As an author specializing in bestselling marine terror novels, I make a living off sea monsters. Novels are works of fiction, of course, but the sea holds a special place in my heart. That said, when an opportunity arises to read up on or investigate a sighting of what may have been an actual, undocumented marine beast a ” Super-Predator “, I’m all in.
Recently, I was approached on social media by a young man who, a few years back, experienced such a unique sighting that he desired to share it with me. His name is Paul George (used with permission) and he hails from the UK. In 2014, Paul was working on a Carnival Cruise Lines cruise ship, (Carnival Breeze) and from high up on the deck of his vessel, spotted an enormous marine animal swimming alongside.
Was This The Super-Predator
I spoke with him at length about the incident via Messaging on Facebook, discussing his sighting, and had him send me some emails as well. Although his story is of an anecdotal nature (he has no photos or video to corroborate the incident), I found Paul sincere and his story believable. That said, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. Most encounters with unknown animals, or “cryptids”, as they’re known, happen briefly and unexpectedly (I know, it happened to me), and the witness is often so startled that they freeze up and forget to attempt to document the experience.
Initial online conversation
I’m going to begin describing Paul’s sighting of what I’ve dubbed “The Carnival Cruise Monster” by reiterating our initial online conversation:
Paul: “…when it surfaced it was like a submarine where the water runs off of it. But this animal was almost flat and not round like a submarine. I’d say it looked rectangular or oval. But it was thick! It was clearly very powerful. But it seemed to just be relaxing as it went by us.”
Max: “The way you described the water running off it implies an animal of large size. When you say 50 feet did you have anything to compare it with to get that estimate? And was that the body or the overall animal?”
Paul: “I honestly think I am being conservative by saying that. I’ve seen our life boats in the water next to us and they are pretty large, but this was larger. Even from our distance everybody agreed it was whale sized. But it wasn’t long and thin like a whale. That was just what we saw. I don’t think we saw all of it.”
Max: “Interesting. Did you see any other parts? Was there a tail? Did it have limbs, legs, fins or flippers? And how big are the lifeboats?”
Paul: “I only saw the main body and briefly the head, or at least what I think was the head. It didn’t show all of itself by any means. The lifeboats are large enough to fit 150 people on but I don’t know the length in feet. It was just very slowly swimming by. As if it was just seeing what we were. It didn’t even seem bothered.
So, no means of propelling itself. We watched it for maybe 30 seconds. It was definitely swimming, but not exerting itself. The water was moving around it tho.
Whatever it used to swim stayed under water.”
Max: “Interesting. If it was a turtle the paddles would’ve been visible.”
Paul: “It can’t have been a turtle but that’s just what it reminded me of.”
Max: “Let’s talk about the head. Can you describe it?”
Paul: “A huge body. The head came up just once and only briefly. But it looked thick and long. This was a big animal and I’m sure I didn’t see all of it.”
Max: “Did you see the head or just a neck?”
Paul: “I think it was the head. It must have been 10 feet long from the bit I saw. The neck seemed the same length and thick too I’m sorry if this isn’t helping but it was a while ago.”
Max: “Did you see any features? Meaning eyes, nostrils, teeth, anything? BTW, a 150-person lifeboat is 9.6 meters, or 32+ feet
Paul: “Honestly no. Just the outline of the head. It was starting to get dark. The lifeboats are large yeah, this was much larger tho. That’s the only size comparison I can think of.”
Max: “Did it have scales, or was the skin smooth? And what color?”
Paul: “It was smooth mainly, but possibly some lines on it. Dark grey or black. And shiny.”
Max: “Sorry to be a pain. I appreciate you trying the best you can.”
Paul: “You’re not a pain. It’s nice to tell someone. Most people tell me it was a whale. But it wasn’t.”
Max: “You said it was definitely not a turtle of some kind. What makes you think so?”
Paul: “I’ve never known of a 50ft turtle! Plus, it didn’t have a shell.”
Max: “I ask because leatherbacks have lines on their back. But the size is impossible. How do you know there was no shell?”
(at this point, I sent Paul a photo of a juvenile Leatherback sea turtle that was black, with distinctive lines and stripes)
Max: Like this?
Paul: “The black shiny bit looks right! But wrong shape and no white. Plus, the head was massively bigger.”
Max: “How would the shape be different?”
Paul: “Less rounded. Less tapered in at the rear. But I’m not even sure I saw the whole body. Just what broke the surface.”
Max: And was the head larger in proportion to the body? Was it a different shape?”
Paul: “Much larger! It was longer and thicker.”
Max: “Interesting. So, you think maybe just the front of the animal broke the surface.”
Paul: “Whatever this was it was a powerful animal. It didn’t look like it was all at the surface. Maybe the head and upper back we saw.”
Max: “Important question: did it breathe at all? Meaning did you hear an exhale or see it blow like a whale or was it quiet?”
Paul: “Well I’d say so as it was at the surface for a while and its head came out for a moment like it took a breath. The water around its head went white for a moment but I didn’t hear a blowhole sound or anything.”
Paul: “It wasn’t a fish. No way. And I’m certain it wasn’t a whale.”
Max: “What shape was the head? Like a turtle, like a crocodile? Like something else? Was it oval or tapered or triangular?
Paul: “This may seem mad but we all said it looked like a crocodile head only bigger. Not as slender. Just very thick.”
Max: “Is there any chance it was some sort of squid? And maybe the head was a piece of tentacle?”
Paul: “No way! I know what squids look like and I’ve never known them to be black or this shape. Whatever this was it was heavy, I mean really heavy looking.”
Max: “I believe you. One more question, would you say it was a mammal or a reptile?”
Paul: “No idea! It had a thick black hide tho. Like a manatee or something, but not loose. Very tight. A bit like that turtle in that picture. If that turtle was all black with a larger head and a more square shape and was whale sized then I’d say it was a turtle.”
At this point, I asked Paul to send me an emailed statement, summarizing his sighting.
A few years ago, I worked as sports and fitness staff on cruise ships. On my last contract, I was working on the top deck one day on the Carnival Breeze. It was around August or September in 2014. Our home port was Miami and we were sailing from there towards Mexico, if I recall. It was early evening around 7-8pm and I was introducing the movie on the big screen.
Towards the port side of the ship I noticed a few people were beginning to talk quite excitedly and gather around each other. They were pointing at something in the water. I was only a few yards away, so I went to see what the fuss was. When I got amongst the crowd I looked over and saw what I can only say was an unknown sea creature. It was swimming quite calmly right by the ships side and was directly beneath where we were looking from deck 12. I think it was curious and checking us out. I briefly thought it was a whale but very quickly realised it wasn’t. It was black and shiny with what looked like tight, thick, leathery skin. It was quite square at the shoulders which looked like the main portion we could see. It was big! If I had to guess from what was above the water I’d say it was 50ft long at least. I’m using the ships life boats as a comparison here, I often saw them by the ships side and they are 30ft long approximately. Plus, I’m only going off the portion of the animal I saw, the tail (if it had one) never broke the surface. It could have been much longer. Because it was a broad animal (it was over half as wide as it was long) I honestly think there was more to the length we never saw. Plus, the head was massive. We only saw the head for a moment, it looked like it raised it up to take a gulp of air and then it submerged again. But the head was long too, maybe 10ft itself and over half as wide also. I never saw the teeth, as it was below us we only saw it from above. The neck was thick and powerful too. As crazy as it seems I’d say it looked fairly similar to a massive turtle but with a much bigger head. It was clearly a very powerful creature and I can’t get over how thick it looked. It was very robust. I never saw if it had arms or flippers unfortunately but it was propelling itself as it was swimming against the current slowly away from us. We only got to see the head and the upper back but it was a very impressive animal. We watched it for about 30 seconds. Because there were small waves it made it difficult to see very clearly and it was tough to make out too much detail. All I can say is that I spent the best part of 4 years working on cruise ships and saw many whales, sharks and other known sea animals. This was like nothing I’d seen before. The group of passengers looked to me to see if I knew what it was, there was a group of about 10 people and myself. I had to say that I had no idea and none of them did either. We just watched this animal swim by us as if it was relaxing in the twilight. As we were in the middle of the sea and nobody could get phone reception I don’t think anybody had their phones to record it. I did though and I took a couple of pictures as it was trailing off. But I lost that phone in one of the ports soon after. To this day I still don’t know what we saw that evening. But we all walked away in agreement that we had witnessed something special.”
I found my initial conversation with Paul, as well as his emailed summary, to be quite interesting. I gave him a few follow-up questions for starters.
- Can you describe the shape of the head in more detail, meaning was there any extant animal that it was reminiscent of, and if not, the general shape? (oval, triangular, rectangular…)
- Is there any way for you to check your employment records and try to get a more accurate idea of the date?
- Any idea how far out at sea you were, or how many days it had been since you’d left port?
- Do you know anyone on the ship that might have photos?
Paul: “Yeah sure. It was black and smooth like the body and I would say a cross between a turtle and crocodile?! Sounds weird but it was smooth, but long like an alligator or something, just not bumpy. All I know is the dates of my contract (July 14-December 14. But this was nearer the start than the end. I’m sure it was end of summer time. It was still hot. And this was a sea day I remember that, so we would have been quite far from land*. I was the only one I know of who got photos. None of the guests I was with had their phone. I’m sorry if this is a bit vague but I’m trying.”
*(Note: in a later conversation I confirmed with Paul that the ship’s position at this time was far out at sea, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico)
At this point, I had a few more conversations with Paul via Messenger, and got more details from him. I mentioned the “Super Predator”, and told him that, if his sighting did represent an unknown or undocumented species, it might well be the same type of animal. His response was: “This might sound silly, but a 9ft shark wouldn’t fill this thing up!”
(Note: I checked the speed of cruise lines, and found out that the standard vessels travel at an average of 20 knots (23 mph). High-speed ships are faster. How fast Are Cruise Ships? Based on Paul’s description of the animal keeping pace with the Carnival Breeze so easily, such an animal would, indeed, seem capable of chasing down and catching a fleeing ten-foot great white like “Shark Alpha”)
In the interest of being thorough, I also sent Paul videos and photos of whales being viewed from drones, to see if the body shape matched. This included sperms, humpbacks, and even beaked whales. He laughed at the attempt and said, as big as they were, whales weren’t “robust enough to be this thing.”
After looking over everything at that point, I emailed Paul a quick sketch I did of possible head and body shapes, based on his descriptions.
Max: Hey (Paul), please check out the attached sketch. Trying to give you some options to look at, and to see if any of them is close to what you saw. I gave you variants in terms of head, shape, size, body size, etc. Please see if any of the come close, and feel free to print and tweak one if you think it is close but needs some work. Letter “F” had some bubbling behind it to give you choices for that but it got cut off when I snapped the pic. Just do the best you can, and thank you.
Paul: “So, the water was foaming a bit to the side of the animal, but not right next to it but a few feet away. The waves weren’t big so I guess that could be from its method of propulsion? It was always on our port side. It kept pace for as long as it wanted to it seemed, like it wanted a closer look at us. But it wasn’t looking like it was struggling to keep pace and I think it could have gone faster. But after 30 seconds or so it just kind of veered away and fell behind until we couldn’t see it anymore. And the picture ‘E’ looks pretty similar actually! The big strong shoulders definitely look right. And the head looks good too. But I’d say it was slightly bigger as in wider. I hope I’m being descriptive enough.”
After receiving his emailed response, I resumed interviewing Paul via Messenger and focused on the size of the creature in his sighting. He asked me a question I’ve gotten quite a few times over the years:
Paul: “So, you truly think a remnant pliosaur population still exists??”
Max: “I believe there are may be some very large marine reptiles out there that are ‘extinct’, but nobody has told them. Your animal, and I’m taking everything you told me on faith, of course, could be a pliosaur or a mosasaur.”
Paul: “Hahahaha! Ok.”
Max: “Or something we’ve never documented.”
Paul: “I don’t know what it was. I have thought many times about what it might have been. But I’m not educated enough to have a guess. However, like I said, it was as big as a whale but not a whale. And I don’t know (what) else there is that’s whale sized! But picture E is very close! The shoulders especially.”
Max: “But if the head and upper back measured 50 (feet) your creature would be very large.”
Paul: “I can’t speculate on how long the entire thing was, but what I think is that because we only saw it until maybe halfway down it’s back, that’s why it looked square in shape. Make sense?”
Max: “Absolutely. When a croc surfaces much of it is draped under the water and hangs down.”
Paul: “Holy crap!!! You just nailed it! That’s exactly what it looked like! A crocodile chilling in the water. But black and smooth instead. I just got goosebumps.”
Max: “Yeah. You would not want to be in the water with that thing.”
Paul: “No way! But they can’t get that big. Maybe a deformed whale?! I dunno. You know about this more than me.”
At this point, Paul sent me his sketch of what he saw.
Max: “Wow, that would make the head more like 15′ without the neck. Oh, did you see eyes or anything?”
Paul: “The neck was a bit longer I think, it’s not perfect. But I hope it is ok. I’m rubbish at drawing! I didn’t see eyes no, I just put those dots there where I thought they should be. The head only came out the water for a moment. Also, the small waves next to where the arms I guess would be are meant to show a bit of water disturbance. However, the shoulders were broad and it’s body was thick. I’ve seen whales and this body was much thicker than them.”
Max: “Interesting. Amazing, actually. What kind of whales?
Paul: “I couldn’t tell you. I saw them when we sailed around New Zealand about 5 years ago. But I’m certain this wasn’t a whale. Everybody with me was sure it wasn’t a whale. It was a much more solid animal.”
Max: “It sounds like it. I’m going to tweak your sketch and send it to u and see what u think in about an hour. Let me know if it’s closer.”
Paul: “Ok mate.”
Max: “Btw, did this creature’s body break the surface completely? Was the head above water fully, a portion of it and the neck, or just under the surface? That would change how you viewed it.”
Paul: “Only the upper back was above the surface, only a couple of feet above. The head came up a few feet for a moment then went back to being just below. Most of the animal was just below the surface.”
Max: “Would you say the head was fully visible? Could it have been curved down at the neck so that a portion of it was underwater? Like arched a bit?”
Paul: “The head I think was fully visible only for a moment. I’d say it’s body was curved downward too, but at the rear.”
I found Paul’s sketch interesting because he made it a point to show the disturbance on the water around the animal. This made sense to me if it was using flippers of some kind to propel itself along and keep pace with the ship. I sent him two images based on his own sketch.
Paul: “Both very good! But the body was a bit wider. Maybe I did see flippers and I’m getting confused thinking it was shoulders. The second one is really very good to be fair!”
Max: “That’s what I figured. I think you saw the start of the flippers and they curved down into the water and created the illusion of “shoulders” Also, if the head was bent a bit at the neck, it would be foreshortened.”
Paul: “I think you may be right.”
Max: “Historically, at least, pliosaurs and mosasaurs don’t have super broad snouts, but if seen from above and the nose was dipped down it would look that way. Keep in mind, if the exposed part represents 50′ we’re talking about an enormous animal. The overall skull/mandibular length could be 15 feet without the neck. I’m not trying to exaggerate, I’m basing it on the drawings.”
Paul: “Is that big then?? How big would that make the whole thing?”
Max: “A pliosaur with those proportions would have an overall length of around 25 meters or 80 feet. A mosasaur would be longer due to the crocodile-like tail.”
Paul: “Blimey!!! Is that possible?”
Max: “Like I said, there have been sightings (by whalers) of mosasaurs over 100 feet in the present. No proof, but anecdotal reports. One was 115-120, and I don’t see why not.”
Paul: “Why aren’t these things seen more often?? Low numbers, intelligence?”
Max: “A combination, I suspect. There are very few grizzlies compared to bison in this country, and whales are effectively bison. The animal would often be mistaken for a whale. You were above it not on a small boat. Probably instinctively cunning. You approach a croc on a boat what does it do? Submerge and vanish.”
After The Interview about the Super-Predator
Beyond this point, Paul and I had an extended conversation on everything from monster squid to the Megalodon shark (I was pleased to note he had read my article on Megalodon as a scavenger and found it quite plausible). I also spoke to a few artists about the sighting, including Andrew Cocks, renowned paleo-artist, and my pal, Walt Disney animator extraordinaire, Jason Zucker. Andrew produced a quick sketch of the sighting, with a more detailed illustration still to come. Jason was so intrigued by the story that he read it twice, and also produced a rendering of how he felt the animal might have looked, based on Paul’s account.
To sum things up, and taking everything into consideration, the only potential “hole” I found in Paul’s story was the lack of proof. Although people traveling on holiday often have their cell phones glued to their hips, and take pictures of even their food, I have been on cruise ships. On the uppermost deck where this happened, where you’d most likely be lying in the sun in a bathing suit, and popping in and out of the pool and Jacuzzi, phones are rarely on one’s person. (at least, less so in 2014, as they weren’t waterproof yet) And phones do get lost. This is unfortunate, because with a picture to back it up, Paul’s story would be international news. However, as I said, I found him sincere, and I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. His story certainly makes for an interesting account, and jibes with numerous eyewitness reports of sea monsters that have been described as a “giant turtle without a shell”.
I would also point out that, if this sighting is accurate, it makes me rethink my notions of how marine reptiles surfaced for air. In my novels, I have pliosaurs coming up and blowing like whales – huge funnels of compressed water vapor, exploding from their blowholes. It makes for a dramatic visual and scary sounds, but what if that’s wrong? This video of a crocodile surfacing for air shows just how quiet and stealthy they are, even when coming up for a breath:
And this sea turtle “spouting” is similarly quiet, with the exception of it exuding air bubbles before it breaks the surface:
Might this behavior explain the white water/bubbles around the creature that Paul described? And, if so, would it not make for an even tougher time for us to spot one of these things, if, when it comes up for air, it makes almost no noise whatsoever? Also, I will go so far as to say that what he interpreted as “shoulders” would most likely have been the pectoral fins of the animal, extended to stabilize it as it swam. Without fore-flippers being seen undulating up an down as a means of propulsion – as they would have been if the creature in question was some form of plesiosauridae – I would assume it was propelled by some sort of caudal fin. This would tend to indicate some sort of mosasaur-like animal (if such a thing is possible). Such a creature’s body design would also explain the already-submerged animal’s rear portion and tail being concealed from view (if mosasaurs surface for air in a crocodilian manner, which there is no reason to assume they didn’t). With the snout and forequarters angled upward, and the hindquarters and tail draped down, water clarity would account for what the witness discerned, like this tweaked photo of a surfaced crocodile illustrates.
Granted, Paul’s account is fantastical (and, admittedly, similar to a scene in Kronos Rising: Plague, where a prowling pliosaur paces a cruise liner, before snatching a suicidal passenger off its railing) and can be explained away any number of ways. Still, I find it makes for an intriguing tale, with fascinating possibilities about the Super-Predator.