San Francisco Sea Serpent, 1885

Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 29th, 2009

The Clark twins of San Francisco contribute the following:

We found this 1885 newspaper article in the New York Times archives. The article was first published in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 28, 1885. We find this article interesting because it establishes that there was a reported multiple eyewitness sighting of a Sea Serpent in SF Bay in 1885, which was similar in appearance to the animal we have seen.

The “Goat Island” mentioned in the article is now named “Yerba Buena Island.”



From the San Francisco Chronicle, March 28.

The existence of the giant sea serpent is no longer in doubt. It has been seen in the waters of San Francisco Bay. According to the statement of J.P. Allen, of the Bank of California, he and several other residents of Alameda were standing on the deck of the ferryboat Garden City yesterday morning, at about
8:00 o’clock, about midway between Alameda and Goat Island, when a huge black monster suddenly raised its head and neck from the water to a height of about 10 feet, opened its jaws, displaying a mouth two feet wide filled with rows of sharply pointed teeth, and after taking a curious glance at the passing steamer plunged again into the water, at the same time elevating a sixty-foot tail, with which it thrashed the water for some time, after which it made off in the direction of the Alameda baths, near which some fishing boats were anchored. Some incredulous persons to whom the story was told say that the ferryboat struck a floating spar, forcing one end downward in the water and elevating the other as the steamer passed over the submerged end, and that after the steamer had passed the elevated end fell back into the water with a splash. We may expect soon to hear of the destruction of the Alameda fishing fleet, or more probably the establishment of a hotel for Summer boarders in the vicinity of the Alameda wharf.

Besides the sea serpent, which gave a powerful impetus to the romancing powers of several reputable gentlemen crossing on a ferryboat, the bay yielded a sea monster of such strange appearance that the oldest tar on the seawall has not yet given it a name. The monster was first seen by Carl Sevening and John Peat, who were rowing near the North Heads at about 9 o’clock yesterday morning. The animal exposed a fiercely mustached head of a shape between that of a seal and a sea lion, surveyed the scene, took a dislike to the rowboat, and charged upon it. Just before reaching the boat the monster dived and came up under the boat, lifting it and the occupants, but not capsizing it. The enemy made a second
appearance on the opposite side of the boat, four foot off, and was met with active battle.

Peat dealt a blow on the monster’s head with an oar, knocking it out for a moment, and Sevening followed with another blow which knocked the beast silly. The pair then secured the animal with the boat’s painter and began towing it, when the enemy came to time for a second round. This it began by towing the boat
rapidly for a quarter of a mile. It then came to the surface for breath, when Sevening landed it a blow, gaining first blood, and ending the fight with a square knock-out. The enemy turned belly up and was towed to the foot of Larkin street, where it took six men to land it. The animal measured 6 feet in length and weighed about 300 pounds. It had green eyes and a long, white, bristling mustache. It had two flippers
of great strength, which measured 1 1/2 feet in length. The capture will be kept at the foot of Larkin street until noon today.

The New York Times
Published April 5, 1885.


Thank you.

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.

6 Responses to “San Francisco Sea Serpent, 1885”

  1. Richard888 responds:

    “at the same time elevating a sixty-foot tail, with which it thrashed the water for some time…”

    I am not sure if the San Fransisco Chronicle still circulates today as I couldn’t find a main website for it in the first page of Google (excuse my ignorance) but judging from the name it sounds like it was a respectable paper in its time.

    Clearly we don’t read unusual stories like this in today’s “respectable” press. This is justified by many cryptozoologists as meaning that cryptids spotted in the 1800’s and covered in the press of those times must have become recently extinct. But we do read stories of this sort today in another type of press… tabloids.

    So a good question to ask is, did the respectable press in the old days include the occasional tabloid articles to increase sales? Did the distinction between “respectable” press and “tabloid” press form later?

  2. Munnin responds:

    Hmmm. The second part of this article sounds like it could be a sensationalized account of an encounter with a Sea lion, although the behavior would be out of the ordinary, and the head is described as “between that of a seal and a sea lion.” But being six feet and 300 lbs would make it kind of a small one. Not all that much of a “monster,” really. Such an individual would be dwarfed by the size of an Elephant seal.

  3. Shelley responds:

    Was it, in fact, an elephant seal, or some other kind of marine mammal from further north? My knowledge of the more obscure ones is vague, but this sounds far more like a real animal than most sea serpent/monster stories.

    And yes, the division between tabloid and respectable newspapers was a 20th century invention, as in the NY Times motto, “All the news that’s fit to print.” After the excesses of some of the Hearst chain, and the need for real news in WWI, newspapers only printed “sea monster” stories in the “silly season,” the late summer, when hard news was scarce, and it was usually presented with tongue very visibly in cheek. Which must make it very hard for cryptozoologists, as Loren will tell you.

  4. urglen3 responds:

    I can believe this story. For a year I lived and went to cooking school on Treasure Island. It is a man made island connected to “goat island” Yerba buena island. It was built for the 1939 worlds fair. Living on the island for year I saw a lot of sea life. The weirdest thing I saw was on the Oakland side of the island it was about 3am and it gets very dark on that side of the island. I saw something moving under the water, the only reason I saw it was the fact that it faintly glowed a light blue in spots, it was about 20 to 25 feet long. I don’t know what it was but living on the island and growing up on Lake Ontario and seeing everything from otters to sturgeon, I am a believer.

  5. springheeledjack responds:

    There is actually a good history of similar critters seen in the Bay area…there were a couple of guys a few years back who had video footage of several somethings, long and patterned swimming in the bay. There have been several sightings over the years…would be good if someone could catalog all of the sightings to see if there are any patterns for times of year, day, etc. to see if these things have migration times, following food, or just come into places like Frisco Bay when they feel like it.

  6. sfseaserpent responds:

    Richard888, The San Francisco Chronicle is a reputable daily newspaper and is still being published today.

    Springheeledjack, we are the two guys you referred to in your comment. We have been cataloging our sightings as well as the sightings of these animals in the S.F Bay and along the S.F. Bay area coastline by other eyewitnesses.

    We found it very interesting that the description of the mouth and teeth of the animal which was sighted in S.F. Bay in 1885 matches exactly the description of the mouth and teeth of the animal given by Marlene Martin who was one of the eyewitnesses of the October 31, 1983 Stinson Beach sighting. She was able to get a good view of the animal’s open mouth and teeth when she watched the animal through binoculars.

Sorry. Comments have been closed.

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