A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from
hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing
unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.
“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J.
McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an
author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal
But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues
also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still
wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.
“We’re lucky in many ways,” said Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers
University and another author of the new report. “The impacts are accelerating,
but they’re not so bad we can’t reverse them.”
Scientific assessments of the oceans’ health are dogged by uncertainty: It’s
much harder for researchers to judge the well-being of a species living
underwater, over thousands of miles, than to track the health of a species on
land. And changes that scientists observe in particular ocean ecosystems may not
reflect trends across the planet.
Dr. Pinsky, Dr. McCauley and their colleagues sought a clearer picture of the
oceans’ health by pulling together data from an enormous range of sources, from
discoveries in the fossil record to statistics on modern container shipping,
fish catches and seabed mining. While many of the findings already existed, they
had never been juxtaposed in such a way.
A number of experts said the result was a remarkable synthesis, along with a
nuanced and encouraging prognosis.
“I see this as a call for action to close the gap between conservation on land
and in the sea,” said Loren McClenachan of Colby College, who was not involved
in the study.
There are clear signs already that humans are harming the oceans to a remarkable
degree, the scientists found. Some ocean species are certainly overharvested,
but even greater damage results from large-scale habitat loss, which is likely
to accelerate as technology advances the human footprint, the scientists
Coral reefs, for example, have declined by 40 percent worldwide, partly as a
result of climate-change-driven warming.
Some fish are migrating to cooler waters already. Black sea bass, once most
common off the coast of Virginia, have moved up to New Jersey. Less fortunate
species may not be able to find new ranges. At the same time, carbon emissions
are altering the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic.
“If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your
fish would not be very happy,” Dr. Pinsky said. “In effect, that’s what we’re
doing to the oceans.”
Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are
projected to provide most of the fish we consume within 20 years. Bottom
trawlers scraping large nets across the sea floor have already affected 20
million square miles of ocean, turning parts of the continental shelf to rubble.
Whales may no longer be widely hunted, the analysis noted, but they are now
colliding more often as the number of container ships rises.
Mining operations, too, are poised to transform the ocean. Contracts for seabed
mining now cover 460,000 square miles underwater, the researchers found, up from
zero in 2000. Seabed mining has the potential to tear up unique ecosystems and
introduce pollution into the deep sea.
The oceans are so vast that their ecosystems may seem impervious to change. But
Dr. McClenachan warned that the fossil record shows that global disasters have
wrecked the seas before. “Marine species are not immune to extinction on a large
scale,” she said.
Until now, the seas largely have been spared the carnage visited on terrestrial
species, the new analysis also found.
The fossil record indicates that a number of large animal species became extinct
as humans arrived on continents and islands. For example, the moa, a giant bird
that once lived on New Zealand, was wiped out by arriving Polynesians in the
1300s, probably within a century.
But it was only after 1800, with the Industrial Revolution, that extinctions on
land really accelerated.
Humans began to alter the habitat that wildlife depended on, wiping out forests
for timber, plowing under prairie for farmland, and laying down roads and
railroads across continents.
Species began going extinct at a much faster pace. Over the past five centuries,
researchers have recorded 514 animal extinctions on land. But the authors of the
new study found that documented extinctions are far rarer in the ocean.
Before 1500, a few species of seabirds are known to have vanished. Since then,
scientists have documented only 15 ocean extinctions, including animals such as
the Caribbean monk seal and the Steller’s sea cow.
While these figures are likely underestimates, Dr. McCauley said that the
difference was nonetheless revealing.
“Fundamentally, we’re a terrestrial predator,” he said. “It’s hard for an ape to
drive something in the ocean extinct.”
Many marine species that have become extinct or are endangered depend on land —
seabirds that nest on cliffs, for example, or sea turtles that lay eggs on
Still, there is time for humans to halt the damage, Dr. McCauley said, with
effective programs limiting the exploitation of the oceans. The tiger may not be
salvageable in the wild — but the tiger shark may well be, he said.
“There are a lot of tools we can use,” he said. “We better pick them up and use
Dr. McCauley and his colleagues argue that limiting the industrialization of the
oceans to some regions could allow threatened species to recover in other ones.
“I fervently believe that our best partner in saving the ocean is the ocean
itself,” said Stephen R. Palumbi of Stanford University, an author of the new
The scientists also argued that these reserves had to be designed with climate
change in mind, so that species escaping high temperatures or low pH would be
able to find refuge.
“It’s creating a hopscotch pattern up and down the coasts to help these species
adapt,” Dr. Pinsky said.
Ultimately, Dr. Palumbi warned, slowing extinctions in the oceans will mean
cutting back on carbon emissions, not just adapting to them.
“If by the end of the century we’re not off the business-as-usual curve we are
now, I honestly feel there’s not much hope for normal ecosystems in the ocean,”
he said. “But in the meantime, we do have a chance to do what we can. We have a
couple decades more than we thought we had, so let’s please not waste it.”
A version of this article appears in print on January 16, 2015, on page A1 of
the New York edition with the headline:
Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad
UNLUCKY fishermen are all alike: We don’t know how to see. My friend Jud has
outfished me in all but one or two of the hundred times we’ve gone to the ocean
and bay beaches and kettle ponds on Cape Cod. By both study and exercise, he
knows the culture of striped bass better than I know my own nose. But to call
him “lucky” would begrudge him a talent that I have never seen in anyone else
and that lives underneath skill or knowledge.
One July night, on a falling tide that sifted through the granite jetty in the
west end of Provincetown, we fished the same 10-foot sluice, with the same
tackle and the same flies (he ties them for me), and I watched in outrage as he
caught 20 stripers to my two.
Another night, on Long Point, the finger of sand that curls into Provincetown
harbor at the far end of Cape Cod, the stripers were chasing alewife, peanut
bunker and other baitfish through the current that rips the point on a rising
tide. I caught the first fish of the night, a 32-inch bass, enormous for me and
for the lightweight rods we were using. It took 20 minutes to land. Jud yelped
in amusement and then caught eight more just like it, while I stood cursing and
changing flies by the light of the town, two miles across the dark harbor.
What he can do and I can’t is face a piece of water and so absorb himself in the
place that he seems to share the consciousness of the fish in it. If you have
seen a school of 10,000 sand eels swerving as one animal under a wharf, you have
seen that individuals can integrate their senses into a collective mind. Without
the benefit of language, they share all the most important news: where to find
food, light, threat, rocks. Human beings usually experience this common mind
only under the stress of love or panic.
My friend pulls his hat brim down to deflect the sun, as everybody does, and
makes the double-haul cast — a move in which the non-dominant hand jerks down
and up on the line, both on the forward and back casts. Think of a man doing the
polka with his arms. It isn’t as hard as it sounds; it just helps him reach the
fish, not find them.
For all I know, he may, more often than not, see only a confluence of light and
current, and point his desire at that spot, so that he believes he sees the fish
before his eyes detect the animal itself. But I can’t deny that wherever he puts
the lure, the fish find it.
We’ve evolved a neocortex that presents us with an awareness of past and future
at the cost of forgetting where we are right now. Jud seems to switch that
faculty off in favor of an older, lower brain. Like a sand eel in the school, he
sees with 10,000 pairs of eyes. Many times when he was catching fish and I
wasn’t, I’ve asked, “How do you know where the fish are?” And he’s said, “I see
I may have glimpsed for myself what he sees, but only once. On an early summer
afternoon we were fishing for brook and rainbow trout in the mid-Cape, at Cliff
Pond. In reality, except after heavy rains, it’s two ponds split by a narrow
More than 300 of these kettle ponds perforate the Cape. They formed around
10,000 years ago. As the Laurentide ice sheet retreated into Canada, it left
behind chunks of ice as thick as 60 feet that the force of the glacier had
plowed into the earth. The sediment outflow from the melting Laurentide sheet
covered the blocks of ice, so they lay hidden and insulated for 1,000 years or
more beneath the soil. As the climate warmed further, the blocks melted, the
sediment crusts collapsed, and the deep holes that the blocks had formed began
to fill with ground water and rain. In general, streams neither feed nor drain
the ponds, and in the absence of wind they lie as still as mirrors.
Oak and pine trees ring Cliff Pond so tightly that if a wading fisherman tries
to cast much farther than 10 feet, he snags his fly in the heavy brush during
the back cast.
I was having a miserable afternoon, yanking one errant fly after another from
the pine boughs. Jud came around the corner, having caught half a dozen brook
trout and let them go. He saw my irritation and suggested another spot.
We climbed around an oak grove and onto the sand bar that divides the water. Not
much high vegetation grows on the bar, so if you face east you can back cast as
far as you like without snagging a tree, and fish the smaller pond with ease.
The sun was going down in the drizzle. A screeching racket erupted, from the
nearby marsh it seemed, but also from everywhere at once.
“What are those?” I asked.
He said, “peepers,” a frog smaller than your thumbnail that can scream as loud
as an air raid siren. They lived all over the marsh, he said; but wherever I
looked, I couldn’t find them.
We knew the fish were roaming the inlet we faced; he’d seen them there, but he
left me alone and fished from the other side of the marsh.
I cast long and short, played the surface with a caddis fly, switched to a nymph
to fish the bottom, strategized to no end, but nothing doing. The sun behind me
threw my long shadow on the water and shot through a billion droplets hovering
over the pond. I kept on wading deeper, thinking harder, catching nothing.
Anyone who fishes is an animist, and anyone who is frustrated while fishing
becomes an egoist. So when a rainbow appeared over the far woods, I believed the
cornball god of the place was having a laugh at my expense. But who can look
away from a rainbow?
I stopped awhile and took it in, backing out of the weeds into shallower water,
shaking my sore arm. The bright arc rose from one flank of the distant forest
and fell into another. Above the uppermost red band, a secondary arc emerged —
thicker, the colors reversed, with red on the underside, purple on top — and
disappeared. The low clouds rumbled.
And all at once, with no invitation, the place penetrated me. My mind coextended
with the woods and the pond. All my senses sent their data not to the front
office of the brain for analysis and criticism, but to a room far below, to the
body’s mind. The squishy silt beneath my feet smelled of leaf rot, the wind of
ozone. The hidden throng of peepers rang from all quarters. The cold sun struck
me in the back of the neck.
My fly line lay coiled in the black water. I threw it behind me, threw it
forward, letting a few yards out, then cast backward again.
I had no awareness of future or past. I had forgotten everything I knew. My
pores were soaked with the place.
The fly shot out, settled on the pond, and sank beneath the stippled surface.
Nothing emanated from me but one thing, a passion that rose from the bottom of
my lungs and out my throat into the whistling air: it was the bottomless desire,
in the bottomless present, to catch a fish. I stripped the line once between the
fingers of my right hand.
The line jerked and went taut. And I yanked up on the rod. And the line dived. I
stripped again and drew up the rod. The pond cracked.
And a trout pitched itself out of the water and screwed through the yellow air.
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- A humpback and her calf were seen less than 10 miles
from the Golden Gate Bridge and the salty sea after a two-week sojourn through a
Northern California river delta.
The wayward whales passed under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge at the north end
of San Francisco Bay on Tuesday afternoon. If the humpbacks can navigate south
around a peninsula and a nearby island, few obstacles would remain on their
route past Alcatraz to the Pacific Ocean.
''They're heading very much in the right direction,'' said Rod McInnis, a
spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Still, there are fears the whales might continue into the long southern half of
the bay instead of turning west and exiting into the Pacific.
''There are lots of places they could get themselves into trouble before they go
out of the Golden Gate,'' McInnis said.
The duo was first spotted May 13 and got as far as 90 miles inland to the Port
of Sacramento before turning around.
Biologists said the saltier water where the mother humpback whale and her calf
have been swimming since leaving Rio Vista has helped reverse some of the health
problems caused by long exposure to fresh water.
Lesions that had formed on the humpbacks' skin over the weekend appeared to be
sloughing off, California Department of Fish and Game deputy director Bernadette
Fees said. Scientists also reported that a coating of algae that was clinging to
the mother had fallen away.
Veterinarians were unable Monday to see whether the whales' wounds had started
to heal, Fees said. Antibiotics were injected into the whales on Saturday to try
to slow the damage from the gashes, likely caused by a boat's keel.
With the whales on the move, officials did not plan to take any action to prod
them toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
A convoy of boats was escorting the pair to protect them from heavy ship traffic
in the bay. Bay Area ferry commuters could face delays depending on the whales'
location, Coast Guard officials said.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. Coast Guard hauled several swimmers out
of the water as they tried to approach the whales and fended off about 100 boats
carrying would-be whale watchers.
Ariadne Green, 57, of Vallejo, came to the waterfront to catch a glimpse Tuesday
after traveling last week to Rio Vista, where the whales circled for a week
before heading toward the ocean. She said seeing the humpbacks was a ''profound
''They need to go home now because their health is in jeopardy,'' Green said.
''It's good to know they're on their way back.''
ANGELS CAMP, Calif., May 17 — Every May, they come. Thousands of slimy little
athletes, primed for the biggest event of their careers, the World Series of
competitive frog jumping: the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee.
Then, of course, it’s back to the pond.
But after nearly 80 years of peaceful jumping, a civil war of sorts has broken
out among the human overseers of this annual, undeniably bizarre event, which
was inspired by Mark Twain’s classic 1865 tall tale, “The Celebrated Jumping
Frog of Calaveras County,” about an inveterate gambler and his gifted amphibian.
The dispute, which pits the group that has long presided over the jump against
the fair’s organizers, has resulted in a pair of dueling competitions this year,
each planning to hold their finals on Sunday.
All of which has cast a pall over what should be the county’s biggest weekend of
“It’s sad,” said Emily Stemler, 85, the director of the Angels Camp Museum and
Carriage House, who attended the first competition in 1928. “I think they ought
to get back together. But I guess you can’t stop what they call progress.”
The squabble has also divided many of the competitors, grown men and women who
spend days and nights before the fair crawling around ponds and swamps looking
for the perfect jumping frog. Known as frog jockeys, the handlers are clannish,
working in teams of 10 or more to gather the frogs from waterlogged places
around the state. Hundreds of human competitors, and more than 2,000 frogs, are
expected to compete at the fair this weekend, with the top 50 advancing to the
It is semiserious business, with cash prizes and bragging rights on the line.
Many teams test-jump the frogs in the days before the three-day fair
competition, looking for traits that might lead to the ultimate prize: the world
record, held for the last two decades by the famed Rosie the Ribiter, who in
1986 made a staggering triple jump of 21 feet, 5 3/4 inches.
In competition, frogs are allowed to jump three times and land — all while their
jockeys yell, stomp the ground, and, yes, occasionally blow on the frogs’ nether
regions. Measurements are down to the quarter-inch, which can often separate
champions from mere fly-eaters. The animals are then caught with nets, thanked
for their services (sometimes with a kiss), and returned to “frog condos,”
basically large metal canisters with a few inches of water.
Good jockeys are renowned in Calaveras, where teams have been known to capture
200 frogs to find a single winner.
“There’s an art and a science to it,” said Bill Proctor, a former pilot who is
something of a legend in the sport for having fielded, with his brother-in-law,
a series of winners in his career, which ran from 1958 to 1978. “Frogs are like
any other animal: certain ones are better athletes than others. A lot of that is
the environment they are living in. I can’t give away any secrets, but there’s
certain kind of environments where they really have to jump to get away.”
Indeed, considering the $5,000 prize for a world record, it is not completely
surprising that most competitors fiercely guard exactly where their frogs —
American bullfrogs, often eight inches long and always underpaid — are gathered.
“We’ve had the champion the last two years,” said Mike Ziehlke, 45, a member of
the local Calaveras Frog Jockeys who works, appropriately enough, at the local
water utility. “I ain’t telling.”
Like many ardent jockeys, Mr. Ziehlke said he knew all too well about the schism
in the frog world and did not want to take sides, although he is entering the
fair’s competition. “We are not a political organization,” he said. “But
sometimes when people are treated like kindergarteners, they act like
The issue at the heart of the squabble is the very topic of Twain’s story:
money. Last year, after rain hurt attendance and damaged the fair’s bottom line,
organizers informed the Angels Camp Boosters, the group that has run the jump
since its inception, that they might change direction in 2007. The boosters, a
group of longtime residents and business owners, had received a $2,300 stipend
to organize and judge the competition, a fee fair organizers said they could not
afford this year.
Ray Malerbi, chief executive of the fair, which he said could draw up to 50,000
people in a good year, said his board was also concerned that “the frog jump was
beginning to lose its hold and that it was either stagnating or at least not
The boosters, however, were not about to bow out without a fight. So this
spring, they announced that they would stage their own frog jump in a local park
on the same weekend as the fair.
Donovan Hamanaka, the boosters’ vice president, disputed the fair’s assertion
that the boosters had lost focus, saying that publicity about the spat had
actually energized his group, which he said had gained members in recent years
after a period of faltering enrollment. “You’d be surprised what kind of care
we’re getting from the community,” said Mr. Hamanaka, 25, a former frog jump
finalist who called the fair’s decision a “slap in the face.” He added, “We’ve
got teenagers coming in, wanting to join.”
Legend has it that Twain visited this Gold Rush town in 1865, when he overheard
and penned the tale of Jim Smiley, a man “always betting on any thing that
turned up” and his “modest and straightforward” frog Dan’l Webster. In the
story, Smiley loses $40 in a bet after a rival fills Dan’l Webster with
Nowadays, such behavior is strictly prohibited by the fair’s frog welfare
policy, a four-page document that outlines rules, including treatment of
hundreds of “rent-a-frogs,” which are stored in a cellarlike room under the main
jumping stage. There, rules stipulate that frogs are kept cool and in the dark,
limited to three jumps daily, and that soothing music, either soft rock or cool
jazz, is played at all times.
Also forbidden is the jumping of any California red-legged frogs, the breed the
fictional Dan’l Webster is believed to be. Those frogs, now listed as threatened
under the Endangered Species Act, were devastated in the late 1800s by the
appetite for frog legs among miners in the Sierra Nevada and later in cities
like San Francisco.
“It became a sort of sushi craze of that time,” said Robert Stack, the founder
of the Jumping Frog Research Institute. “And a whole lot of people over-frogged
to feed the craze.”
Dr. Stack said the situation was not helped by the importing of bigger, badder
bullfrogs from the East Coast, which “will eat anything that moves that fits in
its mouth,” including smaller, red-legged frogs. That sort of omnivorousness
still frightens wildlife advocates, who view the Calaveras event as an
environmental disaster waiting to happen.
“With hundreds of frogs and lots of people, it’s hard to keep a lid on these
things,” said Michael Markarian, the executive vice president of the Humane
Society of the United States. “If one frog escapes into the wild populations, it
could have an impact on imperiled species.” Fair officials say they are careful
to return their frogs to nonthreatened habitats.
Officials in Angels Camp, about 130 miles east of San Francisco in the Sierra
Nevada foothills, said they hoped the current bad blood did not distract from
the fair, which is the biggest tourist draw of the year for a town of about
Mr. Proctor, the former champion and a member of the boosters organization, said
he would not attend the fair this year, out of loyalty to his colleagues. But he
said he hoped the two groups could work out their differences before the 80th
anniversary next year.
“We’re too small of a community to fight like this,” Mr. Proctor said. “This is
supposed to be fun.”
Having a home renovated is never easy. But at least Adrienne, Cleo and Indie,
who normally live in the Bronx, were fortunate enough to have been on an
extended vacation in Brooklyn during the noise and dust of their construction
In June, these three female sea lions will return from an 18-month sojourn at
the New York Aquarium in Coney Island to their restored pool at the Bronx Zoo
Wildlife Conservation Park. The pool is one part of the $6.7 million renovation
of Astor Court, which dates to the zoo’s early years. As a bonus, a new male
suitor is expected to arrive a few weeks later.
Under a steady rain yesterday, landscapers laid sod in the Peacock Garden for
the June 1 reopening of the 22,000-square-foot mall at Astor Court, whose formal
steps and terra cotta balustrades lead to a panoramic view of the zoo’s original
Victorian designs. Astor Court is being renovated in stages, with different
dates for completion.
The areas being renovated include an Italian garden of boxwoods and roses; the
Rockefeller Fountain, which has provided a welcome spritzing to many of the two
million annual visitors; and a suite of Beaux-Arts-style buildings considered to
be the heart of the 265-acre zoo.
One of those buildings, the Lion House, which opened in 1903 and was designed by
the New York architects Heins and LaFarge, has been closed for more than two
decades, and the lions roam an outdoor exhibit.
The Lion House, which is expected to open next year, will be converted into a
40,000-square-foot, $49 million exhibit on Madagascar, an island located off the
southeastern coast of Africa and home to 1 percent of the world’s biodiversity.
Visitors will be able to see a 13-foot Nile crocodile, ring-tailed lemurs and
the fossa mammal.
Construction workers inside the building yesterday were busy scaling ladders
while artists painted the trunks of fake baobab trees. In a feature of the
exhibit sure to resonate uncomfortably with city dwellers, hundreds of hissing
cockroaches will live inside the trunk of one of the fake baobab trees.
“They eat kibble, banana peels, pretty much anything,” said James Breheny,
director of the zoo, holding one of the four-inch-long insects, whose serrated
shell appeared shellacked in the mahogany hue of a cello.
The renovations, designed by FXFowle Architects, are part of the zoo’s 25-year
master plan and meant to uphold its mission to educate visitors about wildlife
and nature and to protect declining wildlife, said Steven Sanderson, president
of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the zoo.
Along with improving the zoo’s appearance, the Astor Court renovations are also
being done with the environment in mind. The Lion House is expected to be the
first landmark building in New York City restored in accordance with the
stringent environmentally sensitive guidelines of the United States Green
Building Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable building
design and construction, Mr. Sanderson said.
One of the environmental solutions is a storage and filtration system that
recycles water from the zoo’s laboratories. It would save more than 140,000
gallons of water a year.
“At the end of the 25-year plan, we’ll set the standard in green materials and
conservation and be able to link our guest experience to the mandate we have: to
conserve wildlife around the globe,” Mr. Sanderson said.
As part of the restoration project, a variety of lighting styles were replaced
with energy-saving Victorian reproduction lighting, and slatted benches yielded
to wrought iron and wood versions, said Sue Chin, director of planning and
design for the zoo.
Like the sea lions, the peacocks that once lived in Astor Court were moved
during renovations, in this case, to the Children’s Zoo. The birds will
eventually be able to roam the entire zoo, but zookeepers hope that the mirrored
Victorian “gazing balls” that are going to dot Astor Court will entice them to
“We’re going to try to attract them here with those,” Ms. Chin said, “so they
can gaze at their beautiful image.”
BERNE, Ind. (AP) -- Surveyors looking for the source of a clogged drain in
southern Adams County found a 7-foot dead alligator. ''At first they thought it
was a turtle in there, but then they discovered an alligator,'' Adams County
sheriff's Deputy Larry Butler said.
He said the 120-pound alligator, which had been dead for about a week, was put
inside the drain after it died. The sheriff's department and the Department of
Natural Resources were looking for the owner of the reptile found Monday in
Berne, about 30 miles south of Fort Wayne.
It is legal to own alligators in Indiana, but the state requires owners to apply
for a permit with the DNR for alligators that are longer than 5 feet, said Greg
McCollam, assistant director with the department's fish and wildlife division.
There were no permits registered in Adams County, he said.
In March, animal enforcement officers nabbed a 3-foot-long alligator in a mobile
home in Gary. Two months earlier, a dead alligator was found in a rolling
garbage container in the Gary's Glen Park area.
The following letter has been addressed to the
19th October, 1848. Sir, I have just reached this port on a voyage from Malta
and Lisbon, and my attention having been called to a report relative to an
animal seen by the master and crew of HMS Daedalus, I take the liberty of
communicating the following circumstance.
When clearing out of the port of Lisbon, upon the 30th September last, we saw
the American brig Daphne, of Boston; she signalled for us to heave to, and
lay-to while the mate boarded us, and handed a packet of letters to be
despatched per first steamer for Boston on our arrival in England.
The mate told me that when in lat.4 11 S. lon.10 15 E. wind dead north, upon the
20th September, a most extraordinary animal had been seen. It had the appearance
of a huge serpent, or snake, with a dragon's head. Immediately upon its being
seen, one of the deck guns was brought to bear, which having been charged with
nails, and whatever other pieces of iron could be got at the moment, was
discharged at the animal, then only distant about 40 yards from the ship; it
immediately reared its head in the air, and plunged violently with its body,
showing that the charge had taken effect.
The Daphne was to leeward at the time, but was put about on the starboard tack,
and stood toward the brute, which was seen foaming and lashing the water at a
fearful rate; upon the brig nearing, however, it disappeared, and, though
evidently wounded, made rapidly off at the rate of 15 or I6 knots an hour, as
was judged from its appearing several times upon the surface.
The Daphne pursued for some time, but the night coming on, the master was
obliged to put about and continue his voyage. From the description given by the
mate, the brute must have been nearly 100 feet long, and his account of it
agrees with that lately forwarded to the Admiralty by the master of the
I have the honour to be, sir, your most obedient servant, James Henderson,
· There must be some error in the preceding letter, either in the latitude or
longitude indicated, or in the date - perhaps in both. The point 4 11 S.
latitude and 10 15 E. longitude is close to, if not actually upon, the coast of
Africa; and it is an impossibility for any sailing vessel to reach the mouth of
the Tagus in 10 days (the 20th to the 30th Sept.), from that part of the coast
Her majesty's ship Daedalus was two months on her voyage home from where she saw
the serpent, which is only about 14 degrees farther south. Ed
Yesterday (Friday) afternoon, one of the
largest River Thames eels ever seen was caught in the City Canal, Limehouse,
under the following circumstances: The locks of the canal which open into the
river had to be opened for the purpose of letting out a large vessel, when a
great body of the water rushed out. A short distance above the place where the
vessel had been lying, a kind of gut or creek existed, and which was left dry by
the receding of the water.
Three boys, who were on the spot, seeing a large portion of the mud agitated,
went down to discover the cause, when, to their astonishment, they saw what at
first they took to be a snake, but which proved to be an enormous eel, of the
thickness of a man's thigh, and about 15 ft long.
The boys instantly attempted to secure the extraordinary prize; but, for some
time, they were unsuccessful, as the monarch of the eel tribe felt no
inclination to be retrieved to terra firma, as, upon being grappled with, he
beat the mud about with his tail, and in a short time covered his assailants
with the deposit of the river. The boys, however, were not to be beaten; and,
after a long and arduous struggle, they succeeded in drawing their captive
ashore, when some men, who had stood by, attempted to take the monster away from
his legal captors.
This they resisted, and some gentlemen who were drawn to the spot interfered,
and the boys retained possession of their prize, which they subsequently sold
for 32s. to an individual who, it was said, intended to exhibit it. As a proof
of the immense size of the monster, it was weighed, and found to exceed 63lb.
the Guardian archive >
Monster of the Thames, November 4, 1840,
The Guardian >
The Guardian Review, 6.8.2005.