By Beth Dalbey, Patch National Staff
GOLDEN ISLES, GA — Jeff Warren first thought he had stumbled on the carcass of a dead seal when he was boating last weekend at Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Golden Isles off the Georgia coast. The Waycross, Georgia, man took a closer look. His initial assessment was off base. It looked more like a “Loch Ness-type of thing.”
The reference, of course, is to Nessie, the creature in Scottish folklore that supposedly has lived in the Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands for eons. Georgia has its own local version of Nessie, known as Altamaha-ha, or simply Alty, a sea serpent said to live in the coastal marshes around the mouth of the Altamaha River.
Warren described what he had found to the folks gathered at Skipper’s Fish Camp in Darien.
Yep, they agreed, the mysterious sea creature was probably Alty. (For more news like this, find your local Patch here. If you have an iPhone, click here to get the free Patch iPhone app; download the free Patch Android app here.)
Nope. Probably not. Although it resembled something from prehistoric times, there is likely a very simple explanation. Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told Action News Jax that when sea creatures begin decomposing, they can resemble a Plesiosaur.
Ashe cited examples of 30-foot-long basking sharks that decompose in a manner that makes them resemble the long-necked sea dinosaur that existed more than 200 million years ago.
OK, so it’s not Alty. Still, here are five things to know about Altamaha-ha:
1. The areas around the estuary were originally settled by Scot Highlanders, who likely brought the legend of the Loch Ness monster to America with them. They came primarily from Inverness, Scotland, which is known for numerous sightings of Nessie.
2. As the myth goes, Alty is a 30-foot-long animal with flippers like a seal. Naysayers pooh-pooh that, and say the so-called creature may be nothing more than floating logs, masses of vegetation or marine life that are already known.
3. The legend of Alty has been handed down for generations, but got national play in 1981 when former newspaper publisher Larry Gwin wrote a report he saw Altamaha-hawhile fishing with his friend Steven Wilson. According to his report, they saw a 15- to 20-foot-long snake-like creature as big around as a man’s body with two brownish humps about five feet apart.” He wrote that it “dove in a big swirl of water and was not seen again, but boiled up a swell that was like a wake of a racing boat.” Gwin’s and subsequent reports were met with skepticism.
4. One of the first documented sightings of Altamaha-ha was in 1830, when Capt. Delano of the schooner Eagle reported seeing a monster off the St. Simons Island below the mouth of the Altamaha. According to the Savannah Georgian’s April 22, 1830, account, Delano “repeated the … particulars precisely, the describing the animal he saw as being about 70 feet long, and its circumference about that of a sugar hogshead (a large barrel or cask), moving its head (shaped like an alligator’s) about 8 feet out of the water.” Delano’s account was verified by five men on the schooner and a number of others on St. Simons Island.
5. According to the local lore, sea serpents were seen by the Tama Indians, who lived along the Altamaha, though the reports have never been verified. The Creek Indians also told stories of giant snakes in the rivers of the territories, and early explorers documented those legends.