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The Zuiyo Maru carcass is a creature initially claimed to be a prehistoric plesiosaur that was caught by the Japanese fishing trawler Zuiyo Maru (????) off the coast of New Zealand in 1977. Although several scientists insisted it was "not a fish, whale, or any other mammal", analysis later indicated it was most likely the carcass of a basking shark by comparing the number of sets of amino acids in the muscle tissue. Decomposing basking shark carcasses lose most of the lower head area and the dorsal and caudal fins first, making them resemble a plesiosaur.


On April 25, 1977, the Japanese trawler Zuiyo Maru, sailing east of Christchurch, New Zealand, caught a strange, unknown creature in the trawl. The crew was convinced it was an unidentified animal (Bord, 1990), but despite the potential biological significance of the curious discovery, the captain, Akira Tanaka, decided to dump the carcass into the ocean again so not to risk spoiling the caught fish. However, before that, some photos and sketches were taken of the creature, nicknamed "Nessie" by the crew measurements were taken and some samples of skeleton, skin and fins were collected for further analysis by experts in Japan. The discovery resulted in immense commotion and a "plesiosaur-craze" in Japan, and the shipping company ordered all its boats to try to relocate the dumped corpse again, but with no apparent success. (Sjögren, 1980).


The foul-smelling, decomposing corpse reportedly weighed 1,800 kg and was about 10 m long According to the crew, the creature had a one and a half meter long neck, four large, reddish fins and a tail about two meters long. It lacked a dorsal fin. No internal organs remained, but flesh and fat was somewhat intact (Sjögren, 1980 and Welfare & Fairley, 1981).

Proposed explanations


Professor Tokio Shikama from Yokohama National University was convinced that the remains were of a supposedly extinct plesiosaur. Dr. Fujiro Yasuda from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology agreed with Shikama that "the photographs show the remains of a prehistoric animal" (Sjögren, 1980).

However, other scientists were more skeptical. According to Bengt Sjögren (1980), the Swedish paleontologist Hans-Christian Bjerring was soon interviewed by Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå, and said:

"If it's true that the Japanese collected samples of fins and skin, it would be possible to conclude from a microscope what it is. If it would be shown to be a hitherto unknown animal from the sea, it is as big of a sensation as the discovery of the coelacanth in 1938... but there is reason to be suspicious of the claims of plesiosaurs, for example, as the marine environment and fauna changed drastically since the age of the plesiosaurs on earth."

Another Swedish scientist, Ove Persson, was also critical of the plesiosaur interpretation. He recalled other discoveries of similar dead marine creatures resembling plesiosaurs that on closer inspection revealed them to be just decomposed, unusually large sharks. He also added, according to Sjögren (1980), "The discovery of the coelacanth was not as strange as if a plesiosaur would be discovered. The plesiosaur is much bigger and breathes with lungs. It seems incredible that it would manage to remain hidden."

Basking shark

A team of Japanese scientists, comprising Tadayoshi Sasaki and Shigeru Kimura from the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Ikuo Obata from the National Museum of Nature and Science and Toshio Ikuya from the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute at the University of Tokyo jointly concluded in a report from August 1978 that while the identity of the carcass could not be determined with certainty, the carcass was most likely that of a large shark.

On July 28, 1977, the Zuiyo Maru carcass was commented upon in the international science magazine New Scientist. A scientist from the Natural History Museum in London had the same opinion as Bjerring and Persson: that the remains were not from a plesiosaur. The decomposition pattern of a basking shark, whose spine and brain case is relatively highly calcified for a cartilaginous fish, can be expected to produce a similar shape to a plesiosaur; the first parts that fall off during decomposition are the lower jaw, the gill area, and the dorsal and caudal fins. Of the view that the carcass was explained as a pleiosaur, Bengt Sjögren (1980) concluded, "it was the infamous old 'Stronsay Beast' that once again haunted like on innumerable other occasions. The scholars in Japan went into the same easy trap as the Scottish naturalists did in the 19th century."

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[Molecular Discrimination of Sea Monsters Biological Bulletin]
[Zuiyo Maru and Rines BSM Associates]
[Tail of Many Monsters Jerlstrom Technical Journal 2005]
[Zuiyo Maru is Coming to Get You]
[Zuiyo Maru Carcass, Oceans Magazine 1977]
[Zuiyo Maru Goertzen CRS Quarterly 2001]
[Parkers Cove Jerlstrom Technical Journal 2005]
[Zuiyo Maru GUST 2003]
[Zuiyo Maru Jerlstrom CEN Technical Journal 1998]
[Zuiyo Maru Jerlstrom CEN Technical Journal 1999]
[Zuiyo Maru Goertzen NABR 1999]
[Zuiyo Maru Kuban NCSE 1997]
[Thanksgiving Zuiyo Maru Addendum]
[Santa_s Pseudoplesiosaurs For Pseudoscience]

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