Published: 3:03 AM 1/23/2012
Posted by: K. Bannerman
A head cranes above the water, a long snake-like body writhes under the silvery surface of the sea, and with a flap of a finned tail, it slips silently under the strait to disappear into its hidden lair.
Off the B.C. coast, in the dark and secretive depths of Georgia Strait, lurks something strange.
Like its famous cousins of Loch Ness and Okanagan Lake, Cadborosaurus offers only brief and tantalizing glimpses of itself before vanishing once more into folklore and tall tales.
But it hasn’t been shy — there have been more than 300 sightings in the last 200 years. A recent sighting of “Caddy” occurred in December, 2006, when the creature was spotted only 40 metres off the Victoria coast, and then spotted again farther north, off the shores of Qualicum.
Sea serpents have been seen in the Pacific waters from Monterey Bay in California to the rocky fjords of Alaska. The First Nations peoples of the coast had many names for the creature.
Depending on the language spoken, it was called Hiyitlik, Sisiutl, Penda, Saya-Ustih, Kaegyhil-Depgu’esk, Say Noth-kai, Pal-Rai-Yuk. Early settlers and Europeans added a few names to the mix, too, like Sarah the Sea Hag and Klematosaurus.
Maybe the suffix ‘-osaurus’ isn’t so far fetched. During the Late Cretaceous period, when Vancouver Island was submerged under a shallow sea, long-necked reptiles called Elasmosaurs swam in these waters. They were the largest of the plesiosaurs, reaching 14 metres long and weighing 2.2 tons.
Their necks were so long that paleontologists think they were unable to lift their heads very high. Unlike artistic depictions of sea monsters, with their serpentine necks arching upwards and jaws open above helpless galleons, poor Elasmosaur could probably only raise its head above water if its body was resting on the bottom.
They were slow swimmers, graceful under the water, and lived on a diet of small fish. Their bodies were so large that any movement on land would have been awkward, if not impossible, so they probably did not come ashore to lay eggs. Instead, they lived their whole lives in a warm, shallow sea, abundant with marine life.
Turtles, ammonites, sharks, and mosasaurs would have swam there, too, and above the waves, the air teemed with sea birds of all kinds. It was a place of remarkable variety and beauty.
It came to an end around 65 million years ago, during one of the largest mass extinctions in the Earth’s history. The K-T extinction is marked by a thin band of sediment found in various locations around the globe, and hints that a massive astroid or increased volcanic activity turned the world from a warm, habitable place into a cold, desolate rock.
The warm, shallow seas retreated, the abundant food sources disappeared, and poor Elasmosaur vanished from the oceans forever.
Or so they say. Looking out over the grey surface of Georgia Strait, it’s fun to imagine a few shy plesiosaurs gliding through the dark, silent currents. Maybe they never died out, but simply retreated to deeper water?
Edited by Brenda Booth