It's not clear what the mysterious creature is that reportedly washed ashore in Georgia or, for that matter, if we'll get a clear answer.
Last week, the decomposing remains of what appeared to be a strange creature were found on a beach at the Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Georgia, reports local media.
Jeff Warren, the man who reportedly found the remains, sent photos to several media outlets in Georgia, where it quickly garnered attention.
Creature From the Deep?
Of marine scientists who have seen the photo, their interpretations range from the creature likely being some type of decomposing fish to an outright hoax. Without physical samples to study, it's likely impossible to determine the creature's origins, they say.
“It looks like a deep-sea shark, like a frilled shark. Although I don’t see gill slits," Chantal Audra from the Tybee Island Marine Science Center told the Savannah Morning News—although she was also quick to point out that without examining the body, that's speculation.
It wouldn’t be the first time a fish's body has done strange things during the decomposition process. In February 2017, a "hairy blob" washed up on a beach in the Philippines, to much fanfare. While nearly impossible to recognize as such, the remains were confirmed to be a dead whale whose muscle fibers began to fray and look "hairy."
Creature From the Deep South?
Other scientists aren't convinced the Georgia creature is any sort of animal at all.
"That could easily be faked. We think someone's playing a joke on us," says marine biologist Quinton White from Jacksonville University. White says he and his colleagues deliberated on what the remains might be. "We've never seen anything like it. There aren't really signs of decomposition, and it looks remarkably intact."
Adding to the skepticism is a local legend called the Altamaha-ha. The Lochness-like monster is a popular feature in some Georgia folklore, and the beached specimen shows similarities to artists' renderings of the beast.
"I am convinced the 'sea creature' is a constructed model of a baby Altamaha-ha Monster," says John "Crawfish" Crawford, a naturalist at the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Crawford notes that the remains were found, "near the ground zero 'habitat' of that mythical creature."
If the specimen were the decomposed remains of a real deep-sea creature like a shark, White says the body would look messier.
"Typically, the skin sloughs off [during decomposition]," he says. "You get patches of exposed epidermis. You find the extremities have been nibbled at by other marine animals."
The creature's unusual physical state, the fact that no remains were saved, and the folkloric coincidence make the story too unbelievable for him.
"It just seems too convenient."
He adds that anyone who finds bizarre marine animals mysteriously washed ashore should contact authorities or wildlife officials, who can properly study the remains.
Nancy Butler, a representative from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, says the photos have been sent to their counterparts at the Smithsonian for further inspection.
"Is it a hoax; the real thing? We don't know," says Butler.
She says the department heard about the remains last Sunday after it had already become an online sensation. By the time they were able to inspect the island for remains, they found no trace.