• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

In 1877, also near the Coronados, Chinese fishermen watched a 100-foot creature with a long neck bobbing its reptilelike head up and down in the water, as if feeding.

In 1889, John Bailhache saw a “round and snaky” 100-foot monster near Cedros Island off Baja. The creature was taking large bites from a dead 30-foot whale. The head was “like a turtle,” only much larger, and the body had five or six legs, “each webbed and horned like the wings of a dragon.” When it ate, the beast made a “horrible wheezing or hissing sound.”

Bailhache and his crew were relieved when the “thing” arched away from the carcass and headed out to sea, “for if inclined, it could have taken our little schooner at a mouthful.”

Bernard Heuvelmans, who has made the most thorough study of sea serpents (and who believes there could be as many as nine different kinds throughout the world), cites several eyewitness accounts of the San Clemente Monster in the 1950s, including one a mile off La Jolla in 1954. For 25 minutes Phil Parker and Grant King watched a creature with a head and shoulders like a “bull gorilla” but no face. “It wasn’t a whale, and it wasn’t a sea lion,” said Parker. “And it sure didn’t look like a snake.”

By the early ’60s, when the Navy used the island to test torpedoes, depth charges, and eventually the “variable depth launch” Polaris missile, sightings of the San Clemente Monster ceased. Something akin to the creature has been occasionally seen since — usually far from shipping lanes — off the southeast coast of Alaska and the Gulf of California. ■

Next time: Earthbound anomalies.


  1. Bernard Heuvelmans: “De omni re scibili” (all things that can be known) was Pico della Mirandola’s way of describing his interests — to which Voltaire added “et quibusdam aliis” (and some others).
  2. Herbert Hensley: “Regardless of delusions founded upon floating kelp and, perhaps, the heads of big sea elephants — or plain hoaxing — there is a mass of startlingly convincing evidence for occasional and brief appearances of these monsters.”
  3. Rudyard Kipling: “For truth is a naked lady, and if by accident she is drawn up from the bottom of the sea, it behooves a gentleman either to give her a pink petticoat, or to turn his face to a wall and vow that he did not see.”


Bandini, Ralph, “I Saw a Sea Monster,” Esquire Magazine for Men, June 1934; Tight Lines, Los Angeles, 1932; Men, Fish, and Tackle: The Story of J.A. Coxe, Los Angeles, 2006.

Buxton, Michael, “Sea Serpents of San Diego,” San Diego Historical Society ms.

Hensley, Herbert, Early San Diego: Reminiscences of Early Days and People, San Diego Historical Society ms.

Heuvelmans, Bernard, In the Wake of Sea Serpents, New York, 1968.

Kipling, Rudyard, “A Matter of Fact,” The Science Fiction Stories of Rudyard Kipling, ed. John Brunner, New Jersey, 1994.

Oudemans, Antoon Cornelis, The Great Sea Serpent, Leiden, 1892.

Weisman, Dan, “Hodgee, the Friendly Lake Hodges Monster: Fact or Fiction?” North County Times, November 24, 2001.

Articles in the San Diego Union, the San Diego Sun, the New York Times, and the London Times.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!