Trunko, Elephant Birds and the Panama Creature

Don Walsh and Jacques Picard inside the vessel that took them eleven kilometres below sea level.

For cryptozoologists, the ocean depths are the most promising potential source of unknown creatures. The high pressures, absence of light and virtual inaccessibility to humans from the bathyal zone (1000 m) down make these environments much like another planet inhabited by alien species. When Don Walsh and Jaques Picard made the deepest human descent of almost 11,000 metres into the Mariana Trench in 1960 and reported seeing fish there, the scientific community were sceptical. In fact, despite the conditions, life is abundant in the deep sea and has occasionally thrown up some bizarre specimens.

A colossal squid caught in the Ross Sea in 2007.

The phenomenon of abyssal gigantism has produced kraken-like monsters such as the giant squid and the colossal squid. The ceolocanth, a deep-sea fish species thought to have died out 65 million years ago, was caught off the South African coast in 1938. These examples, along with others such as the giant isopod, the megamouth shark and the vampire squid, suggest many more unknown marine animals await discovery and they have occasionally fuelled wild speculation about strange things that have washed up on the penumbra between ocean and land.


In 1924, an enormous creature was seen in the water near Margate, South Africa. Covered in white fur and with what appeared to be a long trunk, the creature, dubbed Trunko, desperately fought off a pair of killer whales, at times rearing twenty feet above the surface. The battle raged for three hours before the whales swam away. Sometime later, Trunko’s corpse was found washed up on the beach where it remained for ten days. Observers noted its fur and trunk, the absence of an identifiable head and the lack of blood in the carcass. It was 14 m long, 3 m wide and 1.5 m high.

Trunko disappeared, presumably washed back out to sea and was seen no more. For eighty years, it was one of the most bizarre unexplained cryptid sightings. Then in 2010, a photograph of Trunko surfaced. Based on this, cryptozoologist Karl Shuker determined that Trunko was most likely a globster, the partially decomposed remains of a whale or large shark whose bones have fallen away leaving a sac of skin and collagen. Trunko’s furry appearance could have been due to exposure of connective tissue fibres. Trunko’s battle with the orcas may in fact have been the two whales tossing the carcass into the air.

The Cervantes Elephant Bird Egg

In 1993, nine year-old Jamie Andrich made an unusual discovery at a beach near Cervantes, Western Australia. Partially buried in the sandhills he found an enormous egg the size of a watermelon. With a circumference of more than 80 cm, it was identified as an example of the world’s largest egg from the elephant bird of Madagascar. Standing over three metres tall, the elephant bird was the world’s largest bird and may have been the origin of the mythical Roc. Now extinct, they may have existed as late as the seventeenth century.

Jamie attempted to sell the 2000 year-old egg to a collector for $102,000. When the Western Australian government barred the sale and claimed ownership, Jamie reburied the egg and refused to hand it over unless the government could match the price. After some wrangling, the government agreed and the egg was duly produced.

It was assumed that the egg must have floated from Madagascar, across the Indian Ocean to Australia. If so, it was not the first such egg to make the journey. An almost identical discovery occurred in 1932 when ten year-old Victor Roberts found a large egg in sand dunes near Scott River, Western Australia.  He also claimed to have seen a skeleton nearby with a large beaked skull.

The Panama Creature

Not from the ocean, but like globsters, the Panama Creature is another example of how otherworldly something can become after partial decomposition. Discovered in 2009 by a group of teenagers (who also claim to have killed it with sticks), photos of the creature generated plenty of speculation. It was identified variously as an unknown species, an unidentified foetus, a genetic anomaly or an extraterrestrial.

Analysis of a biopsy revealed that it was a brown-throated sloth. After the carcass had spent a number of days submerged in a nearby river, its fur had fallen out due to decomposition.

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