The discovery of the Susquehanna Seal
Out of all the mystery creatures that people wonder about, water monsters are some of the most popular. Obviously, the Loch Ness Monster is the first one to come to mind, but a thorough list would also have to include South Bay Bessie, Raystown Ray, Georgia’s Altamaha-ha, and several others.
And you’d also have to include one that I’ve written about before, because it’s right here in Clinton County: The Susquehana Seal.
In the 1890s, the Clinton Democrat ran articles about this mysterious creature in this portion of the Susquehanna. It mostly was encountered up around Kettle Creek, which is why it was also known as the Kettle Creek Monster. The articles claimed that the Native Americans told stories of some sort of underwater creature in the area, which is one of the things I’ve always liked about Kettle Creek. During the 1800s, the lumbermen were wary of something in the water up around Kettle Creek, claiming they heard howling at night and the monster brushed up against the rafts, dumping them into the river. Even today, occasionally, I get calls from people who have heard or seen something in the river they can’t quite identify.
There was never much of a physical description of the Susquehanna Seal, which means that it could have looked like anything. It was described, alternatively, as looking a little like a hippo crossed with a variety of dinosaurs. Theories as to its identity included a sea creature that swam in during a flood, some new and undiscovered species, or leftover dinosaurs.
Recently, due to my columns, a new theory has popped up that includes a couple of those, and deals with a scientific discovery in the same area of the county. Let me introduce you to the Hynerpeton.
In 1993, two paleontologists discovered the shoulder bone of a previously unknown creature that existed 365 million years ago. Ted Daeschler and Neil Schubin discovered this bone along Route 120, very near North Bend. Because of the proximity to Hyner, they named it Hynerpeton.
This creature was a tetrapod, informally described as “fish with fingers.” Drawings of this thing resemble some sort of thick salamander, around two or three feet long, with stubby legs and fingers, and sort of a flat tadpole tail. It’s not easy to describe; go and google “Hynerpeton” if you’re really interested. There’s a small museum in North Bend that’s dedicated largely to the Hynerpeton.
Recently, I saw a couple of my articles begin appearing together online — One about the Susquehanna Seal, and one about the Hynerpeton. These were accompanied by the theory that the Susquehanna Seal could be a leftover Hynerpeton, in the same way the Loch Ness Monster is thought to be a plesiosaur.
On one level, this makes a sort of sense. We have a water creature that’s never been identified, and in the same area we have a prehistoric water animal that’s never been discovered anywhere else. It would actually explain a lot if they were the same creature. (That theory would make an excellent movie, actually.) I kind of love this concept.
Now, I don’t honestly think there’s still an amphibious prehistoric animal that’s survived repeated Pennsylvania winters. (Hell, I can barely survive repeated Pennsylvania winters.) I think scientifically, any living Hynerpetons are long gone by this point.
Still… You never know. People thought exactly the same thing about the Coelacanth, a bony prehistoric fish that was thought to be extinct, until some fishermen discovered a living one in 1938. Turns out the Coelacanth wasn’t extinct like the dinosaurs, it had just been a while since anyone had seen one.
So maybe it’s true. Maybe the Susquehanna Seal is a leftover Hynerpeton. Next time I’m at Kettle Creek, I might even try to catch one. Maybe I’ll call the museum in North Bend, and ask them what to use as bait.
Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 570-660-4463.