Mysterious sea creature remains found at Mystery Bay

Recent storms washed up the mysterious remains of some kind of weird sea creature that left locals wondering what could be lurking out in the ocean.

The gelatinous, rubbery body part that looked like some kind of skull was found on the beach at Mystery Bay, just south of Narooma, NSW, on Tuesday, December 5. The object measured about 25cm long and 12cm wide.

Not being made out of hard bone and rather what appeared to be cartilage, this journalist speculated that it originated from some sort of shark or ray. 

This has now been confirmed by scientists and fish experts, who were made aware of the find through the Narooma News Facebook page also a new fish identification service on the iNaturalist website.

Bermagui commercial fisherman Jason Moyce, who blogs under the name Trapman Bermagui, was one of the first to comment that the object looked like it could be the skull of one of the large black smooth or short-tail stingrays common on the Far South Coast.

While the body part was relatively large, so are the stingrays around Narooma and Bermagui, growing to 4.3 metres long and 2 metres wide and up to 350kg in weight.

This was backed up by renowned marine biologist and fishing writer Dr Julian Pepperell, who also said it did “look like cartilage rather than bone, so more likely shark or ray, with similarities to various ray skull elements”.

This was further confirmed by Owen Li who works at the the Fishing and Fisheries Research Centre at James Cook University in Townsville.

He posted that it appeared to be the neurocranium of a large ray. “Typing 'stingray neurocranium' into Google shows any number of diagrams and photographs of the same skull element for multiple ray species.”

There was plenty of other speculation on the Narooma News Facebook page that it could be a cow’s head or even the nose or rostrum of a whale, but these ignored the fact it was soft cartilage and not bone.

Further clarification was sought through the new Australasian Fishes project on the iNaturalist website where anyone can post photos of animals, plants or other natural objects can be identified by experts logged on to the site.

In this case the mystery object was uploaded under the heading of “elasmobranchs”, which denotes the class of sharks and rays, and the feedback came in immediately.

iNaturalist user adammyates suggested: “the big open dorsal fossa, down curved olfactory capsules and the lack of an obvious postorbital process make this look like a big ray skull to me”.

The Australasian Fishes project was set up by Mark McGrouther, collection manager of ichthyology at the Australian Museum Research Institute. 

He encourages anyone interested in fishes to upload their unknown or even favourite fish photos to to help build up the database.

“It allows anyone to upload images of fishes, or parts of fishes, from anywhere in Australia and New Zealand.  It’s quick and easy, and gives you access to a growing community including many fish scientists who identify and comment on fishy images,” Mr McGrouther said.

This is second natural mystery at Mystery Bay covered by this journalist in the past two weeks with the other being mysterious tracks identified as belonging to feral deer.