Tales from the Vault: Origin of the Cadborosaurus legend

Without a specimen, Cadborosaurus remains a myth, scientist says - Victoria  Times Colonist

Born in 1892, he lived most of his life at Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast. While mainly a novelist, he knew the wildlife well and wrote extensively on it. He was also known for his exceptional honesty and integrity. So when he told the writer Howard White he had seen a sea serpent, he was instantly believed.

In an article in Raincoast Chronicles, White recounts Evans’ story. One day in 1932, Evans and another man were working on a road. A neighbour came running up, urging them to come and see something.

They were looking at a strange sea creature through a telescope. It was dead calm on the water, in the sunny glow of a late afternoon. Through the telescope they could see a series of bumps on the water. “Sea lions,” said Evans, “They run in a line like that.” “Just keep watching,” said the neighbour.

At the end of the bumps a shaft, six or eight feet high, shot straight up into the air. Comparing it with a spar buoy out on the water, they estimated it as twelve inches wide. “Could be a log,” said Evans, casting around for a credible explanation. But then this “log” started to elongate horizontally, and they could see a head resembling a horse’s. This head then turned, and seemed to look straight at them. As Evans said, “It just put the hair up on the back of your neck.”

They wanted to record this, but no camera with film could be found. So Evans stopped looking and went back to his job. His daughter, though, continued to watch it as it swam along the coast. They all knew they were looking at something unusual, but nobody wanted to talk. They knew they would be laughed at, and risked damaging their reputations. So they kept quiet. Evans himself rarely mentioned it.

What Evans and his friends saw was probably a “cad-borosaurus” (or “Caddy” for short). This term was coined by the Victoria Daily Times in 1933 when a strange local sea creature came to its attention.

In October of that year, Major W.H. Langley, clerk of the provincial legislature, and F.W. Kemp, an employee of the provincial archives, and their families were sailing off Chatham Island.

They saw, not more than a hundred feet away, the dome of a creature’s back breaking the surface of the water. It was the size of a large whale, but in other respects entirely different. It was a dark greenish brown, with serrated marks along its back and sides. It disappeared quickly, but it prompted Kemp to recall a similar incident.

It had happened in approximately the same area in the previous year, in a narrow channel with steep rocks on one side. As he was watching, a “creature shot its head out of the water on to the rock, and moving its head from side to side appeared to be taking its bearings. Then fold after fold of its body came to the surface.” Its body, towards the rear, “appeared serrated, like the cutting edge of a saw.”

Its movements “were like those of a crocodile.” It had a sort of mane around its head, which drifted about the body. He estimated the creature to be at least 60 feet long, and about five feet thick.

There have been dozens of sightings of this creature since the 19th century, many from knowledgeable observers. There is a remarkable consistency to their descriptions. It has a long, snake-like body, with an elongated neck. Observers are often struck with the appearance of the head, which is variously described as horse, giraffe or camel-like. It has vertical humps in its body and is a very fast swimmer.

It is propelled by a horizontally split tail and often (but not always) has a serrated back.

In all its characteristics, it resembles no known creature. In fact, as Paul LeBlond and Edward Bousfield write in their book Cadborosaurus: Survivor From The Deep, “a visual comparison of Caddy with other major marine contenders [sharks, sea lions etc.] illustrates how strikingly different it is.” But it still cannot get scientific recognition. Because of a lack of hard physical evidence, it remains a “cryptid,” a creature whose existence is officially in doubt. And until an actual specimen or carcass comes along, it will probably remain that way.

Undoubtedly, there have been many misidentifications over the years. As we saw in the Evans story, a travelling herd of sea-lions could be mistaken for a multi-humped creature. Basking sharks are another problem. They bask on the surface of the water, up to 12 metres in length, and look like rough-barked logs. Now almost extinct in B.C., they were once common. Some Caddy sightings have proven to be basking sharks. But there are two encounters that are hard to dismiss.

One day in 1937, a sperm whale was brought in to the Naden Harbour whaling station. When the flensers cut into the whale’s stomach, they brought out a strange animal. They were familiar with everything a whale ate, but they had never seen anything like this. Its long, slender body, tail and horse-like head are all consistent with descriptions of a cadborosaurus. Photographs were taken of the creature, and confirm that this could be a young cadborosaurus. They shipped the carcass off to the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, but unfortunately it has since disappeared.

In the second incident, the writer William Hagelund tells of catching a baby cad-borosaurus just off De Courcy Island. Hagelund was a former whaler, and knew sea life extremely well. This was like nothing else he had ever seen.

He made a careful examination of it, and his description and drawing fit well with descriptions of Caddy. He kept it in a water-filled pail, intending to take it to the Pacific Biological Station. But the creature thrashed around in the pail, and was obviously very agitated. Hagelund knew it would probably not survive. So he let it go.

So just what is a cad-borosaurus? The long, thin body with movements like a crocodile would suggest a reptile.

The absence of layers of fat would make it cold-blooded, like fish and reptiles. Unlike fish, it is an air-breather, which means it must surface periodically to breathe. Sightings have suggested it can hold its breath for a long time, a mammalian characteristic.

Also mammalian is the likelihood that it bears its young alive. It would seem, then, that Caddy is a reptile, with some mammalian characteristics. Its closest relatives would be extinct marine reptiles such as early sea-going crocodiles.

It certainly wouldn’t be the only sea-creature to survive from the age of the dinosaurs. The coelacanth, a fish thought long extinct, was caught off the east coast of Africa in 1938. Our knowledge of sea animals has really barely begun, and the ocean depths will hold many surprises for us in the years to come.

Although we don’t know Caddy well, that hasn’t stopped the local community from having a relationship with him. He is depicted in native art, and there are stories of him in West Coast native folklore. There are numerous reports of sightings from early settlers.

But Caddy really exploded into public consciousness in 1933. Earlier that year, the Loch Ness monster became big news in Britain. That gave colonial papers, such as those in Victoria, licence to follow suit. So when Major Langley and company reported their sighting, the Victoria Daily Times made it front-page news. The newspaper’s managing editor, Archie Wills, made it his personal mission to publicize Caddy.

The competing paper, the Daily Colonist, at first tried to ignore it, but was forced to join in. They even tried to control the issue, by renaming the creature “Amy” Cadborosaurus. But “Caddy” prevailed.

With all the publicity, the number of sightings soared. Newspapers in North America and Europe picked up the story, and cartoonists had a field day.

The tourist industry loved Caddy, and the Chamber of Commerce was his greatest defender. It seemed as if Victoria was just waiting for a sea-monster.

But the euphoria did not last. After the 1940s, sightings dropped off. There was a low of six sightings in the 1970s, but the numbers climbed higher in the 1980s and ’90s. Like many other animals, Caddy may be feeling the effects of too many people, and declining in numbers.

Caddy is not the publicity engine he once was. Ask many Victoria residents today about Caddy, and you will get a blank look. But the reality of the sightings cannot be denied.

Over the years, too many knowledgeable and observant people have seen a creature unlike any other.

Caddy’s presence reminds us that there will always be oceans and monsters beyond our dreams.

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