A week after two Westbrook police officers reported seeing a 10-foot-long snake near the Presumpscot River, sparking a regional frenzy, city officials are bringing in an “expert” to attempt to track and identify the animal.
Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton said Tuesday that she and Westbrook police officials had just agreed on the measure, but she declined to elaborate further on who the expert is. She also wants to keep the specialist’s tactics under wraps, hopefully eliminating potential interference from the public.
“We’re hoping they can at least get a photo and identify it,” she said.
The buzz surrounding “Wessie” was kicked into overdrive last week following the police sighting, which reported seeing the animal eating what looked like a beaver or other mammal on the riverbank in Riverbank Park and then swimming across the river. Since then, the park has seen an uptick in visitors hoping to spot the reptile.
Social media also exploded, including a Twitter account (Wessie P. Thon) that now has more than 1,000 followers. Someone also subsequently created an account for the beaver.
There is also belief that the excitement surrounding Wessie could pay off for Westbrook, with restaurants possibly benefiting from more people downtown looking for the snake.
Westbrook’s first craft beer brewery, Mast Landing Brewing Co., announced last week they are working on a West Coast IPA called “Wessie.” This week, someone began selling T-shirts asking “Where’s Wessie?” at the corner of Riverside Street and Warren Avenue.
Much of the hype has taken a humerous tone, but Hilton said she has received a number of emails from residents about the snake with serious concerns for the well-being of their pets or small children in Riverbank Park. Multiple comments from residents on the police department’s Facebook page and other social media warned people to keep their cats inside, and pleaded for authorities to find the snake as soon as possible.
“There are some funny stories with all of this, but it is also very serious,” Hilton said. “You’d be shocked at the number of hours that have gone into this.”
Westbrook Police Capt. Sean Lally said Wednesday that there has not been any additional sightings since last week, but he said there has been an influx of people looking for it on a daily basis.
“Everybody is looking for the snake,” he said, including the police and wardens from the Maine Warden Service. “I think our best course of action is to wait until someone sees it, and they can direct us to where it is.”
Lally said groups such as a local cryptozoologist and herpetologist group have contacted the department, hoping to help the department capture “Wessie.”
“It’s generated a lot of interest,” he said.
But while the report from the officers confirmed for many the presence of the snake, there are still those who are skeptical that “Wessie” exists.
David Sparks, who founded Sparks’ Ark Animal Services in New Gloucester, which rehabilitates various wild animals, said this week that he remains unconvinced that a large snake has made itself at home on the river.
“I question whether it was a snake,” he said Tuesday.
Sparks, who lives along the Presumpscot River in Windham, says it’s more likely the officers saw a beaver dragging a large tree branch across the river, creating the perception that a snake had snagged the beaver. Sparks has hosted educational programs with large snakes for more than 25 years.
He said there are many other reasons to doubt the report, stating that even a small beaver would weigh between 15-20 pounds, and if a large snake had tried to eat one, it would take 2-3 hours. He added that snakes constrict their pray under water, and don’t typically travel through the water with it. He also believes a beaver could fight it off.
“I believe the people that saw it believe they saw a snake, but I just don’t think from the two reports that it was,” he said.
The sighting from the two officers was in the area of Speirs Street at approximately 3:30 a.m. One of the officers attempted to take a video, but it is too dark to make out.
The report of the snake seemingly hasn’t deterred the public from being on the river. While people have been looking for the snake, there have been many others swimming and fishing along the riverbank as well.
Hilton said that while she walked the riverwalk last week, she saw people catching fish.
Michael Shaughnessy, the president of the Friends of the Presumpscot organization, which is hosting a public “river float” event on July 13, said Tuesday that he’s not overly concerned about the snake as the event approaches.
“I have no concerns yet,” he said, adding that the new attention on Westbrook and the river is humerous. “They still have a week to catch it, if it exists.”
Sparks said he was with his family on Sebago Lake last weekend, where his son-in-law found a long, curvy log and dragged it in the water behind his kayak.
“He said, ‘Look, I found Wessie,'” Sparks said.
Westbrook officials have agreed to bring in an expert to attempt to “track and identify” the reported large snake known as “Wessie” in the Presumpscot River.