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Frontiers Magazine

The monster from Scapa Flow

Gerry Meyer March 7, 2014 Winter Issue 2013
featured-image-orkneyblast

(A strange sea creature was washed up on the shore at Holm in wartime Orkney. The story was covered in three issues of the Forces’ newspaper, The Orkney Blast, edited by Gerry Meyer, who went on in peacetime to edit The Orcadian for 36 years. )

The Orkney Blast

Stromness, Friday, January 29, 1942

RIDDLE OF THE ORKNEY MONSTER

Identity of Creature Washed Up in Scapa Flow Baffles Experts – “Loch Ness” Theory

Orkney and the outside world have been buzzing the last few days with the news of the discovery on the shores of Scapa Flow of a prehistoric-looking monster 25 feet in length, the identity of which has so far baffled experts.

Speculation has been rife, ever since this creature was washed up off Deepdale Farm, Holm, as to what species it can possibly belong, and up to the time of writing no satisfactory solution has been found….

One of the strangest features about the whole affair is that the creature first appeared about Christmas time and had apparently been lying on the beach ever since. That this was not generally known until last Friday seems incredible in view of the enormous interest that is usually taken in even unauthenticated instances of this kind.

Much scepticism greeted the first news of the discovery of the monster, as so many of these “sea serpent” tales have been discredited in the past, and early this week people were still firmly of the opinion that the “monster” was an embroidered version of two seals which had been washed ashore in the same district.

EXPERT’S EXAMINATION

A scientific examination by Mr J. G. Marwick, F.S.A.Scot., the well-known ornithologist and an authority on Orkney lore, was sufficient to prove that this creature was indeed fact.
Provost Marwick made a special journey to Holm to make an inspection, and here he describes, in his own words, what he saw, and his conclusions.

He has made a sketch of the monster which is it hoped to reproduce in THE BLAST very shortly: –

A cloud of gulls rose from the beach just in front of us (states Provost Marwick), an indication that the object of our journey was close at hand. We hurried over the rough stones, which were somewhat raised at that point and there lay the – well, I am at a loss to give it a name – remains of some creature, the like of which we have only seen in the imaginative drawings of prehistoric denizens of the deep….

The outstanding features of this monster, were its small head, long neck, massive hump, long, sinuous back parts and the queer, rudder-like appendage … which projected from its lower side, some distance from the tail.

Its lower jaw was gone, and there were no teeth in the upper part of the jaw. The skull was gristle, very much resembling the gristle bone of a skate and certainly not the bone of land animals.

The head was rounded on top, with large eye-sockets on either side. The eyes must have been very large.

Down the centre of the skull was a hole, which might have been for breathing purposes, and above this was a slight cavity with what appeared to be two tiny holes in its upper part….

The body, which was devoid of skin, presented a whitish-yellow appearance, the white being mostly fat. The only piece of skin I saw was on the tail portion and was of a hard, horny substance, yellowish grey in colour….

I would like to give this strange creature a name, and possibly next week, I might be able to offer some details from the works I am at present referring to.

It is to be hoped that other experts will examine the monster and give their own opinions.”

Stromness, Friday, February 6, 1942

BASKING SHARK OR “SCAPASAURUS”?

Orkney Monster Still a Riddle

Ever since the monster – as stated last week in THE BLAST – was washed up off Deepdale Farm, Holm, considerable speculation has been raging as to its species.

This has not been definitely determined yet, but opinions vary from a prehistoric plesiosaurus to a basking shark.

Provost J. G. Marwick, F.S.A.Scot., who, it will be remembered, described the carcase at length in our last week’s issue, has decided to name the creature “Scapasaurus”. The news that the monster had been washed up was featured in many papers all over the country, and these also have been at pains to find it a name.

“The Scotsman” in its issue of January 30 stated: –

Experts are reserving judgment on the monster carcase which has been washed up on the lonely beach near Deepdale, Holm, in the Orkney islands. Many of them think that it is only that of a basking shark and no relative of the Loch Ness monster which set the world talking a few years ago.”

Another authority, Dr A. C. Stephen, Keeper of the Natural History Department, Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, said yesterday: –

I have examined the sketches, and it seems to me there is no doubt that the remains are those of a shark. The length of the animal, which is said to be from 25 to 28 feet, is large for most of the British sharks, except for the basking shark, which of recent years has been fairly common within the Western waters of the Scottish area. It is understood that the actual remains, or at least part of them, are being sent South – to London and Edinburgh and until they arrive there, the final verdict must remain in doubt.”

Since then Provost Marwick has had a visit from a lecturer in biology in Durham University. When the Provost showed him the head and other parts of the creature from Holm, this expert was astounded and stated that the creature was of a very ancient type unknown at the present day so far as he knew, and undoubtedly a sea reptile. It only remains to be seen now which of all these experts will prove correct.

Stromness, Friday, February 13, 1942

Orkney Monster – Artist’s Impression

Orkney-monster--artistsimpression

An impression of the Orkney monster drawn by Provost J. G. Marwick, Provost of Stromness, full details of which were published in the last two issues of THE BLAST.

The skull, a fin and flesh from the creature have been dispatched by Mr. Marwick to Dr. Stephen, Keeper of Natural History Department, Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, for investigation and identification.

Several experts who have seen pictures of the carcase which was washed up in Scapa Flow, off Holm on Christmas Day and which for a month remained on the beach unreported, believe it to be that of an unusually large basking shark. Until further information is received, the species of the monster must remain a riddle.

And now comes the news of the washing up of another “monster” similar to that depicted above, on the beach at the Hope of Hunda. This is stated to be 28 ft. long, but was in such a decomposed state as to make accurate observation difficult. The “monster” is on show at St. Margaret’s Hope and is rapidly raising money for the Red Cross Fund.

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About The Author

Gerry Meyer

Gerry Meyer came from London to Orkney on an October day in 1940, and within months his previous civilian background in journalism had led Eric Linklater to recruit him as editor for the Forces’ wartime newspaper, The Orkney Blast. Gerry went on in peacetime to edit The Orcadian from 1947 until his retirement in 1983, combining professionalism with a mature judgment and a deep feeling for the islands and their wellbeing. The story of his life and work can be found on his website www.geraldmeyer.co.uk.