While zoologists studied a fragment of skin and a handful of bones, owners of the Japanese trawler that hauled a strange monster from the sea in April were trying to save a bit of face today.

The captain of the fishing ship ordered the carcass of the sea creature dumped overboard for fear that it might pollute his catch, but now that pictures of the beast have been make public, the Taiyo Fishery Co., which owns the ship, has learned that a smelly plesiosaurus (or whatever) may be worth more than a whole fleetload of fresh tuna.

Taiyo officials have ordered other ships owned by the company to recover the carcass if they get a chance to, but their hopes were slight because almost three months have passed since the catch was made by the trawler Zuiyo Maru about 30 miles east of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Soviet vessels were reported heading toward the area to join the hunt.

Pictures taken aboard the Zuiyo Maru showed a reptilian creature about 32 feet long, with four flippers and a long neck and tail. Michihiko Yano, the Taiyo official who took the pictures, estimated that the beast had been dead about a month. Although the internal organs were missing, some flesh remained.

The ship reportedly brought samples of flesh and bones back to Japan and scientists are said to be studying these. Some have suggested that the creature may have been a plesiosaurus, a presumably extinct reptile that flourished 100 million years ago - in the seas off eastern Australia, among other places.