That Mystery Fish Photograph

Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 29th, 2012

This one is back by popular demand.

One of the oldest unsolved “image” mysteries I have had to deal with at Cryptomundo, starting in 2005, is what is shown on this postcard.

Can you identify this Mystery Fish found on this old postcard?

Mystery Fish

(Click on image to see full size version)

Is there a reader out there that can help?

The men in the picture look like military servicemen. They have been tentatively identified (from their belt buckets and hats) as US Marines in pre-1920s uniforms. Are they pre-World War I?

The surroundings appear as if this photograph was taken on a beach or island. The location has been tentatively identified as the Pacific, maybe the Philippines.

The fish seems to be over six feet long (notice the standard military stretcher lying under the cryptid). How long is a WWI-era stretcher?

Where are the fins on this cryptid, if it is a fish? If it is a giant salamander, then is this Japan or China? If it is a constructed fake, doesn’t it look rather too unbelievable to be taken seriously? What is it?

Send in a comment if you can enhance the knowledge of the surroundings, help solve the mystery, or know what this cryptid might be.

The postcard has been tentatively dated. It should be noted that the “Place Stamp Here” box is formed by the letters AZO, which allegedly date this card. All the AZO triangles are pointing upward, thus indicating a date for this postcard of 1904-18.

Mystery Fish Postcard

(Click on image to see full size version)

What is shown on the card?

Mystery Fish Enhanced

(Click on image to see full size version, enhanced by shockbeton)

Mystery Fish Closeup

(Click image for full-size version)

Mystery Fish Enhancement

(Click image for full-size version, provided by Todd DiLaMuca)

Mystery Fish Enhancement

The photo has been changed to delete the mouth, to see what it looks like that way. However, the original does show a mouth or line on the image.

(Click image for full-size version, provided by Todd DiLaMuca)

The postcard photo has become such an enduring, enigmatic icon that it became part of the publisher’s design on the front of my new Simon and Schuster edition of Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide to the Nation’s Weirdest Wonders, Strangest Spots, and Creepiest Creatures.

Loren Coleman Mysterious America 2007

The International Cryptozoology Museum has an enlarged version of the postcard displayed in the museum to elicit more information on what it may be. If you can contribute to our nonprofit museum’s survival through the non-tourist season, this would be most appreciated. Please click on the “Donate” button below (remember, the upper righthand “Cryptomundo” button is for the admin of the blog and that money does not reach the museum or Loren Coleman). Thanks everyone!

You may directly send a check or money order if in the USA, or, if outside the USA, an international postal money order written to

International Cryptozoology Museum
Attn: Loren Coleman, Director
11 Avon Street
Portland, ME 04101

OPEN Mondays Noon – 4 pm, Wed-Sat, 11 am – 4:30 pm, Sundays Noon – 3:30 pm, CLOSED Tuesdays; $7.00 admission for adults, $5.00 for children, 12 and under, cash or check.

Check the website for special hours here.

Thank you.

This image, from her postcard, was contributed by reader Ms. Phyllis Mancz of Ohio to Loren Coleman.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

28 Responses to “That Mystery Fish Photograph”

  1. PhotoExpert responds:

    There it is! This photo has perplexed me for a couple of years now. The more I research it, the more frustrating it becomes.

    I think the answer to figuring this one out, lies in the tail of the fish. Many people in the past have posted that this is a shark. However, if you look at the tail of this fish, it is not the tail of any known shark. The key to solving this may lie in the “fish tail” (pun intended).

    Another thing worth noting, is that from my research, this post card photo stock was still available in 2010 on the internet. Various people were selling unopened and therefore unexposed post card stock. What does that mean? It mean that someone could hoax a photograph, print it on the old post card stock, age it, and pass it off as an old photo. Do I think that is the case? Absolutely not! I think this is a vintage photo, taken at the time indicated, and that these are genuine people and not paid actors.

    Attempts have been made to pin down the location by the flora in the photograph. The location and date have also had guesses because of the uniforms and background of the photo. But neither the location and date can be verified to date.

    So this one is really a mystery. And the more one looks into it, the more frustrating it becomes. I have spent more than a couple of hours delving into this one.

    As far as the photograph goes on the postcard, it is a good one for research. It gives many clues, is clear and not a blobsquatch type photo. This one is great one to investigate.

    If there are any newbies here at Cryptomundo, now would be the time to contribute to this thread. You are looking at this photo through new eyes. And some of you may have the background or expertise to add something to the research. If you notice something that could help in the least, please post!!!

  2. Sebastian Wang via Facebook responds:

    Look like a shark finned and skinned.

  3. Adam14 responds:

    Ok, I’m sure someone has suggested this, but are we sure its a fish? Yes it is scaled but so are reptiles.

    I look at this and I see a snake. Keep with me, I’m not crazy. Look at the nose. There are almost those little heat pit things that snakes have.

    I do see the gill line, but I’m not entirely sure that those are gills. I mean, do gills usually connect to the mouth? Well I’m not a herpatologist or ichthilogist so I don’t know.

    I mean think about it. You’re a soldier in the south Pacific and you spot a gigantic snake (maybe 50 or 60 foot python or something). You pull up and fire, killing it. (See wound on belly area or possibly neck). You want to prove it, so you an a couple buddies head out into the woods to reclaim your prize. You use knives or machetes or something to hack off the first 6-8 feet and throw it on a military stretcher. Then you bring it back to have your photo taken.

    If it is a fish, I see no limbs of any sort. No pectoral or dorsal fins. How does it maneuver. Yes there are some sort of tail fins but could those be ragged flesh from where the body was hack at. It also does taper a little at the back. Guts ripped out? I don’t know but this does not look like a fish to me. ANy thoughts? Why did they come to the conclusion of fish? Was it the “gill slit”?

  4. jodie responds:

    Looks like a giant snakehead gar to me.

  5. MFranklin responds:

    Interesting picture. If those are indeed Marines then the location could be Parris Island, SC. The USMC has had a presence there since the late 19th century and from what is visible (in the image) of the background surroundings, it certainly fits the bill. Flat marshlands dotted with sandy islands dotted with palms, palmettos and live oaks.

    As for the critter on the litter… first impression was some form of giant eel.

  6. scaryeyes responds:

    I think it’s pretty obvious that whatever this is, it’s been mutilated post-mortem, so what we’re looking at is not its appearance in life. The fins/forelimbs are not simply missing, there is a bloody gaping gash where they used to be.

  7. Raul Gonzalez via Facebook responds:

    ^ exactly a shark who’s been finned, and dried out some… The line running across its “mouth” could be a big cut… Or just dried up blood streak

  8. Goodfoot responds:

    This reminds me of those joke picture postcards of a couple guys with a 12-foot bass, or whatever the fish was…

  9. Wolfie0827 responds:

    Not sure I agree Jodie, The head seems to large compared to the body. The fish does not appear to have pectoral fins, but does seem to have had fins removed from the area near the head/gill slits ( the “wound” someone else mentioned.)

    Also the gills seem to far forward for the snakehead as well as the jaw placement/length and curve up.

    Just seems to be a little too much off in too many areas to be a snakehead.

    The general shape seems to match that of a Salmon , though coming from a northern environment and my own experiences, I would have to say it more closely resembles something from the trout family. but there are problems with that, size being on as well as most (all that I know of) have pectoral fins and this fish appears to not have any at least in looking at a cleaned version of the photo I can not detect any fins or possible signs of them being removed for any reason.

    That’s about all I have for input at this time. I’ll see if I can upload my cleaned version of the photo. It provides a little more contrast without sacrificing detail. If anyone has any suggestions for uploading it to here, let me know.

  10. TheCryptoMaster responds:

    It may be these old eyes but if you zoom in to the photo and focus on the guy on the far right and the guy on the far left. Something seems odd about the head size and neck length/position.
    Particularly the guy on the far right.
    The head seems too small and the neck is too long and there is a break in the neck where a shadow is.
    Seems to indicate photoshopping.

    If this was photoshopped why not the the entire image.
    These old eyes?

  11. Goodfoot responds:

    The CryptoMaster: Yep, that neck is too long, all right. I remember thinking that last go-round. Although I also can’t see a single reason to make that photoshop on the guy on the right, unless it was to disguise the real identity. Why on earth would that be?

    MFranklin: There’s no reason to dismiss Parris Island as the location, but there are real location clues present. Ever time I’ve looked at it, my initial impression is “South Pacific”, but I can’t tell you why. My gut is not infallible, but I’ve learned I can rely on it more often than not.

  12. druscilla responds:

    It looks almost like a White Sturgeon with the fins removed.
    The pectoral fin directly behind the head appears to have been cut off as evidenced by the blood.

  13. MuzzyBH responds:

    Lets look at it from a different angle. If the mouth was drawn on, then the animal may very well be laying on its side rather than its belly with its mouth facing away from the camera. Looking at it that way could make it an eel of some type.

  14. mandors responds:

    I’m going off the reservation. I think it may be a hoax, but not the kind everyone might think.

    Two things:

    At first I thought the “fish” was gutted, then I saw what looked to be a pole like thing running the length of the opening. There are also what look like stitches, in pairs, attaching the pole to the “carcass.” The “flesh” showing inside doesn’t look like meat, fish, snake or otherwise.

    Second, I see painted features, a painted “eye” and a smiley line of a mouth. I don’t see any gill opening or fins.

    So we have a hollowed out object with painted features made to look like a marine animal…

    Maybe it’s a military decoy. For a mine or a diver? Probably more a swimmer as divers really started in WWII.

    That hat looks definite Marines–I see the black globe of the logo. Not seeing the problems with the guy’s neck.

  15. Goodfoot responds:

    Mandors: Not only is the neck too long, but look: the head is too big for the body size. It’s definitely a hack job, but I can’t figure out WHY.

  16. gorilin responds:


  17. IFC responds:

    To me it looks like someone has altered a photo of a giant catfish by adding a fake mouth line.

  18. mandors responds:

    Goodfoot, I looked again, I think the neck only appears to long because of the shadows–which match up exactly with the trim on the side of the garbage hut. Also, who’s the fourth guy that was cut out of the picture, you can see his arm on the right.

    But all of this ignores the problem of why is the “fish” sewn to the pole, but it also forgets what this is…it’s a post card! That immediately puts it into the arena of jackalopes and girls in bikinis:

  19. Alamo responds:

    I think we are looking at the dorsal region of the fish as opposed to viewing it laterally as the fake mouth and eye would have you believe… this is why you can’t see gills, we’re looking at the top of it’s head.

    CryptoMaster is right about the obvious hack job on the faces, I say all three are pasted but only two are somewhat obvious. Why disguise the faces? Maybe to prevent identification (because the actual guys would say it was just a big fish).

  20. fooks responds:


    that is one weird fish head!

    it does look gutted and skinned/peeled/scaled to me.

  21. Larry responds:

    Based on this website, the card was produced between 1904 and 1918.

    Similar cards from the same company at the same time had other animal themes. Look at these pictures of people posing with alligators (some of which appear to have been faked).

    This Real Photo card shows the Navy hauling in a shark in Nicaragua in about 1912.

    I don’t actually buy that the mystery photo is of a real animal. All of the markings look painted to me, especially the face. But, it might be what happened to this poor shark after it was brought to the shore.

  22. Larry responds:

    Here is one more. This Real Photo Post Card appears to be U.S. Marines in Managua Nicaragua. The U.S. occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933. Based on the clothing and the general appearance of the photo, it may have been taken at about the same time as the mystery picture.

  23. Peltboy25 responds:

    I think the comments about the faces being Photoshopped are erroneous. The necks look longer than usual because the shirt collars are very low, showing a great deal of neck/upper chest that normally wouldn’t appear. I also see no reason for any distortion since the faces are so far away from the subject. If you wanted to hide identities, just put a black bar over the faces. The fish itself is odd… the head appears to look most like a nurse or lemon shark but the body is completely wrong in shape. I also don’t buy that we are looking at the dorsal area and the fish is on it’s side. I just don’t see evidence for that.

  24. Alamo responds:


    It is more than just the length of the necks, though that is a major “tell”. Take the guy on the right, the distance from his clavicle to the top of his head just about equals the distance from his clavicle to his waist line… this is way out of line with normal proportions and cannot be attributed to simply wearing a low-collared shirt. The abnormal proportions are partially because of the length of the neck, but are also because (as someone else noticed and commented on), the head is WAY too big for the rest of the body. Also, look carefully… the heads don’t line up with the centerline of the bodies, they are slightly off center… not really obvious, but enough to make it look funny, which CryptoMaster picked up on. Simply putting a black bar over the eyes would be a little obvious wouldn’t it? The whole point is to make it look like a real photograph, visibly hiding the identities would beg the question… why? Often, the strongest indicator of a hoax are “witnesses” who wish to remain anonymous. In this case, I believe the faces were changed in order to prevent identification of the actual participants, which could eventually lead to the subsequent invalidation of the doctored photo.

    I think we are all in agreement that it’s originally some sort of fish/ sea creature which was modified in some way (stitched to a pole and painted… the black pattern running to the tail looks to be painted on, as well as the mouth and eye). The reason I think we are looking at the dorsal area is that, if we are looking at it ventrally or laterally, the gill slits would be showing. You say you don’t see any evidence that we are looking at the dorsal area, so what’s the alternative (aside from it being a total fabrication)? Are you saying that there’s a fish of that morphology that does not have gill slits visible laterally? Rays and skates have gills visible only when viewed ventrally, but their shape rules them out… a mammal would have a blowhole visible on the dorsal side and the tail would be oriented differently. Take the picture and slide it down to the bottom of your screen until the “mouth” is covered up and you are looking only at the upper half of the picture of the creature. All of a sudden it looks a lot like the shape of a large fish when seen dorsally (top down). Looks like they painted a “face” on the top of its head and those markings extending to the tail to make it look like we’re viewing it’s side instead. Possibly a shark with the pectoral fins removed (as Larry suggested), but I think the tendency with a shark that size would be to show us the mouth and teeth… generally a good sized shark makes an exciting enough picture that there’s no need to “dress it up”… because of that, I’m leaning towards some other type of large fish (giant wrasse?).

  25. norman-uk responds:

    Here is another picture which may give some perspective.

    It seems likely there are other photographs in some archives which would at least give the location, if not postcards.

  26. jewpunxxx responds:

    It seems to me that i agree with whoever it was that said we are looking at the dorsal side of the creature, and when i look at it like that i see a large pinneped,….. however, at first glance it looks like a graboid, you know from that movie

  27. Goodfoot responds:

    Peltboy: Yeah, all that guy on the right needs is a Mannlicher-Carcano and a commie newspaper!

  28. sumyungai007 responds:

    It looks like a giant Sturgeon with its fin removed to me. Possibly like this one from China?


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