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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.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER LINDSAY SELBY: Here be monsters...or are they?

A browse through the university special collections found some monster stories.


A relation of a terrible monster taken by a fisherman neere Wollage, July the 15. 1642. and is now to be seen in Kings street, Westminster. The shape whereof is like a toad, and may be called a toad-fish, but that which makes it a monster, is, that it hath hands with fingers like a man, and is chested like a man. Being neere five foot long, and three foot over, the thicknesse of an ordinary man. The following discourse will describe him more particularly. Whereunto is added, a relation of a bloudy encounter betwixt the Lord Faulconbridge and Sir John Hotham, wherein the Duke of Richmond is hurt, and the Lord Faulconbridge taken prisoner. With some other misselanies of memory both by sea and land, with some forreigne occurrences. [electronic resource] : Imprint London : Printed for Nath. Butter, 1642.

This sounds to me like some sort of seal or walrus . Others may have some idea. In 1642 I don’t suppose they had much idea about marine creatures .The tale below is obvious to us what it is.

A true and perfect account of the miraculous sea-monster, or, Wonderful fish lately taken in Ireland bigger than ox, yet without legs, bones, fins, or scales, with two heads, and ten horns of 10 or 11 foot long, on eight of which horns there grew knobs about the bigness of a cloak-button, in shape like crowns or coronets, to the number of 100 on each horn, which were all to open, and had rows of teeth within them ... : together with the manner how it first appeared and was taken at a place called Dingel Ichough ... / [electronic resource] : faithfully communicated by an eye witness. Imprint [London?] : Printed for P. Brooksby and W. Whitwood, 1674.

It’s a squid or octopus of course. It got me thinking though about what other misidentified animals could be reported as cryptids. It is easy to see a monster when you are not familiar with it’s appearance.


THE GIANT UNDERWATER CHICKEN OF DORSET

In August 1995, Martin Ball was walking along Chesil Beach at Portland when he saw what he described as a strange creature “some twelve feet high, half fish and half giant seahorse”. After some research he equated the creature that he had sighted with an ancient sea creature known as Veasta. As he wrote in an article for Dorset Life magazine:

“Veasta is a rather nice name for a monster. The root of the word stems from old Dorsetshire dialect, meaning a feast - the olden-day beach gathering that was held on warm summer evenings on the neatly shelved banks of Portland's Chesil Beach. This area once had well-established trade links with Spain. Depending upon the pronunciation, Veasta sometimes sounded like 'vista', that is the Spanish for 'sighting'. And so Veasta has been sighted, several times now, off the Isle of Portland on summer nights - sighted in all her splendour, bathing off the hidden shores of this mystical coastline.”

Martin Ball continues:

“The Age of Enlightenment may be considered to have begun in the year 1700. Veasta was sighted in June 1757 by no less than the Reverend John Hutchins, famous historian of Dorset. Not only was the monster seen but the corpse was washed ashore at Burton Bradstock. What happened to it? “

It is a good question. However, this isn’t the first mystery marine beast which has been reported from Chesil Bank or the island of Portland. According to Ralph Holingshead (1577) a monstrous marine cockerel which was seen by the entire population of Portland in November 1457. It was seen, rising up out of the water, with the mass of four or five men and standing on the waves. It was then described as crowing to each of the cardinal points of the compass before disappearing back into the waves.

I have always wondered whether Holinshed`s description of the chicken of the western world should be taken literally. Not, I hasten to add, because I believe in the literal existence of a giant cockerel four or five times the size of a man, but because of the possibility that what Holinshed – in his the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, - described as the entire population of `Ile of Portland', had been suffering from a mass hallucination, possibly caused by the ingestion of bread made from grain tainted with ergot.

Ergot poisoning, sometimes known as ergotism is one of the most common form of fungal poisoning and its cause has been known since the end of the 18th century although, its effects have been noted and feared for centuries before that. It is caused by the consumption of the sclerotium - the food storage structure that can be found in some fungi - of the fungus Claviceps purpurea, which is a member of the Ascomycota. Family.

The alkaloid present in the ergot fungus has been synthesised and used as the basis for several recreational hallucinogenic drugs. However we must return to Martin Ball who has proposed another, and less exciting interpretation:

“The earliest sighting of Veasta was misunderstood, because in the 15th-century, imagery of the cockerel and the pheasant was used to describe the unknown in terms of the known to a rural audience. It is easy to ridicule this 'hallucination' as pre-Age of Enlightenment delusion. Yet it is clear from Holinshed's Chronicles that 15th-century man could distinguish between whales, dolphins and sea-cows. However, Holinshed also tells us that a creature was seen in 1457 'in the isle of Portland'.

Should we agree with Martin Ball that the appearance of the giant underwater chicken was actually an early report of the giant seahorse-like beast that he saw four hundred years later? Shall we suppose that it was merely the result of a mass hallucination by a small population laid low with the effects of a psychedelic fungus? Could it have actually been all just a joke by Ralph Hollingshead? Or should we take note of the fact that a few years ago, the excellent Children’s ITV Series “Roger and the Rottentrolls” featured a storyline with a giant underwater chicken?

IT WOULD PROBABLY BE TIME FOR A WARREN ZEVON JOKE IF I COULD THINK OF ONE

"Here's a weird Bray Road incident that happened last night, an unseasonably warm Feb. evening about 40 degrees F. and a clear sky, good visibility. Two men were driving along Bray Road near a farm where past sightings have occurred, when they saw a wolf-like animal that was much larger than a coyote standing in the road. They said it just didn't look right, although it was on four legs. It ran off into a field as they approached, and they went home for a camera. When they returned it was nowhere to be seen. But they did see a man walking barefoot down the road. (!?!) Could have been just a coydog hybrid and some teenager celebrating the February thaw, but the oddity of it all intrigues me. I'm in the processing of begging more details. I hope they at least snapped Shoeless Joe." .....


Read on at Werewolves of Wisconsin

The Wisconsin werewolf has made another appearance so it seems. Nick Redfern reports on the latest research by Linda Godfrey into one of the most intriguing sets of zooform activity in the 21st Century so far.

HGowever the bad news is that I still can't think of a Warren Zevon pun that is on-topic. C'mon guys, help me out here...

MIKE HALLOWELL: Geordie Monsters IV

There's an old maxim in Geordieland, that says it's always darkest just before it goes completely black; or, if you like, as one door shuts, another one slams in your face. As you'll have gathered, we Tynesiders are an optimistic lot, and we have to be when it comes to cryptozoology. Our kingdom is veritably teeming with cryptids and zooforms, but hardly any of them ever get identified. Its not for the want of trying; its just that we have other things on our mind, such as paying the rent and getting the kids back from the pawn shop.

One of the advantages the Geordie nation possesses when it comes to cryptozoology is our environment. We have mountains (although they're not very big ones), hills, moors, forests, lakes, rivers, a sea and a profusion of urban-cum-industrial sprawls. All of these provide a perfectly natural environment for just about any kind of cryptid you care to mention, and then some.

It never fails to amaze me what a spectacular collection of unidentified fauna we've accrued over the centuries - and how terrible we are at singing their praises.

We have hairy hominids (the Beast of Bolam Lake), dragons (The Laidley Worm of Spindleston Heugh), sea monsters (the Shony), alien big cats (the Cleadon Panther), black dogs (the Boldon Black Dog), cylathines (probably, such as the Boojum of Jesmond Vale), wolves (the Hexham Wolf) and dozens of others too many to mention.

To be honest, despite our incredible cryptozoological menagerie, I still end up feeling frustrated. To date, I haven't found any evidence of swamp monsters, for example Mind you, this could just be due to the fact that we haven't any swamps, although we do have some swamp-like bogs in Northumberland where, I have recently been told, a creature of unknown provenance dwells.

I don't want to say too much about it at the moment, as I'd like to get another book out of the story if it proves to have some substance to it, but the tale goes something like this:

Last summer, a rambler was out walking in Northumberland when he saw something run across his field of vision and dive into a bog. He described the creature as five ft. in height, brown/green in colour and scaled. The beast was essentially anthropomorphic, but also possessed a tail, had no discernible ears and sported a reddish, serrated crest upon its head and spine. Its face was, he said, "snout-like" and resembled that of a German Shepherd in shape.

The chap who related the story to me was himself the eye-witness, but was very cautious about getting his name splashed all over the press. He didn't mind me telling the world about his encounter with "the thing", providing that his name was not released as he felt that it wouldn't do his career prospects much good. Trust me, if you knew what he did for a living, you'd understand why. I have given him my solemn word not to divulge his personal details to anyone until he feels its appropriate to do so.

The witness who saw the creature strikes me as perfectly reliable and I got no indication that he was fibbing. What threw me completely was being contacted by a second witness less than two weeks later who claimed to have seen the very same beast - or at least, something very close to it. This time, the witness managed to keep the creature in view for around two minutes.

Normally I'm a trusting soul, but I couldn't help but be suspicious. It wasn't so much that two people claimed to have seen the same creature that bothered me, but the location of the second sighting. It was literally miles away from the first location, and by no stretch of the imagination could I conceive that the same animal could have moved from one to the other without being spotted many times. It had to be a different beast of the same species, or I was being set up to look like an idiot. Another problem was the nature of the second location; it just seemed the most unlikely place for some sort of lizardy dude to be living. Still, in the weird and wonderful world of cryptozoology, you never can tell. After all, the woods at Bolam Lake aren't much bigger than my front lawn, but there was a hairy hominid dodging about in their for bloody months.

Over the coming weeks I'll try to put together some more detail and, if possible, release more of the story via this blog. Are the accounts true? At this stage I honestly don't know, but I've seen nothing which makes me intrinsically suspicious - yet. Naturally, if anyone in or around Tyneside or Northumberland has seen this creature - or knows someone else who has - I'd like to hear about it.

Like I say, watch this space...

GUEST BLOGGER TONY LUCAS: Suzy's story

Tony Lucas is one of our New Zealand representatives. We first published his work in the 2008 Yearbook when he wrote us an overview of New Zealand cryptozoology. New Zealand is a particularly fascinating place because of its zoological isolation from the rest of the world. However, something that indeed marks him as an essential member of the CFZ is his love of animals, and the way he spoils his little dog Suzy....

Jon,

as you recently acquired Biggles, a fine looking young fellow, I thought I write and tell you the story of Suzy. A couple of years ago some friends of ours were moving into a new house that wouldn't allow Pets, they had recently acquired a new puppy and were thinking of giving it to the local pound. It was instant love between us and Suzy, and though not intending to get a dog we said we would take her.

Things went very well and Suzy was treated like one of the family, in fact if anything over spoiled.

About eight months after getting her she went out into the backyard to go about her business, she seemed to have been gone for an extraordinarily long time so we went out to check on her, to our utter shock she was not there.
A search was mounted and seen the word spread that Suzy was missing, a lot of people in the neighbourhood knew us and began to join the search as well.

They you Suzy was particularly important to me, as due to illness I have to rest, and every afternoon around 1 PM Susie would round me up, made me lie down on the couch and lay across my chest so I could not get up. Once she had decided her daddy had rested enough she would let me up.

We put up posters and due to some contacts with the local newspaper a story was published about Suzy's disappearance.

We checked the pound and veterinary clinics in the area, as in New Zealand all dogs that do not work on farms are supposed to be micro chipped, which Suzy was. If anyone brought her in it would surely be picked up and we would be notified.

The newspaper article was published but by now it was three days since she had gone missing,
I began to despair thinking that quite possibly now she had either been used for dogfights, a despicable practice but one which does go on in many areas of this country, or had otherwise died from fretting.

The following morning, early as I remember, around 5 am my son heard a noise at the front door and opened the door to find Suzy standing there. She was thin and very weak but she was Home. Examining her paws she had obviously been kept in somebody's garage as there was oil on her paws and they were raw from we're she had obviously been burrowing to get out.

We took her to the Vet, who made an incredible fuss of her as they knew us well and Suzy, a big bag was hauled out and loaded with toys and goodies and given to Suzy totally free of charge. The vet examined her and said that she had not eaten, was slightly dehydrated and although weak was okay.

He told us the main time to watch would be that night, as shock may set in and could kill her.

We spent the rest of that day giving her small amounts of food and water and she was so glad to be back home.
As the evening drew on however, she seemed to deteriorate and got worse and worse. We decided to use some Bach Rescue Remedy, a natural remedy which is often pulled out animals through when they have been extremely unwell. Not having any on hand a mercy dash to the late-night pharmacy produced a bottle. After the first dose Suzy seemed to show improvement and we sat with her all night stroking her and letting them know how much she was loved, and that she was home and safe.

By the next morning Susy was her old energetic self and once again, as she has always done, bounced from room to room waking up the family and telling them it was time to get up.

All this happened a year ago this week.

Suzy is still as bouncy as ever, treated like a spoiled child and just that little bit extra special, as she came back to us.

RICHARD FREEMAN: Leviathan vs. Behemoth


Biblical accounts of the giant beasts Leviathan and Behemoth have caused much speculation as to their nature over many centuries. If not purely mythical constructs what could they be? Suggestions have ranged from dinosaurs to crocodiles to hippopotami, but there are accounts of two great aquatic beasts that have been seen in combat on several occasions: the sea serpent, or as I prefer to call it the marine dragon and the whale.

The Barque Pauline, was off Cape Roque north east Brazil on January 8th, 1875, at lat. 5° 13' S., long. 35° . The time was 11am.

“The weather fine and clear, the wind and sea moderate. Observed some black spots on the water, and a whitish pillar, about thirty-five feet high, above them At the first glance I took all to be breakers, as the sea was splashing up fountain-like about them, and the pillar, a pinnacle rock bleached with the sun; but the pillar fell with a splash, and a similar one rose. They rose and fell alternately in quick succession, and good glasses showed me it was a monster sea-serpent coiled twice round a large sperm whale.


The head and tail parts, each about thirty feet long, were acting as levers, twisting itself and victim around with great velocity. They sank out of sight about every two minutes, coming to the surface still revolving, and the struggles of the whale and two other whales that were near, frantic with excitement, made the sea in this vicinity like a boiling cauldron; and a loud and confused noise was distinctly heard. This strange occurrence lasted some fifteen minutes, and finished with the tail portion of the whale being elevated straight in the air, then waving backwards and forwards, and laving [lashing?] the water furiously in the last death-struggle, when the whole body disappeared from our view, going down head-foremost towards the bottom, where, no doubt, it was gorged at the serpent's leisure; and that monster of monsters may have been many months in a state of coma, digesting the huge mouthful. Then two of the largest sperm whales that I have ever seen moved slowly thence towards the vessel, their bodies more than usually elevated out of the water, and not spouting or making the least noise, but seeming quite paralyzed with fear; indeed, a cold shiver went through my own frame on beholding the last agonizing struggle of the poor whale that had seemed as helpless in the coils of the vicious monster as a small bird in the talons of a hawk. Allowing for two coils round the whale, I think the serpent was about one hundred and sixty or one hundred and seventy feet long, and seven or eight in girth. It was in colour much like a conger eel, and the head, from the mouth being always open, appeared the largest part of the body. . . . . I think Cape San Roque is a landmark for whales leaving the south for the North Atlantic . . . . . I wrote thus far, little thinking I would ever see the serpent again; but at 7 A.M., July 13th, in the same latitude, and some eighty miles east of San Roque, I was astonished to see the same or a similar monster. It was throwing its head and about forty feet of its body in a horizontal position out of the water as it passed onwards by the stern of our vessel. I began musing why we were so much favored with such a strange visitor, and concluded that the band of white paint, two feet wide above the copper, might have looked like a fellow-serpent to it, and, no doubt, attracted its attention.


While thus thinking, I was startled by the cry of "There it is again," and a short distance to leeward, elevated some sixty feet in the air, was the great leviathan, grimly looking towards the vessel. As I was not sure it was only our free board it was viewing, we had all our axes ready, and were fully determined, should the brute embrace the Pauline, to chop away for its backbone with all our might, and the wretch might have found for once in its life that it had caught a Tartar. This statement is strictly true, and the occurrence was witnessed by my officers, half the crew, and myself; and we are ready, at any time, to testify on oath that it is so, and that we are not in the least mistaken A vessel, about three years ago, was dragged over by some sea-monster in the Indian Ocean.


GEORGE DREVAR

Master of the Pauline, Chittagong, January 15, 1876.



The vessel attacked by the monster in the Indian Ocean was the Pearl. It was a 150 ton schooner allegedly attacked by a giant squid rather than a sea serpent.

Rev. Henry T. Cheeves, in The Whale and his Captors also recounts a battle between a sea serpent and a whale. “From a statement made by a Kinebeck shipmaster in 1818, and sworn to before a justice of the peace in Kinebeck county, Maine, it would seem that the notable sea-serpent and whale are sometimes found in conflict. At six o'clock in the afternoon of June 21st, in the packet Delia, plying between Boston and Hallowell, when Cape Ann bore west-south-west about two miles, steering north-north-east, Captain Shuback West and fifteen others on board with him saw an object directly ahead, which he had no doubt was the sea-serpent, or the creature so often described under that name, engaged in fight with a large whale . . . .

“The serpent threw up its tail from twenty-five to thirty feet in a perpendicular direction, striking the whale by it with tremendous blows, rapidly repeated, which were distinctly heard, and very loud, for two or three minutes; they then both disappeared, moving in a south-west direction; but after a few minutes reappeared in-shore of the packet, and about under the sun, the reflection of which was so strong as to prevent their seeing so distinctly as at first, when the serpent's fearful blows with his tail were repeated and clearly heard as before. They again went down for a short time, and then came up to the surface under the packet's larboard quarter, the whale appearing first, and the serpent in pursuit, who was again seen to shoot up his tail as before, which he held out of water for some time, waving it in the air before striking, and at the same time his head fifteen or twenty feet, as if taking a view of the surface of the sea. After being seen in this position a few minutes, the serpent and whale again disappeared, and neither was seen after by any on board. It was Captain West's opinion that the whale was trying to escape, as he spouted but once at a time on coming to the surface, and the last time he appeared he went down before the serpent came up.”

Captain Davidson, of the steamship Kiushiu-maru, also saw a sea dragon attacking a whale off the coast of Japan. Captain Davidson's statement, which is countersigned by his chief officer, Mr. McKechnie, is as follows.

“‘Saturday, April 5th, at 11.15 A.M., Cape Satano distant about nine miles, the chief officer and myself observed a whale jump clear out of the sea, about a quarter of a mile away. Shortly after it leaped out again, when I saw there was something attached to it. Got glasses, and on the next leap distinctly saw something holding on to the belly of the whale. The latter gave one more spring clear of the water, and myself and chief officer then observed what appeared to be a creature of the snake species rear itself about thirty feet out of the water. It appeared to be about the thickness of a junk's mast, and after standing about ten seconds in an erect position; it descended into the water, the upper end going first. With my glasses I made out the colour of the beast to resemble that of a pilot fish.”

A modern account that may indicate that marine dragons feed upon whales occurred on June 1st 1999 at Alesund on the north –west coast of Norway.


Arnt Helge Molvaer had gone for a walk along the fjord. Then he saw a strange creature, swimming 200 m off and parallel to the shoreline. He described it as 25 - 30 m long and 1.5 m across, and tapering towards both ends. Just back from the head there was a squarish dorsal fin 30 - 40 cm high. He watched the strange animal for about 10 minutes through his 7 x 35 binoculars; it appeared to be feeding on the carcass of a humpbacked whale. He decided to run home for his video camera.

40 - 50 minutes later he had returned with the camera accompanied by his teenage son Per Tore. The strange creature was still there, but had dragged the whale further out in the fjord. It undulated in both the horizontal and vertical plane and appeared to be tearing lumps out of the carcass.

Molvaer said that his son Per Tore had commented on the animal in this way: "It resembled an anaconda; only it was much, much bigger."

Molvaer’s film can be seen here:
http://www.mjoesormen.no/hessaormen%201%20video.htm
It is so blurry as to be of no use to man or beast. Large whales are sometimes observed with deep wounds or bite marks. It has always been assumed that these were the work of killer whales. Maybe they were but maybe something else made them, maybe here is something in the seas far more formidable than any orca.

Other marine mammals have been targeted by sea serpents as well. San Francisco Bay. Brothers, Bob and Bill Clark observed a sea dragon hunting sea lions off San Francisco Bay.

On February 5, 1985 at about 7:45 am they were drinking coffee in their car which was parked along the Marina Green in San Francisco only yards from the Bay with a beautiful panoramic view of the Golden Gate bridge on heir left to Alcatraz island on the right.

“We noticed a group of sea lions about 150 yards in front of us. While watching them we saw what we thought was another sea lion come around Stone Tower point and slowly approach the group. When it got within a few yards a long, black tubular object telescoped about ten feet straight up out of the water and then it lunged forward almost falling on top of the sea lions. They immediately began swimming away, leaping in and out of the water as they fled toward shore. The creature churned the water as it swam behind one of them moving so fast it was a blur, but we were able to see it creating vertical undulations, which seemed to move down the length of the animal. Suddenly, it went underwater. Meanwhile, the sea lion came closer and closer to where we were parked. Actually, it swam straight at us. It leapt out of the water as it attempted to escape. The creature followed close behind stirring up the water as it made a final attempt to procure a meal. Now only 25 yards away, an arch of the animal was exposed which looked like half a truck tire. It appeared black and slimy, yet at the same time it glistened in the early sunlight. The creature was swimming slightly below the surface almost parallel to the shore.

The water was very clear allowing a silhouette of the creature's head and snake-like neck to be observable. A short flat snout, eyebrow ridges and lots of neck could be seen. It must have been 30 feet of neck because we both thought a big snake had just swam by. We were expecting to see the end of the snake but instead of getting smaller it began to get much larger! What we watched wasn't a big snake but something even more unbelievable. There was a loud crash and with a spray of water the creature seemed to stop dead in its tracks. The sea lion, apparently being familiar with the shoreline, had swum over a shelf of rocks bringing the beast into shallow water, only three feet deep. Instantaneously, a long black neck popped up, twisted backwards away from shore, then splashed as it hit the surface of the water and disappeared. We sat there trying to grasp the reality of what was happening. For a moment we were mesmerized as the creature was practically laying at our feet! The creature twisted clockwise like a corkscrew and exposed its midsection above water, giving us an excellent view of the underbelly, which was creamy white with a tint of yellow. It resembled an alligator's belly with a soft leathery look but was divided into many sections several feet wide. There was enough room to accommodate a human being inside it. The midsection had hexagonal scales which fit next to each other rather than overlapping.


The largest scales appeared at the widest part of the midsection where the underbelly and side of the creature met, gradually reducing in size as they approached the top, front and end of the midsection. If the smallest scale was compared to a dime the largest scales were larger than a silver dollar. The midsection was about 20 feet long, black on top, and slowly changed from a mossy green to a grassy green and ultimately to a yellow-green as it approached the underbelly. There was a distinct line where the texture of the skin changed from the scales into the smooth, leathery underbelly. The animal rolled off the rocky ledge exposing a padded underbelly and lateral fins.

While it continued twisting another section six to nine feet long arched upward three feet above the water, as if pinched from both ends. Then the arch twisted away from us exposing a fan-like appendage that was attached to its side at the waterline. It looked like a flag flapping in the wind. It was triangular in shape with a serrated outer edge. Mossy green ribbing ran out from a single point attached to the side of the animal like the spokes in a wheel. A paper thin green membrane stretched between each rib, which extended farther than the membrane, creating the serrated edge. The appendage was equilateral with each side several feet in length reminding us of a "dragon's wing" in miniature. Bob concentrated on the fin trying to remember as much detail as possible. He counted the number of ribs but stopped when he got to six since there were too many. All this time it hung open against the side of the animal. The fin unfolded like a fan and had many spikelike ribs creating a serrated edge!”

The creature turned its head to the left and then to the right looking for the sea lion. Bob wanted to get closer to the creature while it was sitting under the water, but when he opened the car door and began to get out Bill became worried the creature would attack them.

The brothers were lucky enough to see the creature (or another one of the same species) several more times.

In 1967 a Mr. P Sharman wrote to the late Tim Dinsdale, a veteran monster hunter, with a remarkable story.

“Dear Sir

I have just read the book, ‘More than a Legend’, about the Loch Ness Monster, and your book ‘The Leviathans’. Throughout the books there are many descriptions of monsters resembling the Plesiosaur. They remind me of a creature I saw when on holiday in lat August 1963. In a rocky cove, near New Quay, Cardigan Bay, Wales. I noticed an animal greatly disturbing a colony of seals. The creature drawn was slowly moving its four paddles tow and fro as if in readiness to make a sudden move. At one end here appeared to be a long neck and a small head poised above the water as if to strike out suddenly. The seals around it were making off as though the fear of death was upon hem. This led me to suspect the creature was making ready to kill a seal. After I watched the thing for a few minutes I realized there was a remote possibility that I was looking down upon a floundering basking shark. This seemed more and more probable so I left the scene.

Later, during that week I was exploring another cove about half a mile from the spot were I saw he strange animal. Here I saw the carcass of a seal with a huge chunk bitten from it’s neck and shoulders. This practically cut the body in two and I could not help wondering what creature could have made such a horrible wound. Of course it could have been that I saw a basking shark half in and half out of the water and mistook the tail for the head and neck of a Plesiosaur type creature. But I saw no dorsal fin; and are basking sharks aggressive to seals? The creature, comparing I with the seals , must have been 30-40 feet long, and was a brownish black colour. I was looking down from about 100 feet at an angle of about 50 degrees. It must have been about 8 feet wide. Please could you give me your views on my statement?”

Mr. Sharman also provided a drawing of the beast seen from above and surrounded by fleeing seals. The sketch shows a bulky animal with four flippers, a shortish tail and a snake-like head and neck.

Tim Dinsdale wrote back saying that he had never seen a basking shark in that area and that they sported a tall dorsal fin. Basking sharks are or course plankton feeders and are totally harmless to seals.

Almost every year seals wash up around our coasts with big bites taken out of them. For a number of years some people have linked these with attacks from great white sharks. But once again maybe it is something far more formidable.

I have long postulated that two or more species of sea serpents are possible descendents of marine crocodiles called thalattosuchians or huge aquatic lizards called mososaurs. These both have close living relatives and make better models for sea dragons than the extinct plesiosaurs.

If these creatures are out there and are powerful enough to kill full-grown whales then it makes you wonder about all those boats and their crews that have vanished over the years!

JON DOWNES HAS A BEARD BUT WALT DIS'NAE

The other day in his article about the wild dogs which escaped in Kent, Richard had a brief pop at the Disney Corporation. Just to show solidarity, here is a brief excerpt from my book The Island of Paradise.....

My mother introduced me to the works of Rudyard Kipling when I was still a toddler. She started off reading me the Just So Stories when I was about four years old, and we soon progressed to the Jungle Book. I fell in love with his prose, and soon came to agree with my mother that his poetry - which always had the meter: `tum te tum te tum te tum` - were unsurpassable.

By the time I was six and a half I could read it for myself, and at an age when my peers were struggling with godawful books explaining that Janet had a red ball, and that Spot the Dog could run, I was immersing myself deep within Kipling's glorious usage of the English language.

I was particularly fond - and still am - of the poem The Law of the Jungle from the Jungle Book:

Now this is the Law of the Jungle
as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk
the Law runneth forward and back
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf,
and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.


This was heady stuff for a seven-year-old, but it introduced me to one of the concepts by which I have lived my life ever since; that there are inexorable laws of the universe, with moral values which greatly surpass anything from the law of man.

Another poem, Mowgli's song against people from the story `Letting in the jungle` also had a great effect on me.

I have untied against you the club-footed vines
I have sent in the Jungle to swamp out your lines!
The trees-the trees are on you!
The house-beams shall fall;
And the Karela, the bitter Karela, Shall cover you all!


The story tells how, Mowgli has been driven out of the human village for witchcraft, and the superstitious villagers are preparing to kill his adopted parents Messua and her (unnamed) husband. Mowgli rescues them and then prepares to take revenge. The karela (Momordica charantia) is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown for edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all vegetables.

Most seven-year-olds believe that the world is permanent; that what is, always was, and always will be. Kipling taught me differently.

Another lesson from this remarkable book came in 1967 when Walt Disney produced a full-length animated feature film "based" on the Jungle Book. When I heard that it was going to be a film, I was so excited. At last I would see the visions from my head on the big screen . Like my school friends I went to see it at the cinema, but unlike them, I was appalled. Where were the characters I loved so well? Where was the deep, spiritual poetry? Why were the wonderful poems replaced by those stupid songs? And why - when all the other children were enjoying themselves, and singing along to the trite melodies - did I feel like bursting into tears?

I learned my third valuable lesson that day. That crass commercial concerns will override anything of genuine substance. That most people in the universe have absolutely no taste. And that corporate multinationals, like the Disney Corporation, are the enemy.

Nothing has happened in the intervening 42 years to change my mind.