Tetrapod Zoology

Goddammit, no time for more reports from Libya, or for more in the toads series, or for articles on hairless Spectacled bears or tiny heterodontosaurids or neovenatorids, or anything really. Here’s how things are progressing in view of Saturday’s event

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Well done if you can work out what the hell’s going on here. I know that some of you can.

Comments

  1. #1 Cameron
    November 5, 2009

    Oh hell yeah! I believe I have pieced together the dissociated knowledge to open up terrifying vistas of reality (and my frightful position therein). I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I have drawn similar phylogenetic trees in the past.

  2. #2 Christopher Taylor
    November 5, 2009

    I assume the “coelacanths are red herrings” bit refers to the point that if there are large undescribed marine vertebrates swanning about out there, they’re far more likely to belong to clades represented by other already-described living taxa than survivors of supposedly long-extinct clades.

    I’m still chuckling at the rather surprised look on the face of the rocket-propelled crocodile.

  3. #3 Dartian
    November 5, 2009

    coelacanths are red herrings

    You should tell that to the Danes; the official Danish name for Latimeria chalumnae is ‘blue fish‘ (blå fisk).

  4. #4 David Marjanović
    November 5, 2009

    if there are large undescribed marine vertebrates swanning about out there, they’re far more likely to belong to clades represented by other already-described living taxa than survivors of supposedly long-extinct clades.

    Not so much – all those logistic, asymptotic curves look like we’re approaching the true number, and there’s almost nothing undiscovered out there anymore.

    (…That is, almost nothing undiscovered that’s large, marine, and ever comes to the surface. This does not include colossal squid or coelacanths, but would of course include each and every “sea serpent”.)

  5. #5 David Marjanović
    November 5, 2009

    Also, there might be one more pinniped out there, but probably not two.

  6. #6 sinuous_tanystropheus
    November 5, 2009

    And here I thought you were going to comment on the episode of “Destination Truth” that aired last night in the US where they got a positive DNA result for “unknown primate” on a sample from their Bhutan Yeti expedition. Doesn’t quite prove the point, but it certainly should get some attention.

    As for the existense of several unknown sea or lake animals, I wouldn’t bet against it.

  7. #7 Irene Delse
    November 5, 2009

    "coelacanths are red herrings"

    Yay! Another fan of the MonsterTalk podcast, I guess?

  8. #8 Stu of the Peak
    November 5, 2009

    I’m not so sure about sea-serpents, yetis or lake monsters but I’m hoping that somewhere in the North Atlantic an unknown species closely related to Buccinum undatum is awaiting discovery that, when cooked (but not pickled) doesn’t go off in an hour which means I can get a pot home in the far north to our fridge for my delectation later on.

    Has Cadborosaurus surfaced recently?

  9. #9 tai haku
    November 5, 2009

    sinuous_tanystropheus – I seem to recall similar hair dna results for “unknown primate” from alma and orang pendek hunts on tv in the past – I wonder if there may be another reason (like maybe degraded human dna contaminants, cheap dna testers or something)?

  10. #10 gray Stanback
    November 5, 2009

    Couldn’t that giant croc-lizard have just been, you know, a crocodile?

  11. #11 S. Hill
    November 5, 2009

    Coelacanths are the one subject you can count on to be used by creationists, cryptozoologists and ghost hunters as an example of “how science doesn’t work”. Certainly a red herring. Poor thing, so abused.
    http://idoubtit.wordpress.com/2009/05/24/the-red-herring/

  12. #12 Cameron
    November 5, 2009

    gray Stanback (10):

    Couldn’t that giant croc-lizard have just been, you know, a crocodile?

    A crocodile off the coast of France!?

    Personally I’d bet against the explosive removal of a large animal from the water via a sinking boat, but if it actually did occur it could have been an imaginatively interpreted cetacean.

  13. #13 David Stern
    November 5, 2009

    If you saw a mini-elephant with no trunk and big claws wandering around in a Peruvian forest, would you assume that it was:

    A. A highly evolved surviving Therezinosaur

    B. A member of an unknown clade of carnivourous pygmy elephants

    C. A poor bear that had lost its hair.
    :)

  14. #14 Graham King
    November 5, 2009

    Wishing you all the best for Saturday, Darren.
    Wish I could be there!

  15. #15 Darren Naish
    November 6, 2009

    Many thanks, lots of fun comments there.

    Re: ‘coelacanths are red herrings’ – this is a reference to the fact that the coelacanth fossil record follows a very different pattern from that of plesiosaurs and mosasaurs, and that coelacanths are very different – in term of ‘findability’ – relative to plesiosaurs and other putative ‘prehistoric survivors’. I published the idea in Naish (2000) and Naish (2001). What’s this about the term being used in a MonsterTalk podcast (comment 7)?

    As for all those mystery hominid hairs that get identified as ‘distinct and new’ on TV shows but then go unmentioned forever afterwards, I can confirm that a technical paper on orang pendek field evidence is currently in production (it was originally submitted to Nature, but I can’t say any more at this stage). Good cryptozoological field evidence does exist for at least some cryptids; one of the problems is that the people who collect it don’t know how to get it into the technical literature, nor do they understand why this is important.

  16. #16 David Marjanović
    November 6, 2009

    I can confirm that a technical paper on orang pendek field evidence is currently in production

    !!! !!! !!!

    (it was originally submitted to Nature, but I can’t say any more at this stage)

    WHAT YOU SAY !!

  17. #17 Darren Naish
    November 6, 2009

    I should have said that…

    … one of the problems is that SOME OF the people who collect it don’t know how to get it into the technical literature, nor do SOME OF THEM understand why this is important.

    Unfair to tar everyone with the same brush; apologies to anyone I offended.

  18. #18 Dartian
    November 6, 2009

    Good cryptozoological field evidence

    Please tell me that’s not just another way of saying ‘We still have no actual physical specimen’…

  19. #19 Darren Naish
    November 6, 2009

    Well, I’m talking about tracks, hairs and so on.

  20. #20 Mark Lees
    November 6, 2009

    The whole cryptid thing bothers me somewhat.

    I try to remain open minded but sceptical about much of life – while a big part of me wants to believe that there are numerous large animals (terrestrial and marine) still awaiting discovery, the scientist in me says where’s the evidence? I know that the “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” line gets trotted out, but be honest, it isn’t exactly compelling evidence of ‘presence’ is it?

    I have a load of books on cryptozoology (I’m off work today so just did a quick count and there are just under 50 books on cryptozoology on the shelf here, not counting journals, and hundreds of files on hard drives) – and to be honest I am convinced that the great majority of the putative cryptids described in them are not real (i.e are misidentifications or hoaxes).

    There are a few which I think there is a high probability of actually existing: Orang Pendek comes readily to mind, but there are a few others, of which a large marine ‘sea serpent’ is high on the list. Sightings of unknown primates from around the world are troublesome: there’s too much evidence for them to be ignored or dimissed as nothing, but it just beggars belief that there could be so many large primates unknown.

    The yeti is an old favourite – but it clearly is an amalgam of several different things, some cultural and mythological and some zoological – I am inclined to think Messner was right in attributing manyof the reports of the larger yeti to misidentifications of the Himalayan brown bear, but the possibility that the smaller yeti may be due to a fairly large unknown primate of the forested lower regions of the Himalayas, and with the same or a similar form extanding across parts of southern China is I think credible.

    Reports of sasquatch in North America, yowie in Australia and various wildmen in Eurasia bother me most. There does seem to be way too much evidence too completely dismiss them as figments of the imagination and hoaxes. But my common sense finds it incredibly hard to beleive they are actual animals – that along with curious inconsistencies in the reports leave me thinking that while these may relate to real phenomena it may not be zoological.

    On the subject of sea serpents – while many of the specific cases in the literature are inconsistent or unconvincing there is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that at least one species of large marine animal quite different in form to the baleen whales still exists and remains to be formally recognised. The evidence from the north-west Atlantic (as described in the book The Great New England Sea Serpent) is I think particularly strong – with well over 200 reports from the 19th and 20th centuries (not all of equal quality of course) and a particular peak of sightings in the period from 1815 into the 1830s, with many sightings involving tens of people and some witnessed by over 100 people. I particularly find interesting the fact that the 19th century observations showed seasonal behaviour, with sightings suggesting that the fish shoals were followed and fed on at certain times of year, and that the drop off in reports correlated with the collapse of the fish stocks due to over fishing.

    I have read previously the argument that a derived pinniped identity is more likely than a cetacean/archaecete explanantion – and while I am far from convinced that an archaecete explanation is correct, I find the pinniped one even harder to believe based on the evidence available.

    Since I mentioned that I have quite a few cryptozoology books I would like to mention a few of them as being especially good (i.e good quality information, and striking a good balance between openminded analysis and scepticism):
    Matt Bille’s ‘Rumours of Existence’ and ‘Shadows of Existence’ – Chad Arment’s ‘Cryptozoology: Science and Speculation’ and Malcolm Smith’s ‘Bunyips and Bigfoots’ stand out to me. There are others that are a really good read, but some authors seem just a bit to gullible to me.

    I have prattled on a bit, so will shut up now. Best wishes for Saturday Darren

  21. #21 William Miller
    November 6, 2009

    To me, it seems that absence of evidence can be (albeit not conclusive) evidence of absence if (and it’s a major if) you’d expect to see evidence if it did exist. So, for something that was claimed to live in a highly populated area with lots of wildlife-watchers, it’d be a problem; for a cryptid of the deep Australian Outback or the deep oceans, it’s pretty much meaningless (not that I’ve ever been to Australia – but the outback’s supposed to be very very empty). Even some parts of the western US, I could believe

    As for those discoveries vs. time curves: to get anything meaningful from those requires the assumption that the “discoverability” of the species included is comparable. With some groups, that’s clearly not the case; flashy bright-colored birds will get discovered a lot faster than yet another identical species of – the Gunnison Sage-Grouse wasn’t even *noticed* until the 1990s or a little before – not just considered a population or subspecies, but never even *remarked on* or described in anything ever, and not named until 2000, because it looks just like the Greater Sage-Grouse.

  22. #22 Andreas Johansson
    November 6, 2009

    Many cryptids seem like they’d have pretty high “discoverability” …

  23. #23 Craig York
    November 6, 2009

    I’m intrigued by the papers you mention, Darren-I know
    the bare outlines of the fossil records of either
    Plesiosaurs or Coelocanths. Are the papers on-line
    anyplace?

    Most cryptozoologists seem to be driven more by a
    nineteenth century vision of the ‘determined amatuer’*,
    and while useful knowledge can come from such, its more
    about ego and celebrity than anything else.

    Looking forward to hearing more about the Orang Pendak
    paper. Enjoy the conference!

  24. #24 David Marjanović
    November 6, 2009

    Reports of sasquatch in North America, yowie in Australia and various wildmen in Eurasia bother me most. There does seem to be way too much evidence too completely dismiss them as figments of the imagination and hoaxes.

    Sasquatch, fine, but the yowie? A primate in Australia? :-S

  25. #25 llewelly
    November 6, 2009

    Reports of sasquatch in North America, yowie in Australia and various wildmen in Eurasia bother me most. There does seem to be way too much evidence too completely dismiss them as figments of the imagination and hoaxes. But my common sense finds it incredibly hard to beleive they are actual animals – that along with curious inconsistencies in the reports leave me thinking that while these may relate to real phenomena it may not be zoological.

    There may be an underestimation of the strength of pareidolia. There is wide evidence that pareidolia is particularly strong with respect to forms which accidentally resemble the human face. It seems likely pareidolia may also be very strong with respect to forms which resemble humanoid bodies. To me, this seems the most likely explanation for the sasquatch, the yowie, and any yeti sighted above the treeline.

  26. #26 Sili
    November 6, 2009

    I’m still chuckling at the rather surprised look on the face of the rocket-propelled crocodile.

    I think it’s a victim of dynamite fishing. In which case the surprise is forgivable, isn’t it?

  27. #27 Emily
    November 6, 2009

    The poor crocolizard also appears to have lost its front legs in the explosion. You’d be surprised too.

  28. #28 gray Stanback
    November 6, 2009

    All right, Mark Lees. What do you think that these sea serpents could be? Some sort of big fish?

  29. #29 Cameron
    November 6, 2009

    David:

    If you thought a primate in Australia was bad, “bigfoot” has been reported from New Zealand of all places. It seems that just about every place people are, folklore of wild men (and to a lesser degree giants and pygmy humanoids) follows. Some people have taken these reported “ranges” seriously – the range maps in “Field Guide To Bigfoot, Yeti, & Other Mystery Primates Worldwide” imply that the Pacific Northwest has a greater diversity of great apes than Africa.

  30. #30 Dan H.
    November 6, 2009

    There is also another effect at work here: it shouldn’t be assumed that the probability of discovering sea serpents or large unknown marine animals over time is constant; it isn’t.

    No, the probability of seeing big marine organisms is actually decreasing over time. In the days of sailing ships, navigation was much poorer than it is now, and sailing ships tended to rove all over the globe due simply to being rather lost a lot of the time. Sailing ships are also hydro-accoustically fairly benign; they don’t make much noise and what noise they do make isn’t strikingly unusual. Finally, sailing ships need big crews to work them, crews some of whom spend quite a lot of time up in the rigging where they have a good view out on the ocean.

    These days ships travel on very predictable shipping lanes, travel quickly and make a hell of a racket from engine noise. Most commercial shipping has very few crew members; military shipping has more but in neither case are the crew out looking about with the MK 1 eyeball at the sea. This is one major reason why monster sightings at sea have dropped off somewhat; there are simply far fewer people looking at the seas now.

    Finally there is one additional effect which must not be discounted: the waning of the traditional Naval Rum Ration. In the days of sail, most sailors could be expected to spend their days in a mild alcoholic haze; it might be interesting to plot the mean daily ethanol intake of sailors against the incidence of monster sightings; I suspect there might be a correlation there…

  31. #31 Mark Lees
    November 6, 2009

    David, I absolutely agree that on the face of it the idea that the yowie relates to a large non-human primate in Australia is absurd, and most reports are to me not credible. But to quote Malcolm Smiths concluding comments on yowie reports: “In other words the whole thing is preposterous but the trouble is, I still can’t find a way to debunk the second Woodenbong sighting… ” He then refers to another sighting that seems highly credible, and adds “If those two are genuine…”.

    While I would like to believe in most cryptids, I actually don’t want to believe that sasquatch and yowie exist, I guess they don’t fit well with my personal world view – but I cannot reject evidence just because I don’t like it.

    Gray Stanback asked what I “think that these sea serpents could be? Some sort of big fish?” The short answer is I don’t know. I think there is substantial observational evidence to support the existence of something of this sort, and I would suggest that the evidence such as it is indicates its probably mammalian. Since all really large marine mammals living and fossil are cetaceans or archaecetes I am aware of nothing to suggest any other mammal group have ever produced marine forms even approaching the sizes reported for sea serpents. There are sometimes claims that Archaecetes became extinct by the end of the Eocene and that therefore there would be a massive gap in the fossil record – in reality, as has been referred to in Tet Zoo previously, at least one Archaecete group (kekenodontids)is known to have survived into the Lower Miocene, and teeth indicate that archaecetes of some sort quite possibly were around in the Upper Miocene – suddenly the gap in the fossil record is much smaller. Contrast that with the fossil evidence for giant long necked pinnipeds, which is non-existent. So while I am far from confident that the sea serpent sightings relate to archaecetes or some other cetacean, I think it to be the least unlikely of the proposed identities.

  32. #32 Tim Morris
    November 6, 2009

    I still find it hard that people have neglected to realise that bigfoot/yowie/yeti type sightings might not be of apemen or primates, but simply proper humans with a covering of hair.

  33. #33 Andreas Johansson
    November 7, 2009

    Hm. Perhaps I could’ve photographed a certain hirsute ex-flatmate of mine and made a fortune from the tabloids?

  34. #34 Tim Morris
    November 7, 2009

    Well, what I meant to say is that I find the possibility of wildmen being subhuman “apemen” very unconvincing.

    I maintain that some sort of lost tribe where a full “pelage” is part of the phenotype is far more likely. I mean think about it, a covering of hair is relatively simple in genetic terms. I even talked to someone once who said that wildmen simply have hypertrichosis.

  35. #35 David Marjanović
    November 7, 2009

    Don’t take the term “archaeocete” too seriously. It merely means “cetacean that is not an odontocete or a mysticete” – and is therefore no longer used in palaeontology.

    The mammalian tooth shape was lost independently within odontocetes and within mysticetes, for instance.

  36. #36 David Marjanović
    November 7, 2009

    I just googled for Kekenodontidae. They’re mysticetes.

    The one single animal that approaches sea serpents in size and shape is Basilosaurus, and that’s an exclusively Eocene animal.

  37. #37 Mark Lees
    November 7, 2009

    David,

    Kekenodontinae was a subfamily in the Basilisauridae; it was raised to family status by Fordyce in 1992. Subsequently kekenodontids were treated as toothed mysticetes – but more recent work has again placed them back with the archaeocetes. The picture was confused by post-cranial remains found in New Zealand being attributed to Kekenodon, but subsequently found to be a cetothere (mysticete).

    To quote from a 2004 paper by Fordyce:
    “Recent finds from New Zealand indicate that archaeocete-grade Cetacea did not go extinct about the end of the Eocene, with the rise of the modern groups Mysticeti and Odontoceti. Rather, archaeocetes persisted into the Oligocene to remain significant in cetacean ecosystems. Evidence comes from new fossils from the Kokoamu Greensand-basal Otekaike Limestone of the Waitaki Valley region, 26-28+ Ma (New Zealand Duntroonian Stage; upper Oligocene). The key specimen is a skull (OU 22294) with associated teeth and periotics. The species lacks diagnostic maxillary characters of either Mysticeti or Odontoceti, and is similar in grade to Late Eocene Dorudon-like archaeocetes. The rostrum is narrow with smooth-crowned heterodont teeth, there is no evidence of polydonty, and the last upper tooth is M2. Differences with named dorudontines include a narrower rostrum, M2 apparently anterior to the orbit, more-attenuated postorbital process, flatter broader intertemporal region, and low supraoccipital. Of note, as in crown-group Cetacea (Neoceti), the periotic is amastoid, with the posterior process not exposed laterally on the skull wall. Cladistically, this species is a plesiomorphic sister-species to the Neoceti.
    A comparable specimen (OU 22394) is a juvenile, possibly from a second species. Its associated teeth are delicate and perhaps deciduous; the fragmentary skull is also amastoid. Postcranial elements include parts of the forelimb, ribs and vertebrae. These two specimens allow earlier finds, both named and undescribed, to be reidentified as late-surviving archaeocetes. The latter include the large toothed cetacean Kekenodon onamata (late Oligocene, New Zealand) and enigmatic Squalodon [sic] gambierensis (late early/early late Oligocene, Australia). The New Zealand fossils occur in strata that have also produced a stem-balaenid, putative stem-balaenopterids, stem-delphinoids, and squalodontids and other stem-platanistoid dolphins. Late Oligocene filter-feeding and echolocating cetaceans (Mysticeti and Odontoceti respectively) coexisted with late-surviving archaeocetes that employed neither feeding mode.”

    So no, kekenodontids are not mysticetes.

    You are correct that the archaeocetes that best fit the sea serpent picture were Basilosaurus and its close relatives which are only reliably known from the Eocene ( I say ‘only reliably known’ since fossils have been recorded from post-Eocene formations, but they are probably reworked or mis-assigned). Kekenodontids are not so well known (the word ‘enigmatic’ tends to occur often in descriptions of Kekenodon), and I don’t think we can be completely certain as to their body shape. Though the general impression seems to be of something more like Dorudon than Basilisaurusthis is far from certain.

    I know little about the alleged archaeocete remains from the Upper Miocene beyond that they are just teeth.

    Just to be clear – I am not saying that I think that sea serpent sightings are based on extant archaeocetes – there seem to be several problems with this, but I do think the claims of a huge gap in the fossil record are significantly overstated, and on balance I think it is the least problematic identification. Whatever it is, a specimen would be nice.

  38. #38 Mark Lees
    November 7, 2009

    Apologies for wrtiting mini-essays each time I post – as I am often reminded at work, the word succinct is never used to describe anything I write.

  39. #39 Keith Morrison
    November 7, 2009

    military shipping has more but in neither case are the crew out looking about with the MK 1 eyeball at the sea

    That shows a bit of ignorance about sailing. Except on subs (for obvious reasons), the Mark 1 Eyeball is still considered the default standard for keeping watch. All ships have at least one crewmember (and naval vessels will have several) standing around with a pair of binoculars and using them on a regular basis. And even subs will have them on the sail when they are surfaced.

  40. #40 Jamie Revell
    November 7, 2009

    It was a good couple of talks; I found them very interesting and enjoyable. I certainly learned some things I didn’t know before. Kudos to both of you. I note that CFI (but not Darren, AFAIK) is doing something similar again in March, although that will cover UFOs as well as cryptids.

    I wrote up a summary at my blog, should anyone be interested. Not that it’s a science blog, or actually has more than about 20 readers, and the whole thing is just a personal impression, not a proper report. But, hey…

  41. #41 David Marjanović
    November 8, 2009

    Thanks for the detailed information! So, the kekenodontids are apparently just outside Neoceti, and in the absence of evidence for the unique (autapomorphic) shape of Basilosaurus, they probably lacked it and had the normal pelagicete shape instead. :-)

  42. #42 Darren Naish
    November 8, 2009

    Thanks to all for comments. The meeting was great fun and went well. I’ll talk more about it some time.

    There’s a lot of food for thoughts in the comments above; too much to respond to. My opinion on cryptozoology as a whole has been consistent (I hope) over the past few decades: we should be sceptical and demand high standards of evidence, yada yada yada, but at the same time the annoying tendency many scientists have of rubbishing something because they find it ridiculous or unlikely should be avoided too.

    The yowie is an example of a cryptid that many (including me) find ridiculous, but what makes it different from some other ‘mystery primates’ is that there is essentially no supporting evidence that might indicate its reality, other than inconsistent eyewitness reports. I recently read Healy & Cropper’s The Yowie: In Search of Australia’s Bigfoot and will review it here at Tet Zoo some time. Despite what I just said about inconsistent eyewitness reports, the problem though is, even here, there are accounts that at least give you pause for thought: the various encounters reported by Neil Frost (an anthropology major who visited New Guinea and the Trobiand Islands during research) and his wife and neighbours, for example.

    As for non-pelagicetan whales (reference to Mark’s comment 37), it doesn’t matter (for cryptozoology!) if kekenodontids survived to the end of the Oligocene or even Miocene, as protocetids sensu stricto and basilosaurids sensu stricto are the only ‘archaeocetes’ that have ever been relevant to cryptozoological hypotheses of survivorship (e.g., Heuvelmans 1968, Shuker 1995). Both groups failed to persist beyond the Eocene or earliest Oligocene (remember that the extinction events of the Early Oligocene are now regarded by many as more important than the end-Eocene event). In the nomenclature I have in mind, ‘Basilosauridae’ is used only for the bizarre long-bodied taxa Basilosaurus and Basiloterus: dorudontids (which are almost certainly paraphyletic) and kekenodontids are not basilosaurids. And a gap in the fossil record of c. 32 million years or so IS a big deal: basilosaurids (sensu stricto) are definitely dead.

  43. #43 Jim Thomerson
    November 8, 2009

    I am fairly sceptical of cryptozoology. However, there was a letter in Nature back in the 90′s pointing out that a number (10-20?, don’t remember) large animals had been discovered in recent years. I think most were deer-sized kinds of herbivores from Viet Nam and Laos. So, in fact, there are likely a few undiscovered/undescribed large species around. So far as I know, none of those recently found have been the result of work by cryptozoologists as such.

  44. #44 Darren Naish
    November 8, 2009

    Re: comment 42, I screwed up on the terminology – I was referring to non-neocetan cetaceans, not non-pelagicetans. Whoops.

    Re: comment 43, there is no contradiction whatsoever between being sceptical and being a cryptozoologist, and surely all scientists are rightly sceptical about lake monsters and yetis and so on. However, if cryptozoology is the study of animals known from anecdotal evidence (and, by definition, it is), then a respectable number of new species have indeed been found via cryptozoological methods. Examples include various classic discoveries (Komodo dragon, okapi) as well as a few recent ones (Odedi, Kipunji, Giant peccary, Arunachal macaque, Dingiso). Of course, the argument that cryptozoology is merely a subset of ‘mainstream’ zoology – made here a few times is not widely accepted, as too many people think that the term should be restricted to the search for Bigfoot and Nessie, or equated with pseudoscience. Sigh.

  45. #45 doug l
    November 8, 2009

    Re comment #31…Whoa..there actually is a town in Australia named Woodenbong. Crikey!

  46. #46 een
    November 8, 2009

    Hmmm. Wooden bongs, naval rum rations – anyone else se a pattern emerging here ?

  47. #47 Allen Hazen
    November 9, 2009

    Re: Keith Morrison (#39):
    “All ships have at least one crewmember (and naval vessels will have several) standing around with a pair of binoculars and using them on a regular basis”

    Well, that is the rule. There are rumors, at least, that the rule is routinely broken by commercial shipping. Anyway, even with Mark I eyeballs in use, the arguments about ships following more fixed routes and making a lot of noise suggest that the opportunities for eyeball detection of marine cryptids may have declined in the last century despite the volume of shipping.

  48. #48 Dartian
    November 9, 2009

    Dan:

    These days ships travel on very predictable shipping lanes, travel quickly and make a hell of a racket from engine noise.

    The ‘travel quickly’ part may indeed be a significant factor in this supposed drop in sea serpent sightings, but I’m not so sure that the loud noises made by modern ships have anything much to do with it. Most wild animals seem to be less bothered by loud engine and other human-produced noises than we’d expect them to be (if anything, unfamiliar noises may make them curious and entice them to investigate the origin of the sounds). And, even if the animals are originally startled, they usually habituate to such sounds very quickly.

    Lots of other stuff to remark upon in this thread; don’t have the time for more substantial commentary right now, alas.

  49. #49 Mark Lees
    November 9, 2009

    Just in case I seemed to be making a case for a archaeocete identity for sea serpents – I think that a big problem with this is that a significant number of sea serpent sightings clearly indicate a relatively long somewhat flexible neck. I am not aware of any evidence that any neocete or archaeocete has had a long flexible neck. To me this is actually a bigger issue than any gap in the fossil record.

  50. #50 David Marjanović
    November 9, 2009

    Oops. I had no idea of Basiloterus.

  51. #51 William Miller
    November 9, 2009

    I remember some crypto book making the argument that ships nowadays are less likely to wander off into unfrequented seas, and are noisier…

    @Dartian: Perhaps more important than noise is ship size? A putative 60-70 foot crypto-cetacean might not be worried by one of Columbus’s ships, but would avoid a 400 foot modern metal ship, maybe?

  52. #52 Dartian
    November 10, 2009

    William:

    Perhaps more important than noise is ship size? A putative 60-70 foot crypto-cetacean might not be worried by one of Columbus’s ships, but would avoid a 400 foot modern metal ship, maybe?

    I guess that’s possible in principle, but most non-cryptid cetaceans don’t flee in terror from ships of any size, even though they might actually have good reason to do so. For example, collision with vessels is a significant cause of mortality in the North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis. (The North Atlantic right whale is of course a species that has, until relatively recently, been extremely heavily persecuted by humans in whaling ships. One would think that this persecution would have made such intelligent animals as these great whales wary of any and all vessels for generations to come, but that has not turned out to be the case.) I don’t see any reason why a putative surviving archaeocete would fear ships any more than known large marine mammals/vertebrates do.

    Regarding whaling in general… In a cryptozoological context, I think the main lesson to be learned from the historical whaling industry is this: if you’re a large, air-breathing vertebrate, the world’s oceans are not some safe, uncharted havens where greedy humans can’t find you, hunt you, and kill you to the point of near-extinction of your species. In other words, it would be little short of miraculous if any Basilosaurus-like huge marine mammals had somehow remained undetected and unmolested by whalers past and present.

  53. #53 Tim Morris
    November 11, 2009

    I continue to stand by my point that wildmen should be regarded as just that, wild men. If we look at it that way, the myths of wildmen could be the only cause for purpoted sightings. Our belief in wildmen could simply have spawned from a tribal memory of large, hairy humanoids.

    However, I agree with everyone in saying that wildmen are most likely eurasian in origin. This makes believing the more likely ones much more palatable, even as bipedal apes. But if a large bipedal ape evolved in a cooler area, is it possible some could have made it across beringia? Or more likely, that they were humanoid and simply came by rafting or boating to south america, and came up the panama istmus?

    Also, on anti colonial sentiment, or anti-australianism. Whinging poms, that’s what you are.

  54. #54 David Marjanović
    November 11, 2009

    But if a large bipedal ape evolved in a cooler area, is it possible some could have made it across beringia?

    If so, then yes, of course. (Discovery of the yeti or the sasquatch would suddenly make the other a lot more plausible from a biogeographic point of view.) The “if” is the question.

    Or more likely, that they were humanoid and simply came by rafting or boating to south america, and came up the panama istmus?

    “Simply”? Across an ocean?

    And what do you mean by “humanoid”?

    Also, on anti colonial sentiment, or anti-australianism.

    Where did you find that in this thread? ~:-|

  55. #55 Dartian
    November 11, 2009

    David:

    Discovery of the yeti or the sasquatch would suddenly make the other a lot more plausible from a biogeographic point of view.

    Or, particularly in the case of the sasquatch, even the discovery of identifiable (sub)fossil remains. The North American Pleistocene fossil record really is pretty impressive, so if sasquatch is real, it is very, very weird that it still hasn’t been discovered in the Nearctic Late Quaternary fossil record. (Personally, I find that one of the strongest reasons to doubt its existence.)

  56. #56 Mark Lees
    November 11, 2009

    Dartian, your point about whaling is well made. I guess whether the favoured identity of a putative sea serpent is cetacean (neocete or archaeocete), a pinniped or any other large mammal, or indeed any other large airbreathing animal the question of why it didn’t figure more significantly in the body on knowledge gathered by 18th and 19th century whalers is a valid one and one that would seem to require a good answer. I would sort of expect that if they were out there then whalers who were actively searching for large marine ‘prey’ would have either hunted them, or have passed on the knowledge that they were there but for some reason weren’t worth hunting.

    Tim, I agree that many historical wildman examples were, or were probably, due to Homo sapiens. As Malcolm Smith puts it with regard to Yowie sightings, when people say they saw a hairy man what they saw was probably a hairy man. This along with hoaxes seems a plausible explanation for the majority of reported human-like cryptids worldwide. Note, the majority, but not all.

  57. #57 Tim Morris
    November 12, 2009

    Mark Lees: Well met, I agree totally. The rarest humanoids are probably already declining, as they say, most are hoaxes built up, but not all.

  58. #58 Tim Morris
    November 12, 2009

    David: Simply that yelling “crikey” with disdain and referring to beer in placenames is an insult to me personally, and to Steve Irwin’s memory.

  59. #59 Dartian
    November 12, 2009

    Tim:

    yelling “crikey” with disdain

    Disdain? What makes you think comment #45 (which I presume you’re referring to) contained any ill-will whatsoever? Do not attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by cultural miscommunication.

    referring to beer in placenames is an insult to me personally

    I hope you’re not insulted if I point out that there’s also a town in Queensland called Gin Gin. That town, by the way, seems to have an annual event called the ‘Wild Scotsman Festival’; should Scottish people be offended by that?

  60. #60 Dartian
    November 12, 2009

    Oh, and if you are bothered by silly place names, be glad that you’re living in Australia and not in Austria. There they have a village called Fucking.

  61. #61 David Marjanović
    November 12, 2009

    It’s true. The signs keep getting stolen by British tourists.

    it is very, very weird that it still hasn’t been discovered in the Nearctic Late Quaternary fossil record.

    Good point.

  62. #62 Daniella Perea
    November 12, 2009

    On absence of sasquatch from archeological/palaeontological record, I have a controversial observation… are we sure that anyone is looking? There is a ton of North Am hominid material labelled as _Homo sapiens_ but unchecked so long as _H. sap._ is only hominid “”known”" to be in sample. Could other species be there? Meldrum said that a _Homo erectus_ cranium is present in Mexico!

  63. #63 David Marjanović
    November 12, 2009

    Could other species be there?

    In principle yes, but isn’t an adult sasquatch supposed to be… like… big? I’ve read of subfossil two-meter people from equatorial Africa, but not of fossil or subfossil two-meter-thirty people from the Americas.

    Meldrum said that a _Homo erectus_ cranium is present in Mexico!

    Now it gets interesting.

  64. #64 Dartian
    November 13, 2009

    Daniella: I’ve heard people make the suggestion that sasquatch fossils might have already been found but not recognised for what they are (that’s why I included the word ‘identifiable’ in comment #55). But I’m very sceptical of that possibility. As David says, sasquatch’s supposed size alone should make it easily distinguishable from normal humans. And there’s every reason to expect that sasquatch anatomy would show significant peculiarities not only regarding size but also shape. I don’t think there’s a realistic chance that even half-decently preserved sasquatch remains could possibly pass the scrutiny of any but the most criminally incompetent anthropologists.

    Meldrum said that a _Homo erectus_ cranium is present in Mexico!

    That is indeed an extraordinary claim. Is it supported by extraordinary evidence?

  65. #65 Dave H
    November 13, 2009

    Regarding the existence (or non-existence) of Sasquatch fossils in North America, it’s informative to look at the record of its supposed ancestor Gigantopithecus in East Asia. From what I’ve read we know of Giganto from a large number of isolated teeth and a few mandibles from cave deposits in southern China and Viet Nam. Although we only have these bits, they’re common enough that Giganto is regarded as a characteristic member of middle Pleistocene faunas in that part of China. As far as I know, we have no postcranial remains at all, and certainly no complete skulls. I’ve always found it a curious situation that such a large animal should leave so little evidence, even in cave deposits which are highly favourable for preservation of bones, but there must be some taphonomic process that explains it. Perhaps the cave finds are the remains of animals brought in by hyenas or other scavengers, and only the most resistant body parts (teeth) survived the gnawing and chewing.

    There are plenty of Ice Age cave deposits in western North America with abundant remains of large mammals such as bears and ground sloths – but so far not a trace of Sasquatch. Also nothing in the La Brea tar pits, which are stuffed full of perfectly preserved large mammal bones accumulated over several tens of thousands of years. It’s technically true that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, and all it takes is one large primate molar in a Pleistocene North American context to change the game dramatically, but in this case I’m more inclined to believe that if Sasquatch actually existed the record is good enough that we would have found some fossil remains of it by now.

  66. #66 Dartian
    November 13, 2009

    Dave:

    but so far not a trace of Sasquatch

    That is quite literally true; there seems to be no known fossilised sasquatch footprints either.

  67. #67 llewelly
    November 17, 2009

    On the Sasquatch tracks isse – I don’t often observe animals in the wild, but in my admittedly limited experience, deer tracks are generally associated with deer scat, cow tracks with cow flops, etc. Now Sasquatch scat could theoretically provide a lot of information – what sort of food does Sasquatch eat, what sort of digestive system does it have, and, potentially, DNA, which might be compared to human, chimp, or neadertal DNA. But I don’t recall ever hearing of a discovery of Sasquatch scat. (This point not original to me; Swoopy from the Skepticality podcast has been asking “where’s the poop” about cryptids for a long time.) Perhaps Sasquatch is scrupulous about using national park and national forest service out houses.

  68. #68 Darren Naish
    November 17, 2009

    There’s a reasonable amount of discussion of alleged sasquatch scat in the literature. Example: seven anecdotal observations of sasquatch scat are included in John Bindernagel’s North America’s Great Ape: the Sasquatch (Beachcomber Books, 1998). In one case, the witness reportedly saw the animal defecate in a stream. In Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science (Tom Doherty Assoc., 2006), Jeff Meldrum discusses the separate analyses that W. C. Osman Hill and Vaughn Bryant performed on alleged sasquatch dung (Osman Hill was a well known ZSL primatologist; Bryant an anthropologist at Texas A&M University).

    Osman Hill reportedly concluded that the sample (from Oregon) ‘did not in any way resemble that of a known North American animal’ (I assume this means that humans were ruled out together with other large mammals) and contained parasite larvae and eggs otherwise only seen in First Nations people from the north-west, and in pigs and humans from China. The problem with this report is that it was communicated by Ivan Sanderson, and I (for one) don’t trust his retellings. Bryant analysed two samples from the Pacific NW and ruled out humans, deer and bear (his conclusions are published in Manlike Monsters on Trial). He says in Meldrum’s book that he received lots of scat samples after doing this work, but couldn’t spend the time on analysing them and hoped that someone else would move in and take over (they haven’t). Meldrum’s book also includes a photo of scat tentatively identified as having been produced by a sasquatch.

  69. #69 llewelly
    November 17, 2009

    In other words, it would be little short of miraculous if any Basilosaurus-like huge marine mammals had somehow remained undetected and unmolested by whalers past and present.

    But it is possible that an as yet unknown species of large marine mammal was driven extinct by whalers before being reported in enough detail to be recognized as a novel species by the scientific community. It may be that the best way to search for large oceanic cryptids is to sort through antique goods made from “whale” or “seal” parts, take DNA samples where possible, and otherwise examine them to determine if they are from a known species or an unknown species.

  70. #70 llewelly
    November 17, 2009

    There’s a reasonable amount of discussion of alleged sasquatch scat in the literature.

    Thank you, Darren.

  71. #71 Dartian
    November 18, 2009

    Llewelly:

    But it is possible that an as yet unknown species of large marine mammal was driven extinct by whalers

    Yes, that’s of course possible. It is, for example, quite possible that the Atlantic population of the grey whale (extirpated in the early 18th century) would turn out to be specifically distinct from the still-extant Pacific population if molecular comparisons were made (to my knowledge, no ancient DNA analyses have yet been made of Atlantic Eschrichtius remains). However, that’s not what I had in mind.

    before being reported in enough detail to be recognized as a novel species by the scientific community

    In comment #52, I wasn’t talking about taxa that are so morphologically similar that you’ll need molecular data to tell them apart. I was specifically talking about something as spectacularly distinct as, say, a surviving ‘archaeocete’ undoubtedly would be. Here is a Basilosaurus skull; do you think there’s any real chance that something with a head and teeth like that could possibly escape any whaler’s notice? (Whatever we may think of people who hunt whales for a living, there’s no doubt that they, like any professional hunters of animals, were quite intimately familiar with their prey species’ appearance and behaviour. Their livelihood depended on that.)

    Incidentally, as there’s been much discussion about animal intelligence on this blog lately, it might be tangentially noted that archaeocetes had relatively smaller brains than extant cetaceans. In other words, chances are that a Basilosaurus would be considerably less ‘intelligent’ than a modern whale and thus be easier, not harder, for humans to catch.

  72. #72 Matt Bille
    November 25, 2009

    First, thanks to Darren for mentioning my books. I’m not perfect at this, but I try. I intend to write followup books about every ten years until I depart the planet. The idea is to leave a record of some of the major discoveries in zoology and developments in cryptozoology covering a half-century or so.
    The giant crocodile seen from a U-boat is discounted by some cryptozoologists as a hoax. It always bothered me that the account claims the whole animal was thrown clear of the water by an explosion on the target ship after the ship sank. The physics don’t work.
    Despite the time that’s passed since the Nicoll / Meade Waldo case, I think it still stands as important evidence. Maurice Burton wrote that he’d seen a conger eel swim (for some reason) with head and forebody out of water: if you have a giant species (10-15 meters?) that occasionally does the same, it comes close enough to this and and some other SS sightings to have an explanation without postulating the survival of an ancient group. (Such an animal does not explain all the good sightings, and we may yet have a long-necked pinniped out there, although we should have better evidence for it than we do.)
    If I had to bet money on sasquatch, I would bet it does not exist. I would not close the file on the grounds of the fossil record, though – the fossil record of the modern chimp and gorilla is so sparse that a couple of missed finds would place it at zero. But hair, dung, and even DNA samples only identify sasquatch if you have known sasquatch specimens to compare them to. Nothing except a whole animal or a significant piece of one is going to suffice for a scientific description.

  73. #73 Christopher Taylor
    November 25, 2009

    I would not close the file on the grounds of the fossil record, though – the fossil record of the modern chimp and gorilla is so sparse that a couple of missed finds would place it at zero.

    True, but isn’t the fossil record in general within the distribution of those species considerably poorer than that within the supposed range of Bigfoot?

    But hair, dung, and even DNA samples only identify sasquatch if you have known sasquatch specimens to compare them to.

    Not entirely true – they can still put up a significant red flag. For instance, if Bigfoot is a descendant of Gigantopithecus, that would make it more closely related to an orangutan than a human. Finding evidence of a North American pongine would be intriguing enough in itself.