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, June 10, 2010

LIZ CLANCY: The Hare and the Leopard

According to a tale from the Banyankole tribe from Ankole in southwestern Uganda, the hare told his then best friend the leopard that he was going out to do some farm work, which always made him really tired. However, when he got to his garden, all he did was rub dirt on his legs so that when he returned home after a long day's idling, he would look like he'd been knee-deep in muck all day. In order to 'prove' his farm was a successful one, the hare also pinched some beans from the leopard's crop, claiming them as the product of his own hard work.

The leopard did eventually realise that someone had been nicking his crops and little suspecting his buddy of the felony, set a trap. The hare was caught and you would think that that was the end of their friendship but the hare wasn't about to let that happen. He called to a passing fox to let him out. This fox obviously wasn't as famously cunning as others, for he did, and he also allowed himself to be conned by the hare into trapping himself as well so that when the leopard came back, he thought the fox was his bean-thief, and promptly savaged him to death (personally, I think the leopard didn't think this one out: foxes don't eat beans, do they?! Having said that, neither do leopards, but I assume this one was a commercial farmer and sold his produce to the Banyankole version of Tesco, rather than consuming the crop himself).

Whether or not the leopard ever found out the truth is not known, although given that most leopards would snaffle a tasty hare if it wandered onto their bean-patch today, I'm guessing he did, and told all his relatives as well.


This picture was taken by our old friend Gerald Smith, once the Vicar of the South Pole (Chaplain to the British Antarctic Territories). He wanted an identification (it is Bufo bufo the common European toad)

We both wonder what caused the inflamed eye arch. Any ideas you herpfolk?

DALE DRINNON: Extractions from Heuvelmans, In The Wake of the Sea-Serpents, "Mistaken Observations" Category.

After I got my copy of Heuvelmans' In The Wake of the Sea Serpents (1968), I did a number of comparisons and statistical extractions as a test of Heuvelmans' "Computer-punchcard" suggestion in the conclusions. This was essentially done as a series of discriminant-functions analysis which I did throughout my High School Years (I can do discriminant functions analyses on paper manually by pencil and figuring, but I was helped in part by a very early edition pocket calculator for some of the proceedure.)

Eventually (by my graduation from High School in 1974), I was left with few of Heuvelmans' categories intact and a growing impression that the majority of the reports were not only much the same world-wide, for the most part they were erroneous assessments of phenomena which did not require the rection of new species to explain them. Essentially, I found that around 75% of the sightings were either vague or were not realistic impressions of the phenomena under observation, with the largest category of recognisable reports describing wave actions (whether or not an unknown animal was leaving the waves by its passage: and that description pretty much eliminated the categories "Many-Humped" and "Super-Otter" right off) out of the last quarter of reports, the majority did decribe something like Heuvelmans' category of Longneck, and the assumption had also been made by others that the Merhorse was the same category and so these categories I combined. I found reports that indicated to me that the type was tailed and Plesiosaur-shaped, primarily through Dinsdale. However in the minority of the remaining reports I also found good reason to continue with Heuvelmans' categories of Super-eel and Marine Saurian, and even to further subdivide them into discrete types. But among the other things I did was to go through the category marked as mistaken observations of known animals, and I did the same analysis of these reports as a control sample.

The exact number of reports in the category I used was at variance to Heuvelmans (and even my own other analyses run separately)because I allowed more "Possible" errors which made a much larger number of mistaken observations to work with. My intial report gave very precise percentages of the total number of reports for the subcategories, but here I am not committing to all of the identifications/misidentifications that I had done in the original study. Hence in this report I shall simplify the percentages to the nearest half-percentages.

The control sample was broen down to statistical assessments of the creatures described especially noting estimates of length and width, proportions, colouration and other characteristics. At the end of the sorting process, identikits were made for the misidentifications exactly as a parallel of the "Unknowns".

Out of this proceedure came the following categories of marine creatures misidentified as Sea-serpents (a parallel analysis was subsequently made for the freshwater reports):

1) Oarfish, between 5% and 5.5% of all the reports. Commonly cited as the inspiration for the Scandinavian "Merhorse" in the earlies, the distinctive gray/reflective or silvery sides, and the distinctive long red mane that Heuvelmans ascribes to the "Merhorse" in his conclusions seems to be inherited solely from confusions with Oarfish reports. Oarfish are reported as up to 70-80 feet long whereas most scientists do not allow they can grow to anywhere near that length. Those estimates are however consistent with the "Merhorse" reports in question.

2) Basking Sharks.

Besides being the source for nearly all "Sea-serpent" carcasses reported over the years, basking sharks are most certainly being reported as sea monsters, especially around the British Isles and in the North Sea. I regard the SS Hillary encounter as being one, and if you doubt me I can produce a photo of a basking shark with its nose up out of the water, with a white stripe down the middle of its snout, looking exactly like a cow's nose as described in that WWI incident.

3-5) Three categories of Baleen whales, toothed whales and smaller toothed whales swimming in close formation

[insets on Whale Scale drawing, above: human, humpback whale and manta ray to scale. Below ruled scale: elephant seal photograph reduced to same scale]

These rate at somewhere between 2 and 3% of the mistaken observations each, hence an average of 2.5% each is appropriate. The more obvious types of whales such as humpbacks, orcas (killer whales) and sperm whales each weigh in at about 1% of reports apiece and in each series the description of the size and proportions in a very good match. Heuvelmans often uses the generic term "Rorqual" for the larger baleen whales and so that category is not so clearly subdivided into known species. Often in all of these whale reports the whale is seen in an unfamiliar or confusing posture, such as a sperm whale with a large cylindrical head swimming with the head pointed vertically like a column, or a baleen whale lying on its back (possibly dead but not necessarily) I regard the better views of the Osbourne Sea-serpent to be a mistaken view of a humpback whale from the rear, and the row of fins either a school of sharks or else the whale's pod of comerades in "fin-up" position. The Osboune Sea-serpent had 15-foot long foreflippers, a head like an alligator and was about 15 feet broad and 60 feet long. All of that matches a humpback.

As to the "Many-finned" Sea-serpent's being often based on confused viewings of small schools of whales, Heuvelmans does admit that is the most likely explanation in the case of the Narcissus sighting. Most often the whales would appear to be pilot whales (blackfish) and the different sightings also vary quite a bit as to the spacing of the fins ("Width" of the animal, between the long and thin aspect of several animals in a row, up to the very wide aspect of animals scattered over enough space to make the apparent width half, two-thirds, or even three-quarters of the "Length")

There are also very large series of humps that might well be several large whales following each other in a line, such as in the case of a "Sea-serpent" reported by a British ship and subsequently presented in one of William Corliss' sourcebooks, as presenting the spectacle of three 60-foot-long humps with adequare spacing in between.

6) Manta rays are reported at about 2% of the cases or less, and they are described as about 20 feet wide, of square aspect with a long thin tail, and sometimes "Skimming the surface"

7) Elephant seals are included in the "Merhorse sightings at a fairly regular frequency especially in the Southern Hemisphere around South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The common description is about 20-30 feet long with a large squarish head, big snout, and shortish rather thick neck. It is because of the inclusion of such reports that Heuvelmans states the "Merhorse's" neck is not so long as the "Longneck". Such reports are also included off the Northwest coast area or "Cadborosaurus'" territory.

8) Ocean sunfish or Mola, about 1% of the reports. Not only are Ocean sunfish sometimes at the base of some "sea monster Captured!" headlines, the high rear fin sticking up out of the water looks like a "Periscope". I do not know if two or more of them are known to follow each other around displaying their fins above water, though.

9) Giant squids are dubious candidates. There is the mechanical problem that they are probably not even mechanically capable of heaving the long arms vertically out of the water, hence it is very unlikely that any "Periscope" sightings are mistaken views of giant squids waving their tentacles aloft. Several reports have also been explained as witnesses seeing battles between sperm whales and giant squids they have brought up out of great depths, but this has never been verified.

10) Other known pinnepeds, other sharks and other fishes, known eels of unusually large size, sea snakes, pythons swimming out at sea, seaweed, flights of birds, seaworms and all other possible cases of confusion are all less than 1% of the reports, and all put together are not as many as 2.5%

As a comparison to this, I also count the reports of my Giant eel categories as under 2% of all reports apiece, and the Marine Saurian subcategories as less than 1% of all reports apiece. The only type of Sea-serpent to be seen at any appreciable frequency would be the Longnecked and Plesiosaur-shaped type creature. It also seems to head inland on exceptional occasions. This part of its behavior has been blown way out of proportion. From a statistical analysis of all such reports world-wide, such creatures ordinarily only head inland at long intervals, never in mass numbers, only go into rivers or lakes with direct access to the sea, and only remain in freshwater temporarily. That description might well also hold for the Giant eel types, however.

In any event, the real "Sea-Serpent" is not even an animal but is a wave action. Calling even the Longnecked type a Sea-serpent is only a matter of convention, but probably the habit is so ingrained that the name will be very difficult to avoid forevermore.


From the same source as yesterday's video, and once again I want to stress that I think it is CGI although I would love to be proved wrong..


Oh I am so impressed by the new CFZ livebearers. This is Scolichthys greenwayi, a small fish from the Rio Chixoy and Rio Salinas system in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. I get so much pleasure from watching these little fellows skitter about, and I very much hjope that soon they shall be breeding.

By the way, if anyone wants to collect them, we have surplus Girardinus metallicus (yellow form) and Heterandaria formosa......


The day to day running of the CFZ is an expensive business. Twenty quid goes nowhere very fast....

PS: As always, if you have any spare, surplus or unwanted fish-keeping equipment, please let us know.

OLL LEWIS: Yesterday's News Today


On this day in 1986 Shia LaBeouf was born. As you can probably guess, the 11th of June is a bit of a ‘slow news day’ as far as Forteana goes….
And now, the news:

How cockroaches 'talk' about food
Are sheep the targets for alien invaders?

They came from ‘baa’-yond the Solar System…