Tetrapod Zoology

Montauk Monster take 2, sigh

Ever one to jump on a bandwagon, and with another ‘mystery carcass’ case still all too fresh on the Tet Zoo list of articles, I’ve decided to blog about this new ‘Montauk monster’ carcass. In case you’ve forgotten, back in July 2008 the global media went absolutely apeshit over a rotten raccoon carcass, informally dubbed the ‘Montauk monster’, and suggested by the uninformed to be some weird genetic experiment, a dead turtle without its shell (duh: THE SHELL IS THE RIBCAGE, IT CANNOT BE MAGICALLY DETACHED FROM THE REST OF THE BODY), or some sort of beaked dinosaur-monster. Yes, if you ever want to see how little people in general know about natural history and animal anatomy, show them a half-rotten carcass.

i-1e5827b390083a9189d801d9d4a5de45-Montauk_monster_carcass_May_2009.jpg

Anyway, the new carcass was discovered on May 5th 2009, this time at Southold, Long Island, New York, and thanks to everyone who has been emailing me about this, or linking to my previous article on the first carcass. As was the case for Montauk monster # 1, we’re seeing completely retarded ‘explanations’ that betray a wholesale willingness to avoid doing the stuff that can be loosely termed ‘doing research’: you know, stuff like looking at books, googling, or going to the library or the museum…

So far, very little information is available. The carcass is mostly hairless, bloated, and not very large (though, as usual, no direct indication of scale has been provided). For starters, the carcass is – WITHOUT DOUBT – that of a quadrupedal mammal. A long, slim tail (perhaps two-thirds the length of the hindlimb) is present (it’s visible in one of the photos). In the video (I’m showing the msnbc.com clip here, but a longer version is available on youtube), we’re shown that the defleshed fingers are slim and stick-like. We also see a mostly de-fleshed skull: remember that the soft tissues of the head (starting with the snout) typically decompose first in rotting carcasses, and the hands and feet follow next. The skull of Montauk monster # 2 has a smoothly convex upper surface and a large, rounded orbit (= eye socket). When the skull is raised with a stick, we see that the animal has a broad palate, a relatively short snout, an alveolus (= socket) on the left side that clearly originally housed a large canine, and reasonably large molars. A screen-capture from the video (used in the composite image shown below) reveals the orbit, zygomatic arch (= bony bar that extends backwards from above the molars, under the eye, and attaches close to the ear region) and infraorbital foramen (= an opening on the side of the snout where nerves and blood vessels emerge).

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i-104eb8660e24ad75a14af0c8e68a10e0-Montauk-2_skull_composite copy_wikipedia-Oct-2010-replacement.jpg

All of these features demonstrate WITHOUT ANY DOUBT WHATSOEVER that the carcass is (again) that of a carnivoran (= a member of the mammalian clade Carnivora: the group that includes cats, hyenas, civets, dogs, bears, weasels, skunks, raccoons, seals etc.). It is not a dog, as it lacks the convex bony brow present in dog skulls. Instead… drum-roll…. it is ANOTHER RACCOON. Oh, what a surprise. In the adjacent composite, the skull of Montauk monster # 2 (at top; flipped horizontally) is compared with a raccoon skull [image by Peter Halasz, from wikipedia]. While they are not completely identical (the Montauk skull lacks the slight concavity present on the dorsal surface of the snout shown in the clean raccoon skull), these differences are well within individual variation (and might be due to perspective anyway) and the similarity is convincing. Case closed: definitely another raccoon.

Like the first Montauk monster, this case is crap, and driven by sensationalism and a desire to create a mystery where there isn’t one. We do not identify carcasses by poking them with sticks and saying how weird they look: we have to, you know, make observations about anatomy and compare what we see with what is already known about other animals.

UPDATE: can you help to make a difference? Perhaps you can. As suggested in the comments (see below), it might be worth making the effort of going periodically to the ‘Montauk Monster’ website, and leaving a link to this post (i.e., the one you’re reading right now at Tet Zoo) each and every time. As suggested by Ivan of The Lazy Lizard’s Tales, maybe someone would eventually follow the link and learn something. Consider this a sort of public-outreach teach-people-about-basic-science thing.

For other cases of this sort of thing see…

Comments

  1. #1 hat_eater
    May 15, 2009

    Actually, we are dealing with two rotten carcasses here: one raccoon, one mainstream media. And the latter reeks to high heaven.

  2. #2 Rosel
    May 15, 2009

    Hate to be a PC wet blanket, but surely it’s better to say ignorant rather than retarded, as people who are ‘retarded’ can’t help it, where as the ignorant can.

    But yes, I agree with you how people are shockingly ignorant and desperate for sensation rather than investigation.

  3. #3 Dartian
    May 15, 2009

    Like the first Montauk monster, this case is crap, and driven by sensationalism and a desire to create a mystery where there isn’t one.

    And by the desire to make money. It’s obvious that the so-called discoverers want to sell the pictures to the highest bidder.

    Next they will probably say that they had to throw away the carcass itself “because it smelled so bad”.

  4. #4 tai haku
    May 15, 2009

    Sooo…..would it be fair to say you are not impressed with the media coverage on this one? Loved the rant.

  5. #5 Hai~Ren
    May 15, 2009

    I wonder if it’s possible to mobilise fellow readers of Tet Zoo to periodically comment on the Montauk Monster site, linking to this post each and every time. Maybe someone would eventually follow the link and learn something.

    C’mon, if Pharyngula readers can crash silly polls, surely we Tet Zoo folks can do more to dispel ignorance of basic natural history. =)

  6. #6 Kirk
    May 15, 2009

    It also shows how far removed we are from nature, which is a sad state of affairs. We also always look for the far-fetched explanations rather than the common. Witness- “So I showed these pictures to a local expert,(the janitor at the local museum), Local Expert-”Nope never saw something like that before”.

    And the media likes sensationalism.It sells.

  7. #7 Darren Naish
    May 15, 2009

    I wonder if it’s possible to mobilise fellow readers of Tet Zoo to periodically comment on the Montauk Monster site, linking to this post each and every time. Maybe someone would eventually follow the link and learn something.

    Excellent idea. Do it!! I’ll add something to the main article…

  8. #8 Matt Mullenix
    May 15, 2009

    “we have to, you know, make observations about anatomy and compare what we see with what is already known about other animals.”

    Darren you are a hopeless un-romantic!

  9. #9 Sven DIMilo
    May 15, 2009

    I made the mistake of reading the comments at the Monster site yesterday…unbridled ignorance top to bottom. Turtle that slipped out of its shell. Experimental hybrid. Genetic cloning experiment. Polar bear. Terrorist plot to spread H1N1. Unbelievable stuff. I left a comment but the stoopid was coming thick and fast at the time.

  10. #10 stephanie
    May 15, 2009

    I think it’s a tapir, or atleast the last one was!

  11. #11 Hai~Ren
    May 15, 2009

    stephanie: What makes you think that the carcasses are supposed to be those of tapirs?

    The feet don’t match those of a tapir, the tail is too long, and the body proportions are all wrong for a tapir. Besides, these carcasses appear to be far smaller than your average tapir.

    I highly doubt we have tapir carcasses floating up to New York from Central or South America…

  12. #12 David Marjanović
    May 15, 2009

    Great takedown, but why don’t you tell us how you REALLY feel? ;-)

    <duck & cover>

    I shall throw myself into battle forthwith.

  13. #13 sublunary
    May 15, 2009

    Wonderful post Darren. I had to direct a few friends to your last Montauk Monster post when they brought up crazy theories about it’s origins/identity, and I’m sure I’ll be sending them back to this one.

    I wanted to thank you for including the helpful little translations of the skull features you pointed out. I feel like I must have looked up terms like “zygomatic arch” before, but it helps to have them included in an article, as looking things up tends to get me sidetracked. Now I might actually remember them for next time.

  14. #14 LtStorm
    May 15, 2009

    I want to see a boxer (dog) carcass wash up on that beach. Martial law would probably be declared in the city after the cryptozoologists lost their shit over finding an animal with a skull like this;

    http://www.skullsunlimited.com/graphics/sm-646-lg.jpg

    Laying on the beach.

  15. #15 Dr Vector
    May 15, 2009

    Like the first Montauk monster, this case is crap, and driven by sensationalism and a desire to create a mystery where there isn’t one. We do not identify carcasses by poking them with sticks and saying how weird they look: we have to, you know, make observations about anatomy and compare what we see with what is already known about other animals.

    Preach it, Brother Darren!

    By all means, let the loyal Tet Zoo legions crash the Montauk Monster site with a flood of comments in which we (1) tell them what’s what, and (2) mock them savagely.

  16. #16 NicoleGW
    May 15, 2009

    On the other hand, I wonder how many people started reading Tet Zoo following the Montauk Monster debacle. I know that’s how I found your blog, and I’ve been following it since then. Enjoying it immensely, I might add, though I certainly don’t have any background in such things.

    People get a certain voyeuristic enjoyment out of rampant speculation when it comes to things like this. I wouldn’t judge them quite so harshly. The vast majority know they’re being silly and self-indulgent. (The turtle suppositions not-withstanding.) Or perhaps I’m just overly optimistic.

  17. #17 anon
    May 15, 2009

    LtStorm posted: “I want to see a boxer (dog) carcass wash up on that beach.”

    - “THE CREATURE” as reconstructed by the credulous –

    http://michaelhaulica.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/startrek-gorn.jpg

  18. #18 Zach Miller
    May 15, 2009

    I think it’s interesting racoons are washing up by the droves on beaches. Are they taking to a marine existance the world over? Check! See if that corpse has flippers!

  19. #19 Richie Ryan
    May 15, 2009

    I left this comment on the montauk monster main website… doubt it will get posted because of me calling the site owner out but I thought I would post it here as well for people to view in case it isn’t approved.

    Whether the monster is legit or a hoax… I believe it’s your method to try to get yourself publicized and to make a profit. Let it take its natural course instead of demanding money for pictures, interviews, the body, etc… The great discoveries in our lives were made because of people wanting to further mankind and it’s knowledge of our world. Any subsiquent rewards from their discovery was gratis.

  20. #20 Dave Godfrey
    May 15, 2009

    You mean it isn’t from Snaiad? Awww…

  21. #21 seabold
    May 15, 2009

    I love how it’s always a “monster”. One of the sites had a photo of someone putting the animal into a small plastic shopping bag. Not exactly monstrous in my view. Actually, if it can fit into a Happy Meal carton then you shouldn’t be allowed to use the word “monster” anywhere in the description…unless of course it’s something really creepy, like a giant bug..then it’s okay. :)

  22. #22 Stu Pudasso
    May 15, 2009

    I saw this episode of star trek once and there was a creature just like the montauk monster on it. Maybe its an alien. We should all be very very scared. You just wait these little creatures will start showing up all over the place. First they take our beaches,what next? our malls? our coffe shops? Oh the horror! I’m not leaving the house for a very long time…..Please tell me when its safe to come out.

  23. #23 Raymond Minton
    May 15, 2009

    Laugh all you want, but it’s things like this that keep “The Globe” and “Weekly World News” in business!

  24. #24 David Marjanović
    May 15, 2009

    Actually, if it can fit into a Happy Meal carton then you shouldn’t be allowed to use the word “monster” anywhere in the description…unless of course it’s something really creepy, like a giant bug..then it’s okay. :)

    Or Tullimonstrum gregarium! :-)

    (It’s not a tetrapod. But we don’t know what it is.)

  25. #25 Carlos
    May 15, 2009

    I hate the Montauk Monsters. When they were alive those pesky raccoons crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a raft and peed on my socks. That’s why I shot them and their went floating back to where they should be!

  26. #26 shiva
    May 15, 2009

    At cryptozoology.com, people seem to think this is… a sheep. Um, yeah.

    Incidentally, i have photos of assorted tetrapods (free to use for non-commercial purposes) here: http://atpic.com/6163 . More will be uploaded as i get time to (i have 200 or so from the Rothschild Museum in Tring that i still have to sort through…)

  27. #27 DDeden
    May 16, 2009

    Guess it isn’t a round-snouted dingaroon, then.

  28. #28 Allen Hazen
    May 16, 2009

    O.k., I’ve been too lazy to read the ICZN and have never been entirely sure of the difference between “objective” and “subjective” synonyms. Suppose someone (in an act of taxonomic vandalism) publishes these things and identifies, say, last summer’s critter as the type of Montaukiteras mediorum (“Montauk monster of the media”). Darren publishes a comment, pointing out in polite and measured tones that there are no grounds for specific, let alone generic, distinction between this new taxon and Procyon lotor. Is he claiming that M.m. is a junior SUBJECTIVE synonym of P.l. (since it is, after all, based on a different type specimen)? I feel in need of a tutorial from David Marjanovic here.

  29. #29 John S. Wilkins
    May 16, 2009

    The term “monster” just means some extreme deviant from the species norm, in medieval terms. Some species (chimera, gorgon, etc.) can be monstrous too, for being deviants from the generic norm (where the genus is Animalia).

  30. #30 David Marjanović
    May 16, 2009

    Yep, would be subjective. Objective synonyms are based on the same type specimen.

    The botanical code calls objective and subjective synonyms nomenclatorial and taxonomic, respectively.

  31. #31 Neil B ♪
    May 16, 2009

    OK, your dis-weirding of Montauk makes sense. So what do you think accounts for “Chupacabra” sightings? (Depends on reliability of descrptions of course.)

    Of course, there’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chupacabra to mull over.

  32. #32 Tom Jones
    May 16, 2009

    Obviously this is an Alien. This is like Roswell, only better.
    Now if we all just start running around shouting
    “Alien! E.T.!” they will swoop in from outer space,
    from behind the moon where they are hiding from
    our prying eyes, and eat us.

  33. #33 Will TS
    May 17, 2009

    The Montauk Monster web site now has a poll where you can vote on the real identity of the carcass. “Creature from Plum Island” (i.e. a genetic experiment gone horribly wrong) is the current leader.

  34. #34 Hai~Ren
    May 17, 2009

    And “turtle without a shell” has the second highest number of votes, while “raccoon” is last.

    I’m hoping we can rectify that. Maybe it’s time to let loose the Pharyngulites. =P

  35. Darren, you don´t need those blurry photos, they already show anoter carcass with a cleaner and more complete skull:

    http://www.montauk-monster.com/monster_pictures/the-clapsadle-carcass-new-pictures-exposed.html#comment-1594

    What I find interesting is the weird decomposing of these remains in those (i guess) well oxigenated, wavy, coastal waters.

  36. #36 Dr. McNinja
    May 18, 2009

    It’s a mutated raccoon from New Jersey. We’ve already seen what the environment, long since poisoned by frequent dumping of toxic waste, does to humans (see: Guidos) and turtles (see: TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze).

  37. #37 Dr. McNinja
    May 18, 2009

    By the way, I know what I’m talking about. I’m a doctor. I know SCIENCE.

  38. #38 David Marjanović
    May 18, 2009

    Letting the Pharyngulite hordes loose on the poll (now that it has “raccoon” as an option!) is a good idea. It’s got 1909 votes in total… should be fixed in ten minutes! I’ll post the link in some recent thread.

  39. #39 jj
    May 19, 2009

    Yeah, that was obvious…

    I’ve never heard of the Santa Cruz duck billed-elephant-monster thingy, and I am a Marine Biology Major here at The University of California at Santa Cruz, would have thought I would have heard that myth (of course, not by a professor)… GO BANANA SLUGS

  40. #40 Gera!
    May 19, 2009

    Well who knows..why would they call them the montauk monsters..?

    Like come on there was something called the montauk project and it had something to do with the government..
    Like it was a place they would go to..to go to a parallel places and realms and their was animals that we had never even heard of..
    And they say that when they went over and came back.. there a creature that jumped back in with them..

    They also say it was a government experiment gone wrong and they jst threw it in the ocean..aghh but who knows there’s a lot of bs..that we don’t even know what to believe anymore..

  41. #41 pat
    May 20, 2009

    its about time someone has finally realized that this is fake

  42. #42 pat
    May 20, 2009

    finally some people know its fake

  43. #43 David Marjanović
    May 20, 2009

    It’s not a fake (and if you had actually read the post, you’d know that). It’s a (very) dead raccoon.

  44. #44 Metalraptor
    May 20, 2009

    Sigh. Well, at least they’re being consistant, both “monsters” are the same species (a raccoon). Anyway, releasing the flood of Pharyngulites would be a really good idea at this point. Nip this thing in the bud.

  45. #45 Carlos
    May 20, 2009

    @Gera!: I hope you’re joking/being sarcastic

  46. #46 Nathan Myers
    May 21, 2009

    Who is doing in all these poor raccoons? What did the raccoons learn that somebody didn’t want us to know?

  47. #47 Hai~Ren
    May 25, 2009

    Among the more recent ridiculous guesses: Moeritherium, giant ground sloth, rhynchosaurs (WTF?) and even (OMFG) Darwinius!

    There’s been a new post on the Montauk Monster website, with a couple of other photos taken from different angles:
    http://www.montauk-monster.com/the_montauk_monster/montauk-monster-20-new-pictures.html

    Still no word of sending a tissue sample for DNA analysis.

  48. #48 Carlos
    May 25, 2009

    If the Montauk is a rhynchosaur then I must be a skunk; and I can prove you I’m not.

    Seriously, is mankind becoming dumber and dumber as the time passes? Raccoons shall feast on those idiots

  49. #49 Chuck
    June 12, 2009

    I would really like to know who is doing this to these poor raccoons. They look like they were skinned alive like the dogs in china. The people who did this know what the animals are and will not come forward because they will possibly be charged with cruelty at the very least.

  50. #50 Sven DiMilo
    June 12, 2009

    Nobody is hurting racoons. Hundreds of racoons must die every day on Long Island. Some of them are beach racoons (something like 200 terrapin nests are predated by racoons every June on a single monitored beach in Jamaica Bay). That’s all.

  51. #51 Chuck
    June 12, 2009

    Thanx for the reply Sven. I actually didn’t know about beach raccoons. Learn something new every day I guess ;) I really hope this is the case and not what I assumed.

  52. #52 David Marjanović
    June 12, 2009

    They look like they were skinned alive

    Most of the skin is still there. It has only rotted off the snout region.

  53. #53 mike
    July 3, 2009

    maybe it is raccoon. just because it is a raccoon that doesnt rule out the fact that there couldve been experiments goin on on it to make it look the way it does. its a little too sketch that everything that fall into the water off of montauk ends up looking like that naturally. if that was the case i would never ever go in that water.

  54. #54 David Marjanović
    July 3, 2009

    maybe it is raccoon. just because it is a raccoon that doesnt rule out the fact that there couldve been experiments goin on on it to make it look the way it does.

    But why should we entertain such an unnecessary hypothesis?

    its a little too sketch that everything that fall into the water off of montauk ends up looking like that naturally.

    This is what rotting carcasses look like when they’ve drifted around in the sea for a while!

    This is well known and has been researched pretty thoroughly (because we need to understand it in order to understand how most fossils form).

  55. #55 Hai~Ren
    July 3, 2009

    As an aside, there’s yet another carcass found in the area:

    http://www.montauk-monster.com/the_montauk_monster/breaking-news-montauk-monster-found-at-gurneys-inn.html/

    It’s ridiculous how you get such a great lateral view of the skull, and not be compelled to note the uncanny resemblance to the skull of a raccoon.

  56. #56 M. O. Erickson
    September 20, 2009

    http://www.montauk-monster.com/

    This epidemic of stoopid is getting seriously out of hand. Why don’t they post the TRUTH about these carcasses? C’mon, Tet Zoo ain’t THAT hard to find.

  57. #57 TORY
    November 19, 2010

    THANKS NOW I CAN HAVE NIGHTMARES …JERK

  58. #58 David Marjanović
    November 20, 2010

    Again, TORY: it’s just a dead raccoon. Stop being afraid, and start looking for the caps lock key on your keyboard; I’m sure you’ll find it sometime.

  59. #59 Gistgames
    December 21, 2010

    This is just a hoax, so really let’s just say that those things are kind of dogs :)

  60. #60 David Marjanović
    December 22, 2010

    It’s not a dog, and it’s not a hoax. It’s a raccoon.

    And it’s very bad form to comment on a blog post without having read the comments that are already there. It greatly increases the chance that you’ll look a bit silly.

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