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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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Saturday, February 14, 2009

HALLELUYAH IT'S RAINING FISH

During the summer of 1983 I was working in Exmouth. I became friends with one of my co-workers there, a Mrs Rowley, and I often used to visit her at her home where I would stay for an evening meal with her and her two young daughters. One early evening in July the elder of the two girls, who must have been about twelve came running in, greatly excited to tell me that there were three “horrid snakes” in the garden. Replete from an excellent meal, her mother and I wandered out into the garden expecting to find that the girls had discovered a nest of slow-worms, or perhaps grass-snakes. Much to our surprise, there, arranged neatly on the lawn in an almost perfect triangle were three dead, and very dessicated pipe fish.

Several species of pipefish (peculiar creatures closely related to seahorses) live in British waters and they are not particularly rare beasts, but they are one of the last things that one expects to find strewn neatly across someone`s lawn in the midst of comfortable suburbia. Mysterious falls of living creatures (sometimes called fafrotskies – an acronym meanining Falls of Anomalous Fish Right Out of The SKIES) are a well known phenomenon and one which which was particularly dear to Charles Fort. Fort was an American philosopher of nearly a century ago who dedicated his life to cataloguing unexplained phenomena. Since his death the adjective Fortean has been coined to describe the study of such things.

Fort had several bizarre and gloriously imaginative theories to explain such strange falls from the heavens. His most imaginative idea was the concept of what he called the 'Super-Sargasso Sea'. Just as the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic is supposed to be full of shipwrecks and all manner of objects caught up in its gulfweed, so the 'Super-Sargasso Sea' might be a repository for terrestrial and extra-terrestrial matter high above the earth's surface. Sometimes the sea would suck things up; at other times it would spew them back down to earth. Other explanations for such phenomena are numerous, but Dr Mike Dash calmly and logically manages to demolish the most widely accepted of them:

“........Another explanation is often advanced to account for the fall of frogs and fishes: the hapless animals were scooped up from a river or a pond by a passing waterspout, and deposited later some way off. This theory has something to recommend it: for one thing it has long been recognised that a number of falls really are caused by waterspouts. A whirlwind dropped fish at Quirindi, New South Wales, in November 1913, and fish fell from a waterspout in Louisiana in June 1921. Nevertheless, the waterspout hypothesis has weaknesses. There do not seem to be any accounts of rains of tadpoles, nor of smelly mud, broken bottles, old bicycles and the rest of the detritus that normally lurks in ponds alongside the frogs and the fish.”

If the Celestial Sargasso Sea is an inate part of the way things are, then surely the”my” pipefish would not have been dried and dessicated when we found them - they would have been fresh and possibly even still alive. The children had been playing in the garden all afternoon and were adamant that they had not been there earlier.

The same would seem to be the case if they had been transported there by virtue of a mysterious waterspout. Firstly, there had been no rain for days, and secondly, even if there had been an isolated shower which had managed to evade the detection of both us and the metereological Office, and even if this reticent rainstorm had contained a number of fish, then why were both the fish and the grass around them as dry as a bone?

The last theory that anyone has come up with is that the fish could have been dropped into my friend`s garden by a passing seabird. My only answer to that is that if one is forced to hypothesize a mysterious flying piscivorous predator that lived exclusively on dried and dessicated fish then we would be faced with a putative phenomenon far more bizarre than the one that we are actually examining.

Like so much in this world, fafrotskies in general, fish falls in particular and my experience with the three pipe fish specifically are just part of the way things are, and are presently completely inexplicable. The world is, after all, a very strange place.

THE AMATEUR NATURALIST #7 IS AVAILABLE: Download it today for only £2.50


"In all things of nature there is
something of the marvellous."

Aristotle

As promised last week, the first issue of the new look, 108pp magazine, renamed The Amateur Naturalist is available.


CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE


3. EDITORIAL
4. CONTENTS
11. THE NEWS FEATURE: West Thurrock Marshes
15. MORE NEWS
17. ZOO NEWS
20. CRYPTO NEWS
24. CLUB NEWS DIRECTORY:
The Emirates Natural History Group.
The British Killifish Association
25. CLUB NEWS: Ryedale A.S Open Show
26. Exchange Publications
27. OBITUARY: Simon Wolstencroft
29. COSTA RICAN ADVENTURE: Central American Wildlife by David Loft
39. FRUIT BEETLES WITH ATTITUDE: Captive Cetoniinae by Max Blake
42. TALES FROM THE BUSH: In the Footsteps of Wallace by Stephen Backshall
47. ADULT BABIES: Axolotls by Trevor Smith
50. NOT QUITE JAWS: Freshwater `Sharks` by David Marshall
55. FROM THE SOLOMON ISLANDS: The Jade Mantis by Graham Smith
58. SNAKES WITH FINS: Channa chat by Max Blake
62. TREVOR’S TAILS
64. LUCY’S LIFE
66. A PRICKLY INDIAN: Bengal Spiny Stick Insect by Janice Holt
69. ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS: Your first snake by Richard Freeman
74. FREE RANGE NEPHILA: Orb spinner spiders at home by Ray Gabriel
80. ZEBRA RODENTS: African striped mice by Oll Lewis
84. IN DEPTH: Insect diets and the role of toxins in food plants by Curtis Lakin
86. GOING FOR A SONG: Charity Killifish Auction by Max Blake
87. BOOKSHELF: Reviews by Richard Freeman
89. HELP: I need somebody

CONTRIBUTORS


Jon Downes, Graham Smith, Graham Inglis, Corinna Downes, Ray Gabriel, David Loft, Janice Holt, Richard Freeman, David Marshall, Stephen Backshall, Oll Lewis, Ross Phillips, Ray Gabriel, Curtis Lakin, Tim Matthews, Lucy Henson, Trevor Smith,
and Max Blake


This magazine is available in two formats. The perfect bound paperback format costing £4.99/$US8.99 and the digital format costing £2.50/$US4. If you have purchased the hard copy format you are entitled to have a free digital copy. This is a service of the magazine and its publishers who realise that although the hard copy is more durable and looks well on your bookshelf, the contents are in black and white, so email info@cfz.org.uk with proof of purchase, and download instructions will be sent forthwith.
The digital version is now available, and can be purchased if you click the image of the cover on the top right hand side of this page, and the hard copy version will be available next week.

RICHARD FREEMAN: A wee dram

A Hindu group in India is marketing a new drink, made from cows urine! The appertizing beverage also includes sugar, aloe vera and gooseberry.

The delightfull drink will undergo laboratory tests in the coming months, according to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Volunteer Organisation.

Some wild claims are being made for the piddle pop. Om Prakash, the head of the RSS cow protection department says that it can cure 70 to 80 formerly incurable diseases like diabetes and cancer!

Whatever the truth about the drink, that apparently has no name as yet, it can't taste any worse than Coca Cola!

GUEST BLOGGER KARA WADHAM: Only a week to go

Bugfest SW-Carnival of Monsters 21st February 2009 Stanchester School TA19 6UG 10.30am

Preparations for Bugfest are going well, frantic, but moving forward.

I have been overwhelmed by the good will of strangers who have given up their own time to help with this forthcoming charity event. To give you a few examples,our local Police Community Support Officers will be helping with traffic, I have a terrific volunteer - Matthew Pearce - who is going to co-ordinate the whole parking nightmare, good friends have stood shivering in the rain and snow to erect signs, the venue is letting us stalk them by way of phone calls, emails and numerous visits and children from my own school, Bucklers Mead Community School in Yeovil have been giving up their lunch times to make ID badges, sort out a stall and hand out leaflets.

So whilst immersed in the glow of altruism, I received a call from the District Council, telling me that if I did not take all my roadside signs down, I would be fined £80 a sign. In the interests of highways safety, we were told, we would be liable if someone had an accident because they were looking at our sign. However, if the signs were a few feet back on private land that would be perfectly ok! Work that one out!

I am not a woman who likes confrontation, but when I have gone to the trouble of gaining permission by one department, to then be told I would be fined by another, I did start to acquire a Hulkesque like visage and well, I cried. There, I've said it. First Bugfest tears of the season. There had to be some, somewhere along the line.
So I rang one person, who said talk to another, who said to ring the other person back. By this time, I'd had enough and my long suffering hubby had to take over the mantle of Bugfest organiser for about 20 minutes. The upshot is, the lovely signs have to go, so we are investigating private land use!

On a more positive note, we are gaining attention from great stall holders so on the day, expect to see tarantulas, stick insects, mantids, barn owls, Dr Who memorabilia and merchandise. Even the little people have got facepainting, dalek colouring, wee toys, fimo bug making, decorating ceramic tiles and a visit from Captain Jack Sparrow from 'Pirates'. On the Doctor who front, we have full sized Daleks, a cyberman, scarecrow and a Bugfest Doctor! And, did I mention there will be a ruddy great life sized TARDIS out the front?

So if that grabs your goat, come to the Bug spectacular of the Year on 21st February at Stanchester school,TA14 6UG Yeovil. CFZ readers can get cheaper tickets online if they follow this link (£10 for a family instead of £14..)www.bugfest.co.uk/flyerdiscount.htm.
If you would like more information, then please email me on Kara@bugfest.co.uk. I hope to meet you there. I'll be the green, stressed out woman hiding in the TARDIS!

GUEST BLOGGER NIGEL WRIGHT: Are our spiritual selves what life makes them?

Nigel was an integral part of the CFZ from about 1997 until about 2004, when family committments on my behalf led me to translocate to North Devon, and family committments for him meant that he couldn't donate as much time as he had used to. For years he was my PA (fulfilling much the same role as Matty Osborne does on occasion) and we drove around the country having adventures and doing odd things. If only as a guest, it is nice to have the old bugger back on board..

In an attempt to maintain my reputation of being the “straight man” of the CFZ, I have decided to choose a subject matter for this blog, which lends itself to such serious treatment! However it is an important point to make, I believe, since my own life story did indeed fashion my beliefs and interest in the paranormal. So, dear reader, please forgive the self indulgence of my telling a bit of my own journey to this point in my 51 years of existence on this small, yet wonderful planet!

Where does one start on such a recounting of one’s life and times? Well when planning this blog I started by listing all the bad moments in my life. Times that had been, in some way or other, instrumental in shaping my beliefs and fears. It proved to be a somewhat sobering experience! Having cursed my so-called “clever” idea, I realized that most, if not all of the really bad times during my life had coincided with further steps forwards that I had made, in my spiritual journey. Was this really just coincidence? Or was a larger force at work? This needed, nay deserved, further examination.

I will begin by listing some of the life-changing events in my life to date. They may sound like a rather bad script for a B-class Hollywood movie, but I assure you that they are true events.





1) Having a UFO encounter at the early age of 9 or so (which is responsible for my lifetime's interest in the subject)
2) Being allowed to watch my grandmother die at the same age( which led to my interest in the afterlife)
3) Being subjected to persistent and severe bullying at school( which led to my having a bad nervous breakdown at the age of 14)
4) Enduring a nasty divorce(whilst recovering from a serious cancer operation)
5) The cancer itself and the subsequent recovery (which meant about 3 years of near immobility. Time to reflect on life and religion etc)
6) Being present at the birth of my daughter( which renewed my belief in the hope of life anew)
7) Meeting Jon and the rest of the CFZ crew( which expanded my interests beyond all reckoning)
8) Becoming a full time writer and researcher (a job which I dearly love doing!)


So you see, every bad event in my life had an equal good effect, in the sense that it helped my along my spiritual path. My life has, compared to some, been very quiet. But I feel sure that the same rule would apply to many, if not all. Life’s bad times DO indeed also affect one’s ability to absorb new ideas and beliefs. Life is indeed good, and worth preserving at all costs. So for all of you, I wish long life and many happy times!

GUEST BLOGGER OLL LEWIS: Love Hertz

Apart from the fact that his puns are terrible and he has an obsession with the more surreal side of Internet culture, Oll Lewis hasn't put a foot wrong since we started this bloggo-thing. He is also an old softy and insisted that we wait until Valentine's Day to post this story of unrequieted love..

While I was researching the article on the bloop I came across the sad tale of a very lonely whale. The whale’s calls have been picked up on the hydrophones of the NOAA since 1989 and have been tracked since 1992, they were identified as coming from a baleen whale (whales that possess baleen plates rather than teeth, and filter feed like the blue whale) in 2000.

The calls have been recorded at 51.75 Hertz, and last for 5-7 seconds each and come in groups of 2-6 calls. The creature has been nicknamed the 52 Hertz whale. The whale’s calls are unique, blue whales and fin whales communicate between 15-25 Hz, and it does not follow the known migration route of any extant baleen whale species. With that in mind it is not surprising that the whale’s calls have never been answered, and that every year only the mating call of this single whale is recorded at that frequency. What might be sad for this, by now, very lonely and frustrated whale is good for scientists who have had the chance to study the call of one individual whale in the wild and monitor how it changes year by year, the whale’s voice has become slightly deeper over the years it has been monitored.

A team of researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, whose members have included William Watkins, one of the pioneers of marine mammal acoustics, has been studding and researching the animal and its migratory pattern using the NOAA sound surveillance system since 1989. This team has formulated several theories as to why the animal might have such a distinctive call. The Woods Hole team’s current preferred theory is that the whale is a deformed hybrid between two different species of whale, but they do not speculate upon which species of whale could have got together to produce an animal with calls at a frequency so monumentally dissimilar to other baleen whales.

Another possibility is that the whale is the last surviving member of an unknown species, or one known only from the fossil record. Scientists are often, quite rightly, cautious about proclaiming that a creature is a new species based purely on what amounts to a trace sample. An animal needs a holotype to be classified as a species and that holotype, unless due to extenuating circumstances, needs to be the body of the organism. This is because scientists need to have a good idea what the animal actually looks like to classify it as a species and something to compare other possible members of the same species too. Because trace samples like recorded sounds, faeces and footprints are merely by-products of an animal’s existence and reveal very little about what an animal looks like, any scientist using them as definitive proof of a new species stands the risk of ridicule by their peers.
This is why no matter how many plaster casts of Bigfoot footprints, or blurry photographs of the Loch Ness monster turn up neither animal will be classed as a new animal, or even existing until a body is found. When I was at university several years ago, I had a conversation with one of my lecturers who was also fascinated by cryptozoology. He used the example of Nessie, saying that even if the monster popped out of the water on camera during a live BBC broadcast and posed for photos, unless there was a body that evidence, would for some scientists, still carry only the same weight as one of his kid’s crayon pictures of the monster.

Because of this even when analysing something as unique as the call of the 52 Hertz whale you can only go so far before you are no longer presenting facts but only suppositions and theories. It is not improbable that the whale is the last surviving remnant of an unrecorded species, many new species of animal are discovered every month, the problem with this is finding the evidence to back it up. In the case of the whale, this would probably be one of the rare circumstances where a good quality photograph could be submitted as a holotype should the creature turn out to be an unrecorded species, but the problem would be in obtaining the photo.

The Woods Hole scientists were able to track the migratory pattern of the whale over several years, but this was only after the sounds had been declassified and released to them. Finding a moving target that you knew was in a certain place, say for example, last Tuesday, is a nigh on impossible task, and would require huge amounts of manpower. It is likely we will never know exactly what the 52 Hertz whale looks like, but the sentimentalist in me hopes that someday his calls are answered, however unlikely that may be.

The 52 Hertz whale can be heard here:
http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/vents/acoustics/whales/sounds/sounds_52blue.html

GUEST BLOGGER NAOMI WEST: Jackalope Joe's

Some years ago, I was in San Antonio in Texas. I was investigating the stories of blue, hairless dogs which had been described as the chupacabras although they obviously were coyotes of some description. During our stay, my ex-girlfriend and I found a shop called Jackalope Joe's which specialised in the sale of those singular artefects called Jackalopes. When our new Texas rep Naomi (profiled last week on Corinna's blog)asked whether there was anything she could do for us when she and her husband Ritchie visited San Antonio, I asked her to go and visit the shop. The rest is history....

Citizens and passersby of the Western United States expect to see some interesting creatures: waddling, squinting armadillos, gracefully bounding antelopes, massive, meditative long-horns… but a rabbit with antlers? If you haven’t heard of the Jackalope, you can spot one on any given day in a small retail store located in San Antonio, Texas. Jackalope Joe’s specializes in the sale of this odd breed – all of them dead and mounted alongside the more commonly hunted horned creatures. You can even purchase a hunting license for the Jackalope, as its population is not likely to be endangered anytime soon.

Jackalopes are manufactured in South Dakota by Matthew and Brenda Pates. The business began over 40 years ago by a taxidermist named Russ Bachus. But it wasn’t just a moment of creative genius that inspired Russ to stick a pair of antlers on a rabbit carcass: the legend of the Jackalope began in 16th Century Germany, when rabbits with what appeared to be horns spawned rumors of a new breed. It wasn’t until the 20th century that scientists discovered Shope papillomavirus, a disease that causes these horn-like growths.







This fatal disease afflicts both Jack Rabbits and Cottontails.



The appeal of the Jackalope endures despite its sobering origins, and people continue to purchase these cuddly, horned oddities. Rachel, the manager of Jackalope Joe’s, says that much thought goes into customers’ decisions when choosing which Jackalope to buy: they study the eyes, the facial expressions, and even look for resemblances to family members.




"This one looks like Grandpa!” one customer exclaimed. Many buyers choose the Pheasant Jackalope, which sports a pair of wings, bird legs, and a long, vertical, feathered tail.






Another best-seller is the “couple”: a mounted Jackalope head with a Jack Rabbit head snuggled adoringly against it.

Children are especially enamored by the Jackalopes, and Rachel says parents often request that she “confirm” to the kids that the Jackalope is real. This deception brings children as much delight as the myth of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.



The popularity of the Jackalope among adults, however, proves that people of all ages would rather entertain a myth than concern themselves with facts. And what myth could be more entertaining than a bunny with a rack of horns?




Although some locals claim they have spotted live Jackalopes in the Texas Hill Country, probably the only ones you will see can be found at Jackalope Joe’s.