Scrolling the Twitter timeline is always a trepidatious experience. You never know what you’ll be confronted with. It could be the best meme in the world, a comment that will ruin your life, or some full-frontal nudity.
Or maybe, you’ll get to see a whale dick for the first time.
I’m not sure which is more compelling: the theory that most sea monster sightings could be explained by the existence of whale dicks, or the shock of seeing a whale dick itself.
Alienesque, unfamiliar… disturbing… smooth(?). It produced in me a concoction of emotions – unease, embarrassment and anxiety.
This was something we humans were never meant to witness.
The chap who posted the tweet was Professor Michael Sweet. Sweet works in aquatic sciences (mostly coral reefs), molecular ecology and freshwater biology. He’s a professor of marine biology at Derby University in the UK. And, as he tells VICE, “a bit of a tweeter”.
Recently, his tweet showing off a selection of whale penises went viral, as most of the stupidest tweets often do. Naturally, I sat down to chat with him. There were many questions, the first of them being: “Why did you post this? Did you just wake up and think ‘the world needs to see a whale dick today’?”
“Well, I do a lot of different tweets,” he said.
“Some of them are sort of harder, factual science, others are just weird and wonderful animals. And I find that the hard factual science doesn't really hit as well.”
“The weirder the tweet, the more retweets and likes you get.”
Sweet said the concept of whale dicks being mistaken for sea monsters wasn’t actually new.
“In 2005, there was a scientific paper written by a chap called Paxton, and they tried to look through all the various different literature and back up this, this sort of hypothesis,” he said.
“But I just thought it was an interesting thing. And I didn't really know about it. And then the more I looked into it, the more I read about whale sex and things like that. It just became more and more believable to me. So I thought the world needed to see it again.”
Was it all just a ploy to achieve Twitter fame? The tweet was certainly an interesting thing to grace my timeline, as was the conversation it sparked.
Sweet had used a picture of Nessy, the Loch Ness Monster in his tweet. And everyone knows Nessy couldn’t have been a whale dick because whales don’t live in Loch Ness, obviously.
Professor Sweet apologised for this blunder.
“I didn't really think it was going to go as viral as it was,” he laughed.
“What I didn't mean was the Loch Ness Monster was a whale penis, because obviously the Loch is freshwater. So there wouldn't be any whales in there. And it's also relatively well accepted that it was largely a hoax, but we don't necessarily need to get into that.”
So, no, the Loch Ness Monster probably wasn’t an erect whale wiener. As Snopes wrote in 2021, the idea was “mostly false”.
“The most famous photo of the Loch Ness Monster, dubbed the "surgeon's photograph," was a hoax that was created with a toy boat and some putty. It's possible that other sea serpent sightings throughout history, however, may have been misidentified as whale penises,” they wrote.
They did, however, assert that whale penises may “truly have been the culprits behind some old sea serpent sightings”.
Despite this story making the rounds online for years now, the whale penises continue to capture the hearts and minds of internet-goers.
With almost 100k likes, Professor Sweet’s post reinvigorated a vibrant debate, even gaining criticism from the “author of the original paper” themself, who wrote, “Hi, Author of the paper that started this… We never claimed (and I certainly do not believe) that many sea serpent reports came from sightings of whale penises. Only one or two.”
Another thread goes into absolute debunk detail.
When asked about his detractors, Professor Sweet laughed it off.
“I don't know who the authors of the paper are. It looks like one of them is from the University of St. Andrews, which is in the UK as well. The paper was published in 2005, and only has eight citations. So it hasn't really been, let's say, accepted by the scientific community,” he said.
“It was sort of a mini rabbit hole I went down, which I thought was interesting and I could put a little bit more science behind that initial tweet, to try and get people's attention and interest in the marine environment. My main goal is just to get people excited about the marine world.”
Still, there is something - somehow - more compelling about the existence of whale penises than there is about sea monsters. Back in the day, people on ships were enthralled and horrified by giant sea serpents, today on Twitter people are horrified and enthralled by the realisation that whale penises a) exist b) look like that c) are, in many ways, much more disturbing than mythical sea creatures.
Ultimately, it’s just refreshing to speak to someone on a pure mission to use the Twitter hellscape for good: to spark joy and intrigue in the many wonders of the marine world.
And as for the whale dicks? Professor Sweet put it plainly.
“To me, it's just a nice story.”
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