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Alien Investigations and the Montauk Monster

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


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Tonight, Channel 4 here in the UK screens a new TV show called Alien Investigations [adjacent screengrab from here on the Channel 4 site]. I believe that it has already been screened on the Science Channel in North America, where it was titled Alien Mummies. I haven’t yet seen the show so cannot comment on it in any useful fashion; I merely want to mention it now because (a) I appear – at least briefly – in said TV show, and (b) it gives us another opportunity to comment on the hype that continues to surround the (mis)identification of odd-looking animal carcasses.

Montauk Monster # 1. Several other, similar carcasses turned up later. All can be identified as decomposing raccoons.

Several weird-looking carcasses, all identified by amateurs as freak, mystery creatures, and even intimated by some to be the bodies of genetic experiments or aliens, appear in Alien Investigations. Top of the list is the Montauk Monster, a mostly naked-skinned mammal carcass that was discovered at Montauk Beach, Long Island, New York, in July 2008. As is reasonably well known these days, I argued (in an August 2008 article at the ScienceBlogs version of Tetrapod Zoology) that both the overall form and proportions of the carcass and the detailed configuration and anatomy of its teeth and skull reveal that it is not an alien, a mutation, hybrid or otherwordly monster of any sort, but actually a partially decomposed Raccoon Procyon lotor. There is no doubt about this identification whatsoever.

Screenshot from the National Geographic series Wild Case Files. Darren Naish with (to right) a raccoon skeleton. Image courtesy Tigress Productions.

The idea that the Montauk Monster can be identified as a raccoon is not ‘mine’ specifically; as you’ll recall if you were following internet activity at the time, numerous people (on chat rooms, blogs, facebook and elsewhere) simultaneously identified the carcass correctly. I was merely able to use Tetrapod Zoology as a vehicle to bring this hypothesis to widespread attention.

So far as I know – and so far as I can judge, given the theme and content of the interview segment I provided for the show – the people behind Alien Investigations have done the right thing, and are balancing the incredible claims and misidentifications that have surrounded the Montauk Monster and other such carcasses with rational explanations.

That impression, however, does not come across in the only clips I’ve seen online, but, then, maybe they’ve been put together in order to look as sensational as possible. We see people (some of whom are well known for being ‘pro-alien’) claiming that certain mystery carcasses have a mix of human and ‘unknown’ DNA, or have an anatomy that cannot be explained by scientists. As I recently said in my Journal of Cryptozoology paper on the Margaret River carcass (Naish 2012), people only tend to say this because they don’t show those carcasses to the right kinds of scientists! Comparatively few people are able to evaluate and identify decomposing raccoons, cats or monkeys – these days, even the majority of qualified biologists know a lot about genetics and perhaps behaviour and ecology, but tend not to be good on anatomy.

Besides the Montauk Monster, Alien Investigations definitely features a weird, pink, naked-skinned, primate-shaped creature, also alleged by some to be remarkable and other-wordly. I don’t want to say any more for now, though I do think that the identify of the carcass can be resolved. Let’s see how things pan out. How these carcasses have been interpreted and discussed by the media, by the online community, and by people in general is itself a fascinating subject worthy of coverage, no matter what the carcasses themselves turn out to be. In fact, a good argument could be made that the Montauk Monster and other cases covered here are 21st century versions of the Hydras, Jenny Hannivers, stuffed mermaids and other such ‘monsters’ of centuries past. Their interpretation and investigation is more to do with psychology, sociology and communications than it is about biology and zoology.

To those of you in the UK: Alien Investigations screens tonight (Sunday 2nd December) at 8pm, Channel 4. We can discuss the fallout in the comments here.

Ref – -

Naish, D. 2012. Identifying ‘Jaws’, the Margaret River mammal carcase. The Journal of Cryptozoology 1, 45-55.

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 darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com! 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. Plastics Pyrolysis 1:37 pm 12/2/2012

    UFO .. I believe that they are alive and we don’t know where they are .. I hope more investigations revealing themselves that they are real..

    [spam url deleted]

    Link to this
  2. 2. John Harshman 7:39 pm 12/2/2012

    We see people (some of whom are well known for being ‘pro-alien’) claiming that certain mystery carcasses have a mix of human and ‘unknown’ DNA…

    No doubt by now you’ve seen reports of the bigfoot DNA sequencing, which shows a mixture of DNA sequences identical to human and unknown sequences (which I take as meaning “not human and we didn’t even bother to BLAST them against GenBank”). The paper is supposedly in review.

    If somehow you aren’t aware of this, a search on “bigfoot dna” will tell you both more and less than you want to know.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Liony 7:42 pm 12/2/2012

    I have been reading through your back archives for a couple of months so it was a nice surprise to see you suddenly appear on the telly.
    The program seemed to been quite balanced. It introduced us to three ‘alien’ cases and then debunked them pretty accurately, I thought. The alien believers were given their chance to state their cases as well, but the mundane explanations seemed to have more evidence behind them every time.
    I thought the Montauk might have been a little dog when I first saw it; like a little Pug or Chihuahua mix. When you said ‘raccoon’, it immediately made sense, because of the hands.

    Link to this
  4. 4. TimWil 12:59 am 12/3/2012

    I did a search on “bigfoot DNA”. It confirmed my suspicions. The mitochondrial DNA is human. So the “bigfoot” DNA is probably human DNA contaminated by something else (bacterial, fungal, dog, cat, plant – or even all of the above). But I look forward to the paper – unless it gets the kibosh in the review process.

    Link to this
  5. 5. naishd 4:08 am 12/3/2012

    I am very familiar with the Ketchum et al. bigfoot manuscript. Alas, procedure prevents me from talking about it.

    Darren

    Link to this
  6. 6. Andreas Johansson 4:56 am 12/3/2012

    a weird, pink, naked-skinned, primate-shaped creature, also alleged by some to be remarkable and other-wordly.

    Darren Naish?

    Well, I guess not, because the next sentence implies the creature to be dead, while our esteemed host appears to be alive and kicking (or at least typing), but description does sound a lot like a human of the pink persuasion.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Jerzy v. 3.0. 4:57 am 12/3/2012

    These “debunking documentaries” seem to rather publicize fringe theories which would be otherwise overlooked and forgotten.

    I think it would be much funnier to start your own myths. For example, use the fact that human DNA contaminates pretty much everything on the planet and claim that “DNA study discovers a hybrid between human and tapeworm human” or “DNA in bone cracks shows that humans hunted T-rex”. ;)

    Link to this
  8. 8. Hydrarchos 9:15 am 12/3/2012

    “a weird, pink, naked-skinned, primate-shaped creature, also alleged by some to be remarkable and other-wordly.”

    “Primate-shaped” makes it a bit of a stretch, but could this be that drowned sloth?

    If not, most likely a mangy escaped monkey, or a deliberate Jenny Haniver type of thing…

    Link to this
  9. 9. John Harshman 10:28 am 12/3/2012

    Re: Ketchum et al.: I suppose you are unable even to tell us what journal it was submitted to? If I had real bigfoot DNA (including, apparently three entire genomes!), I would sure shoot for Nature.

    Link to this
  10. 10. David Marjanović 10:54 am 12/3/2012

    What is Jenny Haniver? (And is that a typo for Hanover?)

    Link to this
  11. 11. Andreas Johansson 11:20 am 12/3/2012

    A Jenny Haniver is apparently a dried ray or skate that’s been cut up to look like a little humanoid. There’s a short WP article.

    Link to this
  12. 12. lovejoy00 12:50 pm 12/3/2012

    What a stupid waste of time this programme was. so..some people found some strange dead animals…after scientific examination…they turned out to be…ordinary animals. woopy do!! how exciting ( I don’t think ) I live under a flight path of heathrow..the other night I saw some coloured lights in the sky…they turned out to be a jet airliner…would they like to make a programme about that ? meanwhile the worlds media turns it’s back on the true and inexplicable ufo situation.

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  13. 13. ErnestPayne 5:14 pm 12/3/2012

    I am willing to settle for a 499 channel if it means getting rid of these pseudo science programmes. All they do is foster stupidity.

    Link to this
  14. 14. Mike from Ottawa 10:25 pm 12/3/2012

    “I am very familiar with the Ketchum et al. bigfoot manuscript. Alas, procedure prevents me from talking about it.”

    Bad news: we have to wait. Good news: Darren is on the case so at some point science will happen to it.

    Link to this
  15. 15. TimWil 11:12 pm 12/3/2012

    These pseudo-science “documentaries” do tend to promote fringe theories, even if that isn’t their intention. Whether it’s alien abductions and UFOs, or sasquatch or Nessie, or aliens building the pyramids, or haunted houses … it’s all pseudo-scientific nonsense. Unfortunately, because of the sensational content,these shows often rate quite well – often better than fact-based science programs.

    As Mulder says “I want to believe”. People want to believe in supernatural and extraterrestrial beings, and in semi-mythical creatures like modern age ape-men (sasquatch, yeti, orang pendek, whatever). IMHO it’s a shame that money gets spent on this pseudo-scientific filler, rather than on the endeavours of *real* scientists.

    Link to this
  16. 16. farandfew 6:45 am 12/4/2012

    Jerzy: “claim that…DNA in bone cracks shows that humans hunted T-rex”.

    ‘Hunted?’ Why aim so low? Why not ‘hybridized with’. In fact I think it’s clear that tyrannosaurs actually descended from humans. In fact the ubiquity of human DNA in all samples clearly indicates that all animals descended from tiny little humans floating around in the sea.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Mike from Ottawa 9:45 am 12/4/2012

    @16: If you can imagine it, then someone, somewhere has already claimed it is real.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Christopher Taylor 3:27 am 12/5/2012

    @17: Hora.

    Link to this
  19. 19. John Scanlon FCD 9:03 am 12/6/2012

    @17: is that a family-friendly statement of Rule 34?

    Link to this
  20. 20. David Marjanović 1:22 pm 12/7/2012

    Yes.

    Link to this

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