Sunday, November 2, 2014

Scrutiny of Dennis Hall's Alleged 'Champ' Video Evidence

Although they are a minority in comparison to anecdotal data, various alleged photographs of unknown aquatic animals do exist,
although much dissention surrounds them. The illustration above is Peter Loh's wonderful interpretation of one of the 1975 Rines
photographs from Loch Ness, one alleged 'lake monster' image which continues to be viewed as compelling by some.
With the seasons of cross country and my job at the zoo having subsided, I anticipate more time to contribute to this blog and also revise older publications as my research into the bizarre realms of zoology furthers. While my blog is currently recovering, I have decided to post yet another publication sent to me from my colleague Scott Mardis. This particular article is a sort of follow-up to the previous one on Dennis Hall's juvenile 'Champ' capture claims. While it is set in a rather humorous tone at times, it makes no labor of getting to the point, which is a rather critical one at that. Here, Scott examines some of Dennis Hall's alleged images of Lake Champlain 'monsters' in light of his recent investigations into their origin. Dennis has recently teamed up with Katy Elizabeth in his expeditions to Lake Champlain, and the two have made allegations which fall when met with the scientific scrutiny necessary if we are to hold cryptozoological research up to the standards of other zoological sciences. Renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, who has not shied away from the topic of alleged aquatic mystery animals himself, once stated that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Keeping this doctrine in mind, take note that the aforementioned duo is claiming to have regular interactions with a species of reptile which is supposed to have gone extinct some 220 million years ago yet have no better evidence than ambiguous videos to support their assertions. I feel that Dennis and Katy's claims are lacking in the objective, scientific reasoning warranted in a field so troubled as Cryptozoology and thus such criticism as Scott's is well justified. That being said, I am not making slanderous remarks towards the individuals in question and neither is Scott, although he is entirely responsible for the content reproduced here. Hopefully, more objectivity can be brought to such amateur field work and aquatic cryptozoology will be brought to a better standing in scientific focus.

This is a guest post by Scott Mardis. Scott has been an active field investigator of the Lake Champlain “Monster” since 1992. He is a former sustaining member of the defunct International Society of Cryptozoology and a former volunteer worker in the Vertebrate Paleontology Dept. of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (1990-1992). He co-authored a scientific abstract about the Lake Champlain hydrophone sounds for the Acoustical Society of America in 2010. He currently lives in Bradenton, Florida.

by Scott Mardis

Friday, September 12, 2014

Was Dennis Hall's "Baby Champ" A Mudpuppy Salamander?

Illustration of a juvenile Lake Champlain mystery animal, by Thomas Finley
The great caveat of cryptozoological research has long been, in many cases, the absence of type specimens for the mystery animals being sought after. This shortcoming has led to much criticism of this study of 'hidden' animals, and has even spurred heated debate among researchers of the field as to the ethics of deliberately killing an unknown animal to verify its existence. The discoveries or photographs of supposed 'cryptid' remains are few and far between, yet there are several eyewitness accounts detailing alleged finds. Although it has received little attention from cryptozoological researchers as a whole, one such case is that of the alleged juvenile Lake Champlain mystery animal caught by the father of Dennis Hall. Dennis Hall's research at this American lake first caught my attention when I watched a documentary featuring him several years ago. He illustrated his views regarding the appearance of alleged Lake Champlain mystery animals using a model of Tanystropheus which I also possessed at that time. This hypothesis is certainly one which is now unsatisfactory in my mind, but I will leave discussion of this matter for future articles. While I retain respect for Hall due to his work in collecting eyewitness reports and the like, his unsubstantiated spectacular claims and several "Champ" videos (which appear to be nothing more than mundane objects distorted by heat waves) have since made me grow slightly dubious. Regardless, the discovery of a living, juvenile specimen belonging to an unknown species of animal living in an American lake would surely prove to be one of the greatest zoological finds of all time. Unfortunately, there are several issues with this allegation. In the article reproduced here, diligent researcher Scott Mardis takes a critical look at the "baby Champ" claims and develops the hypothesis that the animal in question was a misidentified mudpuppy salamander. As bizarre as the idea of someone mistaking a mudpuppy for a relict reptile from 245 million year ago sounds, I encourage you to read on. This is a case of excellent and rigorous investigative work on Scott's behalf, and it should be taken as an example for other researchers to follow.
This is a guest post by Scott Mardis. Scott has been an active field investigator of the Lake Champlain “Monster” since 1992. He is a former sustaining member of the defunct International Society of Cryptozoology and a former volunteer worker in the Vertebrate Paleontology Dept. of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (1990-1992). He co-authored a scientific abstract about the Lake Champlain hydrophone sounds for the Acoustical Society of America in 2010. He currently lives in Bradenton, Florida. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Previously Undocumented Oregon Coast 'Sea Serpent' Report

Today, August 7 of 2014, has been officially recognized as Sea Serpent Day. Reports of unidentified marine animals often referred to by the probable misnomer of 'sea serpents' continue to be the most compelling form of cryptozoological matter to many researchers such as myself, and it seems that those who have disregarded all such accounts as mere oarfish or giant squid have little knowledge of the intriguing cases in this area of study. While anecdotal data is generally viewed as unpredictable, several scientific minds have found 'sea serpent' reports to be of interest in that they often involve trained observers like naval men as witnesses and frequently occur at a close range. Also, unlike other areas of cryptozoological study, it seems that the greed of media and misinforming reality or "mockumentary" television shows have yet to taint the research into 'seas serpent' sightings. I have spent about a year researching alleged reports and evidence of unidentified marine animals and will continue to do so in the hope that efforts such as mine may help to bring this cryptozoological question to the scientific forefront. To mark this special occasion I have written on a previously undocumented 'sea serpent' report, and I ask you to read on if you are interested...
A rather fanciful rendition of the 'sea serpent' described by Deah Lael; commissioned by Ray Gardner.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Recent Material On 'Cadborosaurus'

"Female Caddy" illustration by Tim Morris, reflecting the line of thinking that the Naden Harbor carcass and reports of elongate
 'cadborosaurus' are based off of a form of marine mammal suggested to be named Cadborotherium
Over the past several months, I have been constructing and compiling comparative images which feature matters relating to unidentified marine animal reports. These have generally been posted in the Zombie Plesiosaur Society group as food for thought items, but I felt that it would be appropriate to reproduce some of these here. A majority of these comparisons deal with eyewitness sketches or images of alleged 'cadborosaurus': 'sea serpents' reportedly observed in Pacific waters from Monterey Bay in California to the rocky fjords of Alaska. These mystery animals are best known to supposedly inhabit the Cadboro Bay region of British Columbia, as it is this area to which they owe their locally-given name. As chronicled in Dr. Paul H. LeBlond and Dr. Edward L. Bousfield's 1995 publication, the general 'Caddy' description involves a horse-like head with large eyes and occasional 'horns', a long neck which is sometimes maned, a body which is either long and snake-like or has a central body swelling, a serrated crest or seal-like body hair sometimes present on the body, anterior flippers with the posterior ones either unable to be seen or fused with the body, and a tail which is sometimes described as jagged or bifid. Accounts of the animals swimming at extreme speeds, breathing, making bellowing vocalizations, interacting with larger or smaller individuals of the same form, coming onto land, and catching fish and seabirds also exist. It is clear that there are multiple animals involved in these reports, with many likely being misidentified known species and some possibly being unknown (I generally tend to agree with the basics of Dale Drinnon's writing on this matter; it can be found here, here, and here). This will be another image-heavy article with brief explanatory text, as I have been very busy with my job and other activities.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Prehistoric Survivor Paradigm And More On Purported Post-Cretaceous Plesiosaurs

Excellent relict plesiosaur illustration by cartoonist Peter Loh
If you have been following my articles regarding aquatic mystery animals, you will most likely know that I was once a fervent supporter of the idea that long-necked 'sea serpents' and 'lake monsters' are almost certainly not relict populations of plesiosaurs. However, further research into reports and photographs, as well as speaking to respectable fellow researchers, has led me to think otherwise. I now feel that there is some plausibility to the hypothesis that relict plesiosauroid lineages continue into the present day, although I will refrain from going any further into this here. One important point which I feel necessary to touch upon is that regarding the apparent absence of any recent fossil record for these Mesozoic marine reptiles. Arguably one of the most crucial weaknesses in regard to the Prehistoric Survivor Paradigm, the line of thinking that some cryptozoological reports are based off of the continued existence of some prehistoric fauna, is that of a lack of recent fossil record for the animals. However, as Scott and others have pointed out, this may not be the case in regard to plesiosaurs. 'Reworked' plesiosaur fossils have been found ranging from Paleocene to Pleistocene deposits, and although there is the possibility of them having eroded into younger deposits, they have yet to be receive proper radiometric dating. The following article by Scott Mardis discusses some of these and similar cases, and their possible significance. While I am satisfied with the contention of the few post-Cretaceous dinosaur remains having actually been reworked, I find the plesiosaur material to be compelling. Still, none of this is concrete, although it is rather interesting in the opinion of this author and certainly suggests the need for further examination into the relict plesiosaur hypothesis. Following the reproduction of Scott's Prehistoric Survivor Paradigm article, I have included and commented on some other notable material pertaining to the enigma of alleged Holocene plesiosaurs. I suggest that you take all of this into consideration with an objective and skeptically-balanced mind.

This is a guest post by Scott Mardis. Scott has been an active field investigator of the Lake Champlain “Monster” since 1992. He is a former sustaining member of the defunct International Society of Cryptozoology and a former volunteer worker in the Vertebrate Paleontology Dept. of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (1990-1992). He co-authored a scientific abstract about the Lake Champlain hydrophone sounds for the Acoustical Society of America in 2010. He currently lives in Bradenton, Florida.

Prehistoric Survivor Paradigm Under Fire?
By Scott Mardis

     Matt Bille, at his blog Matt’s Sci/ Tech Blog, recently posted about another article by Sharon Hill questioning the validity of the so-called “Prehistoric Survivor Paradigm” (see here), the idea that presumably extinct animals have managed to survive into the modern era without leaving a conspicuous fossil record and are in fact responsible for various modern day “monster” sightings and data. Vertebrate paleontologist Darren Naish has also been very critical of this idea, particularly in regard to the idea of relict plesiosaurs (see this Cryptomundo post for more info).
     While I encourage you to read and listen to what Sharon Hill and Darren Naish have to say and they do make some powerful arguments, I feel some very relevant things to the debate have been left out. We must remember that the best case for most cryptids at this point in time is based on ambiguous, circumstantial evidence and any possible connections to extinct animals are tenuous at best. Assuming the bulk of descriptive and photographic evidence might be correct and bear some resemblance to a known fossil form, we should not overlook the remarkable phenomenon of convergent evolution. It’s within the realm of possibility that some recently evolved animal, unknown to us in fossil form, has developed features similar to some well known extinct forms.
     Having said that, there is the phenomenon of “reworked” fossils. These are fossils of animals believed to have gone extinct found in younger fossil deposits after their presumed extinctions. They are called “reworked” because it is thought they have been worked out of their original strata into younger deposits by a host of physical phenomena. The mechanisms are usually tidal and fluvial erosion, tectonic activity, glacial scouring, erosion by wind and rain, volcanism, burrowing by animals on land and in the sea, even dislodgement by tree roots. The dating of fossils is done by radiometric dating, rare earth element testing and by the range correlation of diagnostic microfossils directly associated with the fossil or within the fossil matrix. Sometimes this information is not available, so assumptions have to be made based on the general consensus of the geologic range of the particular animal or the taphonomic state of the fossil itself. There do remain questions in some cases and there is considerable debate about the possible validity of some reputed Paleocene dinosaur specimens (see here). There have been isolated dinosaur teeth found in Miocene fossil deposits in France (see here) and in Louisiana (see here). My own searches through the paleontology literature have yielded anomalous plesiosaur material spanning from the Paleocene to the Pleistocene ice ages (see here and here).
     There are also the geological phenomena of “Lazarus taxa” and “ghost lineages”. A Lazarus 
taxon is the reemergence in the fossil record of a type that had been thought to have died out much earlier. The term ghost lineage refers to the missing fossil record of such a Lazarus taxon. One example might be the controversial putative Paleocene therapsid (mammal-like reptile) Chronoperates paradoxus from Canada, which if correctly interpreted gives the therapsids as a group a 100 million year range extension (see here). Additionally, the Iranian ichthyosaur Malawania is believed to have a 66 million year ghost lineage (see here) and the Megachasmid sharks (Megamouth) may have a 70 million year ghost lineage between the mid-Cretaceous and Miocene (see here). This is compared to only a 65 million year extinction record for the plesiosaurs.
     This is all very speculative but I submit to you that you cannot ignore this evidence in question to the whole PSP debate. The presence of living plesiosaurs or non-avian dinosaurs today will only be demonstrated by confirmed type specimens. And while the fossil records of plesiosaurs and coelacanths may show very different patterns of diversity through time and deposition, the post-Cretaceous coelacanth fossil record is only represented by two specimens, the recently described Macropomoides palaestina from the Miocene of Israel (see here) and a highly questionable specimen from the Paleocene of Sweden (see here).

At this point following the reproduction of Scott's article, I felt that the list of 'reworked' plesiosaur fossils from his Lake Agasiz paper should be reproduced once again to recap the argument being made. I still have to publish the paper as a full-text article rather than a mere link to a PDF, but I have not had the ample time to do so. Two other cases of 'reworked' plesiosaur remains were detailed in Scott's article but were not given in a list format, and thus I have chosen to not reproduce them here for the sake of brevity.

1. Elasmosaurid plesiosaur fossils mixed with Paleocene microfossils in the Takatika Grit formation (Cretaceous-Paleocene) of the Chatham Islands of New Zealand.

2. The discovery of a specimen of Plesiosaurus crassicostatus in the Paleocene Waipara Greensand of North Canterbury, New Zealand.

3. The discovery of two sets of Elasmosaurid vertebrae (one articulated) allegedly associated with Paleocene microfossils in the Paleocene San Francisquito Formation near Cajon Pass, 

4. A plesiosaur tooth in the Aruma Formation (Paleocene-Eocene) of Saudi Arabia.

5. A plesiosaur vertebrae, assigned to the now-discarded genus Discosaurus vetustus, allegedly from the Eocene marine deposits of Choctaw Bluff, Clarke County, Alabama, deposits that have also produced specimens of basilosaurine whales.

6. A set of fossil vertebrae from alleged Cretaceous deposits in Mullica Hills, New Jersey is acquired by paleontologist Richard Harlan in 1824. He describes one of the vertebrae and assigns it to the Plesiosauria that same year. In 1851, paleontologist Joseph Leidy mysteriously reassigns Harlan’s plesiosaur vertebra to the dolphin genus Priscodelphinus and declares it to be from the Miocene epoch. What about the age and identity of Harlan’s other vertebrae? Is the age and identity of the Priscodelphinus vertebra completely resolved?

7. In 1859 the same Joseph Leidy described the genus Ischyrotherium antiquus as a probable sirenian (manatees/dugongs) of presumed Miocene age from the Judith River Formation of South Dakota based on a few vertebrae and rib fragments, though he expressed some doubts about this and suggested it might be some kind of plesiosaur-like reptile. Edward Cope decided it was a plesiosaur in 1871 and renamed it Ischyrosaurus antiquus. Oliver Perry Hay tentatively assigned Ischyrotherium / Ischyrosaurus to the Champsosauridae in 1902, admitting that the animal’s true position remained unresolved. There would appear to still be confusion in the modern scientific literature over the affinities and age of this obscure genus.

8. The paleontologist Florentine Ameghino described the now-discarded plesiosaur genus Polyptychodon patagonicus based on teeth from the Santa Cruz formation of Patagonia in 1893 and associated them with Cenozoic mammal teeth allegedly from the same deposits. These fossils are currently classified as Plesiosauria indet. and there now seems to be some doubt over whether the Cenozoic mammal fossils are from the same deposits as the plesiosaur teeth.

The text following this section is of great importance to this matter, as well.

Is there any evidence to suggest fossils formerly classified as “reworked” may turn out not to be so? James E. Fassett and colleagues claim to have found evidence of Paleocene dinosaurs in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico based on U-Pb dating of dinosaur bones but this has been disputed. Anton Wroblewski has made the case that selachian paleofaunas of the Paleocene deposits of the Hanna and Ferris formations of Wyoming are not “reworked” Cretaceous fossils but represent Paleocene faunas that lived in extensions of the Cannonball Sea/ Western Interior Seaway. The discovery of Eocene seed ferns (thought to have gone extinct at the K/Pg boundary) in Tasmania has now questioned the “reworked” status of seed fern pollens found in the Cenozoic deposits of southeastern Australia. Some have argued that it is unlikely that any large vertebrate would have a ghost lineage (a long stratigraphic interval with no known fossil representatives, despite the known persistence of the lineage in later strata) as long as 70 million years. Dicynodonts (large herbivorous mammal-like reptiles) discovered in early Cretaceous deposits of Australia imply a ghost lineage for dicynodonts of 110 million years. The alleged Paleocene therapsid Chronoperates paradoxus from Canada implies a ghost lineage for therapsids of 100 million years, if the therapsid identity is correct. The oldest undisputed megachasmid shark teeth known are from the late Oligocene/early Miocene of California, but the controversial Megachasma comanchensis, based on teeth from middle Cretaceous deposits in Colorado, may give the megachasmids a 70 million year ghost lineage. DNA testing of Megachasma pelagios, the extant megamouth shark, has also suggested a mid-Cretaceous origin for megachasmids. The coelacanths were not known to have any fossil representatives younger than 90 million years old until 1986. Today, the Cenozoic fossil record for coelacanths consists of one occurrence from the Paleocene of Sweden and one from the Miocene of Israel. One Jurassic ichthyosaur genus, Maiaspondylus, may have a ghost range of 50 million years. If we accept the possibility that the fragmentary plesiosaur material spanning from the Paleocene to the Pleistocene may not be “reworked”, then there may be no 70 million year ghost lineage for plesiosaurs. Would not the emergence of marine mammals such as cetaceans and pinnipeds have severely hampered any potential post-Cretaceous comeback the plesiosaurs may have made, had a few squeaked through the K/Pg extinction event? Perhaps not. Plesiosaurs seem to have persisted through such ecological shifts as the presumed extinction of ichthyosaurs, the rise of mosasaurs and the coming and going of metriorhynchid crocodiles. Would the introduction of cetaceans and pinnipeds be that different? Some would argue that warm-blooded, highly intelligent marine mammals would have had a distinct advantage over any reptilian competitors. There is some evidence to suggest that plesiosaurs may have been homeothermic, lived in gregarious social groups and cared for their young. [JC: It is also worth noting that, as pointed out by Michael Woodley, the 'benthic grazer' niche of the plesiosaurs was supposedly left vacant with their extinction. Thus, there is ecological space for long-necked marine animals in the modern day.]
If a plesiosaur species or a similar product of convergent evolution remains extant in the present day, why are the supposed photographs so ambiguous? (Pasteup from Scott Mardis with the contained artwork by Mark Witton)
Although it is circumstantial and often rather subjective, alleged anecdotal and photographic data regarding supposed Loch Ness mystery animals suggests that they possess a degree of neck flexibility which is in keeping with that of the plesiosaurs. (Pasteup from Scott Mardis with the images being the Hugh Gray photograph, Arthur Gray's sketch of his mystery animal, Margaret Munroe's sketch of her mystery animal, and a diagram of plesiosaur neck flexibility from an unpublished thesis by Mark Evans)
Scott Mardis recently posted the following image in the Zombie Plesiosaur Society group on Facebook with the caption of "A 40 million year gap in the plesiosaur fossil record is not a whole lot different from a 65 million year gap in the plesiosaur fossil record." It certainly is an interesting piece of information to consider along with the other material regarding the possibility of relict plesiosauroid lineages.
In regard to the question of plesiosaur-like aquatic animals remaining unknown in the present day, it is worth noting that artifacts and ancient depictions showing supposed animals of a similar nature have been found around the world. Some researchers like Scott Mardis suggest that these act as a potential bridge between the anomalous post-Cretaceous plesiosaur remains of prehistory and the present day reports of plesiosaur-like animals. Dale Drinnon recently wrote an excellent article on the matter, as well. I personally feel that such depictions can be unreliable and often prone to artistic license, and the more interesting pieces tend to be interpreted as the result of ancient peoples uncovering the fossils of Mesozoic marine reptiles. Nonetheless, consideration of the other possibility, especially in light of the more compelling longneck reports and photographs, leads to very compelling prospects.

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