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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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

DALE DRINNON: Great Lakes Whale Watch Part 3

Here are some internet resources on Bessie, The Lake Eire Monster, along with reference photos of Bessie and bottlenose whales:


Reprint from CREATURE CHRONICLES #14; Oct. 1991
Ron Schaffner: Editor


A Monster in Lake Erie

A listing of the alleged sightings

Lake Erie's western basin has become a host of yet another aquatic serpent in the world. Not surprising as the student of cyrptozoology is aware that the majority of these inhabited inland waterways within the northern hemisphere lay claim to some sort of monster.

There have been many explanations to the sightings; most notable is the prehistorical sturgeon, which can easily grow up to 300 pounds and have been known to reach 20 feet, 200 pounds and 100 years old. However, it must be noted that they are bottom fish and rarely seen on the surface. But, how often could one see a serpent?

"South Bay Bessie", as dubbed from a local contest has stirred quite a wonder in northern Ohio since the mid 1980's. The battle lines have been carved from the believers and skeptics alike. "Monster-mania" has taken hold in all the local communities. (A more than familiar common thread with all Fortean events of this type.)

John Schaffner, editor of the Ottawa County Beacon (no relation to this edi- tor.) has been the focal point of data collection with his toll-free hot line. I wish to thank him for the material he has sent along to us. His hot-line has produced reports dating back 30 years .

The majority of reports depict the same basic description: A 30-50 long snake-like about as [big a]round as a bowling ball.[Counter to this we also have clear repeated statements that it is at lease two feet wide on the surface and must be wider below the waterline]

The reported creature seems to appear when the water is calm.

So, without further oration, let us begin the listings of "Bessie". We will have no further comments on origin or explanations.

1960 - Ken Golic was fishing off a pier in Sandusky when he heard two rats. He decided to throw a couple of rocks at them when he saw the creature. He stated that it was cigar-shaped and came out of the water about 1-1 1/2 feet. It was about 11:00 PM on a clear, calm night.

1969 - Jim Schindler stated that a serpent came within 6 feet of him near South Bass Island. Although he did not see the length, the width was about 2 feet. The animal appeared to be about 1 foot under[out of] the water.

9/1981 - Theresa Kovach of Akron saw a snake-like reptile that "was so large that could easily capsized a boat. It seemed to be playing." She watched it from a house on the Cedar Point Cause- way.

1983 (app.) - Mary M. Landoll told John Schaffner about her encounter with Bessie off Rye Beach in Huron. Mary went out to the front porch just before dawn when the lake was quite placid. From the left end, she heard a rowing sound and saw what looked like a capsized boat. It was a greenish-brown color about 40-50 feet in length. Landoll realized that it wasn't a boat, but an animal of some sort. It had a long neck and an eye was visible on the side of the head with a grin going up one side The creature appeared to be playing in the water, but still put a scare into the witness.

[This is the ONLY report stated as specifying the creature had a long neck - but it appears that said neck was NOT lifted out of the water to any appreciable distance, otherwise how could it give the usual appearance of an upturned boat? The neck seems to "curve around" flat on top of the water as it was "Playing" - DD]

Summer, 1985 - Tony Schill of Avon, Ohio was boating with friends north of Vermilion when they reported the serpent. It was dark brown and had a flat tail. Tony stated that "5 humps came out of the wa ter. No way it was a sturgeon."

Dale Munro, of Lorain was also boating when he came face-to-face with it. He stated that it had 3 humps and was black. He also reported that it was twice the size of his 16 foot boat. The location was in calm waters just off the Lorain Coast Guard Station and his sighting lasted 3-4 minutes.

May or June, 1989 - Gail Kasner obtains a graph from a boat owned by Ken Smith, of Streetsboro. The fishfinder appears to show a sonar reading of a cigar-shape apparition about 35 feet in length at a depth of about 30 feet.

July 8, 1990 - Susan seeson, of Salem witnessed the creature 2 miles from Cedar Point. Her description basically matched other reports.

September 3, 1990 - Bob Soracco was jet skiing off Port Clinton when he thought he spotted a porpoise. (Porpoise in fresh water? Oh well, Bob had just moved from Florida.[Shows what the author knows: there are several types of porpoises that inhabit freshwater or brackish sea-lakes]) He told reporters that he saw humps with grey spots. "It was very long as I moved closer and it was going down.

September 4, 1990 - Harold Bricker and his family were fishing north of Cedar Point Amusement Park when a serpent type creature swam by their boat about 1000 feet away Their description- 35 feet long with a snake-like head. It moved as fast as their boat. Later, the Bricker's reported their sighting to the ODNR rangers at East Harbor State Park.

September 11, 1990 - Fire inspectors, Jim Johnson and Steve Dircks, of Huron saw the creature from a third story window facing Lake Erie. They decribed it as dark blue or black at about 30-45 feet long. He further stated that he saw three parts of the creature above water. "It laid there motionless for three to six minutes and was flat on top."

Week of September 16 1991 - Dennis Szececinski, of Toledo saw Bessie near Toledo's water intake structure three miles offshore in Maumee Bay. He was fishing in the bay when something long and black slithered in front of him.

The Beacon, Ottawa County, 9/90 Dayton Daily News, 10/7/90 Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 9/23/90 Columbus Dispatch 9/26/90

Credit: Ron Schaffner (rschaffn@tso.cin.ix.net)

['Bessie' has a mouth with two fangs sticking out in front; sometimes also said to have only one coming down from the top. Its mouth also forms a grin when seen from the side; all of which marks it as a bottlenose whale. One of the very old 'Champ' sightings and one of the sightings on the Ottowa river also mention the peculiar teeth. Only the male bottlenose whale has teeth, and on the males the round head can be developed to the extent that the dolphin-like beak is obscured and hene a blunted 'Snake-like' or turtle-like head. In the case of Bessie, SOME of the sightings of 3 to 7 humps might actually be several animals swimming close together: bottlenose whales do that and it answers the question as to why are they not seen in schools.

The answer is then that they are but it is not recognised. Also, the bottlenose whale is the only whale that can be described as greenish or a sort of olive brown. Bottlenose whales are known for wandering up into estuaries and up rivers, including the Thames, and a colony of these whales are known to be permanent residents around Nova Scotia.]


Most people are aware of the Loch Ness Monster, and many have heard of Lake Okanagan's Ogopogo, but Lake Erie's own mysterious sea creature is much less well-known.

Known as South Bay Bessie, the elusive sea serpent has been widely reported on Erie's south shore over the years, in Ohio lakeside locations including Akron, Sandusky Point and Cedar Point. In Huron, Ohio, the monster is so much a part of local lore that since 1984, a life-size floating replica has been seasonally anchored in the waters off the Huron River. In Cleveland, the Great Lakes Brewing Company sells a beer called 'Lake Erie Monster Double IPA'.

On the Canadian shore, a rash of biting incidents from an unknown aquatic creature plagued the tiny beachside community of Port Dover in 2001. According to an article by Graham Marsden, editor of FishingMagic.Com, at least three persons, including Port Dover resident Brenda McCormack, a man and a child were bitten in a 24-hour period. The physician who treated the man at the time, Dr. Harold Hynscht, ruled out lamprey eels, snapping turtles, walleye, goby or muskellunge fish -- even escaped pet piranhas. Whatever it was, he said, it was "a big honking fish." Dr. Hynscht suggested the aggressive, 60 centimetre-long bowfin fish as the culprit, but couldn't be certain. Others proposed – only half-jokingly – the Lake Erie monster. [I do not know why the muskellunge was ruled out; that would have been my choice - DD]

The first documented sightings of the creature occurred as far back as July 1817, when the crew of a schooner reported a 30 to 40-foot long serpent, dark in colour. Later that year, another boat crew spotted a similar animal, this time copper-coloured and 60 feet in length. This time, they shot at it with muskets, which had no visible effect.

A third 1817 incident took place near Toledo, when French settlers – two brothers named Dusseau -- encountered a huge monster on the beach, writhing in what they took to be its death throes. The brothers described it as between 20 and 30 feet in length and shaped like a large sturgeon, except that it had arms. The panicked brothers fled the scene, and when they returned later, the creature had disappeared, presumably carried off by waves after its death. All that was left of its presence were marks on the beach and a number of silver scales about the size of silver dollars.
[This is probably an exaggeration and the scales would not be related to the body. A sturgeon does not have scales like that. The skeletal structure of a cetacean's flippers are like arms, and that point makes a cetacean more likely than a sturgeon in this case]

Since then, there have been more than 15 sightings of the creature, with at least five of those occurring as late as the 1990s. The most recent event was reported from Madison Township in Lake County Ohio in 2004. Most of the accounts are similar, describing a snake-like body, 30 to 40 feet in length, dark in colour and swimming with a wavy motion. Some witnesses say the serpent has 'humps.' [This may even be several individual creatures following together closely, the whales are known to do that - DD]

Interestingly, there may be evidence describing the serpent's presence from long before the first recorded sighting. The Seneca Indians, natives of the area of Niagara Falls, tell a legend of the Good Spirit and the Evil Spirit. In this legend, the Evil Spirit "controlled a huge Water Serpent that lived in the Niagara River and Lake Erie."

Beyond eyewitness accounts and oral history, however, little or no proof supporting Bessie's existence has surfaced. That may change, however, with the advent of the internet and the proliferation of low-cost web-cams. At least one website – MonsterTracker.Com – has set up a number of real-time internet cameras strung across a number of strategic sites on Erie's shore, from Wainfleet, Ontario in the east to Kelly's Island, Ohio, in the west.


Lake Erie

Similar to L. Ontario many accounts of various descriptions have been reported over the past two centuries involving Lake Erie.

While shooting at ducks north of Sandusky Ohio in 1793; the captain of the sloop Felicity startled a large creature (snake) described as “more than a rod (16 ½ ft.) in length” [This could have been a smaller, younger "Bessie" or it could have been something different like a large muskellunge-DD]

An extraordinary sighting took place by the entire crew of a ship bound from Buffalo NY to Toledo Ohio in July of 1892, which was carried by local newspapers. The crew (including captain) saw a large area of water approx. one half mile ahead of them churned up and foaming. As they approached they saw “a huge sea serpent” that appeared to be “wrestling about in the waters, as if fighting with an unseen foe.” They observed as the creature relaxed itself and stretched out full length (estimated at 50ft and 4ft in circumference) with it’s head sticking up above the water an additional 4ft. The brownish creature’s eyes were described as “viciously sparkling” and large fins were also noted.[The fins again suggest a cetacean, perhaps several of the small whales sporting or fighting together as they do , like dolphins-DD]

Crystal Beach near Fort Erie was the scene of another sighting on May 5th, 1896. This time there were four eyewitnesses who watched for 45 mins. as a 30ft. creature with a dog shaped head and pointy tail churned up the water as it swam about until finally disappearing before nightfall. [The whale's flattened, bilobate tail that churns up water is also specified in some reports-DD]

A more recent series of sightings, which gained a lot of attention, occurred in 1993. A family witnessed a 30ft creature swimming close to shore near Lowbanks, Ontario. A fisherman presumably spotted the same creature earlier on near Kelley’s Island. It was again spotted in the same area this time by five fishermen. Then on August 24th of the same year the ‘Weekly World News’ ran a front-page story on the reported attack of a 38ft sail boat by a “200–ton sea monster.” The boat had been “crushed like an eggshell” according to the five witnesses who had escaped without injury. A photo of this event purportedly taken by a camera-toting occupant of a low-flying aircraft in the vicinity accompanied the published story. A substantial reward was offered by a group of Ohio businessmen for proof of the creature’s existence. This reward was never collected.

[The story was considered generally suspect and the photo is faked, but there is nothing really outrageous in the idea that a bottlenose whale could have run into the ship and damaged it: the whale might even have impressed witnesses as looking like the creature later illustrated in the tabloid account, assuming there really were witnesses that said so: the actual accident seems to be a matter of public record. The blunt head and thick cylindrical body are shown about right. The reward mentioned at the end was actually posted earlier and was unrelated to this incident - DD]

OLL LEWIS: 5 Questions on… Cryptozoology - DALE DRINNON

Today’s guest is Dale Drinnon. Dale hails from the United States of America and you’ll all recognise him as one of our most regular contributors to the CFZ blog. He is the author of the checklist of cryptids that features in the 2009 yearbook (available now on pre-order at a discount).

So, Dale, here are your five questions on... Cryptozoology.

1) How did you first become interested in cryptozoology?

I had a long-standing interest in palaeontology as a child, including reconstruction work, since possibly age six. A maiden aunt who took care of my maternal grandmother gave me a book that had pictures of dinosaurs among others and I immediately fell in love with them. I was somewhat precocious as a young child and was much advanced in comparison with my peers especially in art but I was always known as the ‘Dinosaur Kid’. The library nearest to me (about a half-hour's walk for me these days) used to have a copy of Tim Dinsdale's Loch Ness Monster near the dinosaur books on the adult side, and somewhere about the age of 11, I found it and was smote well and mightily by the implications. That was the edition that had a foreword by Ivan T. Sanderson, somebody I vaguely recognised as being on TV with animals and who reminded me of Walt Disney. The same library had a copy of his book on abominable snowmen, which smote me mightily once again. From my readings I had already known about cavemen but because my family was very religious we were not supposed to believe in evolution. Eventually I grew out of that and grew into reading everything of Sanderson's that I could find. Then, about the time Investigating the Unexplained came out, I found a defunct address for Sanderson and sent him, essentially, my first attempt at a cryptozoological checklist. By some miracle it found its way to the SITU and I was enrolled shortly after that. I had regular letters from his secretary (MLF AKA SWS) and one from Sanderson himself. I later exchanged letters with Heuvelmans also.

2) Have you ever personally seen a cryptid or secondary evidence of a cryptid, if so can you please describe your encounter?

When I was very young I saw a very large and very gaudily-coloured robber fly, which was a species I have never been able to identify. That was unknown to me but it might actually have been catalogued somewhere and I did not know it. That is one of the pitfalls about cryptids: some of them might be unknown to the witness but identifiable to an expert. As to what I had witnessed as a cryptid, I would say my most significant sighting was a cryptid that was not a cryptid: I witnessed a 'String-of-buoys' effect in a boat wake and after wishing for several days it was a sea serpent, I realised more pragmatically that it was only the effect of the wave pattern. That led to the insight that probably most, if not all, such sightings had a similar origin. I have also been in the field investigating rumours of bears and Bigfoots, and Bigfoot tracks (the bears are supposed to be extinct in Indiana) and I now own a board cut into the template of a Bigfoot footprint, which came into my possession after the owner died, together with the old army boots the templates had been strapped to; somebody else got the other track-template. And I have seen several birds that were unusual enough to be noteworthy, one of them on a road trip with that aunt and my grandmother plus another aunt, and we saw an outsized vulture-like bird that was not a turkey buzzard - as my other aunt pointed out, the flight characteristics were all wrong. This was during a 'Big Bird' flap in Indiana; the same time as one was going on in Illinois, in the mid-1970s. And recently I saw a large pigeon with the colouration of a passenger pigeon in Indianapolis, at least twice, and once very close-to. I do not say that it was a passenger pigeon necessarily, but it had the colouration.

3) Which cryptids do you think are the most likely to be scientifically discovered and described some day, and why?

That would depend primarily on how densely the cryptid's population was and how ardently it was being searched for. It is my contention that several cryptids are already represented in our museums if we could only realise the importance of the specimens. Once a gigantic orangutan was killed in Sumatra and its body sent to the museum of the Asiatic Society. We do not know its whereabouts but it would cause quite a stir to announce to the world that we have had a specimen of an orangutan over seven feet tall in storage for many years. The trouble is that nobody seems to know where it is right now. And from what illustrations I have seen, it is possible that the largest specimens of the Indo-Pacific crocodile that have been collected are a separate species from the more common one, possibly one of the creatures called ‘Marine Saurian’ by Heuvelmans. And then all sorts of new species are turning up all the time when DNA tests are being made to determine how closely different populations of certain animals are related. I have called those "Cryptic-cryptids"

But it is more a case of correlating data from different sources than going out with a shotgun and hoping that you kill something valuable. That, and a good dose of good luck to recognise what the descriptions are recounting or that the specimens in storage go with the descriptions, or even finding new specimens from the field. What is known and what is unknown is the heavy work that. DNA testing goes towards proving.

Estimating anything, for example, how much remains unknown and what unknown is most likely to become known when and how, seems to me a pretty futile exercise in speculation. Many cryptids are already known animals, but unrecognised as such and many people have entirely the wrong idea of what a cryptid actually is. Some people think cryptids are something supernatural. Cryptids are really only species of animals that have not been catalogued as yet, and they can turn up anywhere, anytime.

4) Which cryptids do you think are the least likely to exist?

I have a blog entry on that one: String-of-buoys Sea-serpents, Water-horses as an unknown species, Mothman, Chupacabras or Animal-mutilation beasts, and Alien big cats. Nearly all the cats reported in cryptozoological literature are known species; that makes them non-cryptids, even if you never catch them. The Chupacabras that most people are more stirred up about are canids of known species, often missing a lot of hair. But Chupacabras are a mixed bag and some of the creatures that have been called by that name are very likely cryptids. Only they are not weird creatures that drain corpses of blood or surgically remove only certain body parts. Dogs are mostly to blame for that also. We know that fact because they leave dog tracks, if for no other reason.

5) If you had to pick your favourite cryptozoological book (not including books you may have written yourself) what would you choose?

I include two; the standards: Bernard Heuvelmans's On the Track of Unknown Animals and In the Wake of Sea-Serpents. Of course, you are forcing me to say only one and so I cannot also include Ivan T. Sanderson's Abominable Snowmen: Legend come to Life. If you seriously mean only one title, I would have to say George Eberhart's Mysterious Creatures, but only because you said to pick one title, not three.

LINDSAY SELBY: More Monongahela Musings

Following Dale's recent post on the Monongahela SS sighting, I found this interesting site by Tom Lytle : http://www.tomlytle.com/Sighting.htm

He is writing a book called Here Be Monsters - the true account of Captain Jason Seabury, young master of New Bedford whaleship Monongahela, reported to have captured and killed a sea serpent in the Pacific Ocean on January 13, 1851.

He goes on to say:

'I have done the research and unraveled the facts that have been lost for over 155 years. The complete story reveals a much more fascinating true account of what happened than previously thought. There is much more to it. Is it true? I am writing a book, Here Be Monsters: The Great Sea Serpent Caught At Last!, which examines all facts including many that have been long hidden and unknown. This web site is to provide some background, sample chapters and additional chapters that I have cut from the book. Is the account true? The account is based on six very true, related stories intertwined resulting in this true account. Please read the book when it becomes available and you will fully understand this greatest of sea mysteries. Meanwhile, please read the sample chapters. I would appreciate your feedback, comments and questions.'

An extract from the site:

'Sea Monsters Unmasked is a booklet written in 1883 by Henry Lee for the International Fisheries Exhibition in London. In it he writes of a sea serpent seen in Norway on July 28, 1845:

… they saw a long marine animal, which slowly moved itself forward, as it appeared to them, with the help of two fins, on the fore-part of the body nearest the head, which they judged by the boiling of the water on both sides of it. The visible part of the body appeared to be between forty and fifty feet in length, and moved in undulations, like a snake. The body was round and of a dark colour, and seemed to be several ells [an ell is forty-five inches] in thickness. As they discerned a waving motion in the water behind the animal, they concluded that part of the body was concealed under water. That it was one continuous animal they saw plainly from its movement. When the animal was about one hundred yards from the boat, they noticed tolerably correctly its fore parts, which ended in a sharp snout; its colossal head raised itself above the water in the form of a semi-circle; the lower part was not visible. The colour of the head was dark-brown and the skin smooth; they did not notice the eyes, or any mane or bristles on the throat.

'The use of fins on the forepart of the body near the head clearly indicates that this was not a snake. It “moved in undulations, like a snake” most likely means vertical motion similar to the sideways motion of a snake. Holding its head above water, dark brown color and size continue the thread of practically all sightings.

'Another Norwegian sighting in 1847 was described by Lee:

'He described it as being about six fathoms long, the body (which was as round as a serpent’s) two feet across, the head as long as a ten-gallon cask, the eyes large, round, red, sparkling, and about five inches in diameter; close behind the head a mane like a fin commenced along the neck, and spread itself out on both sides, right and left, when swimming. The mane, as well as the head, was of the colour of mahogany. The body was quite smooth, its movements occasionally fast and slow. It was serpent-like, and moved up and down. The few undulations which those parts of the body and tail that were out of water made, were scarcely a fathom in length. These undulations were not so high that he could see between them and the water.

'Other witnesses confirmed the description and added, “… its motions were in undulations, and so strong that white foam appeared before it, and at the side, which stretched out several fathoms.” If a wake of white foam appeared before it, the monster must have been of a great size and capable of great swimming speed. The interesting feature is the undulations; only mammals swim with vertical motion, undulations, while reptiles, or serpents, swim with a sideways motion. Also, most reports of sea serpents report that the creature swims with his head and neck sticking up from the water; snakes and eels cannot swim this way. Mammals, who must breathe air, swim with their heads or nostrils above the water.'


As you know, Oll has been working on the archiving project since early February, and he is now working on the BHM section. This 20th trench is from 1994 and is all Bif=gfoot related. It also contains extracts from a Bigfoot Journal that we have not been able to identify! Good stuff.


OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


Sadly, not every day has something Fortean that has happened on it; this is one of those days. My barrel-scraping, however, revels that Joe ‘hole in the wall team captain’ Swash ** was born on this day in 1982, which I guess sort of counts as Fortean because he’s presenting a sort of Most Haunted-type programme on BBC Three in the coming weeks (Jon’s really going to hate me for having mentioned reality TV on the CFZ bloggo, though).
And now, for something completely different:

Plants and animals race for survival as climate change creeps across the globe
A year of highs and lows for wildlife
On feline wing and prayer
Boy accused of sexually abusing family cat
Casper the commuting cat killed by hit-and-run driver

He’s had to ‘cat’-ch the last train for the coast. Poor little fellow, RIP Casper.

** Thankfully (and for once I am not doing as my father did and pretending to have no knowledge of the modern world), I have absolutely no idea what Oll is talking about, and suspect that it is something of which I should be glad that I have no knowledge. Sadly some ingrate will probably enlighten me. JD