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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Friday, February 13, 2009

GLEN VAUDREY: Where have all the sea-serpents gone?

During the nineteenth century the Western Isles of Scotland would on average have sightings of a sea serpent every twenty years. They would range from the great sinuous many humped type to the merhorse and long necked sea serpent. These sightings would continue at the same frequency all the way up to the end of the First World War and then they appear to have upped flippers and headed off somewhere else.

It would be in the late 1950s before these waters would once more see a mystery sea creature, on that occasion a giant turtle would be seen swimming in the waters between Soay and Skye. Impressive as a giant turtle is it is not a sea serpent.

So where have they all gone? It would be extremely sad to think that some of the great mystery animals of the deep have become extinct before they can be positively identified but it is quite possible that that could be the case in this instance.

But perhaps there are other less extreme reasons than extinction to explain their absence from these waters, before we give up the search let’s consider some possible explanations for the recent dearth of sightings. The first thing to consider is the effect technology has had on sea vessels, they have not only got bigger they have got louder, and despite the much larger size of the ships there are perversely less crew members needed to man them and therefore less people to look out across the waves. Add to that ships rarely drift out of the shipping lanes and into unexpected sea serpent-infested waters. So perhaps the sea serpent prefers the quieter waters where it can have no fear of being run down by a passing cargo ship as it happily basks on the surface.

But then again the reason for the sea serpent’s absence may have more to do with fish stocks. In the early part of the twentieth century the herring stocks in these waters collapsed, gone for good were the days when the local harbours would be full to bursting with fishing boats, today you would be lucky to find more than a handful. So perhaps this lack of fish is the cause that drove the sea serpents away, if so perhaps one day if the fish stocks improve we may once again see the return of sea serpents to the Western Isles.

GUEST BLOGGER MIKE HALLOWELL: Geordie Monsters 3 - this time its personal

At the last Weird Weekend, my friend Steve Jones kindly offered to send me two dusty tomes penned in the mid-19th century by a chap called T. Fordyce. Fordyce was a Geordie, thus making any other positive references regarding his character entirely redundant.

The books are essentially diaries of events which took place in the Northumberland and Tyneside areas and surrounding places during that time, and they make for interesting reading. Should you ever happen upon one or more of these volumes, entitled - wait for it - LOCAL RECORDS; or, HISTORICAL REGISTER of Remarkable Events, which have occurred in NORTHUMBERLAND AND DURHAM, NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, and BERWICK UPON TWEED, with BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICES of DECEASED PERSONS OF TALENT, ECCENTRICITY and LONGEVITY, then I would suggest that you purchase them. Indeed, no Fortean should be without them.

Fordyce was a strange cove; never once in his writings did he mention some of Geordieland's finest achievements, such as landing the first whippet trainer on the moon (1846), our invention of the radioactive truncheon (1859) or the fact that we were the first nation to cure the vapours with intravenous transfusions of liquified stottie cake (if you don't know what a stottie cake is, look it up).

Seriously, though, Fordyce was an amazing bloke who, had he lived in our own era, would undoubtedly be giving the keynote address at every Weird Weekend from now till eternity. He delighted in accruing, as did Mr. Fort, weird tales and stories of enigmatic events. Until Geordie Dave and I came along, there had been nobody like him.

One of Fordyce's fascinations was the curious appearance of frogs, toads and other critters in blocks of stone. He detailed many instances of labourers cracking open boulders, only to find inside healthy, living specimens that had, seemingly, been there for untold millennia. Personally I think they hid there to avoid paying the Pleistocene equivalent of the Council Tax, but I'm only guessing. Geordie cryptids are devious buggers.

But Fordyce didn't restrict himself to the appearance of ordinary animals in extraordinary places. He also detailed the use of ordinary animals in extraordinary ways. He mentions this bloke, for instance, who - seriously - tethered a gaggle of geese to a barrel. He then got into the barrel and persuaded the geese to drag him up the River Tyne. It seems he was trying to replace steam power with goose power, but it never did catch on. He was outdone by a Mr. Kent, who, on May 16, 1822, according to the author, "exhibited his marine velocipede upon the River Tyne. Being Ascension Day, and the weather very fine, he fired his musket, and performed a variety of evolutions with much ease and dexterity, to the great delight of a large concourse of spectators. June 3rd, Mr. Kent exhibited his apparatus at Sunderland to at least 20,000 spectators"

I might have known those Mackems would have stuck their oar (or marine velocipede) in there somewhere.

Fordyce also mentioned the regular appearance of oarfish which appeared (mostly deceased) on our beaches. There were bloody dozens of the things, and, funnily enough, there was a picture of one in The Shields Gazette last night. Fordyce would have loved it.

Fordyce also collected tales of longevity. Hardly a page can be turned without hearing of people who were aged 102, 104, 116, etc, and were still vigorous enough to get down to the pub every night. Wisely, Fordyce refrained from announcing the secret of Geordie longevity to the world. Had he wished, he could have told those in foreign parts, such as Yorkshire, that Geordie longevity owes its legendary status to the holy trinity of baccy, brown ale and bacon sandwiches.

Another Fortean penchant of Fordyce was searching for prehistoric trees; not fossilised ones, mind you, but those still living. Now I hasten to add that the rather boring pass-time of finding supposedly extinct plants still with us didn't interest the great man in the slightest. Rather, he preferred to find trees that had begun to grow millions of years ago and were still budding forth in the 19th century. Alas, even this was too tame for Geordie Forteans (or more properly, Geordie Fordyceans). It wasn't enough, say, to find a 50,000,000 year-old tree still growing in a field in Bensham. Fordyce wanted to find living trees in more exotic places.

Hence, in July 1822, he announced the discovery of a living oak tree thirteen feet underground. This sturdy specimen was uncovered when labourers were digging new foundations for Morpeth gaol. What happened to it I do not know, and it may still be flourishing there with only a few simple needs like rain and Baby Bio. Fordyce related other discoveries of subterranean plants, much to the amusement of his followers.

I could go on ad infinitum relating the cryptozoological and other discoveries of Mr. Fordyce, but time prevents me. Mind you, if readers want I can scatter them around future blogs for their edification.

Those who wish to know more about the bizarre flora and fauna of Geordieland, or our Fordycean legacy, may apply to embark upon a degree course at one of our nation's universities, such as the Royal and Accredited University (formerly the old Co-op "8 til' late" store), in Dock Street. Course fees begin at the moderate amount of £17,000 (per term) but include a free finger buffet on a Friday afternoon.


The battle to save Antartica’s whales from the Japanese whaling fleet is becoming almost science fictional. By February 5th the valiant crew of the Steve Irwin of the Sea Shepard foundation had successfully foiled all attempts to slaughter whales by heading off the harpoon ships with inflatable boats whilst being filmed by helicopter.

The whaling ship Nisshin Maru aimed a sonic weapon known as Long Range Acoustical Device (LRAD) at helicopter pilot Chris Aultman of California and Animal Planet cameraman Ashley Dunn of Tasmania.
"At first it was just a loud noise," said Aultman. "Then they turned up the volume and we could feel it in our legs and chest." Aultman retreated out of range of the device, but was shocked they used it. "It was extremely irresponsible for the whalers to aim that device at the helicopter," said Captain Paul Watson. "They were doing nothing but filming and presented absolutely no threat to the ships. They demonstrated absolutely no regard for human life."

The LRAD was then aimed at the small boats and the Steve Irwin. This sonic attack was followed by the Nisshin Maru apparently turning into the Steve Irwin, and allegedly attempting to actually ram it at full speed. Captain Paul Watson ordered the small boats to act like fighter planes in a dogfight.

The small boats retaliated by threatening to foul the props of the harpoon vessel. Steve Roest, of the UK, was injured when he became disoriented, dizzy and was knocked down, cutting open his head. Ship's doctor David Miller from Perth sutured the wound with five stitches. Captain Paul Watson received rope burns when he fired a speed line in front of the Yushin Maru to force them to retreat from an attempt to cross the bow with a fouling line.
"The attacks by the three ships became so aggressive we had to fire flares and speed lines over their head to force them to back off," said Captain Watson.

The small boats also retaliated with rotten butter bombs. The Steve Irwin retrieved both boats and the helicopter by going in tight circles with the three harpoon vessels circling on the outside blasting the crew with LRAD's and towing fouling lines. Finally, the harpoon boats fled with the Steve Irwin pursuing them into the Ross Sea.


Following on from this morning's kakapo story, here is more endangered parrot news.

Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation organization, owned and founded by H.E. Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohd. Bin Ali Al-Thani, has purchased Concordia Farm in Brazil.

Located in Bahia State, the 2,200 hectare Concordia Farm is within the most historically significant range of the Spix's macaw. One of the last recorded sightings of wild Spix's macaw was on Concordia Farm, amongst the Caraibeira trees lining a creek which flows through the property, during October 2000. Concordia Farm was also the base of the Spix's Macaw field project, which operated throughout the 1990s, until completion in 2002. In 1995, the release of the only captive Spix's macaw back into the wild, was from this location.

Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation secured Concordia Farm for the Spix's macaw and plans to allow it to return to a more natural state by removing domestic livestock. In the long term, we hope that this land will prove to be a valuable habitat resource for plans in the future to re-establish Spix's macaws back to the wild.

In the last 3 years: 16 Spix’s macaws have been bred at Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, 4 at Loro Parque in Tennerife and 2 at Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots in Berlin. All chicks bred at Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation have been hand-reared by experienced staff, since it is considered a safer option than parent rearing, and the priority at the moment is to increase the population. When the captive population is considered more secure, breeding pairs will be given the opportunity to raise some of their own young. The current world captive population stands at 154 individuals.


A very peculiar news story has just been published by the Falmouth Packet Newspaper.

"It was between 4pm and 5pm when Sam Bradbury left work and decided to go for a walk along the coastal path. Halfway around she spotted something moving in the bushes, but was unprepared for what she says she saw. She said: “I assumed it was a bird or maybe a dog being walked that was rustling the bushes. I stopped as I got nearer, when I realised it was neither.

It was a little bigger than a dog and had the face of a cat with eyes that were glazed over and luminescent like a lion’s at night. It left when it saw me but appeared to only walk on two hind legs much like a kangaroo would and had behind it a bushy tail like a fox.”

This story is very peculiar, not only because I have absolutely no idea what this creature could be, but because the aforesaid footpath is right in the middle of Owlman country. There have been no owlman sightings reported to us since 2002, but as we know from our own experience opver many years it is a particularly strange bit of woodland.

Richard Freeman, our Zoological Director suggests that it looks like a springhaire or springhaas, a south African rodent that looks superficially like a small kangaroo. They are kept in several British zoos, and as they are not in the slightest bit endangered, and not covered by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act it would not surprise us at all if they were kept locally by a private collector.

We know someone in the Falmouth area has a taste for exotic rodents because, a few years ago, we had a report of a jerboa turning up at Falmouth Art College.

Richard Freeman is contactingThe Falmouth Packet as we speak, and will be getting in touch with the original witness. Ain't Fortean Zoology grand!

GUEST BLOGGER TABITCA: Bloggo research project

Hi (waves from Oop North).

Jon asked me to write this blog after he every kindly stepped into the breach and agreed to help with my research. I lost a blogger ,very careless I know, and was a blog short for my study. So what is all this drivel about and what has it to do with cryptozoology ?

Well due to a series of unfortunate events I am taking a year out and financing myself through an MPhil by research. By the end of it I will be penniless and possibly homeless but what the hell.... I will have learnt something and hopefully had fun. I have long wanted to get cryptozoology into mainstream academic view, and this is a roundabout way of doing it. The rise and popularity of cryptozoological blogs has shown how important this subject is to people from all walks of life and countries. By examining the blogs and websites and comments it is hoped to show how knowledge is passed on via a means that is understood and available to more than one generation, as tellers of oral histories did before the internet became popular.
My study is taking examples of blogs and comments posted and subjecting them to analysis. In order to answer the research questions a two pronged approach will be taken. The first approach is a sample of Blogs will be analysed using narrative analysis and coding the texts chosen, to try to evidence that they are narratives and oral tradition. By involving everything from how many hits a site gets to narrative analysis of the blogs and postings it is hoped to show how they are continuing oral traditions. With the advent of the Internet, a new medium has arisen which has pushed cryptozoology from the oral tradition into a new form of communication. This has a range of social implications as the speed and geographic ease of electronic communication sends the cryptozoological “stories” around the world. By analyzing this transformation it is hoped to see how the Internet and computer mediated communication will change the world of cryptozoology from fringe subject to a new oral tradition and given the respect it deserves.
Obviously it is anonymous and no one is identifiable from the excerpts I will use, but I would not use anybody's blog without permission. The same applies to comments posted, so if you post here and don’t want your words included my email is at the end of this, so just drop me a line and say do not use my stuff.
I realise by leaving my email I risk getting more adverts for Viagra and dubious surgical products than I do already, but that is life on the internet as we know it.
Why cryptozoology you may ask.....because I have been interested since 1971 after a visit to Loch Ness and have been back nearly every year since. I am in Durham at the moment, Big Cat Country and hope to be at the last day of the Big Cat conference if you want to come and say hello. If anyone wants to contact me and ask anything or just wants to comment, please do.
I am only a couple of months into this research so may not know the answers but will do my best to reply:tabitca@hotmail.com.

GUEST BLOGGER NEIL ARNOLD: On the trail of the big cat... researcher

It is with great pleasure that we welcome Neil Arnold to the CFZ bloggo with this first guest blog. I have known Neil for fifteen years now since he was a schoolboy with ambitions for adventure and I was an earnest young hippie who merely wanted to start a club for people interested in unknown animals. Nothing much has changed over the years. We are just both a tad older...

Since I was nine years old I have believed in monsters; whether they be the nine-headed hydra from fantasy films or hulking, hairy humanoids said to roam the wastes of Tibet. I’ve always wanted to hunt for these mysterious creatures and, in 2007, I realised my dream when, after twenty-years of research into reports of exotic cats in the countryside, I gave up the day job to pursue them. Before that I was Mr 9 to 5, stuck in a job. Despite several fantastic encounters with large cats and a handful of similarly terrifying incidents the job came first.

I can tell you that there is nothing as precious as experience and nothing more satisfying and rewarding than actually seeing a big cat in situ.

As a child, I used to read about how flying saucers were visiting the planet. I thumbed many a book and magazine on the UFO subject and was astounded by the number of researchers who were rather less than they seemed; they spent more time bickering and squabbling than actually getting out there and investigating! After about a year of this I gave up, bored by the UFO community and the ‘anoraks’ within it who’d spent a lifetime behind a typewriter, then a computer screen telling us what could and couldn’t be. They formed a clique, a group of self-proclaimed ‘experts’ who gave Ufology such a bad name that today it is viewed as a hobby less appealing than train-spotting.

Fast forward to the 1980s and reports were circulating of several sheep being slaughtered on the moors of the West Country. Big Cat Fever had hit the nation and the headlines for real, even though twenty years before the Surrey ‘puma’ had captured distracted the attention of journalists. The ‘80s was a time when everything seemed sincere. Naturalists and zoologists were genuinely befuddled by elusive felids roaming the countryside. Such was the novelty of this mystery that no-one really thought about the possible future implications. At the time I was a teenager excited by the possibility that some kind of huge cat was prowling the woods at the back of my home. I took it upon myself to investigate...

I traipsed across treacherous and foggy marshes, clawed my way through brambles, thickets and thorny. I was shot at, threatened by mysterious cults and, although I always despised the music of U2, I sympathised when Bono yelped, “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Those words rang true through my soul.

To become a full-time author, speaker and researcher into sightings of big cats around Kent, Sussex and London has been a privilege. I have been fortunate to have seen, at the time of writing, a black leopard – quite possibly the same individual on three occasions. I have also seen a lynx which took two years to track, as well as a puma and a smaller cat I couldn’t identify. Despite this, in all my years of research there is one thing I have yet to find; another decent researcher who can wrench themselves from the anorak brigade, throw away their toys, and get on with an investigation.

I have known several researchers over the years who have dedicated a lot of time to studying large cats in the wild. Many of these have given up the ghost, either bored by the petty politics that seems to come with the territory, or simply fed up of being the brunt of so many ridiculous comments so that their once hardened shells have crumbled. Big cat research in the late 1990s and now, is no different to Ufology. It is a situation involving fickle individuals, many of whom sit behind PCs and say what can or cannot be. Many refuse to speak to others outside their clique. Others are so desperate to see a cat that, in their impatience, they flit around the countryside like some speeding nomad, quite sure that the cat they are seeking may be toying with them. These elusive researchers exist on jealousy. They are green with envy of others to the extent that they require no camouflage to hide in the local woods. Tragically, research into big cats will never really become respectable unless the government, or other official bodies, get involved full-time. If they do, they won’t require the help of local researchers.

Genuine researchers seem far more elusive than the cats themselves. As with Ufology, I have become so disillusioned by the situation that my best advice to a budding big cat enthusiast is to stick to your guns, work alone, keep your head low and dig in. You’ll uncover a treasure trove of information that hopefully you can one day leave behind so that others may learn. It doesn’t need a front page of The Sun or ITN News coverage to make you better or more genuine explorer than anyone else. You don’t need to become part of a clique, or to become an anorak adorned in camouflage, whilst clutching your cuddly toy panther, to become a good researcher.

In a world with an “every man for himself” attitude, I’ve always found it best to do my own thing and just get on with it. True, some people don’t like this or my views, but it is always amusing to watch them squabbling and bickering, running around as if the ‘mystery’ owes them something. At the end of the day, it seems as if everyone wants that close up photograph, or even that dead specimen to say, “Ner-ner-ner-ner-ner, I’ve got a better one than you”. Yet, the realisation is this; these cats will outlive us all. They were here before us, and if it wasn’t for them most of the people out there trying to see one wouldn’t have such a hobby.

This is not a perfect world and there will never be a coming together of investigative souls, because there are too many egos at work. I guess that is what makes, or should I say, relegates the British ‘big cat’ situation to nothing more than a more modern version of Ufology. Stake-outs, conferences, shouting matches, accusations, petty politics.

Remember this; it doesn’t matter how many Zoologists you know, or whether your dad is an expert tracker, your own sighting will come with perseverance, patience and a little modesty.

This article is not a war cry but simply a way of encouraging people remove the trappings, to take off the war-paint, look in the mirror and ask whether, for them, there is any difference between UFO-spotting and ‘big cat’ watching. There should be a huge difference! The latter is, supposedly, the study of exotic felids roaming the country, not a Crypto version of Professional Wrestling’s Royal Rumble. One theory thrown over the top rope, one researcher quitting after being bullied, one accusation spat at an old friend! The fight ends when there is no-one left in the ring and the title they are all fighting for slinks off back into the shadows and awaits the next clique - off stage in a locker room donning more camo-face paint and slipping on the anoraks...