The Polar Turtle

Cryptozoology is rife with wild extrapolation based on fragmentary observations (for example, the assumption that the ostrich was but a chick of the mythical Roc.) and poor analysis of the fossil record (the large sockets in elephant skulls creating the legend of the Cyclops). As such it is imperative that healthy skepticism and rigorous adherence to the scientific method be maintained at all times, lest the field fall into disrepute and its practitioners be driven from academia.

Fortunately there are many cases which hold up under the harshest scrutiny, such as the horrible Polar Tortoise (Geochelone hyperborealis) of the extreme northern wastes. These massive creatures evolved from sea turtles which would congregate on ice flows in northern Greenland . During the second ice age there was a proliferation of these turtles across the permanent ice shield and they soon gave up the ocean.
Their leathery shells grew thicker for protection from bears and wayward mastodons, and soon developed luxurious mats of fat and hair for insulation. Their diet of seals and waterfowl provided them with rich reservoirs of oil to buffer them against the lean winters. As the ice caps receded and feeding grounds dwindled these formerly placid creatures became viciously territorial.
It was during this phase that a clutch of albino polar tortoises realized a tremendous advantage of camouflage and were able to outcompete their melanin-afflicted cousins. There is some speculation that this small founder group was also preternaturally aggressive, resulting in the fearsome reputation that polar tortoises currently enjoy. In any event, study of ice cores and excavated remains (including several complete specimens preserved in ice) indicates that over only two hundred years or less (6 generations of the species) the albino subgroup came to dominate the polar tortoise population.
At this point human interaction with the polar tortoise resulted in a small but significant trade in their shells and furs. As these could reach 6 feet in diameter they were often used as bedding or igloo-linings for high-status households. It was not uncommon for Inuit elders to give them as dowries for their daughters’ marriages. Soon the successful hunting of even a juvenile polar tortoise became a rite of passage in many indigenous arctic cultures.
As prized as they were among these groups, beaks, skins, and shells were fair game for trade and eventually found their way into European, Mongol, and Iroquois markets. Inevitably this demand fueled additional slaughter of the polar tortoise until, in the early 19th century, the last recorded capture (and subsequent death) of a polar tortoise was recorded. No sightings have been reported since, although there are at least two anomalous events that may be attributed to polar tortoise activity.
The first of these occurred at a mining camp in northern Alaska in 1884. According to insurance documents several horses that broke free from an enclosure during heavy weather were later found dead. They had died not of exposure but from several wounds to the neck and abdomen. The wounds did not appear to be bites (as might be expected of a bear attack) but rather resembled slashes from a machete or a pair of machetes. Years later Arthur Merschon — an amateur paleobiologist as well as geologist working for the Northern Precious Metals Company — examined the frozen corpses and recorded in his journal that the wounds were suggestive of a beaked attack.
The second occurrence happened several hundred miles north of Vladivostok in the autumn of 1966. A Soviet state fishing trawler had been blown off course and had foundered on an ice flow as heavy weather moved in. They radioed for assistance and ice cutters were dispatched to rescue the crew and salvage the vessel. Communications were sporadic due to the storm, but transcripts include several fragments referring to “a cave of eggs” and “eggs the size of a net buoy [roughly fourteen inches in diameter].”
Upon arrival of the rescue team the fishing boat was found wedged into a crevasse and all the crew were missing, save for the severed head of the first mate. The wound was clean and there was no blood on the snow where the head was found (forty feet from the edge of the iceberg), so it was assumed that the head was carried some distance after the time of death.
Barring trauma or starvation, the life span of the Polar Turtle is estimated at 340 years.
–Steve Kilian

One Response to “The Polar Turtle”

  1. […] the gourd up in the light and croaked out, “Gooooord.” * So it began. * – Steve Kilian * The Polar […]

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