Horned Sea Monster is Just a Shark Skeleton

A rotting carcass recently washed up on the shores of Spain, and people immediately started wondering what the creature was. It was even dubbed Spain’s Montauk monster, even though the creature in Montauk was a mammal and the horned sea monster in Spain was obviously a sea creature of some sort. But like the Montauk monster, the only thing monstrous about it was the state of decomposition it was in. Spain’s horned monster? A shark skeleton, say experts.

Horned sea creature washes up on beach in Spain, but experts say it's a shark skeleton
The Spanish sea monster

Horned sea monster? Dragon? A long, smelly carcass that washed up on the Spanish coast may never be conclusively identified — but experts say it sure looks like the remains of a thresher shark.

The latest in a string of “sea serpent” stories has sparked an online buzz in the past few days, thanks to the gnarly-looking pictures that surfaced in the Spanish press last week. The carcass washed up on Luis Siret Beach in the Andalusian village of Villaricos, according to the local publication Ideal, and sparked jokes about the Loch Ness monster and mutant fish.

“A lady found one part, and we helped her retrieve the rest,” Civil Protection coordinator Maria Sanchez was quoted as saying. “We have no idea what it was. It really stank, as it was in the advanced stages of decomposition.”

Sanchez said conservationists with the Program in Defense of Marine Animals, or Promar, were trying to identify the remains. However, Europa Press quoted a coordinator of the group, Francisco Toledano, as saying that any identification would have to be made on the basis of the images — because the decomposing remains were buried by sand.

Toledano said the preliminary analysis suggests that the 13-foot-long (4-meter-long) carcass came from a “species of fish,” but he wasn’t more specific. Almeria24h.com said some experts speculated that the creature could be a thresher shark (also known as fox shark, Alopias vulpinus, or “peje zorro” in Spanish). Such sharks have a distinctive caudal fin that can stretch out as long as the shark’s body itself.

“It’s hard to tell,” David Shiffman, a University of Miami shark researcher who blogs about marine biology on Southern Fried Science, told NBC News in a Twitter exchange, “but the official guess that it could be a thresher shark seems plausible.”

Shiffman said it might also be a giant oarfish (Regalecus glesne) — a ribbony fish that’s typically 10 feet (3 meters) long but can grow to lengths in excess of 33 feet (10 meters). Oarfish sightings have been thought to inspire tales of sea serpents, and it’s only been recently that the beast has been caught on video in its deep-sea environment.

But Florida State University ichthyologist Dean Grubbs settled the matter in a follow-up email.

“That is definitely a shark skeleton,” Grubbs told NBC News. “The elements toward the back were confusing me, but those are the lower caudal fin supports. The ‘horns’ are the scapulocoracoids which support the pectoral fins.”

Shiffman agreed that Grubbs had the gravitas to settle the question: “If not the leading shark morphology guy, Dean’s certainly [in the] top five,” Shiffman said via Twitter.

The sea holds many mysteries, I’m sure, and I wouldn’t be surprised if something truly monstrous washes up on shore at some point. But for now, these mysterious beach creatures all seem to be known animals that just look like something out of a nightmare due to decomposition.

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