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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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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

YESTERDAY

Yesterday was a very difficult day. I did my reading and managed to keep my emotions in check whilst I did so. And then - as you can see - the CFZ joined the throng of mourners at the community centre and did what we do best - we ate cake.

L-R Corinna, Olivia, Oll, Richard, Max, Me




I have been very touched by the kind messages I have received from the bloggo readership. I have passed them on to Marjorie's daughters Kaye and Lorraine who are my de facto sisters. It is time to get on with the rest of my life, but it is strange to know that for the first time in 8 decades, Marjorie will not be living next door...

CAPTION COMPETITION

I am always reminded of a line from Camarillo Brillo by Frank Zappa when I see this picture. Coincidentally I always misheard the line as "is that a Mexican Poncho or a SERIOUS poncho?", and I think that whatever Oliver was wearing in the rainstorm last week was definitely a "serious poncho"...

C'mon boys and girls, there must be a caption out there waiting for this picture.

AN OLD CASE REVISITED: Giant Eels

Some Years ago we were involved in a hunt for giant eels in the Lake District, and in the wake of that particular investigation I was commissioned to write a piece for a regional news magazine about it. Although they paid me, for some reason or other they never published it. I forgot clean about it, but whilst rootling about in my archives in search of something else entirely, I found it and decided that it might as well see the light of day at last:

Without question the most iconic unknown animal [cryptid] is the Loch Ness monster. For centuries there have been reports of giant creatures seen occasionally in the largest lake of the British Isles, but it was only in the mid-1930s when monster fever hit the United Kingdom in the wake of the original King Kong movie, and the improvements to General Wade’s military road on the south shore and the new road on the north shore made Loch Ness accessible to the general public for the first time, that monster sightings began to proliferate. It would be a great mistake to see the events at Loch Ness in isolation. There are several other lakes in Scotland, quite a few in Ireland, and others dotted across Scandinavia, Northern Europe, Northern Russia, Canada, and parts of the U.S. where 'monsters' have been reported. Generations of theorists have speculated that these creatures are surviving prehistoric marine reptiles, but this hypothesis just does not make sense.

These animals would have been air-breathers. There are just not enough sightings to support a viable population of air-breathing animals.
There simply is not enough biomass in many of these lakes, including Loch Ness, to support a viable population of large creatures.
It is highly probable that animals such as plesiosaurs would have given birth on land. There have been land sightings but again, not enough.
The vast majority of these lakes would have been frozen solid during the last Ice Age.
There is no evidence whatsoever that any of the giant reptiles, or indeed any non-avian dinosaurs survived the mass extinctions which occurred – possibly after the earth was hit by a meteor - 65 million years ago. (KT extinction event).

My colleagues and I at the Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] – the world’s largest mystery animal research organisation - have believed for many years that if there are indeed giant creatures in these northern lakes, they would have to be enormous fish; probably eels.

On 23rd July 2006, between 12 and 1 o’clock, Steve Burnip, a holidaymaker from Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, was standing with his wife and some friends on Watbarrow Point, a small rocky promontory just below Wray Castle on the western shore of the lake. It was a fine July afternoon and one of the warmest on record. They saw a disturbance in the water that looked like a boat wake. It was caused by an animal that appeared to be at least twenty feet long and was moving faster than a rowing boat. They saw what appeared to be a head and two portions of a long grey body, and although they watched the animal for approximately a minute, no visible eyes or facial features could be seen. Steve had a camera in his pocket – a powerful digital instrument with 8 mega-pixel capacity, but by the time he thought of using it, the creature was too far away. He did take a photograph, which we have seen. It appears to show several slate grey humps in the water, approximately fifty yards away, but for personal reasons Steve – at the moment at least – is loathe to release the picture to the press.

Another incident was reported by a Mr and Mrs Gaskell who had also seen the creature whilst boating on Windermere during July. They told us that the weather was dry and fine, with little breeze and the surface water was warm and calm. They have, on many occasions, seen fish jumping and surfacing in the lake, but on this particular day they were travelling about 4 knots near the yellow 6m/h marker at the entrance to the Ambleside basin, at the north end of the lake, when they both saw a disturbance in the water, about 20 yards astern. Mr Gaskell told me that they had seen something very large surfacing and diving again, which looked like a seal or dolphin without the fin, leaving a large wake and ripples. They did not see it again that day, or anything similar since.

Over the next month we received six further eyewitness accounts. Interestingly, one was from the late 1950s, and another from the early 1980s. The other contemporary sightings followed in much the same pattern as Burnip’s, but – for me at least – the most exciting account came from Kevin Boyd, an amateur diver who is extremely conversant with the wildlife of the area, and has seen eels of over six feet in length on a number of occasions, both in Windermere, and in the neighbouring lake of Coniston Water. He was enthusiastic about our quest, and offered to help us dive.

On 11th October a five-person team from the Centre of Fortean Zoology travelled to the Lake District for a three-day fact-finding mission. We were also accompanied by Jon Ronson: journalist, author, documentary filmmaker and radio presenter. He has been a mate of the CFZ’s for a decade and has long wanted to accompany us in the field.
On the evening of Thursday 12th October, just before dusk, Kevin placed a number of baited sacks out in the bay. Each sack contained cut up fish and squid, Predator Plus (a chemical that attracts predatory fish) and some rocks. Richard and I had carried out a similar exercise at Loch Ness the previous November, but were surprised at how difficult the process on Coniston was going to be. The currents were very strong under water, and the bait sacks drifted considerably.

Just after dark, he went back in the water, this time armed with an underwater camera, to see what he could find.

Richard and I had been planning this episode for many years. OK, we didn’t know it was going to take place in the Lake Distict but since the late 1990s we have been putting plans in place to do a dive for giant eels as and where it became appropriate. Despite claims made on our behalf in the media, we never had any great hopes of catching or even seeing an outsized eel on this occasion. The main point of this three day expedition was to meet the eyewitnesses, suss out the lie of the land, and – as far as the diving was concerned – carry out something of a dress rehearsal. No matter how many times you plan something back in the office, the reality is always going to be significantly different. It soon became clear that there were a number of things we had never even considered.

Firstly, we had always planned to dive during daylight or at dusk. Kevin explained that the eels come out to feed just after dark, and this was a contingency that we just had not planned for. The first thing that we realised was that on any future dives we would have to put lights on the buoys, and preferably on the bait sacks themselves. This will be easy to arrange using proprietry light sticks – tubes of chemicals that, when broken, emit quite a strong light for several hours – but this had just not occurred to us. Kevin was finding great difficulty in locating either the buoys or the bait sacks in pitch darkness, and I regret to say that this part of the experiment was a failure.

Another problem was the time of year: whilst all of us were aware that by early October eels usually either disappear to sea or go to the deepest part of the lakes to stay for the winter, we had hoped that because it had been one of the hottest summers on record and because the water of the lake was allegedly eight degrees warmer than usual, the eels would still be there. Sadly, this was not the case, and the anguilliform population of Coniston Water had followed the normal biological imperative and were nowhere to be seen. The water was also higher than normal – Kevin estimated by eighteen to twenty-four inches, and this would have affected the distribution patterns of the aquatic invertebrates on which the eels feed. Sadly it would appear that we were looking in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Kevin did manage to get some remarkable pictures of the lake floor, of pike and of perch, and all in all, although we didn’t either catch or photograph any eels, we felt that our first exploratory dives had been a qualified success.

The night was very quiet, and very still. Sitting and standing on the shore where the only illumination were tiny pinpricks of light from torches and the ethereal ghostly glow from Kevin’s underwater light, which would intermittently illuminate the water before us with a yellow green haze, was an enthralling, exciting, and oddly humbling experience. There are some people in the cryptozoological community who are scathing about investigations carried out in the United Kingdom. They seem to believe that true adventures can only be found in the jungles or deserts of the tropics. On this Thursday afternoon and evening I think that we have proved them wrong. David and I had come close to being shipwrecked, and here was Kevin risking life and limb forty feet below the surface of the water in pitch blackness. Surely, one could not ask for much more intrepid behaviour than this?

If we are to succeed in our endeavour in proving that there are indeed eels considerably larger than they are supposed to be in the deep waters of the Lake District, it is going to take a considerable amount of effort.

I am hoping that Eric Gaskell’s friends will come up trumps, and that we will have several boats to play with on Windermere itself. If we do, and if we can get permission from the relevant authorities to dive, I want to seriously consider carrying out a project similar to Operation Deepscan, which was carried out in Loch Ness in the 1980s by Adrian Shine.

I am also giving serious consideration to approaching the ferry companies. I wonder if they would be prepared to donate us season tickets and allow us to use sonar of the ferries that traverse large sections of the lake including the places where huge eels were seen during June and July this year. Kevin has pledged his support, and we are hoping that we will be able to get donations of time and equipment from other divers.

I am also hoping to involve various community groups like the boy scouts, the sea cadets and the angling clubs. As we scan the depths of the lake and attempt to the beasts with Predator Plus, I want as many ‘foot soldiers’ as possible stationed on the banks, and on the islands, with binoculars, long range cameras, and notebooks. This could be the largest cryptozoological investigation ever mounted on British soil.

If there are indeed large eels in Coniston Water and Windermere we are damn well going to find them!

GIANT JELLYFISH NEWS STORY

THE LAST EXAMPLE OF ZOOKEEPER HUMOUR...FOR NOW

This is (I think) the last of the examples of zookeeper humour, which I have been regaling the bloggo readership over the past few weeks...

RICHARD MUIRHEAD: THE `KAWEKAWEAU` ANOTHER GIANT LIZARD IN NEW ZEALAND.PART ONE

According to The Dear Leader (Kim Jong Il Jon Downes to you living outside North Korea), The Great Leader (Kim Il Sung Richard Freeman) has already commented upon the Kawekaweau, a giant gecko, which may still inhabit the Gisborne Region of New Zealand, in his piece on cryptids in museums However, I have a bit of information on the Kawekaweau that may not have seen widespread publicity. Since the spring of 1990 when news emerged that a museum in Marseille was transfering its specimen of the kawekaweau to New Zealand the track of this cryptid has gone cold as far as I am aware.

However, I have today emailed the National Museum of New Zealand in Wellington to ask if Tony Whitaker has found out any more information on the status of the Kawekaweau (Hoplodactylus delcourti) especially in the Tolaga Bay area of East Cape. Anthony H. Whitaker was located at the Natural History Unit, National Museum, Wellington, in 1990. If I get a reply I will try and remember to let you know.

According to Bauer and Russell: 'Examination by Aaron M.Bauer revealed that the specimen represents a new species of the genus Hoplodactylus, until now, known only from New Zealand. Subsequent inquiry has revealed a possible connection between the specimen and the kawekaweau of Maori legend. The huge size of the specimen extends our conception of the morphological extremes attainable by gekkonid lizards. It further suggests questions regarding conservation of native reptiles,and the investigation of rare or recently extinct taxa.' (1)

The authors later go on to comment on the origin of the specimen. Refering to the Musee d`Histoire Naturelle de Marseille: 'The collection locality of the specimen is in doubt. Although no data exist, the morphology of the specimen limits the area of possible origin, as it represents a member of a limited radiation of the subfamily Diplodactylinae...in the southwest Pacific Ocean. The first possibilty is that the animal originated in the French island territory of New Caledonia....An alternative hypothesis of a New Zealand origin for Hoplodactylus delcourti would be consistent with current ideas regarding the distribution of this genus, and would not be inconsistent with the history of many areas of the North Island, particularly in the Bay of Islands...The contention that the specimen is from New Zealand is also supported by some historical and anecdotal records from both Maori and European sources. A number of the older descriptions of the lizards of Maori legend are suggestive of the new species. The most valuable information comes from Mair (1873-2) who commented on "the existence of a large forest lizard", called by the Maoris kaweau." He continues, "In 1870 an Urewera chief killed one under the loose bark of a dead rata,in the Waimana Valley, he described it to me as being about two feet long and as thick as a man`s wrist; colour brown, striped longitudinally with dull red."'(3)

Due to the quantity of source material available, this blog will continue on Wednesday 16th Dec.

1. A.M.Bauer and A.P.Russell. Hoplodactylus delcourti n.sp (Reptilia:Gekkonidae)the largest known gecko.New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 1986 vol 13. p.141
2. W.G.Mair.1873 Notes on Rurima Rocks.Transactions of the New Zealand Institute 5:151-153
3. Bauer and Russell.Ibid.p.146

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today

http://cryptozoologynews.blogspot.com/

On this day in 1967 the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, USA collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 47 people. John Keel linked the bridge's collapse to sightings of ‘Mothman’ in the Point Pleasant area, in his book The Mothman Prophecies.

And now for the latest news from the CFZ’s daily news blog, and a bad pun:

Plans for special sites to save the red squirrel
Part-time fisherman captures 'monster lobster' off Devon coast
Pigs 'potty-trained to stop pollution'
Full moon brings out inner werewolf, scientists say
Wild boars chase Germans into waste container
Kitten's 120 mile wheel well adventure
Wrestlers take to court for sheep prize

Q: What is a pig’s favourite Bruce Willis film? A: Hudson ‘Pork’.