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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Monday, January 19, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER OLL LEWIS: Kraken the code

Guest bloggers are coming out of the woodwork. It seems that young Max had no idea what he started with his guest blog from the other day, because the idea has taken off mightily. Links to the guest blogs are proliferating wildly with the latest being from our good friends at The Anomalist.

Now, for the second time, its the turn of Oll Lewis, the CFZ ecologist (who also happens to be the bloke living in my spare room) with an interesting concept that everything we knew about Krakens might be wrong...




There’s one fact nearly everyone knows about Kraken; it’s a giant squid.

But is it?

The Kraken, like many other cryptids, has suffered from an identity crisis similar in some ways to that of the Afanc (Welsh lake monsters that due to a mistranslation into English were thought to be beavers, never mind how absurd this made legends of afanc being pulled out of lakes by horses and chains) and the chupacabra (which no longer just describes the Puerto Rican goat sucker but is used as a catch all term for legged cryptids in the Americas whether they suck goats or not). Legends and myths about Kraken have been intertwined with misidentified whales, giant squid, turtles and Jörmungandr (the Midgard serpent).

One of the most well known descriptions of Kraken is that of Jacob Wallenberg, who described the creature in modest terms as being no larger than the width of the Swedish island of Öland. Sadly as Öland is 16 km wide this is not really the best size description he could have given for an animal particularly due to the fact that no animal could ever become that big. However, Wallenberg also described the Kraken as the ‘crab fish’ a description more evocative of a gigantic crustacean than of the gigantic cephalopods they have become synonymous with in modern day mythology.

When viewed in conjunction with other aspects of what the Krakens of legend, the earlier crab-fish description makes a lot more sense than trying to shoe-horn them in with the same description as giant squid (as fascinating as giant squid are). The bulk of Kraken tales told in the Middle Ages though to the 19th century concerned sailors or fishermen who would land on an uncharted floating island, settle down and light a fire only to witness the island sink beneath the waves. Often this would wreck their boat leaving the hapless mariners helpless and stranded. It would be very difficult to walk on a gigantic squid, no matter how large due to the consistency of the mantle.

According to legend Kraken were docile creatures and did not actively seek to destroy ships, but ships would be wrecked by the currents and whirlpools caused by their diving and surfacing. Other legends state that fish would feed on the excrement produced by a Kraken so if fishermen fished near to where one of these gigantic crab-fish was known to inhabit, provided they were careful and their boat did not get sunk by the animal, their haul would be much larger than normal.

Looking at the evidence afresh one can put together a quite plausible theory as to what Kraken may be, interestingly kraken are still with us today, and it may be possible to see one. Kraken are small rocky islands only viable at the extreme low tides caused by spring tides, which explains how such islands would have been uncharted. The illusion of sinking is caused by the tide coming in and covering the island which also causes whirlpools, currents and eddies the same way an incoming tide does on rocky beaches. The abundance of fish also supports this theory because the submerged island would provide a reef and a nursery for fish.

The Kraken of legend is most likely not a real animal, but the creatures it was lumped in with by unimaginative artists and later retellings of the tales are. Several cephalopod species, particularly squid can grow to gigantic sizes, although none approaching the legendary size of Kraken. The giant squid, Architeuthis dux, is found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and can be as long as 13 m from the tip of the mantle to the end of its longest tentacles, and is the second largest known cephalopod (the colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, of the Southern Ocean being the largest).

CRYPTOZOOLOGY NEWS: IN THE NIGHT ALL CATS ARE GREY

On the excellent Tetrapod Zoology blog our friend and colleague Darren Naish details what may be a new species of leopard sized cat from India’s Western Ghats. The creature was discussed in BBC 2’s series The Natural World in an episode entitled Mountains of the Monsoon Friday 16th of January.

The pogeyam is said to be large, have rounded ears, a long tail and be gray in colour. Environmentalist Sandesh Kadur saw the creature in broad daylight, in the high-altitude grasslands around Anamudi. He set up a camera trap with bait but the pogeyam did not reapprear. Native people have long known of its existance, calling it ‘the cat that comes and goes with the mist’. There are no known photographs of the beast, but this drawing is excerpted from the BBC documentary on the wildlife of the Western Ghats (described above)that can be viewed HERE

It is possible that this is an unkown species or a colour morph of the leopard. Leopards have been known to exibit a wide variety of morphs. However the melanistic morph or black panther is the only commonly occuring one, the others are rare. So if people have been consistently reporting this big grey cat it would arge that this is either a new species or an isolated group of leopards with a dominant gene for this colour. This has occurred in other mammals such as the American black bear that has a white population on Queen Charlotte Island. We await more information with baited breath. With this new cryptid hot on the heels of yeti sightings, the Western Ghats seem like the place to head for.

The pogeyam is not the only new mystery cat to have emerged recently. A small, beautifuly marked cat was photographed by Aldo Sornorza of Fundacion Jocotco at the Jorupe Reserve, Ecuador close to the border with Peru.

This photograph was taken by Aldo Sornoza of Fundación Jocotoco (FJ), who was helping with the construction of the new visitors' lodge on the Jorupe Reserve, Ecuador. It is thought to be a new species of cat, still to be described, which was first seen two years ago in Peru. The Jorupe Reserve, owned and managed by the World Land Trust's partners FJ, is close to the border with Peru and this would be the first known sighting in Ecuador.

If not a new species, the only other cat it could possibly be is an Andean Cat (Oreailurus jacobita), one of the rarest of all the cat species, about which very little is known. Its habitat and appearance make it the small cat analogue of the Snow Leopard. While it is only about the size of a domestic cat, it appears larger because of its long tail and silvery-gray, striped and spotted long fur.

It is believed to live only in the high Andes mountains of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. It has been sighted at elevations of 5,100 meters, well above the tree line. Since it lives only in the high mountains, human-inhabited valleys act as barriers, fragmenting the population, meaning that even low levels of poaching could be devastating. It is often killed in Chile and Bolivia because of local superstition.

Over the last 25 years there have been fewer than 10 documented sightings. Lou Jost, of Fundación EcoMinga, also an Ecuadorian partner of the WLT, is lucky enough to have seen the Andean Cat, not just once but twice. When presented with this photo, Lou commented:

"The ground color is very similar. However I didn't see any strong patterns on the legs, like this one has, though I would not have seen that from the angles I had (just the back and sides of the animal running through dense vegetation, both times). The elevations of my sightings were very high, around 2800-3000 m, and very wet, completely different from Jorupe. I could easily imagine that there is a new species of cat endemic to the Tumbesian zone of SW Ecuador and NW Peru."

CFZ PEOPLE: Let me introduce you to ... Arthur William Wood

Our old friends Claire and Scott Wood have just had a baby - Arthur Willliam Wood, born 15th January at 8.40am. Scott runs SELFS - the South East London Folklore Society, and was a welcome lecturer at the 2004 Weird Weekend. Congratulations guys...........

NEW MARINE SPECIES IN AUSTRALIA:"Check this out!!" says CFZ girls..

Showing a wonderful piece of acausal synchronicity, two CFZ ladies contacted head office to draw our attention to basically the same story. The divine Miss Fulcher (currently of Lincoln), sent us the link to a BBC story explaining how Australian scientists say they have found new marine life off the country's southern coast. They utilised a remote-controlled submarine sent back pictures of deep sea creatures never seen before.

At the same time, an Australian lass called Terri, who is one of Matt Osborne's contacts (as an aside - why are all your contacts invariably beautiful young women Matty?) sent us another link to the same story.

If you want the BBC tv news story, then follow Fleur's link, and if you want a more in-depth written story with a depressing absence of pictures, follow Terri's link, and if you want to know how to have a worldwide network of beautiful girls sending you news stories, ask Matthew Osborne..

Sad News: SIMON WOLSTENCROFT is dead

I am sad to hear that Simon Wolstencroft has died, because for many years we were very close friends.

I am certain that everyone reading this will know that there was bad blood between us at the end, and that there had been for several years, and I feel that it would be completely hypocritical of me to pretend that this never happened. Iggy Tavares, bless him, had tried to mend the rift on several occassions, but it was too deep and too fundamental, and - given the circumstances - was never going to be fixed. But I wanted to mark his passing, and remember the kind, funny, gentle, irreverent, and sweet man who was my friend for five or six years, before the illness took control..

When he was at his peak, he was the best editor that I ever had, and I learned a lot about the editor's craft from him. After he and I parted company I missed him a lot, and always hoped that somehow we would become friends again, although I knew that this was never going to happen. I still miss him, and my heart goes out to Debbie at this sad time.

Cheers old mate... Jon