Intertidal: The truth behind the Casco Bay sea monster may be weirder than the fiction
Sea monsters in Casco Bay?
As with many bodies of water, there are also legends about strange creatures lurking beneath Casco Bay. Our local monster is known as Cassie and apparently looks like a snake in her form.
Cassie was first sighted in 1779 by a young sailor named Edward Preble. Fast forward almost 200 years to 1958, when a fisherman described a snake-like creature he saw that turned its head in response to the repeated blow from the foghorn. Apparently Cassie is a long-lived snake! The depths of this story can be explored at the International Museum of Cryptozoology in Portland, where director Loren Coleman was particularly fascinated by Cassie’s story and mounted an exhibit on her story.
Perhaps another story from New Harbor, Maine could shed light on Cassie’s identity. This story came from another fisherman who reported a strange sighting in the local newspaper in the 1850s and suddenly found himself the subject of buckets of questions about what he had seen. Some of these questions came from marine biologists who helped identify what species it might have been. Their best guess was an oarfish.
A rowfish is a snake-like creature that can grow up to 30 feet in length, making it the longest bony fish. Partly because of this length, giant oars are known as Regalecus glesne, which means “king of the herring.” They don’t look much like a herring other than their elegant body shape and prominent pectoral fins. Also, as the name suggests, an oarfish’s fins look a bit like oars. They use these oars to row in the dark depths of the ocean – up to 1,000 meters deep. They have blue-black markings as well as spots and scribbles that are thought to be bioluminescent in the darkness of deep water. Here in the dark, they hang out alone hunting jellyfish and other invertebrates.
Even with those big fins for rowing them, the oars aren’t particularly fast or muscular. They don’t need to be because their prey isn’t too fast either and the water at the bottom is quite calm. This means that they are not strong enough to survive the movement of water in shallower water. When they get too close to the surface, they often die. Perhaps this is why they were considered sea monsters – swaying indiscriminately in the water like a sea serpent. However, they lose their marks when they die, so they have a slippery appearance. and silvery, which also improves their monstrous quality.
Although they live in the depths and tend to be found in waters warmer than those of the Northwest Atlantic, oarfish are sometimes found stranded on shore after storms. Considering the thunderstorms we had at the end of October, it would not have been excluded to find one on Halloween.
These tales of sea snakes remind me of the strange “bigeye tuna” that a fishing friend found a few weeks ago after a storm. Often, those on the water, like fishermen, discover things that scientists would never find out. This was especially true before there were sophisticated submersibles with cameras that allowed researchers to see beneath the surface and learn more about the creatures that inhabit them. The eyes and observations of fishermen have brought first-hand knowledge to scientists. This still happens to some extent, but the technology available today can sometimes omit these important observations. As always, a collaborative effort results in the best knowledge, as happened in the case of rowing identification almost two centuries ago.