Gambo was allegedly seen by Owen Burnham on 12 June 1983, on the beach near the Bungalow Beach Hotel in Kotu:
- "An enormous animal was washed up on the beach during the night and this morning at 8.30 am I, my brother and sister and father discovered two Africans trying to sever its head so as to sell the skull to tourists. The site of the discovery was one the beach below Bungalow Beach Hotel. The only river of any significange in the area is the Gambia river. We measured the animal by first drawing a line in the sand alongside the creature then measuring with a tape measure. The flippers and head were measured individually and I counted the teeth. [Shuker: "In the sketches accompanying his description, Burnham provided the following measurements: Total Length = 15-16 ft; Head+Body Length = 10 ft; Tail Length = 4-1/2-5 ft; Snout Length = 1-1/2 ft; Flipper Length = 1-1/2 feet].
- "The creature was brown above and white below (to midway down the tail).
- "The jaws were long and thin with eighty teeth evenly distributed. They were similar in shape to a barracuda's but whiter and thicker (also very sharp). All the teeth were uniform. The animal's jaws were very tightly closed and it was a job to prize them apart.
- "The jaws were longer than a dolphin's. There was no sign of any blowhole but there were what appeared to be two nostrils at the end ofthe snout. The creature can't have been dead for long because its eyes were clearly visible and brown although I don't know if this was due to death (They weren't protruding). The forehead was domed though not excessively. (No ears).
- "The animal was foul smelling but not falling apart. I've seen dolphins in a similar state after five days (after death) so I estimate it had been dead that long.
- "The skin surface was smooth, the only area of damage was where one of the flippers (hind) had been ripped off. A large piece of skin was loose. There were no mammary glands present and any male organs were to damaged to be recognizable. The other flipper (hind) was damaged but not too badly. I couldn't see any bones.
- "I must mention clearly that the animal wasn't falling apart and the only damage was in the area (above) I just mentioned. The only organs I saw were some intestines from the damaged area.
- "The paddles were round and solid. There were no toes, claws or nails. The body of the creature was distended by gas so I would imagine it to be more streamlined in life. It wasn't noticeably flattened. The tail was rounded [Shuker: in cross-section], not quite triangular.
- "I didn't (unfortunately) have a camera on me at the time so I made the most detailed observations I could. It was a real shock. I couldn't believe this creature was laying in front of me. I didn't have a chance to collect the head because some Africans came and took the head (to keep skull) to sell to tourists at an exorbitant price. I almost bought it but didn't know how I'd get it to England. The vertebrae were very thick and the flesh dark red (like beef). It took the men twenty minutes of hacking with a machete to sever it."
Burnham asked these men what the animal was, and was told it was called kunthum belein, which turned out to be the name for dolphins. Native fishermen he questioned claimed to have never seen a similar animal.
A 2006 Centre for Fortean Zoology expedition to the Gambia led by Richard Freeman, armed with a map drawn by Burnham, performed excavations in the area but failed to find Gambo's headless carcass. A nightclub had been built on the exact spot, and the team concluded that the remains had either rotted in wet sand or been thrown away during the building of the nightclub.
When Burnham gave his description to various authorities, one said that it was probably a dolphin whose flukes had worn off in the water; another said it could have been a specimen of the rare Shepherd's beaked whale (Tasmacetus shepherdi) whose tail flukes had worn off; a third claimed it must have been a manatee; and other suggested it could have been a crocodile.
According to Karl Shuker and George Eberhart, Gambo's four paddles, eighty teeth, lack of scales and blowhole, and long tail rules out seals, known cetaceans, sirenians, modern reptiles, and fishes as suspects. Burnham himself noted that Gambo's tail meant it could not have been a dolphin, and was adamant that it was not a manatee.
Shepherd's beaked whale does match somewhat in colouration, but "it has a blowhole, tail flukes, a dorsal fin, a much shorter beak, no nostrils, and no pelvic flippers", and it prefers the cold waters of New Zealand and the South Atlantic.
The Gambians who beheaded the carcass referred to the animal as a dolphin, and cryptozoologists with the Centre for Fortean Zoology's 2006 expedition to the Gambia were told by locals that the animal had been a dolphin. However, Shuker wrote that:
Surviving marine reptile
Burnham thought that the closest thing he had seen to Gambo was the skull of Kronosaurus, a Cretaceous pliosaur, although he admitted that Kronosaurus was much larger. He also wrote that it closely resembled an ichthyosaur, but with a pointed tail instead of flukes.
Shuker notes that the nostrils of pliosaurs such as Kronosuchus were placed just in front of their eyes, not at the tip of their snout like in Gambo. Thalattosuchians, on the other hand, had slender, non-scaly bodies, paddle-like limbs, and terminally sited nostrils. Although their tails had a dorsal fin, Shuker writes that a thalattosuchian whose fin had been somehow torn off or scuffed away would bear a remarkable resemblance to Gambo. Alternatively, a modern-day thalattosuchian may simply have lost its fin through evolution.
George Eberhart also lists possible identities of a living mosasaur, a living ichthyosaur, or a living champsosaur. Dale A. Drinnon suggests it was a small-sized marine saurian, either a living pliosaur or mosasaur, and the same species as the Ambon sea serpent.
A number of authors have assumed that the entire incident was a hoax made up by Burnham, who has always insisted that his story is true.
Notes and references
- Eberhart, George (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology
- Shuker, Karl (1995) In Search of Prehistoric Survivors
- Shuker, Karl "Gambo: The Beaked Beast of Bungalow Beach", Fortean Times 67 (March 1993)
- Going for Gambo
- The 2006 Gambia Expedition
- Frontiers of Zoology: Gambo And Ambon, Another Point of View
- Cryptid Profile: Gambo (AKA: The Sea Monster of West Africa or The Beast of Bungalow Beach) — The Pine Barrens Institute