Ooooo! Look at this! A giant piece of very cool stuff washes onshore and people freak out. It’s my favorite kind of story.
New Zealand locals reportedly flocked to Muriwai Beach yesterday, to catch a glimpse of the so-called Muriwai Monster – a sprawling mass that looks exactly like something you’d drag up from the depths of the ocean.
Science Alert and other news outlets did a fine job of identifying this as a giant piece of wood covered with goose barnacles. As typically happens, the average person strolling along the beach is flummoxed by the organic remains that are ejected from the depths and assume they are some mutant or monster. It’s the way we humans have always been. Goose barnacles are weird looking and have a curious folkloric history when people thought the shells were eggs and birds hatched from them. People used to believe some very quaint things about the animal world. Pulling out my illustrated bestiary by Colin Clair, I find the Tale of the Tree that Bore Geese from which I quote Giraldus de Barri (1187):
There are here many birds which are called Bernacae, which nature produces in a manner contrary to nature…from fir timber tossed about at sea, and are at first like geese upon it. […] In the course of time, [having] been clothed with a strong covering of feathers, they either fall into the water, or seek their liberty in the air by flight…
This myth was repeated for several centuries. In 1569, Geraard de Veer related that it was a mystery how the barnacle goose hatched their eggs but some people thought they sat in the trees, dropped their eggs into the water and become goslings. By 1662, Gaspar Schott shot that tale out of the water saying the goose incubated eggs on a nest like all other geese. Still, the story persisted until more intrepid zoologists actually pulled apart the barnacles and noted they were “fish” like other shells. You can read more about it here at the Tale of the Barnacle Goose.
It seems like this strange animal, a crustacean, still confuses us.