What These Rare Animal Sightings in the Philippines May Mean for Us

Strange things have been happening on the shores of the Philippines in the past months. Large weird-looking carcasses and extremely rare oarfish were sighted in separate locations in the country. These have sparked questions and what others call “conspiracy” theories over what’s bringing them out of the sea?

On February 22, 2017, a strange-looking animal carcass laced with blood was seen on the shores of Dinagat Island. These sightings have gone viral on social media and got picked up even by international news outlets.

What locals dubbed as “sea monster” was indeed large. It was 15 feet in length and it seems to have fur or shredded skin. No one could make sense what it was since its fur or shredded skin obscure any clear visual of what it really looks like.

This “sea monster” also appeared in New Zealand last year. But New Zealand’s sea monster was in fact a bunch of gooseneck barnacles clinging to a large piece of driftwood. 

Sea Monster in Philippines
Photo from Facebook

Sea Monsters?

A lot of speculations about this “sea monster” have surfaced. People have come up with various guesses of what the huge carcass was.

Local authorities in Dinagat believe the carcass is likely to be of a sea cow.

“According to the aquaculture technologist, it is likely that the carcass was that of a sea cow, based on skin found near the shore,” Charmane Awitan of ABS-CBN reports about her interview with Sufenia Chua of the Cagdianao Municipal Agriculture Office (Cagdianao is a municipality in Dinagat Island). “Chua added that there were also previous sightings of sea cows in the area.”

But, sightings like this is not as rare as we thought at first. Apparently, these seemingly monstrous creature washed up the Philippine shores have been seen elsewhere years back.

These mysterious creature is nicknamed ‘globster’. There have been several such carcasses washing up in beaches around the world over the couple of centuries. One of the most popular sightings was the one in Margate, South Africa on 25 October 1924. The mysterious creature was called Trunko.

As a matter of fact, there are writings, by experts, discussing these rare sightings. Darren Naish, a vertebrate palaeontologist from the University of Southampton in the UK, gave this explanation for Trunko in his book, Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths:

“[The photos] show that it was the rotting carcass of a large vertebrate, most likely a whale. The idea that this was really the body of a white-furred, trunked sea monster stems from naivety about the appearance of rotting animal carcasses.

[The photos] are somewhat ambiguous, but the enormous bulk of the carcass, the large amount of what looks like frayed, badly decayed collagen, and the presence of what seems to be a mostly obscured internal skeletal framework suggest that this is another globster – a rotting mass of whale tissue.”

Hmm. Turns out it isn’t as mysterious as we thought it is.



The Mysterious Oarfish

Oarfish-in-Talisay-Cebu
Image from localpulse.net

The second strange thing that’s washed up on the shores of the Philippines lately is a massive oarfish. Oarfish is a large, bony fish that can grow several metres long. They are very rarely seen on the ocean’s surface. And we know very little about this species of fish.

Because oarfish is rarely seen, their coming out of the depths of sea is worrying the locals. Hence, they have been coming up with plenty of stories explaining why these deep sea creatures were dragged out of the depths of sea.

Some say these oarfish sightings portend an upcoming catastrophe – an earthquake perhaps or a tsunami.

Is there truth to this, scientifically?

Rachel Brown reports for National Geographic that these deep-dwelling creatures are rarely sighted, but when they are, they usually come in twos or threes.

And, sure enough, just days before this one washed up, a fisherman reportedly caught one off the same coast.

“Whatever the oceanographic phenomena are that push these animals on shore, they’re probably on a large enough scale to affect more than one oarfish,” Mark Benfield, an oceanographer and ecologist at Louisiana State University, told Brown.

Messengers of Hades?

In Japan, oarfish is a legend. Oarfishes are considered “Messengers from the Sea God’s Palace”. As “messengers” of the Hades (in Greek mythology’s fashion), they are thought to be harbingers of impending earthquakes.

Oddly enough, the Philippine locals could attest to some truth to this legend.  Davao region in the Philippines experienced a magnitude 4.6 earthquake February 23, 2017, and a magnitude 6.7 earthquake on February 10.

“In fact, six oarfish – including the one from Agusan del Norte – were sighted in the days before and after a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed eight people and injured 200 others in Surigao City, Philippines, prompting a flurry of social media discussion about the species’ apparent portents,” Brown reports.

Is this scientifically possible?

According to a British biologist, yes, the legend has some scientific merit. UK biologist Rachel Grant from the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, told The Independent back in 2013, but concrete evidence is so far lacking.

“It’s theoretically possible because when an earthquake occurs there can be a buildup of pressure in the rocks which can lead to electrostatic charges that cause electrically-charged ions to be released into the water,” she said.

“This can lead to the formation of hydrogen peroxide, which is a toxic compound. The charged ions can also oxidise organic matter which could either kill the fish or force them to leave the deep ocean and rise to the surface.”

Benfield, on the other hand, is more skeptical about the connection between earthquakes and oarfish, telling National Geographic that oarfish don’t live near the ocean floor where seismic activity would emanate from, and if the hypothesis were true, other species would be affected too.

“It’s hard to imagine what sort of phenomenon would occur before an earthquake that would cause these oarfish to leave the [mesopelagic zone] to move towards shore and strand,” he said.

Without sufficient evidence, we’ll have to leave this one as a mystery for now.

Take Home Message

We cannot tell for sure what these sightings mean. We cannot tell with clarity and certainty that these sightings portent an impending catastrophe. While it is not right to scare the public with these pronouncements of “The Big One” the impending earthquake caused by the movement of the West Valley Fault in Luzon, we must all stay vigilant and prepare for the any disaster that might come our way.

Local government units are enjoined to facilitate initiatives to mitigate the hazards of impending catastrophes. With or without these sightings, it is our duty to safeguard the welfare and well-being of our families, and our communities.

Sources:

AsiaOne. (2017). Mysterious hairy-looking creature washes up in the Philippines. [online] Available at: http://news.asiaone.com/news/asia/mysterious-hairy-looking-creature-washes-philippines [Accessed 5 Mar. 2017].

Charmane Awitan, A. (2017). Sea monster? Animal remains in Dinagat Islands worry locals. [online] ABS-CBN News. Available at: http://news.abs-cbn.com/trending/02/22/17/sea-monster-animal-remains-in-dinagat-islands-worry-locals [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017].

Connor, S. (2013). Oarfish mystery: Earthquake rumours over beached giant snake-like fish. [online] The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/oarfish-mystery-earthquake-rumours-over-beached-giant-snake-like-fish-in-california-8897016.html [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017].

CNBC. (2017). Philippines rocked by 6.7 magnitude quake, leaves at least 6 dead, more than 120 injured. [online] Available at: http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/11/philippines-rocked-by-67-magnitude-quake-leaves-at-least-6-dead-more-than-120-injured.html [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017].

Crew, B. (2017). Locals Are Freaking Out Over the Weird-as-Hell Carcasses Washing Up in the Philippines. [online] ScienceAlert. Available at: http://www.sciencealert.com/locals-are-freaking-out-over-the-massive-creatures-that-are-washing-up-in-the-phillipines [Accessed 5 Mar. 2017].

New York Post. (2017). A sighting of this deep sea creature is a very bad sign. [online] Available at: http://nypost.com/2017/02/23/a-sighting-of-this-deep-sea-creature-is-a-very-bad-sign/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2017].

National Geographic News (2017). Mysterious ‘Sea Serpent’ Oarfish Resurfaces. [online] Available at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/02/pictures-oarfish-philippines/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2017].

UPI. (2017). Hairy ‘monster’ carcass on Philippines beach likely dugong or whale, experts say. [online] Available at: http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2017/02/24/Hairy-monster-carcass-on-Philippines-beach-likely-dugong-or-whale-experts-say/1511487967199/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2017].

Yamamoto, D. (2010). Sea serpents’ arrival puzzling, or portentous? | The Japan Times. [online] The Japan Times. Available at: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2010/03/06/news/sea-serpents-arrival-puzzling-or-portentous/#.WLy-8FWGNaQ [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017].

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