumably in an attempt to ambush the fish it was hunting. At this point the witness states that the creature was black, then he says that he saw the creature change from black to greenish-brown when it left its hideout amongst the seaweed. He said: "When it was in the shade it was a black colour and then when it swam off it changed to a greenish-brown colour. It seemed to camouflage itself." This statement from the witness emphasises a certainty about the animal using camouflage to hide, something it stopped doing as soon as it left its hiding place amongst the seaweed.

Photo by Gill Pearce
I initially thought that the witness' observation of the animal changing colour was a trick of the light and that its colour had just appeared to look black in the shade, compared to its greenish-brown colour in full light. I then considered that the animal had changed colour, and that the light and shade conditions were incidental. I now believe that being in the shade affected the colour of the creature, and that it was not a misperception on the part of the witness. It would appear that the creature's colour itself is affected by light.
So, when it left the patch of shade it was in, its colour was changed by its exposure to a stronger source of light.

If this is a little hard to swallow, we must remember that it is well documented that some reptiles like The Panther Chameleon do have the ability to change colour to match their environment or mood. If this creature is a reptile, which it most certainly would be if it's a plesiosaur, then it is not altogether inconceivable that it possesses a trait similar to another tetrapod like the chameleon. Furthermore, there are environmental pressures to consider as can be seen in the many other species in the sea such as the Cuttlefish, Flounder, Squid and Octopus that change their colour for the purpose of ambush hunting or to hide from predators.

It may be that the harsh environment of the sea combined with the creature's mode of predation/hunting, could perhaps provide some explanation for this very unusual physical ability.

Why Change Colour?
Until quite recently the Chameleon's ability to change colour was a mystery to science, but now we know that the Chameleon uses a layer of special cells nestled within its skin to change colour, and unlike animals such as the Octopus and Squid that accumulate or disperse pigments within the cells of their skin, the Chameleon instead has two thick layers of iridophore cells that have pigment that affects how light reflects off its skin, thus changing its colour.
If our 'mystery animal' is a Plesiosaur and if it has the ability to camouflage it truly would be an astonishing discovery and something quite different to what is currently espoused via the pervading paradigm, whose model has not only convinced us of the immutability of the physical characteristics of these Extinct animals, but also of their diet, breeding habits, living quarters and dare I say it...even their colour.

Arched Back, Straight Back, Humped Back, Ridged Back
Morgawr photos showing humps
changing shape
There is another very strange and interesting aspect to this sighting apart from the eyewitness account of the creature preying on a shoal of fish and its changing colour to hide amongst seaweed. The other extraordinary aspect of this sighting is that the witness, when describing his 30 minute sighting states that at one point, "It was standing, feeding on the weeds and had its back arched." Although there are eyewitness accounts and photos showing said creatures with arched or pointed backs, straight backs, humped backs and stepped or ridged backs and although some witnesses have testified to seeing these humps, arches or ridges become flat or straight , no one has really ever had such an exposed and extended view of one of these creatures in this position as our witness Graham Oxley has. This unusual physical dexterity seems to be quite common to plesiosaurid monster reports and it would be interesting to have an anatomist examine some of our fossil examples of this species to determine whether or not they may have been capable of this type of movement.

The Suspension of Disbelief
I find it hard to reconcile that I could have read this report several times over the last 6 years without noticing the most extraordinary thing about it, which is a unique eyewitness report on the possibility of the chameleonic colour changing abilities of plesiosaurid sea monsters. In my defence I had been so distracted by the tantalising photographs of the animal and the already elucidating eyewitness account of its hunting a shoal of mackerel fish, (an assumed, but understandably previously unrecorded aspect of the animals behaviour) that, a small detail, such as the creature's ability to change colour, easily went under my radar. It was only after deciding to feature the sighting in my book and reviewing the details once again, that the awesome observation that they change colour stood out to me. I wondered what the implications of this could be and if it could be proven, how would it change the way we present this species in our textbooks? As cryptozoologists, would it affect the way we search for these already, near-impossible to find monsters of the waters?

Pangea Panacea
So, how do we deal with such reports, where people claim to see and photograph or film, creatures that died out long ago? It simply does not help the witnesses of these magnificent creatures to be told that they could not have seen what they saw, because the creature in question doesn't exist anymore or is not known to have this or that particular attribute or trait (according to what we currently know or believe). So, let us keep our minds open, not to nonsense and faerie tales, but to the possibility of the lucid unknown, objectively looking at the facts and testimonies with a fresh eye and a clear conscience, leaving no stone unturned, regardless of what our peers may say about our spurious conclusions, our imaginative naivety and our misplaced beliefs.

In this modus operandi, we can seek out truth, reveal deception and perhaps learn a little more about the world we have sought to box, way before its gifts are wrapped and ready to be given to the ones we love; exposing a bigger world, filled with adventure and engaging a fresh generation of explorers to live for the thrill of the chase.



Written by Andrew McGrath

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