The Stronsay Beast was first spotted on September 25, 1808 by a fisherman named John Peace lying on the rocks southeast of Stronsay Island in Scotland. He and another man named George Sherar directed their boat towards it for a better look. Unfortunately, it’s position was inaccessible and couldn’t be examined further until ten days later when it washed ashore. This animal could not be identified and believed to be a new species, possibly a sea serpent.
It was described as being 55 ft in length (though some dismissed this measurement), 4ft wide and a circumference of about 10 ft. It was initially measured by a carpenter and two farmers. It had a head like a sheep. Skin grey and rough to touch except when if stroked from head down to the back. It possessed six “limbs” and a bristly mane of hair from the shoulders down to its tail which may or may not have glowed in the dark. Drawings of the beast depict it similar in appearance to that of a Plesiosaur. The Natural History Society in Edinburgh gave it the Latin name Halsydrus Pontoppidani meaning Pontoppidan's Water Snake of the Sea in honor of the 18th Century Norwegian Bishop.
While some chose to believe in its mysterious nature, others looked for a more logical explanation. Sir Everard Home read of the Stronsay Beast and examined what was left of the carcass. His conclusion labeled the creature nothing more than a decomposing Basking Shark, making a compelling argument. The basking shark was an animal common in the waters around the Orkney Islands.
He examined the vertebrae of the creature comparing it to the shark, finding them to be identical. When the shark dies, it’s jaw drops off leaving what looks like a long neck and small head. The upper tail fin contains the spine leaving the lower portion to rot off during a state of decay. The six “limbs” could simply be the remains of the shark’s lower fins. While all of this provides excellent evidence to prove Home’s theory, it doesn’t explain away one major detail. The longest basking shark on record measured 40 ft. That’s 15 ft smaller than the Stronsay Beast not including the partial of tail that was missing.
This animal still remains an enigma. Could the Stronsay Beast be nothing more than a largest species of shark, unknown or otherwise? Or perhaps it was a new species. We may never know unless another one washes ashore.