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Moore's Beach Monster
Santa Cruz, California
By Jordan P. Niednagel
© - 03

INTRODUCTION - My research has been enjoyable, I'll start off by saying that. The creature of Monterey Bay, washed ashore the rocky beach of Moore more than 70 years ago, has long intrigued and spurned my imagination as few other things have. Why? Besides the obvious, I really don't know. Perhaps because the discovery was so popular that they named the place of its occurrence after the man who found it, Charles Moore. Perhaps because countless people, among them a well-known scientist, twice president of the natural History Society of British Columbia, could not dogmatically identify it. Or, perhaps just because I think this find is vastly different from the others. In my book, it stands unique.

The information I am about to convey is coming from the following type of individual: One who, at one time or another, came from both perspectives. In the beginning, I was convinced the creature was a species of plesiosaur, an animal claimed to be long extinct by mainstream science. Later, I came to the belief that, indeed, the animal was a beaked whale. Now . . . well, that is for the reader to discover.

So join me as I share a few thoughts, and then, with these thoughts in mind, I ask that you endeavor to make that ultimate, long-debated decision for yourself.

- J.P. Niednagel

The Discovery, The Area

Details of the initial discovery aren't known. Similarly, little is known about the discoverer, Charles Moore. The year was 1925, and the place a remote beach roughly two miles north of Santa Cruz. Dubbed "Moore's Beach" at the time, it is known today as Natural Bridges State Beach. Apparently, three connected arches carved out of a sandstone cliff inspired the naming of the area. The annual migration of monarch butterflies is a featured attraction, and the shore is backed by a eucalyptus grove, where the monarch butterflies arrive by the thousands in the fall.

One would think, after the name change, Moore would soon be forgotten. He wasn't. A creek in the vicinity, which drains into the ocean, is named Moore Creek. It is home to a number of ducks, coots and occasional migratory visitors of various kinds. Where it empties out at the beach, a wide and shallow pool has been formed that is popular with waterfowl.

I'd like to take a moment to describe an incident which reportedly happened some time before the discovery. A report was published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel of an account of a "terrific battle" between a dozen or more sea lions and a monster fish that had been observed by a Mr. E.J. Lear, days before Charles Moore found it. As stated by Mr. Lear himself:

"I was driving a team toward Capitola, when suddenly I was attracted by some young sea lions not far out. They were lined up and several large lions were swimming back and forth in front of them. Much farther out I saw the water being churned to foam and thrown high up in the air. It was shiny and I took it for a big fish. A dozen or more lions were battling it, and every once in a while all would raise out of the water. It looked to me as though all the sea lions were attacking it beneath as the monster came out of the water several times. In telling of the battle of that night I estimated its length at 30 feet.

"The battle continued as long as I could see it from the road. I was driving toward Capitola with a load of sand. I have not seen the monster on the beach, but it may have been that which I saw."

Evidence such as this should be taken with a grain of salt, though taken nonetheless. If the account be true, the strange animal was surprisingly mauled to death by sea lions, only to wash ashore a few days later. As to why it was mauled, that is zoologist guesswork.

The Descriptions

Disappointing. That's the only way to put it. The accounts and descriptions of the Moore's Beach Monster are so varied that one would think folks were describing two completely different animals. Similarities, however, do exist, and by pinpointing and identifying them one can seemingly come up with a generally good idea.

We'll begin with a well known Monterey merchant of a half-century ago. When telling of the beast, he described it as being a "serpent-like monster" approximately fifty feet in length, two feet in diameter, with a fish's tail, and a duck's head. Strangest of all, he took note of "elephant-like legs every few yards along the body," along with numerous "ivory toenails" on each one.

Our next description comes from the Monterey Peninsula Herald, which referred to the creature as a "freak of Father Neptune." They described it as being thirty-five feet in length, five feet in height, possessing a duck-shaped head, a tail like a whale, and "an odor which kept curious ones at a respectful distance."

According to the Santa Cruz News, the specimen was thirty-four feet long, its head bigger than a barrel, and its eyes bigger than an abalone. Also, it had a great oval shaped body with a neck seven feet long and thirty-six inches in diameter. Its body was covered with a coat of "semi-hair and feathers," and its mouth was like that of a duck's bill.

"In the Wake of Sea Serpents," Bernard Heuvelmans' authoritative book, discusses the monster in the following terms: "It was a strange creature, with a huge head longer than a man, tiny eyes and sort of duck's head beak. It was joined to the main body by a slender neck that seemed to be about thirty feet long."

We now come to perhaps the most intriguing description of them all, given by one of the most scientifically competent of them all. Mind the reader, not most competent, but one of the most competent. His name was E.L. Wallace, a man who served twice as president of the Natural History Society of British Columbia. He had the following to say about the animal:

"My examination of the monster was quite thorough. I felt in its mouth and found it had no teeth. Its head is large and its neck fully twenty feet long. The body is weak and the tail is only three feet in length from the end of the backbone. These facts do away with the whale theory, as the backbone of a whale is far larger than any bone in this animal. Again, its tail is too weak for an animal of the deep and does away with that last version.

"With a bill like it possesses, it must have lived on herbage . . . I would call it a type of plesiosaurus."

A stunning conclusion, no doubt. Later, Mr. Wallace offered the theory that the monster may have been preserved in a glacier for millions of years, finally being released by the gradual melting of ice, eventually ending up cast upon the shore in Monterey Bay.

In line with the "prehistoric" idea, another observation was offered by the respected Santa Cruz Judge W.R. Springer. Although he wasn't sure as to how to classify the animal into which "prehistoric" category, he was confident it was a monster from long ago. He described it as possessing a duck-like head, a twenty foot long neck, and "evidences of two short feet (or flippers, or fins) beneath the ugly gigantic head." In photographs shared later, you will see for yourself what he was referring to. Judge Springer was also quoted in a Santa Cruz newspaper as stating, "A monstrosity of the sea would probably best describe the strange creature. Should such a head as it possess be protruded over the rail of a vessel, it would be enough to put the hardest kind of an old tar on the water wagon for life."

Enough with the written descriptions. Let the reader see for himself, as below we provide most if not all of the photographs taken of the Moore's Beach Monster. (Credit - Special Collections, University of California at Santa Cruz)


In a short time, these photographs will be examined more closely. Before we do so, however, we must first familiarize ourselves with one particular species of animal that has been the focal-point of the Moore's Monster controversy.

Berardius bairdi, Baird's Beaked Whale

Visit virtually any site on the world-wide-web, read nearly any book ever authored, search far and wide for a detailed description and comparison of the Moore's Beach Monster in relation to the infamous Baird's Beaked Whale, and you will, my friend, come up empty-handed. Why? To my knowledge, no one has simply taken the time. The universal passage you will find is something similar to the following: "After several noted scientists scratched their heads for months over the strange duck-billed creature, officials from the California Academy of Sciences carefully inspected the creature's skull, and officially announced to the waiting world that the mysterious monster of Moore's Beach was a North Pacific type of beaked whale. This creature was described as being so rare that no name, except its Latin one, Berardius bairdi, had ever been bestowed upon it."

In short, this is pathetic research. Perhaps at the time, roughly around the year 1925, little was known about Baird's beaked whale. Today, however, there is much we do know. From photographs to migratory patterns to dietary habits, this "rare" species of whale is no longer rare, and no longer shrouded in a cloud of mystery. It is my pleasure, then, to introduce you to this mammal of mystique.

Berardius bairdi are the largest of the beaked whales, reaching a length of over 40 feet, though typically are smaller. They are in the family Ziphiidae, or beaked whales, and are in the Cetacean order. Listed as non-threatened, they inhabit deep waters (over 3,300 ft.) of the North Pacific Ocean.

Physically, Baird's beaked whale has a distinctively narrow beak, with the lower jaw extending beyond the upper. A pair of large teeth protrudes at the tip of the lower jaw, and behind these is a pair of smaller teeth. Female whales are generally larger than males and lighter in color, but have smaller teeth. Interestingly, adult males are commonly marked with scars, caused by their own species, suggesting that there is much rivalry and competition for leadership of groups of breeding females. The normal social unit is a group of 6 to 30, led by a dominant male. The whales mate in midsummer, and gestation lasts for 10 months, sometimes longer.

This species of whale holds to a strange migration pattern. The opposite of normal whale migration, they spend the summer in warm waters to the south of their range off California and Japan, then move northwards in winter to the cooler waters of the Bering Sea and similar areas. These movements could possibly be connected with the local abundance of food supplies. Deep divers, Baird's beaked whales feed on squid, fish, octopus, lobster, crabs and other invertebrates.

One explanation against the theory that the Moore's Beach Monster was a Baird's beaked whale is the idea that they don't come as far south as the central coast of California. This is false. Though rarely seen, they are a highlight of whale watchers. To rest the issue, the first head photograph above was, in fact, taken in Monterey Bay. Other evidence, however, does present roadblocks to the Baird's explanation, as we shall now analyze.


The Billed "Beaked Whale"

The creature of Moore's beach had undeniably undergone a serious amount of decay, as pictures #2 and #3 clearly reveal. This statement, however, must immediately be met with a contradiction. The head of the animal, at the time these photographs were taken, appears to be in excellent condition. This is without surprise, as typical decay of an animal will not effect the skull and head as severely and quickly as other softer and less protected (and supported) body parts. Therefore, to identify the creature of Moore's Beach with the greatest accuracy, it is necessary and seemingly mandatory to examine the head.

The Baird's beaked whale is widely known for its long cylindrical beak, a characteristic shared by nearly all whales in the Ziphiidae family. Upon examining not only photographs of the Moore's Beach Monster, but written descriptions of those who saw it first hand, we can only come to the realization that this simply wasn't a shared physical trait. The Santa Cruz News labeled it as having a "duck's bill;" Bernard Heuvelmans clearly stated in his book that it possessed a "duck's head beak;" and lastly, the renowned E.L. Wallace began his final statement by saying "With a bill like it possesses...", and upon noting this, came to the conclusion that "it must have lived on herbage." You, discerning reader and observer, what do you see? A beak, or a bill?

To the right of the apparent bill I have inserted a line showing its width (or height). This flat, extending protrusion is quite unlike that of a beaked whale. In fact, it is quite unlike that of any aquatic animal known today. To say that the lower mandible of this animal is similar to that of a beaked whale is simply untrue. Other features may give such an indication, but this feature not only doesn't, but stands in opposition to it.

Note also, if you will, the protruding crease in the center of the lower mandible, either by examining this picture or the one above. It appears to be a well-defined raised center divide of the duck-like bill. The significance? Perhaps there isn't one, other than that it adds further intrigue regarding the animal's identity. Like a duck, and just as the folks of 1925 described it themselves, this animal was by all means peculiar and unique.

The Toothless "Beaked Whale"

"I felt in its mouth and found it had no teeth." -E.L. Wallace

The question ultimately is: Can we accept these words of E.L. Wallace? Was he thorough? Did he handle his examination carefully and practically? These questions are the victim of continual debate. While some label him a "liar," others as "misguided," still others believe he studied and critiqued the Monster of Moore's Beach with accuracy and precision. I am of this group . . . I myself am inclined to believe that this president of the Natural History Society of British Columbia told the truth. Therefore, taking into account the words of Wallace, and examining the photographs for ourselves, it well appears that the strange animal was toothless. In further support of this fact is the absence of any mention of teeth by those who observed it.

Some time ago, I engaged in an email discussion with a somewhat well-known evolutionary cryptozoologist whom I will leave unnamed. During the "debate," the fact that the animal lacked teeth came to the forefront. In defense of this, he displayed this famous headshot (left) of the creature, pointing to the line of white, circular objects lining the mouth area (right). To be honest, I was shocked, not because I thought these were teeth, but because, even if they were, it still did not support his belief that the animal was a Baird's beaked whale. In fact, it further disproved it. Why? Let's review our zoology.

B. bairdii have two pairs of teeth, the first pair protruding 9 centimeters from the extended lower jaw. The second pair is roughly 20 centimeters behind the first and grow to about 5 centimeters. This, quite frankly, is all. In examining the Moore's head photograph, we can clearly see that this is not the case. First of all, these white circular objects could be anything from small barnacles to the ridges of the rocky shore underneath. Secondly, even if they are teeth, they are clearly located on the top mandible, unlike that of a Baird's beaked whale. Third, they are lined in a row, like that of a human being, and again unlike that of a Baird's beaked whale (or many beaked whales). Fourth, they look like human molars, flat and round, again unlike that of a Baird's specimen. Fifth, they appear to be on only one side of the jaw, that is, the far side, and can't be seen along the jaw line closest to us, which makes little sense.

To label these as teeth is nothing less than a strain. Furthermore, for E.L. Wallace and others to make no mention of them is in itself an absurdity. It is quite logical, therefore, to say that the Moore's Beach Monster, indeed, was simply a billed creature which possessed no teeth.

Could the teeth, however, have fallen out? A slight possibility, though a high improbability. The teeth of beaked whales are strong (they're not like sharks, with rows of teeth to spare), and by examining the fair condition of the head, there is little reason to believe that the animal's teeth, both in the front and middle of the lower mandible (two pairs), just fell out. Even by examining the protruding bill in the head photographs above, it well appears that this animal, like a duck, wasn't in need of teeth. The Baird's beaked whale is, in fact, so well-known for its teeth that it is also known as a Four-Toothed Whale, a Northern Four-Toothed Whale, and a North Pacific Four-Toothed Whale.

"Absurd," one may think. "What animal has a bill like a duck?" Well, there does exist the duck-billed platypus, a peculiar mammal quite unlike any other in the animal kingdom. Inhabiting Tasmania and southern and eastern Australia, the platypus sports a bill roughly 2.5 inches long and 2 inches wide which it uses to detect pray and stir up mud at the bottom of rivers in order to uncover the insects, worms, and shellfish on which it feeds. Most surprising about this animal is that it is venomous. Males possess a poison gland in the hind leg that opens through a bony spur on the ankle. The spur is used to defend against predators and possibly to defend its territory.

The platypus, like a duck, is a simple example that two widely different animals, part of two separate animal families, share a noticeable similar characteristic.

The Blowhole-Free "Beaked Whale"

When a blowhole is not mentioned by any of the recorded observers, it leads one to think. When, later in time, experts label the animal as a Baird's beaked whale, it then really causes one to think.

The Baird's beaked whale's blowhole is located on the head, almost in direct parallel with the eyes. Unlike some other species, it is not further back. When we examine the Moore's monster photographs, the head area is so well-defined that we can only wonder why a blowhole was not noted by observers. Simple neglect? Hard to imagine.


The conclusion to my personal research may surprise the reader. As one may have noticed, I did not touch upon the seemingly long neck of the animal, nor the elephant-like legs said to line the creature every few feet or so. Why? These characteristics can, more or less, be logically debated either one way or the other. If I were to take the time to share why I believe or don't believe the animal possessed a long neck, or elephant-like legs, explanations from the other side of the coin could realistically be just as believable. For instance, scientists from the California Academy of Sciences said the apparent long neck of the creature was the result of decay and rolling-up of the body by tidal waters. This, to be honest, could have been the case.

But while it could have been the case, as a careful observer of the strikingly clear photographs, I cannot help but see a well-defined, preserved, smooth-skinned creature. I see a round, robust neck attached at a near 45% degree angle (photograph #4), with a sharp, noticeable "chin." Observe, reader, the "neck" of the animal. Do you see twisted, rolled-up flesh? Or do you see a round, beautifully skin-covered neck with two slight folds directly before it attaches to the head? These are the only observations I can make, and appears to be the only observations those who saw it could make. The question is, what can you make?

I do not want to confuse the reader, however, by conveying that I believe the animal was a species of plesiosaur. I do not come to this conclusion. A conclusion I do come to, however, is that this animal of Moore's Beach was, in short, not a Baird's beaked whale. There are just too many problems . . . too many conflicting evidences.

Am I being so brash as to disagree with qualified, well-educated scientists? Perhaps. We mustn't forget the many notable scientists who, for instance, carefully examined the archeoraptor fossil years ago, proclaiming it to be a genuine missing link. Later, it was found to be a complete hoax. The list of such wrong conclusions in the scientific community could literally go on for pages and pages.

One particular question lingers in my mind. If Berardius bairdi was a species relatively unknown at the time, how were the researchers at the California Academy of Sciences able to positively identify the skull of the Moore's Beach creature as such? Did they have another actual skull of a true specimen to compare it with? It seems little likely, as a name had not even yet been coined to the species. What they actually possessed as comparative identification is a question I would wish to be answered.

Cetacean. Was the animal part of the whale or dolphin family? Answer: it very well could have been. Was it, however, a species that we already have identified? My conclusion: No. This billed, toothless animal was a unique creature that seemingly possessed no blowhole and a mouth unlike any other aquatic species. This statement must be met with balance. The blowhole, if one believes the animal was not a Baird's beaked whale, could have been located farther along the body, perhaps where decay had gotten the best of it. For this reason and others, yes, it could have been cetacean, though one haunting description still, and always will, linger.

"...The body is weak and the tail is only three feet in length from the end of the backbone. These facts do away with the whale theory, as the backbone of a whale is far larger than any bone in this animal." E.L. Wallace

I wish I could come to a more definite conclusion. In one sentence: The animal was not a Baird's beaked whale, though might have been apart of the cetacean family as an unknown species.

Is it zoologically possible for a whale or close relative to possess a long, narrow neck? It is. In a day when we know more about the moon than we do about the earth's oceans, anything is possible. Furthermore, to most it comes a surprise to learn that Monterey Bay boasts the deepest underwater trench of the Pacific Coast. Described by scientists as "one of the world's largest and least studied underwater chasms," this great natural abyss, known as the Monterey Submarine Canyon, could possibly be home to hundreds of unknown species.

Some may agree . . . many may disagree with my conclusions. I have done my best to perform a solid, unbiased examination of the monster of Moore's Beach. I can only hope to do more, and should fear of doing any less.


1. Shipwrecks and Sea Monsters of California's Central Coast, Ghost Town Publications, Carmel, California. 1975.
2. Cetacea, Beradius bairdii: Baird's Beaked Whale,
3. California State Parks, Natural Bridges SB,


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