'Ocean alien unicorn sea beach thing' washes up on beach

A dead basking shark, otherwise known as a "sort of ocean alien unicorn sea beach thing".
A dead basking shark, otherwise known as a "sort of ocean alien unicorn sea beach thing". Photo credit: @amy_cesar/Twitter

A strange creature that washed up on a beach last week turned out to be a type of shark that perhaps looks even more terrifying when alive.

Described as a "sea monster" by beachgoers who found it, the decomposing carcass was found at Higgins Beach in Scarborough, Maine, in the US northeast.

"Some blob of something had washed up on the shore," animal control officer Chris Blair told NBC affiliate News Center Maine. "It was pretty gross."

Social media users described it as a "sort of ocean alien unicorn sea beach thing" and "the flying creature from the Neverending Story".

At first believed to be a whale, Florida shark expert George Burgess quickly identified it as a basking shark. How? Well, here's what a basking shark looks like when it's alive.

Basking sharks.
Basking sharks. Photo credit: Getty

It's very distinctive.

Mr Burgess told Live Science it appeared a great white shark "might well have been involved in doing some munching on it" before it washed up. It may have been floating dead for weeks.

"The water off of Maine is quite cold even this time of year, so decomposition processes are much slower."

Despite their horrifying appearance, basking sharks aren't to be feared. They eat by just swimming around with their mouths open, rather than hunting meat.

Local authorities quickly removed it - and not a moment too soon.

"It smelled like a bad, hot day at a fish market," Mr Blair told News Center Maine. "It was pretty foul."

The basking shark is listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.