In 1977, a Japanese fishing boat named the Zuiyo Maru hauled in a creature measuring around 33 feet long and weighing about 4,000 pounds off the coast of New Zealand. The creature had gotten caught in the boat’s fishing net about 1,000 feet underwater.
Crewmembers initially thought the creature to be either a rotten whale or a giant turtle missing its shell. Upon closer inspection, though, the creature appeared to have an elongated neck, small head, and symmetrical front and rear flippers similar to descriptions of the infamous Loch Ness Monster.
Five photographs were taken by the Zuiyo Maru’s Michihiko Yano; three of the creature hoisted in the air, and two of the creature after it had slipped out of the netting and onto the ship’s deck. Fearing that the rotten smell and slimy consistency of the carcass would spoil the fish that the boat had hauled in earlier, the decision was made to throw the creature back into the water.
Before that, though, Yano had the foresight to measure the carcass and cut some 42 pieces of fibrous material from one of the fins. He later sketched the following drawing:
Once back in Japan, Yano went before a panel of scientists that had been convened to study the creature. According to a 1977 article in Oceans Magazine, Yano explained the following:
“It was caught in a trawl net. The surface of the body was loose and had white fat. I could see flesh here and there, but it was dark red and was rotten. There were no internal organs. Judging from the condition of the red meat, we think it was alive until a month ago. The fat was pulling away in threads like tofu (soybean curd) and the deck turned white. It smelled terrible. The smell was not that of fish, but of an animal. At first I thought it was a whale. I reported, ‘It’s a rotten whale. What shall we do?’ The captain (Akira Tanaka) ordered ‘Pull it up as it is.’ We wanted to release it in the sea outside the net basin … It’s common practice not to pick up the rotten dead body of a creature because the ships deal with food for human beings … The crewmen knew that if we picked it up, we’d have to clean and sanitize the decks. But we got it untangled from the net and pulled it out with ropes around the middle of the body. The rope wasn’t well handled and it fell suddenly. So we lifted the neck and I took the pictures.”
Several early theories abounded concerning the creature. Amongst the panel of scientists, it was offered that the carcass may have been that of a shark, a whale, a turtle, or some sort of long-lost prehistoric reptile.
“If it’s a reptile, it looks like a plesiosaur,” said one of the scientists. “The Plesiosauri had fins in the front and back, and the neck and tail weren’t too terribly long.” Others discounted the plesiosaur theory altogether. “When an animal dies and rots, it looks like something else, even though we’re used to seeing the creature when it’s alive,” said one scientist.