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The inaugural issue of The Journal of Cryptozoology

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


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Cryptozoology is the study of animals or alleged animals that are known only from anecdotal evidence. The field has a bit of an image problem. Frankly, this isn’t much of a surprise when you look at the busy efforts of the various creationists, true believers and cranks who express interest in the subject.

And several recent claims about yeti and sasquatch DNA haven’t exactly done much to further the view that cryptozoological studies are being conducted in a manner typical for scientific research (you don’t have a published paper, but you want the world to know that you’ve submitted a manuscript? Good work).

However… while being careful (as always) to make clear the point that an interest in cryptozoology does not demonstrate ‘belief’ in, or acceptance of, specific cryptozoological ‘targets’, I still maintain that cryptozoology cannot and should not be considered a pseudoscience. Why? Mostly because there is no contradiction whatsoever between the scepticism, hypothesis-testing, self-correction and need for autoptic evidence typical of ‘proper’ science with analyses of cryptozoological data, nor does investigation of cryptozoological data hinge on the assumption that there are always real, flesh-and-blood animals at the bottom of eyewitness reports.

Meurger & Gagnon's (1988) contention is that 'mystery animals' have a folkloric origin, arguably meaning that those branches of cryptozoology aiming to interpret eyewitness accounts as encounters with animals are misguided wastes of time and effort. Some cryptozoologists love what Meurger & Gagnon (1988) have to say; others hate their work.

Indeed, cryptozoological research is informed by folklorists (e.g., Meurger & Gagnon 1988, Campion-Vincent 1992, Meurger 1995, Dendle 2006), sociologists (e.g., Baylor Religion Survey 2007), anthropologists (e.g., Burney & Ramilisonina 1999) and by those interested in how eyewitnesses perceive, report and recall observations (e.g., Rabbit 2000, Paxton 2009). Lest we think that all people seriously interested in cryptozoology are kooks or creationists, note that many self-styled cryptozoologists understand full well the requirements of ‘proper’ science and normal scientific procedure.

Furthermore, quite a few technically qualified biologists have investigated animals initially known only from anecdotal reports, meaning that they too have indulged in cryptozoological research, whether they like it or not (e.g., Jones et al. 2005, LeCroy & Barker 2006, Geissmann et al. 2010).

As I said the last time I discussed this issue (July 2011), the stigma attached to the term ‘cryptozoology’ perhaps means that it’s time to give up on it entirely and to recognise instead that the study of ‘mystery animals’ either falls within the remit of conventional zoology, mammalogy, ornithology or whatever, or mythology, sociology or even psychology.

A quick history of academic venues devoted to cryptozoology

Nevertheless, there have been a few attempts to get cryptozoology taken seriously as an independent area of academic study. In 1982, the International Society of Cryptozoology (or ISC) was formed. It involved a board of consultants that mostly consisted of experienced and qualified zoologists, palaeontologists and other scientists. A peer-reviewed journal, Cryptozoology, was published annually. Alas, financial issues led to the ISC’s decline and the demise of its journal in 1996. That’s a shame, since the journal’s standards were reasonably high and its issues contain a great deal of interesting material.

1996 saw the debut of The Cryptozoology Review. Despite being desktop-published and edited by people who – at the time – were mere college students, it included a huge number of worthy and professionally compiled articles. It had run its course by 2004, ending memorably with a fantastically sceptical editorial.

In December 2008, the Musée Cantonal de Zoologie of Lausanne in Switzerland began publication of the French-language cryptozoological journal Kraken: Archives de Cryptozoologie. Many contributions published in Kraken concern correspondence or archival material rather than peer-reviewed research, but it seems that the journal was attracting increasingly technical papers towards the end of its run (e.g., Woodley 2011). Unfortunately, it only lasted for three issues (the last published in 2011), and is also now defunct.

If research on ‘mystery animals’ overlaps entirely with other areas of research – either in the biological or cultural sciences – then maybe technical papers relevant to cryptozoology should be able to stand on their own in the ‘mainstream’ scientific literature. But, given that there is undeniably a community of researchers specially interested in cryptozoological research, and a need for discussion, review and critique of issues relevant to the field, a good argument can be made that cryptozoology needs a dedicated peer-reviewed journal. And that’s why we’re here, for November 2012 saw the publication of Volume One of a new peer-reviewed publication devoted to cryptozoology: The Journal of Cryptozoology.

I received a copy a few weeks ago and have now read it cover to cover. Edited by famous cryptozoological author Karl Shuker (Karl blogs at ShukerNature), the journal employs the expertise of a list of qualified workers who act as reviewers of the submitted papers. Each issue counts as a whole volume, rather than as one issue. If you’re expecting a giant, slick, glossy volume, perhaps on par with the sort of thing produced by Elsevier, you’ll be disappointed, since it’s small and slim and the only colour is on the cover. However, the production values are about equal with that seen in many smaller journals, including the ISC journal Cryptozoology. The King cheetah has been chosen as the journal’s emblem.

Putting together the first issue of a new journal is always tricky, since the number of authors willing and able to submit work to a brand-new venue – especially that on a specialised sub-discipline – is often low. With that in mind, Volume One only includes four papers, and none are ‘game changers’ likely to inspire future research or see substantial citation in other studies. Nevertheless, all should be of some interest to those intrigued by mystery animal reports. It’s a good start at least: it will be interesting to see the sorts of submissions attracted to the journal in future. Discussion articles and reviews are encouraged.

Anyway, what, exactly, is included in this inaugural issue? Let’s look at the articles.

In the very first of them, Andrew May (2012) argues that Bayesian search algorithms of the sort used in search-and-rescue operations and military tactics can be applied to cryptozoology. Perhaps – he suggests – the use of ‘Digital Search Assistant’ software could be used to narrow down the search areas for given animals, or their remains or den sites. Search efforts of this sort have been mentioned in connection with cryptozoological targets before. During the early 1990s, Henry Nix used BIOCLIM software to predict the habitat preference for the supposedly extinct Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus. Reportedly, the regions recovered as potential ‘thylacine habitat hotspots’ matched the places where people claimed to see them. I recall reading about this research in New Scientist but don’t know if it was ever published as a paper – anybody know?

The Queensland tiger!

Rendition of the Queensland tiger, based on illustration by Alika Lindbergh in Heuvelmans (1995). By Darren Naish.

Malcolm Smith’s (2012) paper presents hitherto unpublished data on the ‘Queensland tiger’ track reported by Walter Scott in 1872 (but discovered by surveyor Alfred Hull in 1871). The track isn’t an obvious match for any known mammal and remains an enigma. For those of you who don’t know, the Queensland tiger is a striped, long-tailed, superficially cat-like animal, reported by various witnesses during the 19th and 20th centuries (though read on), and later suggested by several authors to be a surviving representative of the otherwise fossil marsupial lion family (Shuker 1989, 1995, Healy & Cropper 1994, Heuvelmans 1995).

Alas, “[D]espite the early popularity of this proposal, it failed to win adherents in the technical zoological community and has never been supported by material evidence or photographic documentation” (Naish 2012, p. 46). Sightings of Queensland tigers were never that numerous to begin with, but they seemingly tailed off some time after the 1950s. One interpretation is that the animal became super-rare or even extinct during this time. Another is that it never existed in the first place: if you read the original accounts, they could be flat-out hoaxes or confused, garbled or misinterpreted descriptions of quolls, thylacines or other animals. The 1871 footprint and certain eyewitness accounts of large, striped, predatory-looking marsupialesque Australian mammals (like Gary Opit’s 1969 report) remain intriguing and unexplained, however.

Pseudoplesiosaurs and that Australian dead cat again

One of the world’s most famous pseudoplesiosaurs: the Zuiyo Maru carcass of 1977. I am always surprised and, frankly, dismayed when I see people implying or arguing that the carcass (and others like it) might not have been that of a rotten shark.

Moving on, Markus Hemmler (2012) describes the two ‘sea monster’ carcasses that were discovered on the Orkney Islands, Scotland, in 1941 and 1942. Such carcasses typically turn out to be partially decomposed Basking sharks Cetorhinus maximus or boneless lumps of decomposing whale tissue. And the Basking shark explanation is the one that applies here, as Hemmler demonstrates by pointing to detailed anatomical features evident in surviving photographs.

The transformation of shark carcasses into so-called pseudoplesiosaurs is a well-known phenomenon, frequently mentioned or discussed in the mystery animal literature. However, as is so often the case with things that are seemingly ‘well-known’, said phenomenon is – so far as I know – not well described or well documented in the technical literature. Hemmler’s (2012) article includes some noteworthy observations on those parts of Basking shark anatomy that remain obvious in pseudoplesiosaurs. Good stuff; maybe it will inspire a detailed analysis of shark decomposition and the acquisition of the pseudoplesiosaur form.

'Jaws', the Margaret River mammal carcass. See Naish (2012).

Finally, that Naish guy has an article in the volume as well: it’s the technical version of my evaluation of the Margaret River mammal carcass, previously written about on Tet Zoo ver 2 in May 2009. A single colour photo of a peculiar mammal carcass, taken in or around 1975, has been intimated to be possibly relevant to the Queensland tiger mystery. Both the general form of the carcass and the visible details of the animal’s dentition lead me to argue that the carcass is actually that of a domestic cat, though note the caveat that “the unknown whereabouts of the carcase… combined with the poor quality of the surviving photograph, means that we will likely never be able to arrive at a conclusive identification” (Naish 2012, p. 48).

So, there we have it. Volume One of The Journal of Cryptozoology is out, and very nice it is too.  I look forward to seeing the contents of Volume Two, I congratulate those involved in the production and putting-together of this inaugural issue, and I hope that the dialogue and debate about the nature and direction of cryptozoology – however we understand and define this term – continues.

Volume One can be purchased online here; it is just £6.99, with an international postage and packing charge of £2 being required as well (so, £8.99 or US$14.5 or EUR11). Unfortunately, it does not seem that pdfs are available online, nor is this an open-access endeavour (for now).

Several of the issues discussed here have been covered on Tet Zoo before. See…

Refs – -

Burney, D. A. & Ramilisonina. 1999. The kilopilopitsofy, kidoky, and bokyboky: accounts of strange animals from Belo-sur-mer, Madagascar, and the megafaunal “extinction window”. American Anthropologist 100, 957-966.

Campion-Vincent, V. 1992. Appearances of beasts and mystery-cats in France. Folklore 103, 160-183.

Dendle, P. 2006. Cryptozoology in the medieval and modern worlds. Folklore 117, 190-206.

Geissmann, T., Lwin, N., Aung, S. N., Aung, T. N ., Aung, Z. M., Hla, T. H., Grindley, M. & Momberg, F. 2010. A new species of snub-nosed monkey, genus Rhinopithecus Milne-Edwards, 1872 (Primates, Colobinae), from Nothern Kachin State, northeastern Myanmar. American Journal of Primatology 72, 1-12.

Healy, T. & Cropper, P. 1994. Out of the Shadows: Mystery Animals of Australia. Ironbark, Chippendale, Australia.

Heuvelmans, B. 1995. On the Track of Unknown Animals. Kegan Paul International, London.

Hemmler, M. 2012. Hunda ‘Scapasaurus’ photo (re)discovered, with explanation of descriptive trends in relation to pseudoplesiosaurs. The Journal of Cryptozoology 1, 25-43.

Jones, T., Ehardt, C. L., Butynski, T. M., Davenport, T. R. B., Mpunga, N. E., Machaga, S. J. & De Luca, D. W. 2005. The Highland mangabey Lophocebus kipunji: a new species of African monkey. Science 308, 1161-1164.

LeCroy, M. & Barker, F. K. 2006. A new species of bush-warbler from Bougainville Island and a monophyletic origin for southwest Pacific Cettia. American Museum Novitates 3511, 1-20.

May, A. 2012. A digital search assistant for cryptozoological field expeditions. The Journal of Cryptozoology 1, 9-17.

Meurger, M. 1995. Of skrimsls and men, Icelandic water being from folklore to speculative zoology. Fortean Studies 2, 166-176.

- . & Gagnon, C. 1988. Lake Monster Traditions: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. Fortean Times, London.

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

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.

Shuker, K. P. N. 1989. Mystery Cats of the World. Robert Hale, London.

- . 1995. In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. Blandford, London.

Smith, M. 2012. The Queensland tiger: further evidence on the 1871 footprint. The Journal of Cryptozoology 1, 19-24.

Woodley, M. A. 2011. Introducing aequivotaxa: A new classificatory system for cryptozoology. Kraken: Archives of Cryptozoology 3, 63-85.

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. David Marjanović 12:35 pm 12/22/2012

    Encouraging!

    But really, even if behind a paywall, pdfs should be made available online. More and more people insist on carrying their entire library around on a harddisk.

    Link to this
  2. 2. David Marjanović 12:35 pm 12/22/2012

    …also, printing costs!

    Link to this
  3. 3. Heteromeles 2:40 pm 12/22/2012

    For once, I totally agree with David. I’m not at all clear what the advantages to paper are. There appears nothing to be gained by elitism in a field dominated by the unwashed. Who knows? They might even learn something.

    Link to this
  4. 4. naishd 6:23 pm 12/22/2012

    For the record, I have been banging on about digital access right from the start. Emailed the publishers and the editor over the last few days and still waiting for latest developments.

    Darren

    Link to this
  5. 5. Mythusmage 9:53 pm 12/22/2012

    Speaking of crytids…

    How can the onza be a cryptid when the animal has been discovered and identified? Right or wrong it has been identified.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Mythusmage 9:56 pm 12/22/2012

    Forgot this part…

    You couldn’t provide a link? Keeping it all for yourself, eh?

    Link to this
  7. 7. Heteromeles 10:33 pm 12/22/2012

    Um,mythusmage, you want to check out Nessiteras rhombopteryx.

    Link to this
  8. 8. naishd 6:53 am 12/23/2012

    Mythusmage: the situation with the onza is rather complex. Various unidentified cats or cat-like mammals from the American tropics have been labelled ‘onza’, leading some people to assume that there is an unidentified, ‘mystery cat’ that goes by this name. However, the term ‘onza’ is given by some people to the Jaguarundi, similar names are given to jaguars and pumas, and the word has been used through history for various members of the cat family (including lynxes and cheetahs). Some animals labelled ‘onzas’ turned out to be morphologically unusual, gracile pumas, as you know. I do not think, then, that the name ‘onza’ was ever meant for a specific ‘crypto-cat’: rather, it has always been a generic catch-all term for cats of one sort or another, and has most often been used for the Jaguarundi.

    Darren

    Link to this
  9. 9. naishd 6:56 am 12/23/2012

    Oh – as for “providing a link” (comment 6). What do you mean? I said in the article that pdfs are not available online, so there’s nothing to link to (other than the page where you can buy Volume One online).

    Darren

    Link to this
  10. 10. Andreas Johansson 7:07 am 12/23/2012

    The jaguar’s specific name, onca, appears to be a graphical variant of “onza”, with a dropped cedille.

    Link to this
  11. 11. amjustwondering 7:54 am 12/23/2012

    The Rilla Martin photo may have been of a marsupial lion. I do not think it sensible to consider it a Thylacine given the snout.

    Link to this
  12. 12. amjustwondering 8:34 am 12/23/2012

    There is just out an excellent cryptozoology critique entitled, The Untold Story of Champ: A Social History of America’s Loch Ness Monster by Robert E. Bartholomew. This is the latest of a number of serious scholarly books criticizing cryptozoology published over the past few years.

    Link to this
  13. 13. Basandere 9:04 am 12/23/2012

    Love the references. As if reading TetZoo wasn’t rewarding enough already, my literature wishlist seems to grow with every article.

    As for the journal itself: I was slightly sceptical of Karl Shuker’s scientific standards (only judging from one or two of his older books and his online persona though, so probably neither entirely justified nor fair) — no need to worry, I take it?

    Link to this
  14. 14. naishd 9:41 am 12/23/2012

    amjustwondering (comment 12): you may or may not know that I wrote about the Ozenkadnook ‘tiger’ photo previous on Tet Zoo (go here on ver 2). I still don’t know what to make of it. I have the film of Rilla Martin being interviewed and I grow more sceptical of her every time I watch it (she displays some peculiar body language). Regarding the Champ book… as I said above, we have to recognise that the study of mystery animals (if, indeed, they can be termed that) involves psychology, sociology, folklore etc. In many cases, the hypothesis that there are always real animals at the root of eyewitness reports can be shown to be unlikely or untenable. Does this fact ‘debunk’ or refute cryptozoology as a whole? I cannot see that it does (but, for the record, I am a big fan of sociological approaches to ‘monster’ stories).

    Basandere (comment 13): glad you like the meticulously compiled references :) Karl is a qualified scientist familiar with scientific procedure. His job as editor for JoC has been carried out with due care and formality.

    Darren

    Link to this
  15. 15. amjustwondering 10:11 am 12/23/2012

    Cryptozoology requires interdisciplinary work involving input from zoologists, sociologists, folklorists, historians, skeptics (i.e. Skeptical Inquirer types), etc.

    Link to this
  16. 16. naishd 10:39 am 12/23/2012

    Yes, I agree – so would most people seriously interested in the field, I think.

    Darren

    Link to this
  17. 17. Ausktribosphenos 2:54 pm 12/23/2012

    I have also been fascinated by cryptozoology for awhile, despite those cases not where it’s clearly just a man in a furry suit because there are some very valid mystery animals, e.g. the various british and aussie cats. The elements of folklore and psychology add a whole new dimension of fascination also.

    Link to this
  18. 18. John Harshman 5:13 pm 12/23/2012

    One might wonder how the search for ivory-billed woodpeckers differs from cryptozoology. Only, perhaps, in that we know for sure that they once existed, and fairly recently?

    Link to this
  19. 19. naishd 9:28 am 12/24/2012

    Yay, can login again! (jeee-sus).

    John (comment 18): well, cryptozoology is supposed to incorporate the study of animals that are officially extinct yet are still reported by eyewitnesses, so thylacines, Ivory-billed woodpeckers and so on are within its remit as well. Those papers on alleged modern-day Ivory-bills, therefore, represent cryptozoological research so long as they involve the analysis of anecdotal reports. The ones that involve analyses of wood-knocks and crappy photos may or may not be part of cryptozoology, I’m really not sure. In keeping with what I say in the article above, we may benefit from giving up on the idea that any of this is distinct from (in this case) ornithology.

    Darren

    Link to this
  20. 20. llewelly 7:19 pm 12/24/2012

    “The ones that involve analyses of wood-knocks and crappy photos may or may not be part of cryptozoology, I’m really not sure”

    If it was analysis of crappy photos of a purported bigfoot or lake monster, or even of a purported 100 kilo feline in the Australian outback, everyone would agree it was cryptozoology. Why is analysis of a bad photo of a purported thylacine or an ivory bill different?

    Link to this
  21. 21. naishd 7:32 pm 12/24/2012

    “Why is analysis of a bad photo of a purported thylacine or an ivory bill different?” (llewelly, comment 20)

    …. because cryptozoology is the study of animals known only from anecdote, or eyewitness or oral testimony of some sort. I’m somewhat blurry on how analyses of photos and other bits of testable evidence (especially those involving species that definitely existed) fit into this. Would be interested to hear what others think.

    Darren

    Link to this
  22. 22. Michał 8:14 am 12/31/2012

    The latest ZooKeys has an article about a specimen of the Western long-beaked echidna that was apparently found in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century. The article also discusses an eyewitness account that might indicate that the species lived in Australia even more recently. Would this qualify as cryptozoological research?

    Link to this
  23. 23. John Scanlon FCD 5:15 am 01/6/2013

    Today I can apparently comment for the first time in weeks, thanks for the lockout SciAm!

    Thanks Michał for that Zaglossus link, that’s amazing! Kris Helgen does it again; it’s like no mammalogist has ever had time to look through 19th Century collections before…

    As I’m now working in WA doing fauna survey etc, I’ll be taking note of this addition to the recent fauna. If a job comes up in the Kimberley and put any effort at all into attempting to locate the type locality, suitable habitat, subfossil remains, or tracks and scats of giant echidnas, you may call that cryptozoology if you wish. Just don’t call it a yowie hunt.

    Link to this
  24. 24. Dartian 1:44 pm 01/6/2013

    John:
    Thanks Michał for that Zaglossus link, that’s amazing!

    Indeed it is! If the recent – or almost-recent – presence of long-beaked echidnas on the Australian mainland is confirmed (and, after having read Helgen et al.’s paper, I’d say that the evidence so far looks pretty good), it surely ranks among the most surprising mammalogical discoveries of the 21st century.

    Link to this
  25. 25. Troodon Man 3:10 pm 02/3/2013

    Hi, Darren. Do you think studying reports of living non-avian dinosaurs would be considered pseudoscience? Thanks!

    Link to this

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