When a 'crocodile' fish and a squid as big as a dining table found off the coast of Hartlepool

Sea serpents, squids and a fish which looked like a crocodile. No it’s not a movie script.

Friday, 10th June 2022, 3:31 pm

It’s a list of creatures which have been discovered off the coast of Hartlepool.

Historian and researcher Graeme Harper has provided us with many great tales of the town’s past.

But perhaps this is the strangest yet with stories of an armour-plated six-sided fish, and even a shark which dragged a Hartlepool fishing boat out to sea.

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Graeme Harper has shared stories of creatures from the deep found off the coast of Hartlepool.

Read on.

‘Creature from 15 fathoms’ screamed a Mail headline in 1958.

The story told how ‘baffled ‘fishermen caught something they had never seen before: a ‘six-sided fish with a snout like a crocodile, hard armour-plated skin instead of scales, only one fin and no gills.’

The mystery beast was only a foot long and described as being ‘more like a snake than a fish ‘and having ‘a goldfish like mouth at the tip of its snout.’

A 9ft shark dragged a Hartlepool coble out to sea in 1898.

‘I have had 35 years of experience and I have never seen anything like it,’ said bemused trawler owner Mr W.M Carter of Rowell Street.’ I'm going to send it to the Cullercoats Marine Laboratory for their opinion.’

The mystery creature fits the description of a snake pipefish which is a close relative of the seahorse and which may be a more frequent visitor to North East waters now than in Mr Carter’s day.

Another puzzling discovery happened in 1950 when William Stephens and Wilf Popplewell walked along the beach at Seaton Carew.

They found a creature which was later dubbed the ‘Longscar Monster’ by the Mail.

The discovery of the Longscar Monster.

The fish was ‘three feet long, two feet deep, has red fins, a golden back and is covered in silver spots the size of 2d pieces.’ .

A much more terrifying encounter happened in 1898, when local fishermen John Horsley, Frank and Shephard Sothern were on their coble called Mary ‘a mile out’.

Their line became wrapped around a 9ft-long shark which first tried to overturn the boat and then dragged the vessel further out to see before finally being landed after a prolonged struggle.

Let’s hope that messers Horsley and Sothern found themselves a bigger boat for their future fishing adventures.

The outdoor pool in Hartlepool in the 1950s.

Random meetings with stray molluscs have not always gone well either.

‘It would have represented a most fearsome setback to the confidence of any bather ‘stated the Mail in February 1939 when reporting on the discovery of a large squid at Seaton by Mr Doyle of Windermere Road.

‘The grey-black body tapering from a pointed tail to broadish shoulders was topped by a loathsome head from which protruded a cluster of six-inch to eight –inch tentacles each equipped with numerous serrated –edged suckers.

‘Reassuringly, the article concludes by saying ‘bathers need not be alarmed, however. Squids are not very common at Seaton.’

That didn’t stop another large specimen attacking 16-year-old Peter Lumley of Windsor Street, who had just embarked on a swim from the bathing pond to the end of the breakwater.

A large squid threw its tentacles around him and tried to pull him under the water. After a protracted struggle Peter managed to extricate himself and scramble back to shore.

The 'crocodile' fish which was found off Hartlepool.

‘It was as big as our dining room table ‘said the shocked swimmer, an apprentice at ICI Billingham.

His mother added ‘when Peter came home his arms and legs were covered with weals’.

Another fishy tail comes from 1927.

A Northern Daily Mail story titled ‘A Curious Find ‘concerned a Mr Stoddard of Pilgrim Street who spotted a half dead 14lb cod in the shallows whilst on his evening walk along Seaton beach.

On closer examination, he found that the fish had swallowed a 9-inch tablespoon with the words ‘Furness Line’ engraved on it.

In August 1926, James Taylor of Scarborough Street claimed to have been attacked by a seal whilst he was setting up fishing lines in Blackhall.

He told the Mail that he’d noticed six or seven others lurking in the vicinity and ‘felt that bathers at Blackhall should be warned of the dangers to which they might be subject by the presence of these amphibians.’

Seals are common along the local shoreline, and harmless, but some creatures were much less familiar.

Another fishy tale happened in October 1946 when Mr J.W. Davison of South Street landed a dogfish – a small shark species – in his motorboat off the New Pier.

According to a report in the Mail on checking his catch, Mr. Davison noticed that the animal ‘had a rubber band right through its body just neat the gills. It goes in one side and out the other without a join or knot of any description.

‘However, Mr .Davison was aware that ‘few would believe his story unless he keeps the specimen. And who wants to keep a dogfish?’

We will have more tales from Graeme soon but in the meantime, why not catch up on some of his other great tales that he has shared with the Mail?

There was the story of the Hartlepool department store which had its own zoo.

Then there was the tale of the dead elephant which was found at Seaton beach.

Or how about the day we told how Hartlepool had its own version of the Loch Ness Monster?

Go to our www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk website to discover more.

We have more tales to tell in the weeks to come.

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The day a squid as big as a dining table attacked a Hartlepool swimmer.
The Hartlepool coastline in the 1950s.