An apparently huge marine animal that looks like a combination of a crocodile and an eel has washed up in Australia. But what is it?

The headline seems silly: “Sea Monster” Washes Ashore in Australia. But photos of what looks like something straight from your worst nightmares or the imagination of Hollywood horror-film producers have made their way around the internet lately. The creature looks like something put together by a mad scientist, with the body of a sea serpent and the head of a crocodile.

seamonster

Photo by Robert Tyndall

Local resident Robert Tyndall photographed the creature near Swansea in New South Wales, Australia, about 20 miles north of Sydney. Tyndall explained that he, along with a few other people, encountered it on the beach and were perplexed. In the photo it looms large, looking like a huge submarine monster, and once the photo hit Facebook and other social media, speculation became rampant — everything from a botched biology experiment to mutation due to pollution, to a surviving dinosaur or a Photoshop hoax was suggested. People in particular noted the seemingly random combination of features — the fish or eel body, the crocodile-like head and the almost dolphin-like snout — combined with the seemingly gargantuan proportions of the creature, as indications that something was very wrong.

Turns out, the real answer is just as interesting. First of all, it’s no Photoshop job; this is an actual creature. And while the picture’s angle does seem to make the animal look bigger than in real life, the photographer stated that it was about 4.5 feet long, so not exactly a small creature — but a mutation or dinosaur it is not.

The animal was identified by biologists as a pike eel, a large animal known to grow up to 6 feet long, and one that packs a very nasty bite. They hunt at depths of up to 300 feet, and are largely nocturnal. They sometimes find their way into nighttime fishermen’s nets, who get quite a surprise when they haul the eel into the boat. There have been reports of serious injuries following pike-eel bites, and an old fisherman’s tale in Australia says that “there is room in a tinnie (a small, metal-hulled boat often used by recreational fishermen) for a fisherman or a pike eel, but not for both.”

Because pike eels are nocturnal and prefer deep depths, they are not well-known to the general public. They have, however, been spotted by swimmers and scuba divers along Australia’s coasts, particularly along New South Wales, where they’re particularly numerous for some reason. Unless caught or cornered, they are not considered dangerous, and local scuba divers consider them an impressive sight in the waters. So it wasn’t a dinosaur or a mutation after all — but the reality is no less fascinating.

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