Conjoined twins have been reliably documented in humans, dogs, turtles, cats and a whole host of other creatures.
Until last month, that list included only nine instances of two-headed cetaceans (including conjoined dolphins and whales). Which is why Dutch fishermen were so surprised when they pulled a multi-headed harbor porpoise out of the North Sea.
The two-foot-long animal was likely already dead before it got caught up in the fishermen’s beam trawl net.
Afraid that it might be illegal to keep it, the men took some pictures and tossed the body back into the waves — a decision curious researchers are shocked and saddened by.
“Even normal twinning is rare,” Erwin Kompanje, the mammals curator at Rotterdam’s Natural History Museum, told The Washington Post of why he was so desperate to get the specimen into a lab. “There’s no room in the womb of the mother for harboring more than one baby.”
Other similar cetacean findings haven’t been in great condition — discovered either as unborn fetuses or already partially decomposed.
These fishermen’s finding, then, was a one-in-a-billion discovery. And they threw it away.
“They made four photographs and threw it back into the sea. Back into oblivion,” Kompanje, who never expects to see anything like this again, said. “For a cetologist, this is a real horror.”
From the photos, researchers can only tell that the porpoise was a newborn male. This is evident since its dorsal fins were slumped, its heads still had hair, its tail had not stiffened and its umbilical opening was still visible.
It’s likely the animal died just after being born — probably drowning when its two brains told its one body to go in different directions.
With the limited information gleaned from the pictures, Kompanje still managed to co-author a paper on the discovery, published this week.
Unable to conduct any of the tests he wanted to, the report was a mere four pages about a creature “lost for science and natural history.”
Moral of the story? If you come across a two-headed creature, don’t throw it in the ocean.
Next, read about the recently discovered beached whale’s stomach filled with huge ball of deadly plastic bags. Then, take a look inside a sea turtle’s surprisingly terrifying mouth.