Friday, January 09, 2009
CONFESSIONS OF A CRYPTOZOOLOGIST:
The Croyde Carcass
When I walked into the CFZ office this morning I was greeted by Jon who seemed to be in a particularly excited mood.
“What do you make of this!?” he exclaimed and gestured at a photograph on his computer screen.
The photo was of a rotted carcass that had been found on a local beach, and had been emailed to us by the local newspaper. Apparently, the newspaper was concerned that the animal might be a local big cat that had fallen off a cliff and died before its body was washed along the coast.
“Can you zoom in on the dentition?” I asked and Jon obliged.
“Well,” I said looking at the animal’s teeth “It’s definitely a carnivore.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Jon replied.
“Well… If you look at the nasal cavity it looks like it is far too large to be a cat or dog.
The shape of the skull is completely wrong too.”
“Could it be a seal?” asked Jon
“I’d say that’s definitely the most likely candidate.” I said cautiously before I hunted out some photographs of seal skulls just to be sure. The photographs confirmed our suspicions and it was decided it would be a good idea to try to find the carcass so that we could make our own examination and collect samples. Graham and I were to go to Croyde, where the body had washed up, picking up Matt Osborne on the way, and attempt to locate it.
And so for the second time since I joined the Centre for Fortean Zoology I found myself looking for a decayed body on a beach. The first time had been the on Gambia expedition in 2006 where, armed with a map of a burial site and small spades, we had attempted to unearth the body of a sea monster that had supposedly been buried right next to a nightclub owned by the presidents brother. Considering the recent case in Gambia where two British missionaries have been sentenced to one year of hard labour and ordered to pay a £6000 fine for just writing disparaging things about the Gambian president on a postcard, it was quite lucky we were not caught not everyone would have believed we were looking for a sea monster. The conditions could not have been more different this time though. The heat in the Gambia had been stiflingly hot, but on Croyde beach the temperature was colder than zero degrees Celsius.
We gingerly picked our way across the jagged rocks on the west end of the bay, taking care to avoid slipping on the ice or putting our feet though the icy crusts of frozen rock pools. Once we made it across the rocks, without breaking any bones, it seemed our search would be much easier because most of Croyde beach was covered in sand and there would be few nooks and crannies for the carcass to be hiding in. This search proved to be fruitless and as we made it back to the cars Matt phoned Jon to see if he had uncovered any more information that could aid our search. Jon said that he had found out that the carcass had been found in a spot called the ‘Down End rocks’.
We located a map of the beach on a sign near the slipway we had entered the beach from but could not find a place called Down End Rocks, we did find the Down End Road so it was pretty obvious that it was the area to check out. It was the opposite end of the beach.
We drove the car around to that end of the beach and searched for an access point. We found one and scanned the rocks from a vantage point atop the cliffs hoping to spot the carcass. We couldn’t see it so elected to split up to cover a larger area in the hope of finding the body before the light failed. After a while Matt appeared over an outcrop of rock in the far distance and started waving wildly at me. This could only mean one thing; the body had been found!
I clambered over the icy rocks, swearing to myself that if this was a practical joke on Matt’s part then he would be in serious danger, but finally I made it to the outcrop. From the top of this rock I beheld a marvellous sight. Never before had a putrid pinniped looked so good! We examined the corpse took photographs and removed several samples for study back at the Centre for Fortean Zoology (the head and the back right limb) and had to leave the beach quickly as the sun was setting. Icy rocks, incoming tide and darkness do not mix well together.
We drove home though the freezing night with all the windows open to stop the stench from the samples overpowering us and reflected on a good days work. Over the next few days we will be emailing photographs of the skull to several experts for their opinion on what the animal is.