WELCOME TO THE CFZ BLOG NETWORK: COME AND JOIN THE FUN

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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Thursday, January 22, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER MIKE HALLOWELL: Geordie Monsters

David Frost was well known for his catchphrase, “Hello, good evening and welcome”. As I'm more important than David Frost I have adopted my own opening gambit, which is Wotcha; a Geordie greeting which essentially means, “Hello, good evening and it’s your round coz I bought the last one”.

Now that we have dispensed with the pleasantries, let's get this blog under way.

I was born within the provinces of the Sovereign Kingdom of Geordieland in 1957. 1957 was a good year – like I say, I was born then – but life in the north was tough. Electricity was still a pipe dream, mothers had to feed their kids a substance called “milk” instead of proper brown ale and the dreaded sparrow flu had devastated stocks of our only source of good avian flesh. In desperation we turned to more exotic fayre such as rabbits and chickens. It was in such a climate that I turned to Forteana as a means of enriching my life, but my Geordie roots were buried deep in our black, northern soil and would not let me go. Eventually I reached a compromise, and promised our local deities that I would carry out my research into the unknown, but use it as a means of promoting our indigenous culture. Now I am a successful writer on Forteana, but my books, columns and other scribblings have a distinct Geordie theme. Well, at least most of them do, for I am not a purist. I will occasionally go beyond the borders of our land to other climes in search of a good story. I once went to a land called “Scun Thorp” (or something like that) to hunt down a Green Man, and many moons ago, when I was younger and fitter, I took part in an expedition to Lun Dun (Eng: London) in search of a Hairy Hominid that had been seen in a park.

During my travels abroad I have been much impressed by the natives of these foreign parts. The tribespeople of Manchesta (Eng: Manchester), for example, are quite friendly and, although not sophisticated by our own standards, possess a rude friendliness that endears one to them. We did not feel in the least threatened, and were indeed surprised to find that they too are not averse to the idea that there are things in, beyond and beside our world that we simply do not understand.

There was a time when Forteana was an unknown concept in our land. Many people believed in ghosts, UFOs and indeed cryptids, but their notions were simply a cacophony of ideas and legends rarely talked about and even less understood. As a teenager I felt it was my mission to change all that.

Until recently, Geordieland was uncharted territory when it came to cryptozoology. This was a shame – nay, an outrage – for our kingdom was teeming with bizarre creatures begging to be hunted, caught, examined and, of course, slaughtered in our customary fashion. Boggle pie and Sea Monster stew are just two of our local delicacies, as Messrs. Downes and Freeman will readily testify.

Perhaps the most legendary of our cryptids is the dreaded Beast of Bolam Lake, which, in the dawning days of this century, terrified the local populace whilst they were visiting one of our picturesque nature reserves. The CFZ sent an expedition to track the creature down, and I had the honour of arranging visas for the team and the pleasure of translating for them into our distinctive Geordie brogue.

The Beast of Bolam Lake was a hairy hominid not unlike the North American Bigfoot. It was approximately eight feet in height and covered with an unseemly pelt of dark, shaggy hair. It was never captured, but several members of the CFZ team saw it and there is no doubt in my mind that it really existed. My own position on the creature is that it was (or is) a zooform beast that can both enter and leave our world at will. Why it chose Bolam Lake to make its appearances I do not know, and conjecture is probably pointless.

The Beast of Bolam Lake is a cryptid of more recent advent, however, and there are others of much darker provenance that have a far older pedigree.

In future blogs I will be introducing you to some of these entities – not personally, you understand, but metaphorically, as they have a habit of killing humans that get too close to them.

Those who live outside the borders of our realm may not have heard of creatures such as the Shotton Dobby, the Staindrop Cloggy, the Hylton Brag and the Boldon Bogey Man, but they truly exist. In a forthcoming book I will be detailing these, and I can now announce that my friend and colleague Richard Freeman has written a superb forward for it. This is not a plug for my book, and I would not like readers to think that I am using this blog to encourage its purchase. However, as it says in the Geordie Bible, “Buyeth it now, for verily, we knoweth where you live.” (The Book of Trivialisations, 22;14).

The problem Geordies have with cryptids (or rather, the problem that cryptids have with we Geordies) is our passion for smiting. In our scriptures we are encouraged to smite. “Smite, smite, smite and smiteth again”, our prophet Toonarmius instructed. In the Great Soccer War of 1148, when we fought a bitter and protracted battle with the Mackem tribe to the south over ownership of the territory just south of the River Tyne, our great general Geordius Maximus is alleged to have slaughtered three alien big cats, fifteen dragons and no less than seventeen hominids of uncertain provenance simply to prove our manhood.

Well, that's enough for now. Should anyone out there know of other north-eastern cryptids that I might be unaware of, please let me know. I'll be glad to give them the oxygen of publicity that they so richly deserve.

General Updates

The new-look CFZ website is finished, and after five or six weeks of work, it is up and running. The more eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that the www.cfz.org.uk index page actually defaults to www.cfz.org.uk.beta

This is because we need to spend a day or so taking the entire old site down and replacing it with the new one. This is going to be a horrible exercise, and will need some degree of preparation. I also have a cold and am feeling sorry for myself, and it is too horrible a prospect to deal with just now.

On another technical note, Radio CFZ is slightly delayed. It will still happen in the next few weeks but there have been some technical issues. However in the meantime I hope that you enjoy our new, much expanded, and almost ad hoc bloggything...

DR DAZ DOES IT AGAIN

I am seriously disappointed with Dr Naish. He has not taken up my challenge to carry on the Dr Seuss motif on his excellent and ever improving Tetrapod Zoology blog, so I shall throw down the gauntlet again by introducing this particular story in the style of Postman Pat:

"Dr Daz, Dr Daz
look at all the mystery cats he has"


For, in his words: "It's very funny how things sometimes work out. I had absolutely no plans whatsoever to cover cats at Tet Zoo this week. Then, on Friday, I watched the documentary that featured the pogeyan* and, obviously, decided that it was worth covering. And, during the County Museum visit on Saturday, my encounter with the Hayling Island Jungle cat was totally fortuitous: I'd forgotten that it was there, and probably would have missed it were it not for the fact that Chris Palmer got it out of its cabinet. Yesterday, I received some very interesting photos from Ryan Norris at the University of Vermont. As you can see, these photos feature a cat. A very, very weird cat. So, for the third time this week, here's yet another mystery cat... Maybe I should go the whole hog and make this 'mystery cat' week..."

The pictures are hiughly peculiar, and it is very difficult to know what to make of them. I, for one, have never seen anything quite like them. This animal was photographed on a building site in southern Yemen where - apparently - it is a regular visitor. But what the heck is it?

Darren goes through a list of possible identities before reluctantly concluding:

"The battered, asymmetrical ears and scars - combined with the fact that the animal regularly visits a building site and seems relatively unafraid of people - indicate that it's a feral domestic cat, and presumably a battered, and perhaps diseased, male. What do you think?"

I tend to agree with him, although it goes against every grain of my being to accept such a prosaic explanation for such a peculiar looking beastie.

However, whilst we are in the Arabian Peninsula I will give you a very tantalising little snippet that we have been working on since before Christmas. In mid December I was contacted by Jan Scarff, an old mate of mine who is now living and working in Oman. Apparently in recent months there have been sightings of a lion in one of the more remote mountainous regions. Whilst it is probable that any such animal has escaped from a private zoo, either owned by some sheikh, or by a rich businessman or hotel complex, there is an outside possibility that it could be something else entirely.

According to Guggisberg's Wild Cats of the World (1975) there were lions in Mesopotamia until WW1 and in Iran until at least the 1920s. Wikipedia says that they were found even more recently but I have not been able to ascertain when they became extinct on the Arabian peninsuala. Indeed although it was the barbary lion that was known from north Africa, and the Asiatic lion that was known in the Middle East - but which subspecies was found in Arabia?

If anyone can email me on jon@eclipse.co.uk with answers to any of these conundra I would be most grateful. In the meantime, whatever Darren's bizarre felid turns out to be, isn't it a wonderful feeling to know that there are still so many animal mysteried left to explore...

OLL LEWIS: The Nature Of Sea Monk Was Irrepressible.

This guest bloggy thing seems to have taken a hold on people's imagination all across the CFZiverse. What started off as a mildly interesting idea seems to have taken off big-time, and looks as if it is going to get bigger still.

Now, for the third time, its the turn of Oll Lewis, the CFZ ecologist (who also happens to be the bloke living in my spare room) is following up his previous blog which suggested that everything we knew about Krakens might be wrong...

After my blog ‘Kraken the code’ the other day I received several emails asking me for more information about giant squid, which I only covered briefly towards the end of the article.

Although scientists find out more about these most enigmatic of animals every year, there are still hundreds of unanswered questions about their ecology and biology. One of these questions is that of taxonomy. Due to the small number of properly preserved, and complete, specimens of giant squid many scientists disagree about the exact number of species of giant squid (squid of the genus Architeuthis). Some have contested that there are more than 20 different species, whereas others claim 8 species exist, 3 species exist or even point out that there is no evidence at all that the specimens are not all Architeuthis dux.

The bodies of giant squid have turned up on coasts and beaches all over the world and are thought to grow up to a length of 13 meters for females and 10 meters for males. There have, however, been reports of much larger giant squid, but sadly these invariably turn out to have been misreported. One giant squid was found washed up alive on the charmingly named Thimble Tickle Bay, Newfoundland, Canada in 1878. The Thimble Tickle Bay squid has often been reported as measuring 18 meters (55 ft) from the tip of its mantle to the end of its two feeding tentacles. It all sounds very impressive until you check the original reports: the total length of the squid was listed as 35 ft and NOT 55 ft meaning it would have measured only 10 meters, which would be within normal size limits. I suspect the size exaggeration came from somebody incorrectly reading a 3 as a 5. Like many giant squid specimens, the Thimble Tickle Bay specimen was not preserved for science, and the eventual fate of the squid was to end up as food for the local dogs.

In my previous blog I lamented the fact that the giant squid has often been incorrectly shoe-horned in with kraken reports. However, the giant squid does have another possible cryptozoological link. In 1546 a most peculiar creature was found floating in Danish waters. The creature became known as the sea monk in English and when the king of Denmark was informed of the strange discovery he was perturbed enough to demand the animal’s immediate burial. The creature had a head similar to, or at least evocative of, a shaven-headed monk, a scaled body that looked similar to a monk’s habit and the lower half of the body terminated in a fish-like tail.

In the 19th Century, Japetus Steenstrup, the Danish biologist that first described Architeuthis dux, ventured a theory based on descriptions and illustrations made close to the time of the discovery of the sea monk, that it may have been a giant squid. Most of Steenstrup’s evidence was incredibly circumstantial and there are a number of things in the description of the sea monk that just don’t tally with it being a giant squid. Giant squid do not have scales, but Steenstrup explained away this inconvenient fact by suggesting that the scales might not have been scales at all, but blotches on the skin of the animal that was part of its natural colouration. Also that one out of several, probably secondary, accounts of the sea monk says it did not have scales. Steenstrup also redrew contemporary drawings of the sea monk to make it appear more squid-like for his comparisons. The ‘original’ drawings had probably been drawn based on the description rather than on the specimen itself because of the king’s insistence on a speedy burial in any case so they present very weak evidence that the creature was a squid in the first place, which is weakened further still by the fact they had to be redrawn. All this does not mean that the sea monk was definitely not a giant squid, but personally I think the evidence is just not there to support the hypothesis.

Like a large number of cryptids, there is evidence that something was found but, when you strip away years, or in this case centuries, of speculation the evidence you are left with is not conclusive enough to be able to say what that something was with any degree of certainty. This hasn’t stopped many scientists from suggesting their own opinions on what the creature may have been, including a hooded seal or a walrus (both suggested by Bernard Heuvelmans), an anglerfish, a Jenny Hanniver or a hitherto unknown species. Each theory has its own advantages and disadvantages (which are explored in detail by Charles Paxton and R. Holland in the paper Was Steenstrup Right? A New Interpretation of the 16th Century Sea Monk of the ├śresund but no theory as yet seems to fit the description totally. Without the actual body of the sea monk it is impossible to be sure what it was.

MATTHEWS' MUMBLINGS: The Beginning of the World is Nigh


Tim Matthews is one of my best friends, and also - coincidentally - one of the most controversial figures in contemporary forteana. He has been involved with the CFZ for nearly a decade now, raising eyebrows wherever he goes.

As part of the CFZ Bloggythings (we really are going to have to think of a more appropriate name for them) we have given Timothy his own little soapbox, and boy does he know how to utilise it!

Whatever happens, scientists always seem to win. We are the mavericks and they are the discoverers. So what are we, this merry band of Cryptzoological warriors? Nerds? Geeks? Or, worse, "Enthusiasts"? Our mission, we claim, is to go where nobody has gone before, to think the unthinkable and to prove the unknowable and yet, so often, we come in second and third place when new news is announced.

It is said that this is because of money. If we had more money we'd go out and find more. Too often, perhaps, we're interested in discovering some uber-filmable sci-fi creature. Nessie, Anaconda (as seen on that film), Mega Sea Serpent or something else Paranormal and Potteresque. Life is, however, stranger, more diverse and, arguably, more accessible, if we only care to refocus and redouble our efforts.

Take, for example, a news story featured on the BBC's website this week about numerous discoveries - some 300 new species no less - of corals, anemones and sea spiders off the Southern Australian coast. It is the sort of story that will interest the more intelligent, and it should fascinate us, but Cryptozoologists were, it seems, slow to pick up on the story and not many people are interested in it.

Similar stories are to be found in the news...if you look. Coming late to Cryptozoology, but always having kept pets and been around them, it seems to me that Cryptozoologists have managed to maintain a certain aura of mystery around their subject. Despite this, it seems to me that there is very little within a Fortean construct here and much that is basic science. They are only mystery animals until discovered, and despite the doom and gloom predictions of massive loss of variety within ecosystems, those darned scientists keep coming up trumps with their fiendish methodology and finding new species. Worse, perhaps, is that even the most sceptical university bod, one who derides Cryptzoology, can hardly fail to look good if he finds something, as he can simply be "surprised and delighted" while we stand on the outside looking in...

So what price Cryptzoology now? Is it to give up on mainstream science and divert its attention to the realms of silliness, myth, paranoia and outright fakery that makes up 99.9% of the so-called "Paranormal" field of study? True, we could do with the sort of money that the fake Most Haunted produces for Living TV every year, but is that where we really want to go? There is a worrying fad now for us to get all weird, to talk much of window areas featuring ghosts UFOs and zombies, even in association with mystery animals, but this will take us nowhere. Clearly, some basic decision making as to our direction is required...and we must all pull in the same direction if we are to go down in history as more than hobbyists and fantasists.

There are scientists within the CFZ. We need more - and better! Even more important, we need young people to go to University, get qualified in relevant sciences and then start a slow yet deliberate Entryist process whereby funds can be diverted towards the search for mystery animals.

We need influence and funding. And we only get that inside the mainstream of the system, not outside in Fortean Conferences.........

Zoological, not Paranormal!