Critters Writing

A Tale of 2 Monsters Part 4: Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

There are many creatures that live in our myths and our minds, but the most famous is probably Scotland’s Nessie, or the Loch Ness Monster. But first, let me digress and talk about another lake monster, one a little closer to home: Lake Champlain’s Champ.

We used to live on a farm on the shore of Lake Champlain in Vermont. You might know Lake Champlain as home of, among other things, Champ, the Lake Champlain Monster.

Between our home and our next door neighbor’s home was a large and dense stand of old trees and brush.

One night, and I’ll never forget it, I and my husband listened to the sound of crashing from the woods as huge limbs were torn from trees at least 30 feet in height. No other sound penetrated the night, not a breath of wind, not a yip from one of the local foxes, no cars, no trucks, nothing — just the sound of smashed brush and crashing trees.

The sound continued long into the night and the next morning, the stand of trees was decimated.


Yes, I did live on the Lake Champlain islands in 1997-1998, and the incident I mentioned did occur — during the great ice storm of January, 1998, when the weight of the ice decimated many of the trees on the island.

Now, fess up — I bet you thought I was going to describe an incident involving Champ, the Lake Champlain monster, didn’t you? However, it is just acts of nature such as this that can sometimes generate tales of monsters, especially when one is searching for these same monsters.

However, sometimes, there just isn’t an explanation for what someone sees, or hears, or believes. It is then that some monsters enter the ranks of the legendary, monsters such as Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.

Nessie: Origins of a Legend


During the Twentieth century, several photos of Nessie have been published, and in one very well known case, been proven to be a forgery. Numerous eye witness accounts of Nessie have been chronicled, and drawings made of eye witness accounts, such as those shown in this page, but there has never actual physical verification that Nessie exists.

Nessie’s beginnings, though, go back to an earlier time. According to folk lore, and a PBS Nova special on the monster2, the Scottish Highlands has had legends of a strange water-based creature since the Romans first entered the territory over 1500 years ago.

The Romans met up with the Picts in Scotland. The Picts were a pretty feisty group of people that liked to among other things, carve realistic images of animals, including the water-based creature mentioned in the last paragraph. Though it isn’t that unusual for primitive tribes to create stylized images of animals, the Picts concentrated only on images of real world animals. Well, if this was true, what was the water-based beast they represented? It is from simple roots that legends can spring.

The first “modern recording” of the Loch Ness Monster was made by a Saint Columbia, who wrote about saving a swimming man from a large creature by invoking the name of God, an incident occurring in the 500’s.

Of course, it wasn’t that unusual for the early Christians to weave themselves and their beliefs into folk legends and practices of areas they hoped to convert.

Nessie Sightings

Though Nessie achieved most of its fame based on sightings in the 1900’s, there are also eye witness accounts of seeing a the creature of Loch Ness in the 17th through the 19th century3, where it was also known as a water-kelpie or water horse, though without the frequency of this century’s sightings.

However, it was in 1933 that a sighting occurred that put Loch Ness on the map, and Nessie in the news. In 1933, a Mr. Spicer and his wife were driving by Loch Ness when they saw a creature crossing the road, a creature unlike any they had ever seen before. They described the beast as having a long neck followed a large, ponderous body, and they watched it until it left the road and entered the water.

The Spicer sighting was only the first of a plethora of sightings of Nessie, and it seemed the world just couldn’t get its fill of hearing stories about this mythical water beast. According to the Legend of Nessie site6, over 32 sightings occurred in the 1930’s alone.

What accounts for such a sudden surge in Nessie sightings? Well, one main reason is that roads were built around the Loch, increasing exposure of the lake to many more people. Another probable cause is that the idea of Nessie was planted in people’s minds. Where before a person may have seen a stick floating in the water, they may now see a tail. Where before a wave is only a natural movement of water, it now becomes the wake of a creature hidden from sight.

Perhaps it is also a matter a person seeing something that they can’t explain and where before they dismissed the sight as a stick or the natural movement of water, now they consider another source for what they are seeing: Nessie5.

The larger number of sightings of Nessie continued until the advent of World War II turned people’s minds to other monsters, in other places.

Century’s Greatest Hoax?

Many if not most of the Loch Ness sightings are from folks reporting what they genuinely see, and genuinely believe they are seeing. However, you can’t have the interest in something such as Nessie without attracting hoaxes, and the Loch Ness Monster had its share.

One of the first hoaxes was the finding of large and unusual footprints, discovered by a big game hunter of the time, Marmaduke Wetherell. He found large footprints, freshly made, in December of 1933, made casts of the prints and sent them off to the Natural Museum in London.

Well, there was a whole lot of excitement about the first physical “evidence” of the Loch Ness Monster. However, the excitement didn’t last long, because the January following the finding of the prints, scientists announced that not only were the prints not that of an unknown beast, they were the prints of a hippopotamus foot, and a stuffed hippo foot, at that.

The footprint hoax definitely cooled interest in the Loch, at least from the basis of serious study, but it wasn’t the most famous hoax that came from Loch Ness. This dubious honor belongs to a photo supposedly taken by a Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson in 1934.

This photo shows what looks like a sea serpent with a small head on a long neck, and resembling known images of a pre-historic dinosaur known as the plesiosaur.

The photo was examined and was determined to be genuine, not the result of camera trickery, and investigation of the creature in comparison to the wave sizes put the creature’s neck to be a couple of feet in length. All well, and good, except that the “creature” in the photo was nothing more than a fake serpent neck attached to the back of a toy submarine.

How was the information about the faking of the photo discovered? One of the people that was involved with the hoax made a death bed confession in 1994 to that effect. And the person who was responsible for the hoax? None other than our friend, Marmaduke Wetherell.

After the debacle of the fake serpent footprint, Wetherell contacted his stepson, Christian Spurling, about creating the fake monster and setting up the hoax. With the help of Spurling, Wetherell’s son Ian, and two friends, Colonel Wilson and Maurice Chambers, who was with Dr. Wilson at the famous sighting, the hoax was on.

Why did Wetherell do this? A possible reason could be revenge after the embarrassment he received because of the fake footprint. However, once the photo was published by the Daily Mail, and once the world reacted so strongly to the photo, all involved probably felt it wouldn’t be too good an idea to come forward with a confession about what they had done, even if this was the intention9.

Loch Ness researcher Alister Boyd helped to uncover the hoax when he had discovered a story published years before by Ian Wetherell confessing to the hoax, a story that had been originally ignored. Boyd and fellow researcher David Martin contacted the last living representative of the hoax, Spurling, who confessed that he had helped fake the photo10.

In spite of the two uncovered hoaxes, folks still believe in Nessie and every year, people go to considerable lengths to try and find physical evidence of the Loch Ness Monster.

Current Research Efforts and Findings

In the 1970’s, Dr. Robert Rines from the Academy of Applied Science in Boston, Massachusetts, began to use sonar to try and obtain images of the Loch Ness Monster. He and his crew did obtain images of what they say are the flipper and head and upper body of a creature that they believe can only be the Loch Ness Monster11.

In addition to the work performed by Dr. Rines, other folks have dedicated their lives to finding physical proof of Nessie, folks such as Tim Dinsdale, who literally spent his life looking for proof of Nessie.

Another research project is being conducted by Dan Scott Taylor and is known as the Nessa Project12. The Nessa Project is based on the search for Nessie using a small, 4 person, submarine. Taylor used a smaller submarine, the Viperfish, to search for Nessie in the 1960’s, though without success and with many mechanical problems (though he believes that he was turned around on the bottom once by Nessie passing). Taylor hopes to try again as soon as he has funding for his new, home made submarine, the “Nessa”.

Not all those who research the Loch Ness Monster are seeking actual proof of the existence of the creature. For instance, as mentioned earlier, Alister Boyd helped to de-bunk the Nessie photo hoax, even though he says he has witnessed an actual appearance of Nessie and seeks proof of the monster’s existence. Another more cautious researcher is Richard Carter, who also investigates the existence of Nessie, but also investigates the “evidence” of sightings, to see which is genuine, which hopeful thinking and bad camera shots13.

Of the research against the existence of Nessie, two areas that form the focus of this research is that the lake could not support enough of the Loch Ness creatures to form a viable population, without much more evidence of their existence; and that there is not enough food within the lake to support any such population of larger creatures. Another scientific fact that makes the Loch a difficult home for a creature that could possibly be the last remnant of the dinosaur age, the plesiosaur, is that Loch Ness was a glacier until a scant 10,000 years ago — long after the dinosaurs were extinct14.

However, the searches still continue, the hunt is still on.

A Tale of Two Monsters: Summary

The Tale of Two Monsters takes a look at two legendary beasts, one proven to physically exist, the other still considered myth. We’ve covered how legends can arise, and how these same legends have influenced our currently popular form of story telling: the movies.

The series also looked at cryptozoology or the study of animals without physical verification and that are discovered first through legends, tales, and folklore. In the last two sections of the series, we got a chance to meet the two stars of the series: the giant squid and Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.

You may be asking whether I personally believe in the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. I would hope that I’m an open minded person, but the existence of the giant squid leads me to doubt the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, and it’s this relationship that tied these two creatures together for me and led to the articles you are reading.

As you saw in Part 3 of this article, the giant squid is a large creature, most likely up to a maximum of 60 feet in length, inhabiting the deepest depths of the oceans. To approach the surface is basically a death sentence for these creatures, yet we have physical evidence of the giant squid, including several well preserved examples in museums such as the Smithsonian.

Consider this: the Loch Ness Monster is not as large as the giant squid, but is much bulkier and would be much heavier. It’s supposedly located in a body of water that is much, much, much smaller than the ocean. The Loch Ness monster is also an air breather, meaning that it must surface to breath, unlike the giant squid — to reiterate, surfacing for the giant squid is death. Yet, we have physical evidence of the giant squid, and nothing more than faint, fuzzy images and highly scattered (yes, scattered) eye witness accounts of Nessie. I can’t help but believe that we would have physical evidence, hard evidence, of Nessie by now if it existed, if we can have enumerable specimans of the giant squid.

Regardless of my personal viewpoint, I respect the beliefs of others and I respect the beliefs of those who feel that Nessie does exist. Something such as the Skeptic’s Dictionary can scorn this belief15, but those who tear down beliefs with such joy are not scientists — they are most likely nothing more than frustrated believers themselves who had their own beliefs shattered and now obtain considerable satisfaction is destroying the beliefs of others.

I started Part 4 of this article with a description of an incident that happened when I lived on the shores of Lake Champlain. I talked about how “normal” events can achieve significance when they occur out of context, or when our expectations are set — I believe in something therefore when something unexplained happens, the unexplained takes shape rather than staying as something unexplained, and therefore easily dismissed.

Scientifically, I may doubt the existence of Champ16, the Lake Champlain equivalent of Nessie, yet there is a part of me that wonders…

This is the part of me that peers into the darkness when I cross the lake on the ferry. This is the part of me that turns towards the lake when I hear an odd sound in the pattern of the waves. This is the part of me that looks to the lake during the full moon, with just a slight bit of expectation and curiosity. Not a lot, just a slight bit. This is the part of me that gives me soul.

Critters Writing

A Tale of 2 Monsters Part 3: Architeuthis Dux

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.


Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep,
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
Above his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green,
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by men and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
The Kraken — Albert, Lord Tennyson

The Giant Squid

The next time you sink your teeth into some calimari think of this: The giant squid has been measured to a length of 60 feet, and weighs in the neighborhood of between 1 and 2 tons. It has eight arms, each lined with two rows of suckers. The giant squid also has the largest eyes of any known creature, over a foot in diameter.

If the giant squid is like its smaller cousins, it is a predator. To make the giant squid an ideal predator, its suckers are ringed with a hard, jagged edge, resembling teeth, in order to better enable the squid to hold onto its prey. Additionally, two longer tentacles are also used to help move the prey to the large, sharp parrot-like beak.

Needless to say, you will not sink your teeth into this creature without a fight.

The Stuff of Legends

I looked in my turn, and could not repress a gesture of disgust. Before my eyes was a horrible monster worthy to figure in the legends of the marvelous. It was an immense cuttlefish, being eight yards long. It swam crossways in the direction of the Nautilus with great speed, watching us with its enormous staring green eyes.

So says the Naturalist, in the Jules Vern classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 18. Though this book is a work of fiction, the squid encounter that Vern wrote about was based on fact, or at least a story that Vern heard about at the time. The story states that a French naval ship was attacked by a giant squid in 18611.

Since earliest times, there have been legends of sea serpents and large, many-armed creatures attacking boats. One of the fiercest creatures was the legendary beast known as the Kraken, discussed in Part 1 of Tale of Two Monsters.

Now, modern belief is that the kraken was a giant squid, and that the size of the creature has grown through numerous re-tellings of ancient stories; from creatures of 50 feet to creatures the size of islands.

A Norwegian Bishop, one Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidan, wrote in his journals about the kraken and mentions the size of the creature as being one and one-half miles long 3! More recently, another eyewitness account of the size of the giant squid is given by an A.G. Starkey, who was stationed on a British trawler in World War. Starkey tells of being on deck in the evening when he notices a light in the water next to the boat. As he tells it, “As I gazed, fascinated, a circle of green light glowed in my area of illumination. This green unwinking orb I suddenly realized was an eye. The surface of the water undulated with some strange disturbance. Gradually I realized that I was gazing at almost point-black range at a huge squid.”

According to the Starkey account, he walked along the boat, measuring the giant squid and realized that it was as long as the boat he was on. It is at this point that accounts may differ. According to a Discovery Channel special on the Giant Squid (telecast July 31, at 8:00 pm in a show titled “X Creatures”), the boat Starkey was on measured 60 feet. According to the account given in the Museum of Unnatural Mystery4, where I pulled the quote, the boat measured 175 feet!

Eyewitness accounts of the size of the giant squid are matched by tales of squid behavior, specifically stories of squids attacking ships.

As said earlier, Jules Verne based his squid fight in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on an eyewitness account of a giant squid attacking a French naval ship1. Another account of a giant squid attacking a ship is given in the logs of the Brunswick, a Norwegian Trawler. In the logs an account is given of a giant squid attacking this large ship three different times, before the squid finally slid into the ship’s propellers and was killed.

A third account tells of nuclear submarine losing the use of its sonar equipment on the ship’s maiden voyage. When the submarine returned to port, the Navy found that the covering on the Sonar had been torn lose and that hooks remained in the material, hooks from a giant squid.

Other accounts tell of giant squid grabbing men from the waters as ships were sank in World War I and II, and also of giant squid attacking small fishing boats. Two South African lighthouse workers reported in 1966 about seeing a giant squid wrapped around a baby whale, in a ferocious fight, with the baby whale surfacing and being pulled back under before it finally stopped rising to the surface4

So, are there giant squid lurking off our coasts that reach a size of 150 feet and that pull folks off boats? Well, behind every tale, there is a seed of truth, and now its time to take a look at what we do know about the giant squid.

What We Think We Know

Amid rumor and scant eyewitness accounts, we have little knowledge of the giant squid and its behavior. Giant squid have washed up on shore sporadically so we have had a chance to examine dead specimens. We also know that the giant squid forms part of the diet for toothed whales such as the sperm whale. Outside of that, though, we have little knowledge of these of the largest known invertebrate. We have never successfully viewed the giant squid in its natural environment, and we have never had a chance to examine a living specimen. But what we do know makes this an incredibly interesting creature.

First of all, when discussing giant squid, most folks are discussing the squid known as Architeuthis Dux. There are other large species of squid, some of which have been seen in the wild. For instance, the Navy provides an audio account of an encounter between a robotic research submersible and a variety of squid known as Moroteuthis. In the account, the squid was six feet in length5. Compared to its larger cousin, though, Moroteuthis is pretty small: Architeuthis Dux, or the Giant Squid by its popular name, has been measured at close to 60 feet in length.

The first recorded physical record of the giant squid was made by a Reverend Moses Harvey in Newfoundland, based on a dead giant squid that had been caught by local fishermen. Dead giant squid had been washed up on shore before, but this was the first time a person had taken samples of the squid, and made scientific observations of the creature — due to the foresight demonstrated by Rev. Harvey as he sent the creature to Yale University for study6.

Since that time, more creatures have been washed on shore or been pulled up, dead, in fishing nets. However, no live giant squid has been captured, nor has one been seen in its native element. Most of what is known about giant squid has been derived from these specimens and from the remains of giant squid specimens found in the stomachs of whales, primarily sperm whales.

Consider the giant squid: the largest size of the giant squid is between 60-70 feet as determined from pieces of the creatures that have been found7. It should weigh in at close to 1 to 2 tons. In addition to its large size, the giant squid also has the largest eyes in the animal kingdom, with each larger than your typical dinner plate!

The giant squid’s territory is in the depths of the ocean, up to 3000 feet below the surface of the ocean, in a world that is as foreign and deadly to us as is the vacuum of space8. It, as with other squid, does not live on the ocean floor, as an octopus does, but lives, instead, between the surface and the bottom, a state easily maintained by its natural buoyancy.

In addition to its size and habitat, the giant squid’s physical makeup also differs from the squid normally consumed by people: instead of sodium chloride in its system, biologists have found ammonium chloride. Snacking on Architeuthis would be similar to sucking on a bottle of your favorite ammonia floor cleaner, without the lemon scent. Nummy.

Other than these small differences, the giant squid is similar to other species of squid. It has a mantle, which is where its internal organs are found. Along the length of the mantle is a funnel, used for expelling waste, water, and for locomotion10 — the squid ejects water through the funnel to push it along the water.

The giant squid has eight arms, each containing several suckers; to make the suckers even more interesting, the edges of the suckers have a jagged set of “teeth”11 to help the squid grasp prey.

The giant squid also has two longer feeding tentacles used to push food into the squid’s mouth, which resembles a parrot’s beak. A large parrot. A large beak. It also can squirt ink to confuse predators, matching its smaller cousins capability 12.

Other than these facts about the squid’s physical makeup, little is known about how the squid acts in its environment, a void that scientists have been trying to fill for the last several years.

In Search of…

There have been numerous attempts to study giant squid in its natural environment. Two expeditions have been sent to Kaikoura Canyon, off of New Zealand, the first in 199713, and the second of which occurred in February and March of 199914. Both of these expeditions were under the leadership of Dr. Clyde Roper from the Smithsonian Museum, probably the world’s leading expert on the giant squid. He is also one of the few people to actually taste a sample of giant squid, and it is from his reaction that I pull my “ammonia without the lemon scent” taste description.

The Kairkoura Canyon is considered a favorable spot for finding the giant squid because several specimens have been found by fishermen in the area, and sperm whales also like to hunt in the area — a good indication as sperm whales feed on giant squid.

While neither expedition was able to capture images of the giant squid, neither trip was considered a failure due to the other information the scientists were able to find, and the observations they were able to make. In addition, during the trip in 1999, Dr. Roper was able to examine a captured, dead giant squid that was in very good shape, something that doesn’t always happen when squid are caught up in fishing nets as the creatures are very fragile.

Using manned submersibles isn’t the only approach to filming giant squids. Another approach used whales, with scientists attaching video cameras to whales before they begin their hunting dives. I have seen these films, and though they haven’t, yet, been successful (the cameras tend to get knocked off by other whales), this approach is an innovative effort17.

Robotic submersibles have also been used to try and capture images of the giant squid, including the MIT Sea Grant Autonomous underwater robot16. Unfortunately, all of these efforts have not succeeded in filming a giant squid in its natural habitat.

However, folks like Dr. Roper aren’t giving up in their efforts. Dr. Roper is already talking about an expedition back to Kairkoura in the Spring of 2000.

Unfortunately, the 2000 expedition wasn’t successful. Here’s hoping that Dr. Roper continues with his quests.

So What About the Attacks?

One major question that remains about the giant squid is its behavior; specifically would the giant squid attack boats and people. The more I learn about this creature, the more I wonder whether the giant squid was attacking boats and people as food sources — or perhaps just trying to find a ride home.

The giant squid inhabits that nether region of the ocean that is hundreds to thousands of feet below the surface, but not at the bottom of the ocean. Its entire physical makeup is suited specifically to this environment. The main reason that the giant squid has been found dead and washed up on shore is most likely because of clashing ocean streams, cold water meeting warm water.

The giant squid lives in cold water that can get trapped above a layer of warm water. This pushes the poor creature to the surface. The squid’s natural boyancy makes it difficult for it to sink beneath this warm water, and I imagine the hostile surface area weakens the giant squid to a point of desperation. So, what’s a good way to return to the depths? Why, hitch a ride on one creature it knows dives to the depths: whales. And since boats can look like whales…

Now, attacking a submarine as a food source makes a bit more sense, as these craft are much closer to the giant squid’s preferred environment than a boat on the surface of the water. However, a submarine would strongly resemble a whale, a creature the squid knows it can’t beat, so its hard for me to believe that the squid would attack a naval submarine because it considers it “food”.

As for giant squids attacking a whale, a creature the same size as it but weighing many, many times more than the squid — again, this doesn’t make sense unless the squid is desperately hungry. We know, though, that a giant squid defends itself from the feeding whale, which is why there are squid sucker scars found on whales, but the giant squid wouldn’t have a chance against an adult whale. However, it might have a fighting chance against a smaller, juvenile whale, which would explain the sighting of a young whale fighting with the squid, and the squid shown at the surface mentioned by the lighthouse men earlier — the giant squid was still wrapped around the young whale in combat, and the whale dragged the creature to the surface. Going back to my original hypothesis about why a giant squid would grab a boat, the giant squid attached to the young whale is not going to let go when it’ s on the surface. Hence, the look of a battle.

Okay, so my guess is just that, a guess, and most likely not an accurate guess at that. But I can’t help thinking its a better interpretation of the boat attacks then the giant squid leaving its perfect little world to venture to the surface, an almost guaranteed act of death for the squid, just to nosh on a tasty new takeout.

The truth of giant squid behavior is out there, waiting for folks like Dr. Roper to find.

Summary of a Millennium Squid

I have to say, in summary, that I’m a bit glad that images of a living giant squid have not been captured in the last century. What a wonderful way to enter a new millennium, in quest of a creature that still exists half in legend and which has been the focus of so many stories of the millennium that is ending.

Continue to Part 4 of Tale of 2 Monsters: The Loch Ness Monster.

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.

Critters Writing

A Tale of 2 Monsters Part 1: From the Legends

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Who is there that doesn’t love a monster?

What is a monster? One could say it is any creature bent on damage or destruction. This definition would then force us to include people in the category of “monster”.

However, when I think of “monsters” I think of the creatures of legends and tales, from the books and movies, and I think of the creatures that have entertained me for years. A definition of “monster” that I particularly like is from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary1:

Something of unnatural size, shape, or quality; a prodigy; an enormity; a marvel.

A marvel. That fits so well. We marvel at the unknown, we marvel at what may be around the door, under the water, out in space. With this definition, instead of a monster being something to fear, it becomes something that is really… marvelous.

This four-part Dynamic Earth article covers two famous monsters, the Loch Ness Monster and the giant squid: one creature known to be real, the other considered more myth than monster, depending on who you talk to.

Part One of the article focuses on what makes a monster, including an overview on what makes a legend, such as the tale of the great kraken, half octopus and half crab and large enough to destroy ships. Part Two then takes us from the realm of folklore to the realm of science, and discusses the controversial study of cryptozoology: the field of study devoted to investigating the possibility of the existence of animals from legends and folk lore.

Parts Three and Four then concentrate on the two stars of the article: the Loch Ness Monster and the giant squid. Both true marvels. Both true monsters.

The Monsters

Though covered in more detail in parts three and four of this article, I did want to talk briefly about Nessie and the giant squid, specifically as they relate to our topic of legends and legendary beasts.

The giant squid could originally be termed a cryptid — an animal based purely in legends and folk tales — but scientists now have physical evidence of these creatures, including entire specimens. Based on this, one would assume that the giant squid now fits comfortably within the more traditional sciences such as zoology and marine biology.

However, there is still much about giant squids that is unknown, including the size they can reach. General supposition is that the giant squid reaches up to 60 feet in length, weighing in within the 1-2 ton range. Nevertheless, eyewitness accounts of the giant squid have put it at sizes longer than 100 feet! Not only that, but the behavior of the giant squid is also based more in rumor and in legend than in scientific observation, with stories of these creatures attacking people in the water, as well as attacking whales and boats. Because little is known about squid behavior outside of these legends, the giant squid still maintains a foot, or should I say tentacle within the field of cryptozoology.

Studies of the Loch Ness Monster — or Nessie as it is affectionately termed — live solely in the realm of cryptozoology as there is no actual physical evidence of Nessie outside of some highly contested radar and other images in addition to eyewitness accounts. However, the eyewitness accounts of Nessie are numerous, the tales of Nessie have been told for years, and there is no direct physical evidence that Nessie does not exist. So the creature lives firmly entrenched in cryptozoology and not mythology as some would feel to be more appropriate.

Both Nessie and the giant squid are monsters in the truest sense. Both are large, much larger than people, both inhabit the world of water which is still foreign to most of us, and both are heroes of tales from throughout the centuries.

Tales of Monsters

We love to be frightened. We love scary movies, and ghost stories, and legends about evil beings, and movies with big monsters and aliens and other things that go bump in the night. Or day for that matter.

Does the best selling author of our time write books about romance or suburban angst? No, the best selling author is Stephen King, whose genre tends to be focused on horror. Is the favorite ride at an amusement park the merry-go-round? No, the favorite ride is most likely the roller coaster — the bigger, faster, higher, and the scarier, the better.

So, what scares us most of all? At least in that pleasant, shivery way we all seem to crave?

If you’re thinking a person wearing a mask, carrying an axe dripping with gore, you forget that I mentioned “pleasant, shivery”, not “grossed out and tense”. No, for the fun type of scare only one thing will do, and that thing is monsters. Preferably big ones that don’t stay in their own habitat but leave the water (ice, sky, ground, space) and come stomping with big oversize feet right at you. Well, not at you specifically, but the hero of the movie or book or story you are currently enjoying, the person who we can identify with because we are so caught up in said book, movie, or story.

How odd that we are frightened of these large creatures when we should be more frightened of the smallest creatures inhabiting the earth. After all, more of us die from disease and sickness caused by insects, bacteria, viruses, and mutated cells than from any other reason.

Very few people die from being *squished* by a large creature ala Godzilla.

Monsters have scared and entertained humanity since we first started drawing pictures of them on cave walls and telling stories about them around campfires. We liked stories of monsters so much, we even created legends about some of them, legends that survive to this day.

The thing about monsters, though, is they are best savored behind a curtain of ignorance. Once a monster is viewed up close, and looked at with the looking glass we call reason, it no longer has the power to scare us and we wonder that it ever did.

Imagine for a moment that you are an ancient sailor, sailing in a small boat about 20 feet or so in length. All of a sudden next to you appears this large behemoth of a creature, of a size that could make splinters of your boat and most likely of yourself.

The behemoth is a whale, a gray whale to be exact. Are you frightened? I’m asking the modern you this question. How can you be frightened of something that you might pay a ton of money to go see in boats as small or even smaller. But to that sailor of long ago — that’s you, too, remember — the whale must seem as a monster sent by the gods themselves to drag you to a watery death.

So you pray to the gods and you ask for salvation and forgiveness from whatever evil you had done to be sent such punishment. Lo and behold, the behemoth slowly moves away! You in this modern day and age know that the whale has moved away because you a) aren’t food, b) aren’t an enemy (yet), and c) aren’t very interesting. But to you the sailor of the past, you know in your heart of hearts that you have been saved by divine intervention.

You also know that you have a real kicker of a story to tell when you get into shore, and a legend is born.

How Legends Begin

What makes a legend? In the previous section we can see how legends are born whenever we are confronted by something outside our experience. However, there are other factors that go into making a legend.

First, many of our earlier events in history were not originally recorded in writing, but were, instead, told verbally, as stories. Sometimes accuracy was maintained…and sometimes the story teller embellished the telling, making the story more interesting to the audience or perhaps more flattering to the story’s subject.

For instance, Alexander the Great was a real person, a key figure in history. We know this is true. However, there are an enormous number of legends about Alexander, of which my favorite is the legend of the Gordian Knot.

The legend of the Gordian Knot is that there existed in the town of Gorium, in the ancient land of Phrygians, an ox cart tied to a post with a knot so complex, with both ends of the knot hidden, that no one person could untie it. Legend also has it that it was foretold that whoever would loose the knot would be conqueror of Asia.

Alexander the Great heard of the legend and decided to take a hand at undoing the Gordian Knot. After looking at it he takes his sword out and cuts it in two, thereby “loosing” the knot with one simple, clean cut. To this day coming up with a simple, clean solution to a supposedly complex and unsolvable problem is known as “cutting the Gordian Knot”.

Alexander the Great was taught by another well-known person of his time: Aristotle. One can’t help wondering what the teacher would have thought of the student’s solution. Would he have admired the innovative approach? Or would he have deplored the loss of a perfectly good rope.

Is the story true? Possibly. Or the story could have been fabricated as a form of propaganda from Alexander in order to provide popular justification for his aggressive tendencies. Regardless of its truth or not, the legend of the Gordian Knot remains to this day.

Another factor in the making of a legend is that humanity has never been especially graceful about admitting a lack of knowledge when faced with a new unknown, and can sometimes come up with the most outrageous explanations of an event or object.

As an example of dealing with an unknown, our earlier ancestors didn’t always have an understanding of planetary orbits, so an eclipse of the sun didn’t occur because the moon’s orbit brought it between the earth and the sun, blocking the view of the sun. No, the eclipse occurred because dragons were eating the sun. To stop these hungry reptiles, these same ancestors pounded on kettles and pots, making noise to chase the monsters away. If you think this is silly, think on this: the noise making worked and the sun did re-appear. Our ancestors may not have understood planetary orbits, but they did understand cause and effect.

The reason why our ancestors assumed dragons were eating the sun, or that gods controlled the weather and the seas is that they knew little about the world around them. Folks in the past didn’t understand that forces deep within the earth were responsible for earthquakes and volcanoes, and that weather was influenced by something such as the temperature of the ocean waters. To them, it would seem as if some external force was responsible for all unexplained events.

Consider some poor sailor in one of the small sailing craft that plied the sea centuries ago. The boat is moving along nicely and passing to one side of an island when all of a sudden, the island seems to be much closer than originally thought. Not only that, but huge teeth and arms seem to be reaching out of the water, grabbing the boat and dashing it into a million pieces.

We understand about things such as currents and lower tides exposing rocky shores, but our earlier ancestors may not have been as aware of such things. To them, it would look as if the island or sea was alive and a monster has suddenly grabbed the boat to tear it apart. If at least one seaman escapes with his life and tells this tale, he plants the idea in other seaman minds and a legend begins to form. Sound silly? Well, the legend of the creature as large as an island is real and the creature is known as the Kraken.


The Kraken


His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep,The Kraken sleepeth

So goes a poem by Lord Tennyson titled The Kraken.

Depending on the source you read, the Kraken is fabled to be the last of the Titans as well as a Norwegian sea monster. It is described as having a thousand tentacles and being a cross somewhere between a crab and an octopus, but on a much larger scale.

The Museum of Natural Mystery 5 includes a reference to an earlier written description provided by a 16th century Norwegian Bishop. This description states that the Kraken is a “floating island”, over 1 1/2 miles wide! Now that would be a monster to see.

Later tales of the Kraken have shrunk the creature down to a more palatable size, but still maintained its ferocity and stories about the creature attacking ships, sometimes pulling the ships under water, have continued even into the 20th century.

Conjecture at this time is that the Kraken may actually have been a giant squid. If this seems farfetched consider that rumors exist that the giant squid can reach lengths of 100 feet or more. If so, a squid this size, weighing a couple of tons, could easily capsize a smaller sailing vessel. Even a squid 60 feet in length, the largest scientifically proven size, would not be something one would want to meet while going for a swim in the moonlight.

The Kraken has all the makings of a truly great monster. It’s large, it lives in the ocean, in the deepest parts of the ocean, and legends say that it has attacked people. Tales of these attacks aren’t frequent enough to become truly intimidating, just enough to give us that pleasant, shivery sensation.

Now if the legends of the Kraken are attributable to the giant squid, we haven’t lost anything in the exposure. So little is known about these creatures that they might as well exist in legend as outside of it. In fact, we are so attracted to the legends about the giant squid that we have made it a star. Or should we say that Jules Verne has made it a star in his classic tale 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. And it is tales such as Verne’s and movies based on these tales that keep legends of monsters of the deep alive today.

Modern Day Legends: The Movies

Considering what was said earlier, that legends sometimes grow out of humanity’s ignorance as well as our fear of the unknown and you can see the basis of many of the old science fiction movies of the 50s. Two common themes dominate these movies: the first is our fear of The Bomb; the second was our fear of what exists in regions hostile to man — the sea and space.

Interest in science grew enormously in the 50’s, especially interest in outer space. The race was on to put the first man into space and we all dreamed of a time when we, humanity, would ride large ships to other stars, preferably uninhabited stars. And that was the contradiction of the times — as much as we wanted to explore the unknown, we were also afraid of what we would find.

So, we had movies such as the extremely well done War of the Worlds6 and the not so well done Plan 9 from Outer Space7. It is a wonder we could sleep at night, our movies had creatures from every corner of the galaxy ready to fly in and wipe us all out.

Even the plants were dangerous.

If you are a serious fan of science fiction then you also had to have seen the original Thing8, with a pre-Gunsmoke James Arness appearing as plant shaped like a man, strong, nasty, barbed, and with a thirst for human blood. This movie was an excellent example of the belief that if it was different, than it had to be evil and out to get us, us being relative. The movie also included subtle digs about scientists and their search for knowledge at the cost of endangering mankind.

The Thing highlighted the ambivalent attitude we had towards science in the 50s. As much as we loved science, we were also a bit frightened of it and those who were its practitioners. After all, if it was science that would send us into space, it was also science that brought us the very real horror of nuclear war.

Not all visitors to the planet had hostile intentions. One of the best movies made during the 50s was the Day that the Earth Stood Still9 , with the alien out to save us from ourselves. Our parents liked the message, we liked the big robot that could zap everyone to ashes.

It was the Bomb and our fear of the Bomb (at least in hands other than our own), that became the second major theme of most sci-fi films of the 50s. We, the general populace, didn’t know exactly what side effects could be generated by this deadly weapon so we made a few up. With a little help from the movie makers, of course. The two most common effects of the Bomb used in movies at that time were common creatures grown to a monstrous size, and extinct animals, primarily dinosaurs, being awaken.

If you grew up in the 50s and 60s, you were exposed to some wonderful movie monsters. By today’s standards the monsters probably seem clumsy and pretty fake, but in that time it seemed to be so simple to suspend your beliefs and let your imagination roam. A special favorite was Them!10, with its full size monster ants. Them! was far superior to another movie of the time called Tarantula11, with its images of real life spiders blown up and superimposed with the movie actors. However, both movies did share a common theme: insects growing to an enormous size because of radiation.

The monsters didn’t just crawl around on the ground. Another of the better movies of the time, It Came from Beneath the Sea12, featured a giant octopus that attacks San Fransciso, courtesy of special effects master Ray Harryhausen. In this movie, the creature surfaces to seemingly try out the munchies on dry land for a change in diet or some such thing. And guess who the munchies, were, hmmm? Just call us Octo-Crunchies!

Another Harryhausen movie, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms13, was about a pre-historic creature that was awakened from a frozen state by the detonation of an atomic bomb in the Arctic. This beastie decided to visit New York, taking in the sites, tearing down a few buildings, noshing on one of New York’s Finest instead of pretzels in the Park.

With many of these movies, the special effects used was the best available, but the real key to the enjoyment of the movies was not the effects so much as it was the suspense, and the ability to generate that pleasant, shivery feeling. Particularly effective was the use of the music. There is a distinctive sound that these old movies used when a creature was approaching our heroes, one that can’t be described but if you hear it, you know it. By providing “hints” of what is about to happen, the film makers built anticipation, but also provided a gentle warning so that the movie viewer was surprised by the appearance of the monster, but not so surprised or startled as to pass from pleasure to discomfort.

Lest you think great monster movies were only created in the 50s, some current movies also have created wonderful monsters. Steve Speilberg’s Jurassic Park is one of the best movies of all time with its incredible effects, excellent story line and adherence to some of the older movie formulas — most specifically by not being too graphic. In addition, as with the 50s movies, man rather than beast is the true culprit, this time the scientists messed with DNA rather than the atom. The end result, though, is pretty much the same — big critter eats smaller critter, smaller critter is us.

Oddly enough, out of all the movies that feature “monsters”, the most plausible movie monster is probably the giant squid from the Disney movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea14. Based on the Jules Verne book of the same name, the movie features a giant squid attacking the submarine that is the focus of both the book and the movie.

Though fictional, the squid shown in the movie and discussed in the story is not so large as to actually be outside of reality. Based on folk lore and legend, the giant squid can reach sizes of 100 feet or more. Add to this eyewitness accounts of giant squids attacking submarines and other ships, and you move much closer to fact than fiction with this story.

In fact, Jules Verne himself had heard a story of a giant squid attacking a military ship and based his monster on this story. A case of legend possibly becoming fact, which is as good a lead in as any to Part Two of A Tale of Two Monsters, covering Cryptozoology.