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...

Search This Blog



Click on this logo to find out more about helping CFZtv and getting some smashing rewards...


Unlike some of our competitors we are not going to try and blackmail you into donating by saying that we won't continue if you don't. That would just be vulgar, but our lives, and those of the animals which we look after, would be a damn sight easier if we receive more donations to our fighting fund. Donate via Paypal today...

Friday, January 23, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER COLIN HIGGINS: The Burbot - the Holy Grain of British cryptozoological fishing

Over to a brand new guest blogger - Colin Higgins from Yorkshire, who - incidentally - was the winner of the compy in last month's `On the Track`.

This is, I think, my favourite guest blogger article since we started this whole crazy cavalcade of cryptoblogging ten days ago or whenever it was.

It re-awakened lots of memories of my grandmother (who was a great fisherwoman, as the record breaking chub in the glass case in the CFZ Dining Room bears testament) telling me about this strange fish she had caught in Cambridgeshire in the 1920s..

Quite some years ago, before I knew the true nature of chaos I was volunteered - in the sense Her Majesty’s Navy impressed those having a swift pint into voluntary service - to help write some quiz questions for the natural history section of a football club fund-raiser.

This event had become a regular Olympiad for the big guns of the local quiz league, teams containing individuals au fait with quantum mechanics, previous wives of Bruce Forsyth and the scoring details of cricket’s infamous bodyline series. Through a process of elimination and ingestion of tidal quantities of real ale a familiar pairing made the final, two teams familiar with a knowledge of everything, save perhaps applied fashion.

As it turned out the tie-breaker between this Scylla and Charybdis of unconsidered trifles was one of the questions I’d set.

‘What’, it asked with a naivety I can only blush at now, ‘what is the rarest indigenous freshwater fish in England?’ I may as well have written a sign saying kick here and pinned it to my backside. By some freak of mental empathy one side wrote my intended answer ‘the burbot’ while the other quite reasonably demanded that lota lota was in fact extinct. It was a wrong-headed question on so many levels. Not only are there probably whitefish who live exclusively in some tea-coloured tarn the size of a soup tureen in Cumberland but how do you measure indigenous from an incomplete record?

My reason for choosing the burbot, the only freshwater member of the cod family for the dubious honour of fewest extant members goes like this. In 1969, when fish and fishing consumed every youthful waking thought, the Angling Times ran a headline ‘Burbot Caught’. Burbot it explained to those of us who knew species only through the colour plates of Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing, was a once plentiful inhabitant of waters in the eastern counties that had gone into decline for reasons that weren’t apparent. Eel-pout as it was otherwise known were common in British markets in Victorian times, the Edwardians knew them, a few were caught pre-WW2 and then, nada. Or almost for like the thylacine, the burbot re-appears every so often in reports to haunt our imagination. For how can a species that existed since it was trapped by retreating ice sheets have suddenly vanished as though it were never there?

The thing with the burbot is it needs uncommonly cold weather to breed and a consistent spell of it, the kind of chill we rarely see now. If it remains anywhere it’s probably in the Yorkshire Ouse and its tributaries or perhaps East Anglia’s river systems. If I weren’t romantically inclined I’d have to admit the freshwater cod was probably as dead as mutton and yet what is 40 years in an existence lasting millennia? And what of those reports? Mis-identified loach? A cod or ling come up the estuary on a high tide?

I once actually saw a burbot. It was cased in an antique shop that doubled as a café. It was also for sale, cheaply, but I was in a new romantic liaison and feared an obsessive compulsion towards a mediocre piece of taxidermy of an already ugly fish might mark me down as well, obsessive, even compulsive so said nothing and drank my coffee. It looked like nothing so much as a jumbo dog poo with glass eyes in a bow fronted box. Even so I travelled back to the tea room/tat palace a few weeks later but as you might have guessed it was gone, like the ones in the river. Vanished, though the squeeze is now my wife so all is not lost.

There are periodic attempts to re-introduce the burbot from eastern Europe but they founder, like the one last year, because the ministry believe they might introduce the parasite Gyrodactylus salaris. So as far as anyone knows there isn’t a Lota lota eel-pout in England, or indeed any at all.
Then again, as someone called Alex wrote to The Times website:

“A novice angler, named Phil, caught one in the Cam two years ago.”

No comments: