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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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Thursday, January 22, 2009

OLL LEWIS: The Nature Of Sea Monk Was Irrepressible.

This guest bloggy thing seems to have taken a hold on people's imagination all across the CFZiverse. What started off as a mildly interesting idea seems to have taken off big-time, and looks as if it is going to get bigger still.

Now, for the third time, its the turn of Oll Lewis, the CFZ ecologist (who also happens to be the bloke living in my spare room) is following up his previous blog which suggested that everything we knew about Krakens might be wrong...

After my blog ‘Kraken the code’ the other day I received several emails asking me for more information about giant squid, which I only covered briefly towards the end of the article.

Although scientists find out more about these most enigmatic of animals every year, there are still hundreds of unanswered questions about their ecology and biology. One of these questions is that of taxonomy. Due to the small number of properly preserved, and complete, specimens of giant squid many scientists disagree about the exact number of species of giant squid (squid of the genus Architeuthis). Some have contested that there are more than 20 different species, whereas others claim 8 species exist, 3 species exist or even point out that there is no evidence at all that the specimens are not all Architeuthis dux.

The bodies of giant squid have turned up on coasts and beaches all over the world and are thought to grow up to a length of 13 meters for females and 10 meters for males. There have, however, been reports of much larger giant squid, but sadly these invariably turn out to have been misreported. One giant squid was found washed up alive on the charmingly named Thimble Tickle Bay, Newfoundland, Canada in 1878. The Thimble Tickle Bay squid has often been reported as measuring 18 meters (55 ft) from the tip of its mantle to the end of its two feeding tentacles. It all sounds very impressive until you check the original reports: the total length of the squid was listed as 35 ft and NOT 55 ft meaning it would have measured only 10 meters, which would be within normal size limits. I suspect the size exaggeration came from somebody incorrectly reading a 3 as a 5. Like many giant squid specimens, the Thimble Tickle Bay specimen was not preserved for science, and the eventual fate of the squid was to end up as food for the local dogs.

In my previous blog I lamented the fact that the giant squid has often been incorrectly shoe-horned in with kraken reports. However, the giant squid does have another possible cryptozoological link. In 1546 a most peculiar creature was found floating in Danish waters. The creature became known as the sea monk in English and when the king of Denmark was informed of the strange discovery he was perturbed enough to demand the animal’s immediate burial. The creature had a head similar to, or at least evocative of, a shaven-headed monk, a scaled body that looked similar to a monk’s habit and the lower half of the body terminated in a fish-like tail.

In the 19th Century, Japetus Steenstrup, the Danish biologist that first described Architeuthis dux, ventured a theory based on descriptions and illustrations made close to the time of the discovery of the sea monk, that it may have been a giant squid. Most of Steenstrup’s evidence was incredibly circumstantial and there are a number of things in the description of the sea monk that just don’t tally with it being a giant squid. Giant squid do not have scales, but Steenstrup explained away this inconvenient fact by suggesting that the scales might not have been scales at all, but blotches on the skin of the animal that was part of its natural colouration. Also that one out of several, probably secondary, accounts of the sea monk says it did not have scales. Steenstrup also redrew contemporary drawings of the sea monk to make it appear more squid-like for his comparisons. The ‘original’ drawings had probably been drawn based on the description rather than on the specimen itself because of the king’s insistence on a speedy burial in any case so they present very weak evidence that the creature was a squid in the first place, which is weakened further still by the fact they had to be redrawn. All this does not mean that the sea monk was definitely not a giant squid, but personally I think the evidence is just not there to support the hypothesis.

Like a large number of cryptids, there is evidence that something was found but, when you strip away years, or in this case centuries, of speculation the evidence you are left with is not conclusive enough to be able to say what that something was with any degree of certainty. This hasn’t stopped many scientists from suggesting their own opinions on what the creature may have been, including a hooded seal or a walrus (both suggested by Bernard Heuvelmans), an anglerfish, a Jenny Hanniver or a hitherto unknown species. Each theory has its own advantages and disadvantages (which are explored in detail by Charles Paxton and R. Holland in the paper Was Steenstrup Right? A New Interpretation of the 16th Century Sea Monk of the ├śresund but no theory as yet seems to fit the description totally. Without the actual body of the sea monk it is impossible to be sure what it was.

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