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How Dangerous is the St. Augustine Monster?

Florida’s warm, humid climate is the perfect environment for strange inhabitants such as the St. Augustine Monster.

This giant creature washed ashore in the late 19th century, stumping scientists and researchers about its origins. The monster’s identity took nearly a century to confirm, and what the experts discovered will probably shock you.

Are you ready to learn about this mysterious sea creature? 

Let’s dive in! 

What Is the Story of the St. Augustine Monster?

The St. Augustine Monster first appeared in November of 1896. Two young boys discovered the creature while exploring Anastasia Island, Florida. The boys shared their discovery with the head of the St. Augustine Historical Society and Institute of Science, Dr. De Witt Webb.

Dr. Webb estimated the creature’s weight at five tons or more. He noted that the corpse was decomposing and, based on its condition, was likely maimed by other sea creatures. He also noted the many stumps of tentacles or arms covering its surface. It was very light pink, with a silvery sheen in the sunlight.

After the carcass was nearly swept away by the tides in January, Dr. Webb decided to move it inland. This proved to be very difficult. 

When Dr. Webb and his team attempted to move it, they found that “a dozen men pulling at the ropes weren’t enough to even turn the monster over.” They finally moved it to Anastasia Island’s South Beach, where it remained.

Dr. Webb determined the carcass was that of a massive octopus. He contacted Yale professor Dr. Addison E. Verrill, who seconded Dr. Webb’s determination. Dr. Verrill spoke to the press in 1897 and called the creature “Octopus giganteus verrill.”

However, the monster’s identity would change over the years. Scientists wouldn’t know for certain what it was until the 1980s.

Stormy clouds in St. Augustine, Florida
The theories behind what the St. Augustine Monster could actually be changed throughout the years.

What Is the Truth Behind the St. Augustine Monster?

The St. Augustine Monster was one of the first examples of a “globster.” A globster is an unidentified organic mass that washes up on the shoreline of an ocean or other body of water. A scientist named Ivan T. Sanderson invented the term to describe a mysterious carcass that washed up on the shores of western Tasmania in the 1960s.

Dr. Verrill, who initially claimed the monster was a giant octopus, later recanted his statement. After surveying a sample of the carcass, he decided it was actually the upper part of a sperm whale’s head. This claim went unchallenged for many years.

Eventually, interest in the St. Augustine Monster resurfaced, thanks to the rising popularity of sci-fi media and cryptozoology books in the late 1960s. Some speculated that the monster was no sperm whale head but an alien corpse. This renewed fascination resulted in a series of tests over the next 15 years.

While testing in the 1970s and 1980s pointed towards the octopus theory, scientists determined in 1995 that the mass consisted of collagen. By 2004 a DNA test conclusively proved that the St. Augustine Monster wasn’t a monster at all. Instead, it was a giant hunk of whale blubber!

Pro Tip: While in Florida, spend the night at the Best Camping Spot in St. Augustine, Florida.

Fossil of a sea monster in Florida
While the ocean is full of many scary creatures, the St. Augustine Monster was no more than a giant hunk of whale blubber.

Can Whale Carcasses Explode?

You may wonder, how does a five-ton chunk of whale blubber end up alone on a beach? Is it common for whale parts to appear on beaches?

Whales are the largest mammals on earth and reach their massive sizes due to the low-gravity conditions of the ocean. 

During decomposition, mammal carcasses release gases like methane and ammonia, which typically escape through body openings like the mouth. But scientists believe that some whale carcasses are so heavy that these openings become blocked.

Whale blubber contributes further to this problem. A decomposing whale is already very bloated since these gases have nowhere to go. The extra layer of nearly impenetrable fat around the animal’s body makes the situation even more ominous. If enough pressure builds, the carcass can explode.

One such explosion occurred in 1970 in Florence, Oregon. Local officials hoped to discard a beached whale by detonating dynamite. 

Despite warnings from a military veteran who said the dynamite would react badly with the decomposition gases, the project moved forward. The massive explosion resulted in enormous chunks of blubber flying as far as two miles away!

These statistics make it easy to imagine how the St. Augustine Monster wound up on a Florida beach. This mammoth piece of blubber was likely expelled from a whale carcass at a high rate of speed.

Pro Tip: Go hunting for sea monsters at these 7 Best Florida Beaches (And Awesome Nearby Campsites).

So, How Dangerous Is the St. Augustine Monster?

The St. Augustine Monster didn’t turn out to be the deep sea monster many hoped it was. But the monster and other globsters like it should be regarded as dangerous.

Beached whales and chunks of blubber won’t attack you. But they may be under tremendous pressure or covered with dangerous bacteria. Believe it or not, the tools used in 2001 to harvest the meat of a beached whale stank of rotten whale meat more than ten years later. 

Decomposing whales are rife with bacteria and germs, and the risk of explosion is a real danger too! If you discover a beached whale or globster, it’s probably best to report it and leave it alone.

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