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Sorry, It’s Not Alty or Nessie or Any Other Mythical Creature

Georgia’s version of “Nessie” may have beached itself along the Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge. Or so the news media reports. Although it is easy to claim it was “Alty,” the bloated remains were probably something more common.

Last Friday, March 16th, boater Jeff Warren spotted a decomposing sea creature along the beach. He snapped a picture and took some video showing a long-necked, flippered grey dead animal. The only sure thing was that the animal was dead. He left the carcass and headed inland, sharing his tale with locals, who wondered if Warren had indeed witnessed “Alty,” the mythical Altamaha-ha creature reported to be haunting the Altamaha River since the 1830s.

He did not. According to Dan Ashe, former Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and current President and CEO of the Association of zoos and Aquariums, Warren probably spotted a marine animal whose shape was altered during the decomposition process. [Multiple media outlets keep reporting that Ashe is the current Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. He isn’t.] Ashe went on to theorize that the altered shape made the creature appear to be the prehistoric Plesiosaur, a creature common in the Jurassic Period that was located all over the globe. The Plesiosauria measured between 5-49 feet and had a broad, flat body, 2 sets of flipper-like limbs, and a tail. It died off some 200 million years ago. A full-sized preserved body of a Plesiosaur has never washed onto a beach.


Fig. 2. Heinrich Harder’s illustration of a Plesiosauria from the Jurassic Period.

Other marine scientists opined that the creature was possibly a juvenile frilled shark, an elusive “elongated deep-sea shark with prominent gill covers that give the appearance of a frill around the neck.” Seems the easier and more logical explanation. However, some people of Georgia hope it is “Alty.”

The river monster is a popular North American legend. It was first documented when on April 22, 1830, when Captain Delano of the schooner Eagle spotted her. Witnesses included 5 men on the vessel and people on St. Simons Island. For more information on “Alty,” read my upcoming blog. Suffice it to say, Warren’s creature isn’t “Alty” either.

However, there is a lesson here. When out exploring and you come across a strange dead creature, take the initiative and bag it for future identification. Who knows! Maybe next time it may be a prehistoric creature.