This unique, ancient whale-like carcass washed up on the Gambian sea shore in 1983, and has fueled years of speculation regarding its unusual origins… and the fate of its carcass.
Unfortunately the histories of these curious carcasses are plagued with non-existent or poorly executed scientific scrutiny. Such is the case with the potentially monumental find known as the Gambian Sea monster (affectionately referred to as “Gambo”) which was discovered on June 12, 1983, by amateur naturalist, Owen Burnham.
Burnham, a 14 year-old British native who spent a large portion of his life in West Africa studying its fauna, stumbled across this incredible corpse while taking a walk with some members of his family. The carcass was half-buried in the sand on a resort peppered stretch of Gambia’s famous Bungalow Beach, which faces the Atlantic Ocean.
Unlike most cases involving beached carcasses, Gambo showed almost no sign of decomposition, with the exception of a rear flipper, which had been partially ripped from the side of the remains, revealing the intestines beneath.
Instantly intrigued by his find – though distraught by his lack of a camera – Burnham began to take extensive notes regarding this carcass. The beast measured over 14-feet in length and was covered with brownish skin, with the exception of its underbelly, which bore a paler hue. The animal was also reported as having a short neck, a head that was almost 5-foot in length, four, paddle-like flippers, no dorsal fin, a five foot tail and an extended pair of jaws, which contained a total of 80, conical and extremely sharp teeth.
Burnham’s first assumption was that the creature must be some form of cetacean, but when he noticed the nostrils at the end of its snout, he became befuddled. His confusion was due to the fact that during the course of their evolution all know marine cetaceans (including dolphins, porpoises and whales) had lost their back pair of flippers and developed blow holes in place of nostrils.
These descriptions have encouraged some scholars to theorize that the carcass may be a heretofore unknown species of whale or possibly even a relic cetacean like the Zeuglodon.
Tragically, not long after the discovery of this fascinating carcass, local Gambian tourist traders cut off the creature’s head and sold it as a souvenir before burying the rest of the corpse beneath the sand on the upper beach.
Although there are many theories regarding the identity on this mystery monster – Cryptozoologist Chris Orrick has suggested that it was nothing more than a mangled Shepherd’s Beaked Whale, while LOREN COLEMAN proposed that it may be an unknown form of whale. Dr. Karl Shuker, who originally broke the story, speculated that this beast may be a short necked variety of plesiosaur known as the pliosaur or a long extinct sea crocodile named thallatosuchian. Even more recently he has referred to this creature as “the last of the mosasaurs.”
Rumors circulated during the 1990’s, that a team had been sent to Gambia in order to exhume the corpse. Upon their arrival they were allegedly greeted with the unfortunate information that a police station had been erected directly above the animal’s reported resting sight. This fact made their already illegal endeavor all the more dangerous and our intrepid explores unfortunately returned home empty handed.
As recently as 2006, an expedition by the Centre for Fortean Zoology was met with bitter disappointment when they followed Burnam’s map to the site of the creature’s alleged burial they were shocked by the fact that a nightclub had been built on the exact spot.
After a cursory dig, made all the more treacherous by the fact that the nightclub’s owner was the President of Gambia’s brother, they found no evidence of the beast. When team members interviewed locals in an attempt to identify the creature they were told that the remains had been that of a dolphin. Dr. Shuker responded to the dolphin hypothesis in the CFZ’s “2006 Gambian Expedition ” blog:
“As for the Gambian sea serpent: I am sad, though not overly surprised, that the body was not recovered – it was always most likely that after having been buried on a beach over 20 years ago, its remains would have disappeared, which is a great pity as its conclusive identification would have ended a longstanding mystery. As it is, the naming of it as a huge dolphin by the eyewitness interviewed by the team is unfortunately of little if any use in furthering the matter of its identity. Many years ago, this creature’s principal eyewitness, Owen Burnham, an honorary Senegambian Mandinka fluent in their language, revealed to me a very pertinent piece of etymological information…
The local tribes’ people in this area of West Africa do not create new names for any rare or mysterious creature encountered by them. Instead, even if it only vaguely resembles a more common animal, it is immediately called by the name that they give that common animal. So if a mystery animal had, for example, a dolphin-like beak, or dolphin-like flippers, this would be enough for them to call it a dolphin, irrespective of any non-delphinoid features that it possessed, which, in the Gambian beast’s case, included nostrils at the end of its beak, a long fluke-less tail, two pairs of limbs, and no dorsal fin…
It seems safe to say that the mystery of just what Owen did see lying on Bungalow Beach two decades ago is destined to remain precisely that, but the CFZ team should be congratulated for their valiant bid to solve it by actually going out to the source and seeking the carcass.”