Critters Writing

A Tale of 2 Monsters Part 2: Cryptozoology

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Cryptozoology is a field of study that focuses on researching animals based on myths, eyewitness accounts, and legends.

Now, studying legendary animals is not as outlandish as it would first seem once you learn more about the studies, the people conducting the studies, and the discoveries of the past. For instance, the mountain gorilla was based purely in myth until its existence was proved in 1902; as recently as 1992, researches have found a new species of mammal, the large deer-like animal called the Spindlehorn.

Cryptozoology is not about biology or zoology as it isn’t a study of the known, nor is it involved in searching for new species based on scientific speculation. Cryptozoology is not related to mythology either, as the existence of the subjects of the myths and folklore are assumed to be real, and scientific means are usually used to investigate the possibility of existence of these subjects.

Focus of Cryptozoology

The word “cryptozoology” literally means “the study of hidden animals”, or the “study of hidden life”.

Cryptozoologist operate on the principal of “where there’s smoke, perhaps there’s fire”. In other words, when descriptions of an animal arise from several different unrelated sources, particularly when the descriptions re-occur over a long period of time, there is a chance that the existence of the animal, or a variation thereof, is real. They, the cryptozoologists, then study the descriptions and perform research based on the description using scientific tools, onsite investigation, and careful research.

Crytozoology isn’t just limited to the study of unknown species of animals, but also includes interest in species of animals rumored to be alive that were thought to be extinct, such as the Tasmanian Tiger and the New Zealand Moa. This is in addition to the study of known animals with species members of a vastly different size than accepted by science, such as giant anaconda snakes up to 60 feet in length, or crocodiles up to 30 feet in length.

Cryptozoology also includes animals that are known to exist, but reported in areas outside of their normal habitats, such as cougars being reported in the Eastern part of the United States. However, this latter field of study is more of a borderline study primarily because most instances of animals appearing outside their normal locale are doing so because of some extraordinary event, such as famine or drought, or due to the intervention of man.

What are the Cryptids?

The term cryptid is used to represent one of the cryptozoological creatures currently being studied. Among the cryptids, some of the the more famous are the following (pulled from a list at the International Society of Cryptozoology (ISC)2:

  • Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster
  • Bigfoot
  • the Yeti, aka the Abomindable Snowman
  • Champ, the Lake Champlaign Monster
  • Ogopogo, the Lake Okanagan Monster
  • Giant Octopuses and Squid
  • Sea Serpents


Who are the Cryptozoologists?

Many of the leading figures interested in cryptozoology come from largely scientific backgrounds. If one looks at the credentials of the current board for the International Society of Cryptozoology (ISC), one can see members that hold degrees in zoology, anthropology, biology, oceanography, biology, and a host of other sciences.

Among these Board members3 of the ISC are folk such as Bernard Heuvelmans, the President of the ISC, a zoologist who also coined the term “cryptozoology”; Roy Mackal, a biologist most interested in the Mokele-Mbembe, rumored to be a surviving member of the dinosaurs located in the Congo; and Grover S. Krantz, an anthropologist best known for his work with Bigfoot researches in the Northwest.

Other folks4 doing research within the realm of cryptozoology include Paul LeBlond, an oceanographer interested mainly in Caddy, the name given to a sea serpent spotted off the the coast of British Columbia and thought to be a surviving member of the species cadborosaurus 5.

Outside of the Board of the ISC, but listed as a Life Member, is one of the leading figures in cryptozoology, Loren Coleman6. Coleman has an undergraduate degree in anthropology, and a graduate degree in social work. He is currently working and teaching in the New England area. Coleman has been conducting research since the 1960’s, is a filmmaker as well as an author, and has written several books based on cryptozoology, such as “Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature”, and the recent “The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide”.

Loren has also written a biography of an early cryptozoology pioneer, Tom Slick, in a book titled “Tom Slick and the Search for the Yeti”.

Tom Slick sounded like an extraordinary individual. His father was a legendary oil wildcatter 7, an independent oil man who made millions, which Tom Slick, Jr. proceeded to spend researching various cryptids, such as the Yeti and the Loch Ness monster. In addition to his efforts in search of legendary beasts, rumors also have it that Tom Slick assisted in the escape of the Dali Lama8 from Tibet.

Nicolas Cage is set to produce and star in a movie about Tom Slick, titled “Tom Slick: Monster Hunter” 9, and based on Loren Coleman’s book.

The Skeptics

Okay, now let’s look at the definition of cryptozoology a little more closely. To repeat, cryptozoology isn’t just the search for new species of animals, leaving this area of study to zoologists and marine biologists. Cryptozoology is, however, the study of unknown animals observed by non-professionals, and whose observations form the basis of rumor, legend, and folklore. In fact, if you were to blend some of the practices of anthropology and archeology in with zoology and biology, you could have the scientific tools ideal to conduct research as a cryptozoologist.

That said, though, you can imagine that studying animals on the basis of folk lore and amateur sightings is not going to go unnoticed by the folks who don’t necessarily agree with the premise of cryptology. When researching crptozoology online, you will see descriptions of cryptology from the mildly skeptical to the downright vehement. For instance, the Skeptic’s Dictionary contains the following defintion of cryptozoology:

Cryptozoology relies heavily upon testimonials and circumstantial evidence in the form of legends and folklore, and the stories and alleged sightings of mysterious beasts by indigenous peoples, explorers, and travelers. Since cryptozoologists spend most of their energy trying to establish the existence of creatures, rather than examining actual animals, they are more akin to psi researchers than to zoologists. Expertise in zoology, however, is asserted to be a necessity for work in cryptozoology, according to Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans, who coined the term to describe his investigations of animals unknown to science10.

The leap between psi researches and investigating animals based on folklore seems a bit of a stretch, but at the least the definition provided isn’t nasty — more dismissive in nature.

Other folks aren’t dismissive as much as they are more interested in pursuing other fields of study.

One of the Web pages I visited while researching this article had an interview with a Dr. Jeanette Muirhead from the University of South Wales, and discussed another species of animal, the Tasmanian Tiger assumed to be extinct since 1936.

Dr. Muirhead has studied the Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine and other carnivorous marsupials for a decade, though I could find no other verification of either her position at the University or her field of study.

The focus of the interview was that no physical documentation of the Tasmanian Tiger has been found since the last purported member of the species died, and perhaps a better use of resources spent investigating reportings of the Tiger would be the preservation of the environment where the tigers are supposed to exist, indirectly helping them if they are alive, and definately helping other possibly endangered animals:

If it does exist, the best resources we could probably put into keeping it alive would be to maintain its habitat. Also, because the money is not coming up with the goods to date, perhaps what would be better would be [for resources to be] going into preserving the habitat of other animals that appear to be on the brink right now. Rather than futile searches for things that probably don’t exist, we would be better off helping to retain the animals that are on the brink 12.

Dr. Muirhead has a valid point though the interview transcript was unnecessarily derogatory, with sideline quotes by Monty Python, damaging the credibility of the interview.

The gentler critics of cryptozoology are joined by those with much stronger views against this field, though these critics don’t necessarily attack cryptozoology per se, as much as they attack specific instances of cryptozoological research. For instance, the Skeptic’s Dictionary, which had a fairly mild statement about cryptozoology had less than mild, but pertinent, statements about the search for the Loch Ness Monster 13. This definition will be covered in more detail in Part 4, Nessie: The Loch Ness Monster, of this 4-part series.

Oddly enough, not all of the critics of cryptozoology are skeptics. A fairly explicit criticism of cryptozoology is the following:


And here is why: cryptozoology is just a child, feeding off the breast of moma zoology. Some would say a parasite. Finding new oxen, subspecies of monkeys, a new fox somewhere – these are just things that ZOOLOGISTS do. And the amateurs (“naturalists”) who help them.

As far as the major “CRYPTIDS” (Nessie,Bigfoot, Yeti,Black Cats,Black Dogs,etc) get this straight:


have been found,dead, collected, at all, in the 40-2000 years that the searches for them have taken place.

“Cryptozoology” is a failure 14.

One can see that this person clearly has some very strong feelings about cryptozoology. In case your first reaction is that this person is an opponent to the belief in such things as Bigfoot and Nessie, think again. This person is a proponent, instead, of a field that they term “para-cryptozoology”, or the study of animals that aren’t just hidden, but instead are “dreamed” up by folks, and the dreams manifest into reality.

The field of cryptozoology does tend to get lumped in UFOs, astral projection, ghosts, and other fields of research into the paranormal, at least on the Net. Unfortunately, by grouping all of these separate fields together, those interested in researching the paranormal actually discredit themselves rather than promote their beliefs. The reason for this is because the focus then becomes one of belief rather than one of research.

It is the same as saying “I believe in the existence of Nessie, therefore I believe in UFOs and ghosts, and the ability to project one’s self out of one’s body.” However, in reality, you could be interested in cryptozoology and a supporter of cryptozoology, and still think astral projection is nothing more than doggie doo doo.

Science not Belief

If the field of cryptozoology has not gone unnoticed by skeptics and other critics, it also, unfortunately, hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Believers, either.

What are the Believers? These are folks that believe in certain theories regardless of the evidence against the theory, and who are not willing to discuss any evidence other than that which promotes their theory and thus their own belief. Unless you think this type of believer is restricted to the field of cryptozoology, think again. I have seen such Believers in action in my own field of computer science.

From my understanding of cryptozoology, those who work or study in this field don’t necessarily “believe” in the creatures they study. They didn’t wake up one morning and go, “I believe in Champ today. I think I’ll set out to prove that Champ exists.”

Instead, for the most part, a cryptozoologist is as likely to be happy at finding evidence that a the purported animal being studied does not exist or is a member of an already known species, as they would be to find that the creature does exist. In other words cryptozoologists, as with other scientists, conduct their researches with open, and relatively unbiased, assumptions about the subject of their studies.

A case in point is the “sea monster” found by a Japanese fishing trawler in 1977.

In 1977, the Japanese fishing trawler Zuiyo-maru accidentally dragged on board a large, decaying corpse unlike anything they had ever seen before. The captain of the boat decided to throw the carcass overboard rather than have it spoil the boat’s fish catch, but not before one member of the boat, Michihiko Yano, took several pictures of the corpse, as well as making measurements of the creature. Yano also took samples of tissue.

Excitement soon spread that what the Zuiyo-maru caught was a decaying carcass of a modern day plesiosaurus, a dinosaur that somehow managed to survive to this time. This belief was so widespread in Japan that the Japanese government actually issued a commemorative stamp celebrating the find. News of the “sea monster” spread throughout the worlds, covered in stories in the New York Times, Newswekk, and Oceans magazine, as well as other major newspapers and magazines.

However, calmer heads began to prevail16. First, many scienctists at the time believed that the carcass was that of a basking shark as it had the right dimensions and looked very similar to other basking shark corpses that had been found. In addition, examination of the samples that Yano took showed that the tissue had properties that were extremely similar or identical to other basking shark tissue samples. A team of scientists led by Dr. Tadayoshi Sasaki published papers that concluded that the corpse was most likely that of a basking shark, though without the corpse itself, their conclusions could not be exact.

Finding that a creature under investigation is not a new unknown species, or one thought to be extinct, and using scientific methods to determine this information is just as much a part of cryptozoology as proving the existence of the species.

Not All is Harmonious

As with any other field, there are those members of cryptozoology that have theories and anything and everyone questioning those theories is suspect. And as with any other field, there is infighting as well as cooperation within the ranks of those interested in cryptozoology.

For instance, in the online pages devoted to cryptozoology a great deal of respect is paid to certain pioneers of cryptozoology, such as Loren Coleman and Bernard Heuvelmans, and from what I can see of these gentlemen and their researches and efforts, the respect is rightfully deserved.

However, there is not a universal feeling of togetherness within the ranks of those who follow cryptozoology. In my wonderings about the Web I found a bit of name calling by two people based on one research trip to Norway in 1998, in search of the Sea Serpent of Lake Seljord.

The search for the Lake Seljord sea serpent is known as GUST17, which stands for Global Underwater Search Team. GUST 98 was headed by Jan Sundberg and included Dave Walsh of Blather18 fame, as well as a camera crew filming the results for Discovery. From the accounts given by John Grove, who headed up the film crew, the expedition started out harmoniously, but ended with some of the expedition members leaving in less than friendly circumstances. Additionally, both sides of the disagreement, primarily Dave Walsh20 and Jan Sundberg also indulged in a bit of web-based bashing of each other, though Jan Sundberf has pulled most of his critical pages in favor of posting pages for GUST99.

This expedition is the practice of cryptozoology at its worst. The leader of the expedition seems to lack the objectivity necessary for true scientific research. In addition, scientific equipment was used, but from accounts of the expedition, the members were not trained properly in the use of the equipment. Additionally, using scientific equipment or even scientific methods does not make for legitimate research if expedition members lack organization and a systematic plan of study.

In addition, the actual split in the expedition was over whether to sell a photograph that the team leader, Jan Sundberg, had taken, a photograph that he said showed the sea serpent, but which looked to the other members of the team to be a photograph of waves. Add to this a general disagreement over how the research was conducted and eventually Dave Walsh and Kurt Burchfiel21 left the expedition.

For the field of cryptozoology, this entire trip sounds to have been a farce, and the worst of it was, the whole thing was filmed by the Discovery Channel’s film crew. Not exactly a poster expedition for the legitimacy of the field.

Members of expeditions and other working groups do disagree, though most are careful to not publicize their disagreements. However, those that pursue a field of study such as cryptozoology, which is more controversial than not, can’t necessarily afford to have any adverse publicity about the practitioners or their methods.

Cryptozoology and our Friends: the Giant Squid and Nessie

So, how do the Loch Ness Monster and the giant squid relate to cryptozoology?

The Loch Ness Monster is probably one of the star creatures of cryptology, along with the Bigfoot and Yeti. In fact it is this association that tends to provide the most criticism, one of the other. For instance, if you don’t believe in Nessie, and think research of Nessie is bunk, you will tend to scoff at calling cryptozoology a legitimate field of study. Conversely, if you believe that cryptozoology ranks up there with belief in ghosts and astral projection, and you think both of these are hogwash, than you are likely to discount any cryptozoological findings about the Loch Ness Monster, even if the findings are worth at least a first glance.

The giant squid, on the other hand, has had physical verification and validation and there is no doubt of this creature’s existence. Still, the giant squid has not been observed, alive, in the wild, and its behavior and even estimates of the size of the creature are definately the focus of many tales. Because much of the knowledge of this creature is still based on supposition and in folklore and tales, the giant squid maintains at least an honorary position within the field of cryptozoology.

So just what is known about the giant squid, and what is some of the folklore about this creature? Find out in Part 3, A Tale of Two Monsters: The Giant Squid.

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