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Cryptozoology at the Zoological Society of London. Cryptozoology: time to come in from the cold? Or, Cryptozoology: avoid at all costs?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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On the 12th July 2011, the ZSL (= Zoological Society of London) hosted the meeting ‘Cryptozoology: science or pseudoscience?’. The talks were by myself, Charles Paxton and Michael Woodley, and it went very well.

The 'Cryptozoology: science or pseudoscience?' meeting, July 2011.

Given that we all emphasised a sceptical, evidence-led approach to the subject of mystery animal research, and were critical of cryptozoological hypotheses and proposals, it might not be appropriate to conclude that cryptozoology (whatever it is) has been ushered in with open arms* to the hallowed halls of formal zoology. Nevertheless, we definitely did our bit in helping promote the idea that you can ‘do science’ with cryptozoological data, and I hope that we also succeeded in showing that at least some people interested in mystery animal reports are trying to look critically and objectively at the data. What about the meeting’s title: did we resolve the whole ‘science or pseudoscience’ thing? Well… that’s complicated.

* Or “ushered in again”, since (as discussed below) you might argue that cryptozoology already had a stint of being academically respectable.

Dr Henry Gee opens the meeting.

The turnout was pretty spectacular – the audience was so big that we had to remove the wall at the back of the lecture theatre and provide seating in an adjoining room. A great many notable persons graced us with their presence. I don’t want to do too much name-dropping, but I will say that I was especially honoured and surprised to learn that Adrian Shine was attending [see photo below]. It was also great to meet Lena and Paul Bottriell (best known for their work on the recognition of the King cheetah) and Carole Jahme (author of the excellent Beauty and the Beasts: Woman, Ape and Evolution).

The meeting was chaired by Henry Gee. Henry explained how the discovery of Homo floresiensis led him to take seriously the idea that “perhaps stories of other human-like creatures might be founded on grains of truth” (Gee 2004), and it was for this fairly crypto-friendly attitude that we initially approached him as chair.

Woodley, Paxton, Naish

Dr Michael Woodley discusses the theory and application of cumulative discovery curves. These were initially devised in order to assess cumulative growth in the zoological literature.

Turning now to the speakers, Michael gave us a pretty good scare by turning up at, pretty much literally, the very last minute before the meeting was due to begin. Anyway, focusing initially on the predictive power of cryptozoology as a ‘targeted research methodology’, he showed how species discovery curves for large marine animals generally seem to match the numbers of undiscovered species purported to exist on the basis of circumstantial accounts. Species curves for pinnipeds, for example, indicate that a very low number of species might await discovery, and indeed only three ‘crypto-pinnipeds’ have been proposed to exist in the cryptozoological literature (Woodley et al. 2008). In discussing several key ‘Cadborosaurus’ and long-necked seal accounts, Michael also explained how – since most cryptozoological claims are published in the ‘grey literature’ – they escape evaluation, even when this is deserved or even required.

In the following talk, Charles Paxton began by drawing attention to the fact that studying monster accounts really is no bad thing for science. It’s good because monsters (whatever they might represent) inspire a sense of wonder, and Charles explained how his own nascent, childhood interest in science was nurtured by books that did likewise (he specifically mentioned the How and Why Wonder series of books, including the truly terrible dinosaur one). Alleged sightings of monsters are also interesting because they raise the issue of how science deals with anomalous data. Such things as rogue waves, sprites and St Elmo’s fire all show that science is ‘happy’ to accept the validity of low-frequency anomalies once the data are good enough.

While Charles stated that big marine animal species damn near certainly do await discovery, he suggests that the sea monsters reported by eyewitnesses are unlikely to really represent sightings of these species. What can we learn from the big body of ‘sea monster’ accounts that we have? Surprisingly, sea monster sightings occur at closer range than expected by chance (Paxton 2009), perhaps indicating that there’s some sort of bias in what gets reported. All too few possibilities have been considered when cryptozoologists have tried to identify the creatures that might be at the bottom of sea monster accounts (Paxton et al. 2004, Paxton & Holland 2005), and experiments involving model water monsters and observations of real animals show that people consistency make mistakes involving distances and the sizes of the objects concerned.

Finally, my own talk – ‘Sea monsters and the prehistoric survivor paradigm’ – covered the sort of stuff I’ve been saying in cryptozoology articles (Naish 2000, 2001, 2010) and at meetings for a while: that some sea monster accounts may well describe encounters with real animals, that we don’t know enough to say what those real animals might really be, and that the ‘prehistoric survivor paradigm’ (the hypothesis proposing that sea monsters are not only real, but that they represent the descendants of fossil groups like plesiosaurs, mosasaurs and basilosaurid whales) is a poor explanation of the data and can be rejected. The talk was more concerned with the copious and elaborate speculation that has built up around sea monster eyewitness reports than the eyewitness reports themselves: the region where merhorses, post-Cretaceous furry plesiosaurs, armour-plated basilosaurids, cadborosaurs, super-sized turtles, and long-necked giant seals lurk.

A discussion/Q&A session followed the talks. Topics covered included the Ishtar Gate ‘dragon’, Darwin’s predicted hawk moth, witness reliability, and how ‘literal’ we should be in interpreting eyewitness accounts of mystery animals. The fact that the meeting was entirely focused on mystery marine animals was not really intentional – it just happens that all three speakers have special interests in the marine side of things.

The three speakers, plus chair. L-to-r: Henry Gee, Darren Naish, Michael Woodley, Charles Paxton. Somehow, the photo makes me look really fat.

Talking about cryptozoology is fun (and the meeting really was very enjoyable), but I find it somewhat frustrating that many people seem to find it utterly inconceivable that one can be interested in cryptozoology (perhaps even interested enough to publish on the subject) yet still be strongly sceptical of eyewitness testimony in general, of the existence of alleged cryptids, and of the claims made in the cryptozoological literature. My take on the study of mystery animals is that eyewitness reports are interesting and worthy of study no matter what they represent: that they can tell you as much about witness fallibility and bias as the possible existence of as-yet-undiscovered species, if not more. So, I was careful to state specifically in my talk that “[A]n interest in cryptozoology does not necessitate or demonstrate a ‘belief’ in the existence of the respective mystery animals”. But this approach doesn’t mean that I necessarily reject out of hand the possibility that at least some of the ‘targets’ of cryptozoology might actually exist.

I’ve been saying this same thing for years, but still it seems that most people just don’t get it. Those people especially interested in or passionate about cryptozoology assume that the sceptical approach denotes the arch-cynical attitude of the aggressive debunker. Those who pride themselves on their scepticism and level-headedness think that an interest in cryptozoology indicates fluffy-headedness, naivety, and proof that the person concerned believes not only in the literal existence of cryptids but also astral projection, ghosts, Atlantis and zeta reticulans.

The whole ‘science or pseudoscience’ thing

Captive Okapi. Photo by Raul654, from wikipedia.

If cryptozoology is imagined as the investigation of ‘target’ animals whose existence is supported by circumstantial and/or anecdotal evidence (eyewitness accounts forming the bulk of such evidence), then one might argue (as I have) that cryptozoology is practised far and wide by ‘ordinary’, technically qualified biologists. A list of species have been discovered following the investigation of either local tales and legends, or fleeting observations of what were (at the time) mystery animals. One of the great classic examples is the Okapi. Referred to as the Atti and thought to be a donkey-like equid, it had been mentioned in passing by Henry Stanley in 1888. It was on the basis of this anecdotal information that Harry Johnston went in successful pursuit of it. Just two recent examples of this sort of thing include the Kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji (discovered in 2006 following observations of a mystery monkey) and the Burmese snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus strykeri (discovered in 2010 following investigation of local reports about a “monkey with an upturned nose”).

However, it remains true that the term cryptozoology is mostly associated with a contingent of passionate researchers and enthusiasts who tend to assume that mystery animal reports denote the literal existence of the respective mystery animals, tend to accept sensational claims that really should be viewed more critically, and tend to be more interested in popular writing and popular culture than in performing, consulting or publishing technical research. I’m not interested in dissing these people – many of them have good intentions and many are my friends – but the strong association of the term cryptozoology with an area where little or (arguably) no science occurs makes it a real uphill struggle to claim that ‘scientific cryptozoology’ can, might, or does exist.

Adrian Shine (l) and Darren Naish (r).

One idea is that the strong negative stigma attached to cryptozoology is a recent phenomenon, that the field has fallen into disrepute since the collapse of the International Society of Cryptozoology during the 1990s, and that it needs rescue and invigoration. Another is that what we term cryptozoology is now so much the haunt of cranks and true believers that it should be abandoned, and that the research that truly involves the investigation of valid, undiscovered animals is just normal ornithology, herpetology, mammalogy or whatever; the research involving the creatures of myth and legend, and the abilities and failings of eyewitnesses, is not cryptozoology at all, but mythology, sociology, or psychology.

If you followed the lengthy debate held recently in the comments section at Tet Zoo ver 2, you’ll know that we’re kind of at an impasse and that this issue isn’t going to be resolved tidily any time soon. For now I’ll say that the theme of all three of the ZSL talks – and, indeed, of the work that all three speakers have published on mystery animal reports – was and is that hypothesis formulation, hypothesis testing, parsimony and evidence-led approaches can all be applied to mystery animal accounts. In other words, you can clearly ‘do science’ on mystery animal reports. I recognise that this is not the same as saying that cryptozoology itself is a science, but I can’t see that cryptozoology is a pseudoscience since even self-proclaimed, specialised cryptozoologists sometimes practise hypothesis testing, parsimony, self-correction and so on. For now, I’ll leave the issue there.

Anyway, the meeting was a success and I hope that everyone who attended enjoyed it as much as I did. There is more to come.

If you've never seen the Hook Island sea monster photo before (the one that looks like a giant tadpole), I cannot congratulate you on your knowledge of sea monsters (it was a hoax).

Several other people have written up their thoughts on the meeting elsewhere online. Carole Jahme’s thoughts are here at, and Henry Gee’s can be seen here on his blog.

For previous Tet Zoo musings on sea monsters and cryptozoology, see…

Refs – -

Gee, H. 2004. Flores, God, and cryptozoology. Nature doi:10.1038/news041025-2.

Naish, D. 2000. Where be monsters? Fortean Times 132, 40-44.

- . 2001. Sea serpents, seals and coelacanths: an attempt at a holistic approach to the identity of large aquatic cryptids. Fortean Studies 7, 75-94.

- . 2010. Monsters of the deep! Fortean Times 262, 36-37.

Paxton, C. G. M. & Holland, R. 2005. Was Steenstrup right? A new interpretation of the 16th century sea monk of the Øresund. Steenstrupia 28, 39-47.

- ., Knatterud, E. & Hedley, S. L. 2004. Cetaceans, sex and sea serpents: an analysis of the Egede accounts of a “most dreadful monster” seen off the coast of Greenland in 1734. Archives of Natural History 32, 1-9.

- . 2009. The plural of “anecdote” can be “data”: statistical analysis of viewing distances in reports of unidentified giant marine animals 1758-2000. Journal of Zoology 279, 381-387.

Woodley, M. A., Naish, D. & Shanahan, H. P. 2009. How many extant pinniped species remain to be described? Historical Biology 20, 225-235.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. DMA12 12:48 pm 07/19/2011

    I agree that cryptozoology is not a pseudoscience, but unfortunately the stigma is completely unfounded. I was able to get my hands on one of Richard Freeman’s books (not easy in America). Though he is clearly knowledgeable about animals, and many of his assumptions are rational, I have to disagree with some of his other beliefs. I am skeptical about his theories on mental projection, monsters from other dimensions, and on some of the accounts he gives. On the other hand, some of his accounts are good. He also at least rejects living non-avian dinosaurs and alien encounters due to their human appearance.

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  2. 2. HowardRichards 2:27 pm 07/19/2011

    As I argued in your previous post, the status of cryptozoology as a separate discipline alongside “normal ornithology, herpetology, mammalogy or whatever” is problematic. Regardless of what it is called, though, the research you mention leading to the discovery of the okapi, etc., is real and valid science. Unfortunately, the term “cryptozoology” is hopelessly linked to pseudoscience and to cranks; at best it’s as though the words “astronomy” and “astrology”, or “chemistry” and “alchemy” had not yet diverged.

    I very much doubt that keeping a distance between real science and the word “cryptozoology” will discourage any real biologist from investigating “animals whose existence is supported by circumstantial and/or anecdotal evidence (eyewitness accounts forming the bulk of such evidence).” Embracing the word “cryptozoology”, though, will certainly be perceived as giving cover to everything that has called itself “cryptozoology” to date. In the eyes of some people, this will bring into question the credibility of modern biology; in the eyes of a great many more, it will increase the credibility of the cranks.

    There is no upside to giving Tom Biscardi scientific credentials.

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  3. 3. Heteromeles 6:26 pm 07/19/2011

    So far as I’m concerned, cryptozoology ultimately needs to get the evidence of the creatures’ existence to earn some respect.

    To bring back a bugbear from TetZoo2 as an example, I yelled at my TV, watching the Finding Bigfoot final episode. They give science a bad name when, on one hand, the “investigators” blithely make unsupported claims about bigfoot being sexually dimorphic and having different behaviors at different sizes (possibly sex-linked). On the other hand, they hang around in the woods for a few hours, get something interesting (something is returning their calls, what is it?), when Oops! their batteries are running low, time to call it a night. And they have equipment to record sound, but never when they’re trying to provoke calls. Etc. Etc. Etc.

    Contrast that with, oh, BBC nature camera-people (men and women) who will spend a month in a blind, up a tree, just to get 30 seconds of film.

    It’s sad. Really, really sad. Disregarding the reality of sasquatch or lack thereof, the bigfoot afficionados aren’t at all willing to put ordinary planning or effort into finding their quarry. All too often, wildlife research is a miserable, painful, tedious experience, but it produces results. A few hours in the woods is goofing, not working.

    I’ve come to the frustrating conclusion that it’s an insult to zoologists to call the sasquatch hunters scientists, at least until they’re willing to spend their months in rigorous field work, out in the woods every night without fail, recording bigfoot calls and checking sample traps (for hair, dung, footprints, photos, whatever) every day. They really need to pay their dues, before they get respect.

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  4. 4. Heteromeles 6:43 pm 07/19/2011

    Marine cryptid , part 232, this time in Alaska:

    Not a clue what it is, but guess what? They’re making TV out of it. Perhaps the idea is to show cold climates during heat waves?

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  5. 5. THoltz 7:19 pm 07/19/2011

    The How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs was my first dinosaur book, too, and got me hooked…

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  6. 6. Jerzy New 7:26 pm 07/19/2011

    Hi Darren, I just subscribed.

    My first post is to inform Scientific American, that, if it wants people to participate in science, it should allow comments without registration.

    If filtering occassional spam post is not too difficult, and certainly benefit of letting people comment freely outweighs it.

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  7. 7. Jerzy New 7:34 pm 07/19/2011

    About cryptozoology:
    Important topic turned to be: interpreting and believing eyewitness accounts, and how people apparently distort what they see.

    I think somebody must have researched this, but outside the field of zoology. It touches such topics as criminology (how to interpret witness accounts of a crime?), justice, psychology, perhaps history etc.

    Our passionate cryptozoologists might go outside zoology section of the library and dig it out. Otherwise the field will forever be plagued by improbable reports of long-maned sea horses etc.

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  8. 8. Jerzy New 7:55 pm 07/19/2011

    I mean – zoologist may be at a loss how to treat a report of giant sea animal. But hearing a story which is important but contains clearly improbable elements must be quite regular for other people. Policeman or judge investigating a crime, where witnesses are often drunk, emotionally shaken or simply stupid. Historian tracking events by interviewing old people what happened 50 years ago. Psychologist investigating memory or cognition. There must be fair amount of knowledge and experience about this, and cryptozoologists could tap into this.

    Of course, this opens research of cryptozoology as purely folkloristic/cognitive phenomenon.

    BTW – If I remember correctly, discoveries of okapi and kipunji were done independently from local knowledge. Paper describing a discovery of kipunji AFAIK clearly states that local people believe in so many fantastic animals, that accounts of kipunji were left to lay, until kipunji was spotted by chance.

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  9. 9. HowardRichards 9:01 pm 07/19/2011

    Jerzy New brings up an important point. For example, many cryptozoologists introduce American Indian legends of sasquatch and thunderbirds as a kind of evidence that these remarkable creatures must be real. If so, what are we to make of the very widespread stories about Coyote?

    Or how about the fact that at least the Maya and the Cherokee had stories of fairy-like people who lived inside local hills — very much like stories from Europe. Is this to be taken as evidence that there are one or more races of fairies living inside various hills? Is there really a coherent way of saying, “*This* story about a remarkable creature is a mythologized description of a real animal, but *that* story about a remarkable creature is pure imagination”?

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  10. 10. DMA12 9:18 am 07/20/2011

    HowardRichards, some creatures are likely entirely mythical. However, many local legends have led to the discovery of new species. Also, there are some very good pieces of evidence that at least support the possibility of Bigfoot.

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  11. 11. HowardRichards 11:01 am 07/20/2011

    DMA12, if one only reads the legends that relate to sasquatch — or even more, edited summaries of those legends — they may look like an impressive body of evidence. A broader reading of Native American folklore shows that these legends occur in the context of other wonder stories that even (most?) cryptozoologists don’t take seriously, such as the fairy people mentioned above, or the spear-fingered monster-woman who eats human livers, or the monster that looked like a baby but ate all the flesh off Coyote (but his friend Fox jumped over him and brought him back to life), etc. Even if you suspect that there is a signal there, the signal-to-noise is too low to be useful to biologists. Whatever physical evidence there may be for the existence of bigfoot must stand on its own; the folklore does not make it more or less believable.

    In other words, we would not accept coyotes as real animals based solely on the evidence in these stories. The evidence in favor of the reality of coyotes is not the physical evidence + the folklore, it’s just the physical evidence (which is all too abundant these days!). Coyote in folklore has at most a marginal resemblance to Canis latrans. If sasquatch legends are based on a real animal, the same situation should be expected.

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  12. 12. Heteromeles 1:01 pm 07/20/2011

    I’d also point out that Europe has widespread legends of “wild-men” (as well as ogres and giants), so one could reasonably ask where the European sasquatch are or were.

    But again, it’s not just the legendary evidence, in many cases it’s the disciplined search that’s lacking. If there are areas where sasquatch apparently occur, why aren’t cryptozoologists spending months in those areas?

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  13. 13. HowardRichards 3:42 pm 07/20/2011


    Actually, Europe makes more sense for a “wild-man”, since there are fossils of Homo erectus and the Neanderthals. However unlikely it may be that any of these populations may have survived into historical times, at least they were in Europe in prehistory. No such fossils have been found in the New World, though.

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  14. 14. Heteromeles 4:34 pm 07/20/2011


    I used to think that was a reasonable explanation. However, if one believes this new study (, there’s genetic evidence that all modern humans outside of Africa carry Neanderthal genes. Perhaps that’s where the gallic nose came from, I do not know. Regardless, I’m not sure that the “neanderthal as (fill in the blank mythical humanoid)” theory works as well as it used to.

    More to the point, neanderthals weren’t giant, and there’s no evidence that they were hairy all over, nor that they lived naked in the woods with animal companions, as did the mythical woodwose (

    Personally, having read some of the old Celtic legends of wild men, I’m more comfortable with the idea that many of them were nuts. In one story, a man is even driven mad during battle, and spends years in the forest before he could return to civilization. To me, this sounds more like PTSD than sasquatch.

    Still, the fact remains that no one is seriously looking for sasquatch in the Black Forest, or in the Middle East, even if there are neanderthal fossils from these locales and stories of historic wildmen (woodwoses, Enkidu, etc). In this case, old stories of wild men are not a terribly useful guide to the presence of cryptids.

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  15. 15. Allen Hazen 4:49 pm 07/20/2011

    Re: Heteromeles (#3)…
    So the “cryptozoologists” hunting Sasquatch are amateurs, and their methods are amateurish: they don’t seem to have any idea how systematic and patient they would have to be (unlike BBC nature videographers). (My attempt at summarizing your complaint.)

    I think this is an instance of a more widespread phenomenon. To be a professional scientist, you have to know some science (basic facts, theory…), but you also have to have internalized things that the textbooks don’t (can’t) teach: like a sense of just how patient is reasonably patient. (Textbook can’t teach that, because it’s too variable: how patient do you have to be in deciding whether there are white-tailed deer in some part of the northeastern U.S.? Maybe not very, deer being common where they occur at all and leaving lots of visible traces. How patient would you have to be to come up with a worthwhile estimate of the likelihood of the presence of, say, Felis concolor in the same area, given the likelihood that if present it is rare? A lot more patient!) This sort of “informal” knowledge is a part of what the historian/philosopher of science T.S. Kuhn called a “paradigm”; the need for it is maybe why the process of BECOMING and accredited scientist involves something like an apprenticeship, and not just study.

    The problem comes when an amateur doesn’t realize there IS any such thing to learn, and doesn’t seem to want to find out the limitations of their own knowledge. At that point they become pseudoscientists (or, in other contexts and with appropriate changes to what the “paradigm” ought to be, conspiracy theorists).

    Meanwhile… logs sometimes break loose from lumber tows and float around the waters off British Columbia and the Alaskan panhandle, and at least one of the Cadborosaurus stills recently on the net looks rather loggish to me.

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  16. 16. Heteromeles 5:46 pm 07/20/2011


    I think you are too polite to the sasquatch hunters. The irony here is that the same TV channel that carried the latest series in the US also carried BBC’s Madagascar, complete with the usual “behind the Scenes” featurette showing how much various camera-people suffered for particular shots. The reason I picked the example of the BBC is because they show their work, and the shows are accessible to everyone, unlike papers in obscure journals. The bottom line is that anyone who watches nature documentaries can readily seen the gulf between real science and nature photography and the cryptid hunters. It’s not a pretty gulf, but it is one that could readily be bridged by a dedicated researcher with enough backing to spend a season on a project, rather than two days.

    As for Cadborosaurus, I will give credit to the Discovery Channel and the guys from Deadliest Catch ( They went looking for a lake monster, and managed to get a brief camera shot and briefly hook something that was large, alive, and that they couldn’t identify (from what I could see, it might have been an almighty big sturgeon, but probably not). Mind you, they are experienced Alaskan fishermen, so if they can’t identify a fish, it’s possible that it was a cryptid. Now, if they’d just save the hook next time for DNA analysis, I for one would be really, really happy…

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  17. 17. HowardRichards 7:18 pm 07/20/2011


    Not really. I appear to have been banned over at cryptomundo for making essentially the same comments I’ve made here and at Tet Zoo 2.

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  18. 18. Jerzy New 7:24 pm 07/20/2011


    Actually, there were many well prepared amateur searches for Bigfoot. They are not publicized, because they all failed.

    Also, I read an account of sea monster with raised neck, eye and mouth, which turned to be a drifting log upon close inspection.

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  19. 19. Jerzy New 7:38 pm 07/20/2011

    I think only real cryptid hominids were people who were suffering from mental illness or congenital disorders and were thrown off from society.

    Not interesting for a zoologist, but at least likely.

    Dress down a normal human with body hair and strong facial features, add dirt and you have a passable yeti. I cannot help but think of a friend who has Ph.D. but has browridges and face fit for a Neandertal.

    In medieval times it was believed that any human who lives without clothing and civilization will soon grow fur, forget speech, start running on all fours etc. There are also stories of people who changed like this, either as a result of meditation in solitude, or contrastingly, as divine punishment for misdeeds.

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  20. 20. John Harshman 8:11 pm 07/20/2011

    Are living ivory-billed woodpeckers a fit subject for cryptozoology? It seems to me that if there is a benefit to having such a discipline (distinct from plain vanilla alpha taxonomy), it’s the impetus to develop methods of evaluating really crappy data.

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  21. 21. naishd 5:50 am 07/21/2011

    Thanks indeed for these thoughtful comments (and, hello Jerzy – yes, I am on your side as goes the obstacle posed by registering/logging in).

    I hope nobody gets the impression that I’m defending the woolly thinking and poor practises etc. seen in some quarters of the cryptozoological research community… I’m really not. But I do sometimes get the impression that people are so keen to heap scorn and disdain on sloppy cryptozoologists that they ignore two main areas. Firstly, the extensive overlap between ‘proper’ zoology/biology and mystery animal research: not all cryptozoological research is performed by amateurs or non-scientists (have you looked at the published output of the now defunct ISC journal Cryptozoology?). Secondly, the fact that science can still be done on eyewitness reports, no matter what those reports represent. The argument that interested people aren’t looking at mystery animal reports from the perspective of psychology, witness bias etc. is just naive and indicates unfamiliarity with the literature (e.g., Rabbit 2000, Paxton 2009) and with what those interested are actually saying. Granted, this sort of research means that at least some (or even a lot) of ‘cryptozoology’ is not zoology of any sort.

    As for Ivory-billed woodpeckers, their alleged survival is indeed something investigated by cryptozoologists… but, wait a minute, the workers who have published on the topic most recently are qualified ornithologists and conservation biologists: e.g., Fitzpatrick et al. (2005), Wilcove (2005), Hill et al. (2006). No, I’m not impressed with the evidence, but my point here is that – again – people who wouldn’t regard themselves as ‘cryptozoologists’ are doing cryptozoological research.

    By the way, I’m not much impressed with the new ‘cadborosaur’ footage. It seems to combine a brief view of a cetacean with a ‘standing wake’ effect.

    Fossil hominids in N. America: have any of you heard of the alleged H. erectus remains from Lake Chapala in Mexico?


    Refs – -

    Fitzpatrick, J. W., Lammertink, M., Luneau, M. D., Gallagher, T. W., Harrison, B. R., Sparling, G. M., Rosenberg, K. V., Rohrbaugh, R. W., Swarthout, E. C. H., Wrege, P. H., Swarthout, S. B., Dantzker, M. S., Charif, R. A., Barksdale, T. R., Remsen, J. V., Simon, S. D. & Zollner, D. 2005. Ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) persists in continental North America. Science 308, 1460-1462.

    Hill, G. E., Mennill, D. J., Rolek, B. W., Hicks, T. L. & Swiston, K. A. 2006. Evidence suggesting that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers (Campephilus principalis) exist in Florida. Avian Conservation and Ecology 1(3): 2.

    Paxton, C. G. M. 2009. The plural of “anecdote” can be “data”: statistical analysis of viewing distances in reports of unidentified giant marine animals 1758-2000. Journal of Zoology 279, 381-387.

    Rabbit, J. 2000. Native and eyewitness testimony in cryptozoology. The Cryptozoology Review 4 (1), 11-18.

    Wilcove, D. S. 2005. Rediscovery of the Ivory-billed woodpecker. Science 308, 1422-1423.

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  22. 22. HowardRichards 9:28 am 07/21/2011


    I think you miss my point, which was really that all hominids, as far as we know, are native only to the Old World. If I were to guess the most likely spot for some sort of non-human bipedal hominid, it would have to be Africa, because we know they were there at one time.

    Even if most of us do carry some Neanderthal genes, we’re not full-blooded Neanderthals, so we still have insufficient knowledge as to what an encounter with one would be like. I agree that it would be unlikely to look like a sasquatch, but it may look more like, indeed, a “wild man”, and a little exaggeration and repeated storytelling could make him look even more crude, savage, and huge. Then again, as I get older I appear to be becoming a silverback myself, so who knows? :-)

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  23. 23. HowardRichards 9:34 am 07/21/2011

    I should have added that even if there are no currently extant different species or subspecies of man, that doesn’t mean there could not have been some that influenced culture and folklore, like the European cave lion.

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  24. 24. HowardRichards 10:32 am 07/21/2011

    Re: Ivory-billed woodpeckers

    There are at least 5 categories of animals the study of which is sometimes called cryptozoology. I think it’s important to consider these separately because their relationships to science and to the cryptozoological community are different.

    1. Animals that are out of place, like big cats in Britain or alligators in the New York sewers. Plausible explanations can be given for such animals — they were escapees from a private collection, pets released into the wild, etc. Self-described cryptozoologists seem to have mixed opinions about whether such studies are really cryptozoology.

    2. Animals that are known to have been present in the area in the recent past, but which have no “confirmed sightings” for a sufficiently long period of time for them to be classified as extinct. This would include the ivory-billed woodpecker and the Tasmanian wolf. The possibility that some animals have remained overlooked in the wild remains valid. Since attempts to find living examples of these creatures do not require witness accounts for motivation, this is arguably not cryptozoology.

    3. Animals that are currently unknown to science but which have been seen by witnesses and which have close relatives living nearby. The cryptid rail falls into this category. Such animals are not *inherently* improbable, and researchers looking for them may not consider this to be “cryptozoology”.

    4. Animals that are believed to have been extinct for a long time, and which may or may not be known from the area in which they are reported. The search for living non-avian dinosaurs falls into this category; the search for bigfoot probably does, too, since he sounds like an overgrown Paranthropus. Everyone agrees that this is cryptozoology, but for a variety of reasons, not everyone agrees it is science.

    Incidentally, I don’t think it would be appropriate to classify the discovery of living coelacanths here. Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer was on the lookout for any rare or unusual fish, not specifically for a “living fossil”.

    5. Animals that are known from folklore or even witness reports but which appear to be biologically impossible. This would include mermaids and the bipedal chupacabras. This category rapidly blurs into the paranormal, which is often avoided by self-described cryptozoologists.

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  25. 25. Heteromeles 12:57 pm 07/21/2011


    The only thing that’s weird about the new Cadborosaurus is that the video footage came from freshwater Lake Iliamna, which isn’t connect to the ocean. Since it’s the eighth largest lake in North America, it’s also big enough to support large fish. Loch Ness this ain’t.

    Personally, I think the best explanation is a large white sturgeon. Then again, these “sturgeon” are straightening out large fish-hooks and appear to be using sharp teeth to chew up salmon heads. Something doesn’t make sense here. Check out

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  26. 26. Heteromeles 1:07 pm 07/21/2011

    Sorry for the split post. There are more clips at:

    Correction: you’re right, the first footage linked to is Bristol Bay, which is oceanic. Most of the monster hunting was on Lake Iliamna.

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  27. 27. HowardRichards 2:02 pm 07/21/2011

    Of the 5 categories I listed above, there are certainly “real scientists” who are engaged in categories 1-3, but they may not think of themselves or call themselves “cryptozoologists”. Category 5 is pretty clearly outside the boundaries of science, and many self-described cryptozoologists think of it as outside cryptozoology.

    Category 4 is the interesting one. It’s clearly cryptozoology as everyone uses the word; it’s “target” animals may be very, very unlikely, but they are not rigorously impossible. It’s also hard to find “real scientists” who are engaged in this, probably for two reasons. (a) It’s one thing to go after a high-risk, high-reward objective, but the odds of success are so low that it’s hard to justify the effort. I think even people who want scientists to seriously study bigfoot have to acknowledge this: if it were easy to come up with the kind of evidence that biology really needs, it would have happened already. Scientists not only need to keep funding by producing results, they are as prone as anyone to become discouraged by a lack of results. (b) This “field” is chock-full of cranks and nutjobs. Again, even people who are fascinated with bigfoot and are convinced that he is real seem to look suspiciously at best at rival bigfoot hunters. Not only do professional scientists have an interest in not being associated with cranks, the cranks can be expected to be an ongoing thorn in the scientist’s side. They would demand to “be involved”; they would want the scientist to use their methods and accept their guidance; they would want the scientist to immediately drop his (or her) own research and jump over to the rumor that has captured their attention. When the scientist refused to play by these rules, the cranks would belittle him (or her) as being incompetent, bound by “scientific dogma”, or even part of a grand conspiracy. Who wants to put up with this?

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  28. 28. naishd 7:07 pm 07/21/2011

    Err, what was that you were saying about cryptozoology being chock-full of cranks and nutjobs?

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  29. 29. DMA12 8:57 pm 07/21/2011

    Wow! Despite everything I’ve read or heard, it still surprises me how ignorant some people are. Unfortunately, there are still parts of the USA that are swarming with people like that. On another note, I just checked out an updated copy of “On The Origin of Species”. It’s a long book.

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  30. 30. Heteromeles 9:11 pm 07/21/2011

    What? You don’t have a copy of The Origin in your bedside night stand? For shame!

    On a brighter note, it’s available online for free if you don’t get to finish it in paper form. The best thing about reading the Origin is finding out how very old some modern biological arguments and notions are.

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  31. 31. HowardRichards 11:14 pm 07/21/2011

    @Darren Naish

    I hope you did not take offense at what I said. Yes, the search for things like living plesiosaurs or non-avian dinosaurs is very attractive to nutjobs. That doesn’t meant that everyone who looks at a photo and tries to figure out what it is is nuts.

    But I can’t say anything nice about the kind of people who, for example, raise money for an expedition to find the mokèlé-mbèmbé, which they *assure* their supporters is proof that sauropods (a) never went extinct, (b) were the Biblical behemoth, and (c) lived an acted just the way they did in children’s dinosaur books from the 1950′s. After all, in 1976 some natives said the picture of a Diplodocus was the best match to mokèlé-mbèmbé! Thus we see that dinosaurs never went extinct, and the whole theory of evolution is a fraud! (Believe me, I’ve heard all this many times as a child.)

    Some areas of science just naturally draw out more kooks than others. Egyptology does; heck, just think for a moment about all the crazy things people have said about the Great Pyramid. So does anything to do with outer space; NASA even found it wise to publicly take a look at “breakthrough propulsion”, certainly more to satisfy taxpayers who are obsessed with science fiction than in any realistic hope of success.

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  32. 32. Mythusmage 12:15 am 07/22/2011


    Actually, you belong to a sub species of human, Homo sapiens sapiens. As a matter of fact, last I heard there were some three sub-species currently exant; African Man, Eurasian Man (part Neanderthal) and Australian Man (part sub species of the Neanderthal). As far as I can tell, Nilotics, Khoi, Pygmies, Negritos and Bushmen are likely sub-species of human. So there’s more to humanity than most people know.

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  33. 33. HowardRichards 1:16 am 07/22/2011


    People have been trying to organize modern humans into different subspecies for a long time, usually for racist purposes, without success. I’m a slow adopter, so it will take more than one paper on the tiny genetic differences between modern humans to convince me that there is justification for dividing us into subspecies.

    Certainly all currently living humans have been described as Homo sapiens sapiens to distinguish them from Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens idaltu, but even if we were divided as you suggest, probably no group would inherit the subspecies name sapiens. We really don’t want to get into classifying some people as “true humans” and others as Untermenschen.

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  34. 34. naishd 5:43 am 07/22/2011

    HowardRichards: offence? No, I haven’t taken offence from anything you’ve said – should I have? :) I think that the association of creationists with cryptozoology is further helping to thoroughly undermine whatever credibility cryptozoology might have. Some cryptozoologists (like Loren Coleman) seem to acknowledge this and have stated their adherence to an evolutionary framework. Others think that it isn’t really a problem and that we can all get along. Obviously, I can’t agree with this, since it demonstrates from the outset an unscientific approach and predetermined agenda, set of conclusions etc. And, yes, some people who call themselves cryptozoologists do link their pursuit of alleged mystery animals to their beliefs about biblical magic – various books have been written in recent years by individuals linking such things as mokele-mbembe and the ropen to their creationist view of the world (ropen-loving creationist Jonathan Whitcomb writes about me fairly frequently on his blog ‘The Bible and Modern Pterosaurs’. His main argument seems to be that being qualified as a palaeontologist doesn’t make me an expert on the possible survival of animals in the modern day. Wait… what?). It’s this kind of stuff that can lead to the “cryptozoology: avoid at all costs” possibility mentioned in the title.

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  35. 35. DMA12 6:44 am 07/22/2011

    I think I saw John Whitcomb’s book somewhere about American pterosaurs. Apparently, our suburbs are filled with hidden populations of gigantic “rhamphorhynchids” with spaded tails, large crest, and glowing skin. They have the same kind of people on the Monsterquest episode for the ropen (technically, the duah).

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  36. 36. Heteromeles 9:54 am 07/22/2011

    @Howard: The only good question is: what and where is the type specimen for Homo sapiens sapiens? Otherwise, I absolutely agree with you.

    @Mythus: We can, with some genes, create a phylogenetic tree for extant humans, although I don’t know that all genes provide precisely the same tree. However, said gene tree does not map well on to external phenotypes, so it’s worthless for creating subspecies. The best example are “blacks.” There’s demonstrably more human genetic diversity in Africa than anywhere else on the planet, so the designation of a “black race” is worthless. When you get beyond skin color and look at things such as facial and body shapes, you see how much diversity exists in Africa.

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  37. 37. Jerzy New 12:31 pm 07/22/2011

    Type specimen of Homo sapiens is designated to be Carl Linnaeus himself (“Nosce Te ipsum” – recognize yourself). Not retained, currently at Uppsala Cahedral, Sweden.

    @Scientific American blogs
    If you compare this discussion and previous ones on the same topic on earlier version of Darren’s blog, this one is much less active. Err, you can easily do more to popularize science…

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  38. 38. Jerzy New 12:47 pm 07/22/2011

    @ivory-billed woodpecker
    This topic was “done to death” on birdforum, in a giga-thread with over a 1000 posts.

    Basically, most or a significant portion of researchers prefers Ivory-billed Woodpecker to stay hidden. First, for safety from birdwatchers and poachers, second to buy land for reserves at lower price. The original sightings were kept secret for about a year, and probably would not be published, had George W. Bush not announced a speech on a need to develop Arkansas swamplands.

    Second is that searches were confined to a small area around the original sighting. Most likely explanation is that Arkansas ivory-billed woodpecker was a dispersing indvidual which stayed in Pearl River area for several days and left. It is probably now breeding in some other area of the swamps.

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  39. 39. Allen Hazen 8:39 pm 07/22/2011

    Re: Mythusmage (#32)
    For quite a while, I assumed that the unwillingness of anthropologists to recognize “subspecies” of extant Homo sapiens was mainly a matter of “political correctness” (though I thought this before that phrase was commonly used!): don’t say ANYTHING that might be construed as giving comfort to racists! It turns out, however, that there is actually a thoroughly objective zoological reason for not designating human subspecies, though I don’t think it was known in the 1960s when I first wondered about this. There are statistical measures of the amount of genetic difference between populations, and there is a degree of difference that is common between recognized subspecies of non-human mammals: this is sometimes appealed to in arguments about whether two types should be recognized as different species or subspecies. It turns out that modern humans of different “races” are genetically more similar to each other than (say) squirrels of different “subspecies.” It turns out that there are a few genes affecting visible phenotype (skin color, for example) that are strongly correlated with geographical origin in modern humans, but these genes are the exception. Given only data on the genotypes, no mammalogist would take African, Eurasian and Australian humans to belong to different subspecies.

    Even the politically correct turn out, surprisingly, to be right occasionally!

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  40. 40. Christine Janis 3:09 pm 08/2/2011

    @ Heteromeles
    “I’ve come to the frustrating conclusion that it’s an insult to zoologists to call the sasquatch hunters scientists, at least until they’re willing to spend their months in rigorous field work, out in the woods every night without fail, recording bigfoot calls and checking sample traps (for hair, dung, footprints, photos, whatever) every day.”

    I’d like to note that this is exactly what Richard Greenwell (former secretary and driving force behind the International Society for Cryptozoology) was actually doing for several summers in northern California. Unfortunately he never found anything conclusive

    Richard’s untimely death almost a decade ago was what caused the final collapse of ISC. He was always careful to disassociate the society from cranks, and it’s unfortunate to see that many people these days (to judge from Don Prothero’s own blurb for his upcoming book) see the discipline as a refuge for pseudoscientific nutjobs. I hope this meeting means that there’s a genuine cryptozoology revival on the horizon.

    Christine (Former board member of ISC)

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  41. 41. naishd 4:31 pm 08/2/2011

    Thanks for the comment, Christine. I’m actually doing the specialist read of Don (and Daniel Loxton’s) book right now. It’s harsh but mostly fair.


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  42. 42. everest28 11:08 pm 10/7/2011

    Been a huge cryptozoology buff my whole life. Was stoked to find out the the Founder of Prehistoric Channel has written a thriller book called THE ICE GORILLA. Rumor has it that THE ICE GORILLA book is being looked at by movie producers who want to make it into a movie. Will depend on how well the book sells. Anyone read anything different or has anyone read THE ICE GORILLA? jUST CURIOUS. pEacE

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