Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Right is more precious than peace.

War is often insane. None more so than the First World War. At the end of the four year period between 1914-1918 over 20 million people had died, and another 21 million people were seriously wounded. And all because Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot to death in his car by Gavrilo Princip.

Princip was a member of Young Bosnia, a radical political organisation who's goal was to unify the state of Yugoslavia by violently destroying Austria-Hungry, the throne of which Ferdinand was an heir to. Princip's group had attempted to blow up the Archduke's motorcade earlier that day but instead had destroyed the car directly behind Ferdinand's. Gavrilo, having learned that their plans had not come to fruition, went and got himself a sandwich (Gee Note: Hey, even a cold blooded murderer's gotta eat). Upon leaving the café he spied Ferdinand's car pull up in the same street, the driver having taken a wrong turn and then stalled the engine. Princip drew his pistol and from a distance of five feet unloaded in to the back of car, killing both the Archduke and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. Ferdinand's last words were begging his wife to stay alive for the sake of their children.

As Austria-Hungry started to retaliate against the Kingdom of Serbia, alliances formed all across Europe. And within a month the entire continent was ravaged by war, battles being fought over pretty much every square inch of land.

How crazy is that? I mean forget for a moment that the Young Bosnian's must have thought that Austria-Hungry would crumble to it's knees after the death of Franz Ferdinand, and not lash out and start kicking the holy hell out of Serbia. Forget that Ferdinand was actually on his way to the hospital to visit those hurt in the earlier attack when a bullet ripped through his neck.

Instead, think about this. 20 million people died because of an amazingly inept chauffeur and a ham roll. I don't know about you, but that kind of worries me a bit.

Anyway it was in the aftermath of all this madness, in the midst of the war to end all wars, that a German Submarine named U-28 came in to conflict with a British ship called the Iberian. U-28, which by the end of the war was responsible for sinking 39 ships in total, was more than a match for its British counterpart and a single torpedo was enough to down the steamer. In fact she sank so quickly that, according to the report of the U-boat's captain George Von Forstner, “its bow stuck up almost vertically into the air.”

And then according to the captains log something quite unexpected happened. (Gee Note: Which reminds me, does anyone remember that awful song they used for the theme song to “Star Trek: Enterprise”? Well it was also used in the soundtrack for “Patch Adams”, which is even more of a reason to hate it if you ask me. Any time the punchline to the last “joke” of a movie is Robin Williams' naked bottom, I think people should be legally allowed to throw soda cans at a cinema screen in protest).

Approximately 25 seconds after the hull had disappeared from view an explosion underwater caused pieces of the ship to rocket up some 80 feet in to the air. And with them, a sixty foot long aquatic crocodile with large flippers for limbs.

No, really.

According to Von Forstner he and six of his fellow crewmen watched the beast writhe amongst the debris for a full 10 seconds before it sank out of sight. And then they simply went about their business looking for the next British vessel to send to the watery depths. Well, there was a war on after all.

Two things are really interesting about this account. One, it's reported by a bunch of super serious German's hardened by a particularly bloody and brutal war. Secondly it accurately describes an animal called a Mosasaur. Which, um, died out approximately 65 million years ago.

And, amazingly, it may not be the first instance of a Mosasaur pleasantly swimming around and minding it's own business before being rudely interrupted by a bunch of sailors.

Almost 100 years earlier, January 13th 1852 to be precise, the whaler Monongahela was cruising around the North Pacific, hoping to catch sight of one of 'em big ol' mammals (Gee Note: I have no idea why but I always think of Whalers as good old country boys). Instead they came across a vast “sea serpent” which was apparently over 100 feet in length, with a head like a crocodile, and large flippers instead of limbs.

Now the crew of the Monongahela were a good bunch. And, like most folks back in the day, they were aware of humanity's carbon footprint on the Earth and the absolute need for conservation. And so when they came across this gigantic marine animal, possibly the only one of it's kind, they allowed it to swim away with the least amount of hassle before commenting amongst themselves about the glory of nature and how wondrous it can be.

Well OK, not really. Instead upon spotting the creature the crew of the Monongahela immediately manned their stations and spent the next 16 hours harpooning the snot out of the poor thing until it eventually died. Then the crew cut it's head off and placed it in a pine box so that when they docked they'd be able to show off their discovery to the public at large (Gee Note: Man, I should run a poll. Question : If Bigfoot walked right past you and you had a loaded gun in your hand would you fire at him? A) Only if it was aggressive towards me. B) No, I would never injure an animal so rare as Bigfoot. C) I would fire a warning shot and try and capture it. D) Screw animal rights. Kill the Goddam thing. We're gonna be rich).

As it happens the Monongahela sank off the coast of the Umnak Island near the Aleutians a couple of weeks later, never having made it to shore with it's prize catch. And so the identity of the animal, along with the Monongahela, were lost to the bottom of the ocean. Probably forever.

Having said that, it appears that these two cases suggest that a great big lizard fish might still be lurking in the waters out there, 65 million years after it was supposed to have perished. Now the thought that somewhere in the murky depths a prehistoric animal could still be thriving and surviving may be scoffed at by some. And to tell the truth is does sound a little far fetched.

But then most people thought that about the Coelacanth, which fossil records show became extinct roughly around the same time as the Mosasaurus. Well, that was until someone intrepid soul found a Coelacanth alive and well off the coast of South Africa in 1938. Since then it's “extinct” status has been quietly rethought.

So it could be possible, theoretically anyway, that the head of a Mosasaur is lying underneath the shipwreck of a 19th century whaler, or that one became an unlikely victim of a First World War fight between the Germans and the British.

If that's the case then it also begs the question of just how unlucky can one species of reptile be?


Naveed said...

"20 million people died because of an amazingly inept chauffeur and a ham roll."

Man that kinda puts the world in perspective.

Also my answer to your poll is E) Ask the bugger out for a drink.

Rob said...

Wouldn't suprise me if it were true. The reason I got into marine biology was that we still know less about the depths of the ocean than the far side of the moon.

And my contribution to that knowledge... Erm...

One puzzlement, though. If the Monongahela never made it to shore with its prize, how do we know any of those details? Ship to shore telegraphy wasn't invented until fifty years after that event.

Gee said...

Good point Naveed, I left that one out :-)

Rob, apparently the Monongahela encountered the Rebecca Sims on it's travels and a written account was passed to her Captain, a chap named Gavitt. Gavitt then passed it on to The Times of London, who printed the story on March 10 1852.

For years it was thought to have been an urban legend, until 1953 where Paul Edwards in his book Stranger than Science named Gavitt as the man who carried back the original report and also discovered that the name board of the Monongahela washed up on the shore of the Umnak Islands.

There you go, everything you wanted to know about the Monongahela but wished you hadn't asked.

Jae said...

Wouldn't it be awesome if Mosasaurs really were still out there? One can dream...

And my answer the the Bigfoot question? F) Have a high quality camera on me and a professional photographer so I can take a decent picture, and whilst not live wealthy live a life happily knowing the bigfoot was real...

Gee said...

Jae and, retrospectively, Naveed: How about G) See if you can teach him the "Macarena" so by the time he heads off in to the woods he'll be able to show the rest of the forrest creature's what human society is all about.

"Grunt grunt grunt grunt Heyyyyy Macarena grunt grunt".

And, of course, Bigfoot is real. We just haven't found him yet

Naveed said...

I propose we also give him a can of Spam. After all, it is one of mankind's greatest creations according to some people.

Gee said...

"Dear BFRO. Some suggestions in aiding you with your cause to prove the existence of Bigfoot. Maybe it would help if next time you're on one of your expeditions you take with you a really good photographer with a top class camera and a lyric sheet for the "Macarena". Oh, and a tin of spam. And a copy of David Mamet's excellent book "Bambi vs Gdzilla". Good luck!"

Naveed said...

Yes! It could work, it could work!