STUPENDOUS SEA TURTLES – MORE THAN JUST A MARITIME MYTH?

by on Dec.28, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Skeleton of Archelon(public domain)

Do the vast oceans of our planet conceal great sea turtles far larger than any that are officially known to exist there?

The largest species of sea turtle ever known to have existed was Archelon ischyros, which lived some 70 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period in the seas around what is now North America. The largest specimen on record measured over 13 ft long and roughly 16 ft across from flipper to flipper.

Leathery turtle on beach (public domain)

In comparison, the largest species known to exist today, the leathery (leatherback) turtle Dermochelys coriacea, attains a maximum recorded length of a ‘mere’ 9.8 ft, but averages only 6-7 ft.

However, reports of substantially larger sea turtles are also on file – veritable behemoths, in fact, which if their existence were ever scientifically confirmed would rival even the mighty Archelonitself.

 

FATHER-OF-ALL-THE-TURTLES

In his classic if highly controversial tome In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents (1968), Belgian cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans postulated the existence of a number of hypothetical creatures to explain hundreds of reports of sea serpents from around the globe. One of them was what he termed the ‘Father-of-All-the-Turtles’ – a name originally given by native Sumatran fishermen to a traditional sea deity in which they vehemently believe, and which allegedly assumes the guise of a gargantuan marine turtle.

Father-of-All-the-Turtles (© Tim Morris)

Alternative sea serpent classification systems subsequently devised by other cryptozoologists have also included this category, and there are several notable eyewitness accounts on file indicating that a turtle of truly immense size may indeed have been encountered in various far-flung maritime localities.

 

GIANT TURTLES IN ANTIQUITY AND MEDIEVAL TIMES

Perhaps the earliest report dates back as far as the 3rd Century AD. This was when Roman scholar Claudius Aelianus (popularly known merely as Aelian), writing in his 17-volume treatise De Natura Animalium, referred to the existence in the Indian Ocean of turtles so colossal in size that their huge shells – said to be as much as 23.5 ft in circumference – were sometimes used by the native people as roofing material! Modern-day sceptics have claimed that if such shells truly existed, they must have been fossils. And it is certainly true that portions of fossilised shells from the land-living prehistoric giant tortoise Megalochelys [=Colossochelys] atlas have been unearthed in the rich deposits of Nepal’s Siwalik Hills. Yet fossil shells would surely have been too brittle and much too heavy for roofing purposes.

Megalochelys [=Colossochelys] atlasreconstructions (© Vjdchauhan/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Writing in his own magnum opus, Geography, which he completed in 1154 AD, Muhammad al-Idrisi, a notable Moroccan Islamic traveller, cartographer, and archaeologist, referred to comparably immense turtles, up to 20 cubits (33 ft) long, living in the Sea of Herkend, off the west coast of Sri Lanka, whose females contained up to a thousand eggs. Although he never personally visited Asia, he collated considerable amounts of detailed information from Islamic explorers and merchants, and recorded on Islamic maps. Having said that, however, turtles generally lay no more than a hundred eggs at a time, not a thousand, so perhaps some such reports were exaggerated (which may also account for the huge size claimed for these Herkend turtles?).

 

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS AND ANNIE L. HALL

Possibly the most famous eyewitness of a reputed mega-chelonian was none other than New World discoverer Christopher Columbus. In early September 1494, along with several of his crew, he witnessed an extraordinary creature likened to a whale-sized turtle with a visible pair of flippers and a long tail that kept its head above the water surface while swimming by as his vessels were sailing east along the southern coast of what is now the Dominican Republic, occupying the right-hand half of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

Posthumous painting allegedly depicting Christopher Columbus, by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519; no confirmed paintings of Columbus are currently known (public domain)

On 30 March 1883, while aboard the schooner ‘Annie L. Hall’ in the North Atlantic’s Grand Banks, Captain Augustus G. Hall and his crew spied what they initially took to be an upturned vessel but which, when they approached to within 25 ft of it, proved to be an enormous turtle. By comparing its dimensions with those of their vessel, they were able to estimate its total length as being at least 40 ft, its width as 29.5 ft, and its height from its carapace’s apex to its plastron or under-shell’s most ventral point as 29.5 ft. Even its flippers were immense – each one approximately 20 ft long. Not surprisingly, the captain deemed it inadvisable to attempt capturing this shell-bearing leviathan!

 

TURTLES OF A (VERY) DIFFERENT COLOUR!

During the 1950s, two ultra-giant turtles were reported that were highly distinctive due not only to their great size but also to their very unusual colouration. One of these was an alleged 14-ft-long yellow turtle witnessed on 8 March 1955 by L. Alejandro Velasco while stranded on a raft off Colombia’s Gulf of Urabá. Its claimed length is greater than that of the largest leathery turtle on record.

Using a hawksbill turtle as its basis, a species native to the waters off Colombia, might the mysterious Colombian yellow sea turtle have looked something like this? (© Dr Karl Shuker)

The other was a 44-ft-long pure-white turtle with 14-ft flippers that was sighted south of Nova Scotia, Canada, in June 1956 by crew on board the cargo steamer ‘Rhapsody’. According to their account, this huge creature could raise its head 8 ft out of the water.

 

ENCOUNTERING THE SOAY BEAST

Perhaps the most famous and controversial modern-day sighting of an alleged giant sea turtle occurred just a few years later, off the Scottish Inner Hebridean island of Soay. On 13 September 1959, while fishing here for mackerel, holidaying engineer James Gavin and local fisherman Tex Geddes were very startled to observe an extremely large sea creature swimming directly towards their boat, its head and back readily visible above the sea surface, until it was no more than 60 ft away.

According to their description, documented in a major Illustrated London News report of 4 June 1960, the head of this remarkable beast was definitely reptilian and resembled a tortoise’s, with lateral eyes and a rounded face plus a horizontal gash for a mouth when closed, but it was as big as a donkey’s, and the neck was cylindrical. The exposed portion of its back was humped in shape, and running down the centre was a series of triangular-shaped spines or serrations, like the teeth of a saw. The animal was so close that when it opened its mouth to breathe, emitting a very loud whistling roar, they could see the red lining inside, and what looked like loose flaps of skin hanging down from the roof, but there were no teeth.

Sketches of Soay Beast’s alleged appearance, from Illustrated London News, 4 June 1960 ((© Illustrated London News – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

After remaining in sight for five minutes, their extraordinary visitor dived forward and vanished beneath the water surface, then emerged again almost a quarter of a mile away, before disappearing completely as they watched it. Moreover, the crews of two lobster boats, fishing north of Mallaig on the Scottish mainland, also spied this mysterious creature, much to their alarm!

Due to its mid-dorsal serrations, British zoologist Dr Maurice Burton wondered whether it may have been an escapee iguana, but the remainder of the Soay beast’s description does not correspond with such an identity at all, and much more readily recalls a chelonian. Moreover, certain terrapins even possess dorsal serrations, though terrapins are of course freshwater species, not marine.

 

COULD UNDISCOVERED MEGA-TURTLES EXIST TODAY?

Reading through the above reports, various objections to the possibility of giant turtles existing undiscovered by science soon come to mind, but are they insurmountable? For instance: all known species of sea turtle have only short tails, so the long tail of the specimen sighted by Columbus and his crew is unexpected. Yet there are no sound anatomical or physiological reasons why a long-tailed species might not exist. In any case, it may be that at least part of the tail’s length was an optical illusion, caused by the wake created as it swam by.

The odd colours of the two specimens reported during the mid-1950s pose another problem. However, perhaps the yellow colouration of the Colombian individual was merely due to reflected sunlight, or it might have been a rare xanthic (yellow mutant) individual. Equally, the white ‘Rhapsody’-spied turtle may conceivably have been an albino or leucistic specimen – such individuals have been reported from many reptilian species, even ones as large as crocodiles and alligators. Indeed, a scan through Google will soon turn up a number of spectacular photographs of leucistic sea turtle specimens, confirming that such creatures can indeed arise (click hereto see them). Having said that, some hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata can appear golden-brownish in colour, and even some non-leucistic green turtles Chelonia mydas look quite pale. Nevertheless, they do not attain the huge sizes claimed for the Colombian and ‘Rhapsody’ specimens respectively.

Exquisite vintage illustration of a leathery turtle by Ernst Haeckel, 1902 (public domain)

The cold-water regions in which the ‘Rhapsody’ specimen and the Soay beast were sighted argues on first sight against their being reptiles. However, the leathery turtle is famed for its ability to withstand coldwater temperatures, and of particular note in relation to the Soay case is the remarkable but fully-confirmed fact that in August 1971 a leathery turtle was caught near Mallaig!

If mega-turtles do truly exist, they must be at least predominantly pelagic in occurrence, otherwise they would have been seen far more frequently. Yet even if this is so, surely they would have been observed on land at some point, coming ashore to lay their eggs? Possibly – then again, there are countless small, remote, uninhabited tropical islands and island groups that have never been visited by humans. Indonesia, for instance, consists of over 17,500 islands, and more than 7,100 constitute the Philippines.

Alongside the model of a gigantic sea turtle hatchling at Birmingham Sea Life Centre, 2013 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

So perhaps it is beneath the coastal sands of tiny isles such as these, emerging at night for just a few hours only once every 2-3 years and far removed from prying human eyes or from other potential sources of danger to their precious offspring, where these shy reptilian giants (so adept when at sea but so vulnerable when on land) entrust their precious eggs and, while depositing them, their own lives too, before returning once more to the safety of their vast maritime domain.

Who knows? One day, possibly, an intrepid adventurer may visit one of these anonymous specks of land and there encounter a trail of huge flipper prints left behind by some great chelonian Man Friday.

Olive ridley sea turtles Lepidochelys olivacea ashore on a Mexican beach (© Claudio Giovenzana/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted and adapted from my book Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History.


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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MIGO? REVISITING THE MONSTER OF LAKE DAKATAUA. PART 2: A CROCODILIAN CONUNDRUM!

by on Dec.19, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Saltwater crocodile at Australia Z00 (© Sheba/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

The island of New Britain is the largest member of the Bismarck Archipelago, situated east of Papua New Guinea (PNG), the latter country in turn occupying the eastern half of the mini-island continent of New Guinea and owning this archipelago. As documented in Part 1 of this 2-part ShukerNature blog article (click here to access Part 1), New Britain contains several large bodies of freshwater, one of which is named Lake Dakataua.

From the early 1970s to the late 1990s, this lake attracted considerable media attention worldwide due to its alleged aquatic monster, the migo, described by local eyewitnesses as being extremely slender and lengthy (estimated to be up to 50 ft long). During 1994, a Japanese TV production company launched two expeditions to the lake, their crew accompanied on both occasions by renowned Chicago University biologist and cryptozoologist Prof. Roy P. Mackal, in the capacity of their scientific advisor. Roy was also a longstanding correspondent and friend of mine for many years and kept me fully informed of proceedings regarding the migo.

Map of Papua New Guinea. including New Britain (arrowed red) and the location on it of Lake Dakataua (arrowed green) – please click to enlarge for viewing purposes (© NordNordWest/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Moreover, the crew actually succeeded in obtaining some segments of film footage purportedly showing the migo. One of these segments, obtained during the first expedition, duly appeared in a documentary later screened on Japanese TV.

Back then, the two most notable identities that had been offered for the migo both constituted prehistoric survivors – either a surviving wholly aquatic lizard known as a mosasaur (favoured by the documentary makers) or a surviving elongate whale known as an archaeocete (initially favoured by Roy, but see later for his dramatic change of opinion). Yet according to the current fossil record, archaeocetes became extinct around 25 million years ago, and mosasaurs even earlier, around 65 million years ago.

Modern-day life restorations of the mosasaur Tylosaurus (left) and the basilosaurid (aka zeuglodontine) archaeocete Basilosaurus (right) – not to scale (public domain / © Dmitry Bogdanov/Wikipedia – CC BY 3.0 licence)

But what about known modern-day animal species? Are there any that could explain the migo?

In September 1983, Japanese explorer/writer Atsuo Tanaka had stayed in the native village of Blumuri not far from Lake Dakataua, and claimed that many of the villagers did not believe that anyone had seen a monster there, or even that it existed. Moreover, after personally observing some 6-10-ft-long crocodiles in this lake, his own opinion was that any ‘monster’ sightings that may have been made there were of a dugong or a crocodile, perhaps even belonging to an unknown crocodile species, but more probably either the New Guinea crocodile Crocodylus novaeguineae or the larger saltwater (aka Indopacific) crocodile C. porosus. Such a situation if correct would be far from unprecedented.

A saltwater (aka Indopacific) crocodile C. porosus (public domain)

As far back as 1956, Wilfred T. Neill reported in a Herpetologica article that while serving with the US Army Air Forces in the Pacific during World War II he once flew over New Britain and that from the air:

…I observed a number of crocodiles, the largest about eight or nine feet long, around the margins of upland lakes. Circumstances rendered it impossible to spend any time in investigation; but at one point the plane passed so low over a lake that a crocodile was frightened into the water, and I could see it plainly.

Neill then stated that some weeks later he attended a lecture on jungle survival given by an officer who had been forced down into the interior of New Britain. While making his way to safety, this officer had similarly seen crocodiles about its lakes, but claimed that they were shy, fleeing into the water at his approach. So, although no specific lake, including Dakataua itself, was named in these reports, they demonstrate that crocodiles are indeed known from lakes in New Britain. Weill later opined in his article:

…whilst a positive statement is not justified, I feel that the New Britain lake crocodiles probably are not C. porosus; they are much more apt to be either C. n. novaeguineae or an undescribed relative thereof.

New Guinea crocodile Crocodylus novaeguineae (© Wilfried Berns/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

Even so, New Britain certainly falls within the overall geographical range spanned by the known distribution of C. porosus. Also of note is that in a limnological study of Lake Dakataua conducted in 1974 by PNG-based wildlife biologists E.E. Ball and J. Glucksman and published six years later by the scientific journal Freshwater Biology, they stated that crocodiles were indeed present there. Moreover, in a Journal of Tropical Ecologyarticle from February 1987, presenting an inventory and limnological review of PNG’s freshwater lakes, M.R. Chambers reported that both of the two known species of crocodile mentioned by Neill in his 1956 account can be found in PNG’s lowland lakes (of which Dakataua is one).

Further to Neill’s comment about a possible undescribed species, it is worth noting that as recently as July 2020, an extensive study of mainland New Guinea’s southern population of C. novaeguineae, geographically isolated from its northern population by this huge island’s central ridge of highland mountains, revealed its members to be so genetically, morphologically, and behaviourally discrete from the those of the northern one that the southern population clearly constituted a valid species in its own right. So in a paper documenting this study, published by the journal Copeia, it has been formally named C. halli, Hall’s crocodile. This name honours University of Florida zoologist Dr Philip Hall, who had speculated back in the 1980s that these two populations may constitute entirely separate species, but sadly passed away before any formal scientific study to evaluate his suggestion was conducted.

Dr Bernard Heuvelmans (Wikipedia – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Also of note, it was Neill’s Herpetologicaarticle that veteran Belgian cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans cited as his reference source when including the migo in his famous annotated checklist of apparently unknown animals with which cryptozoology is concerned, published in 1986 by the now-defunct International Society of Cryptozoology’s well-respected peer-reviewed scientific journal Cryptozoology. In his checklist, Heuvelmans suggested that the migo may be:

An unknown species of crocodile (or is it, as has been suggested, a surviving mosasaur?) known as migo, in Lake Dakataua, on the island of New Britain, in the Bismarck Archipelago (Neill 1956).

Bearing in mind, however, that Neill’s article makes no suggestion whatsoever of a mosasaur, unequivocally referring to the New Britain lake creatures under consideration by him as crocodiles, from where did Heuvelmans obtain his mosasaur information? Apparently he was aware of a Japanese newspaper report from February 1972 referred to by me in Part 1 of this present ShukerNature article, in which Shohei Shirai, then head of the Pacific Ocean Resources Research Institute, had aired his view that the migo may be an undiscovered modern-day species of mosasaur.

No longer palaeontologically-accurate but still aesthetically-exquisite, a vintage illustration of a mosasaur and two ichthyosaurs by Heinrich Harder (public domain)

In addition to Prof. Roy Mackal and myself, another Western scientist with a longstanding interest in cryptozoological creatures who became intrigued with the mystery of the migo was British palaeontologist Dr Darren Naish, who in the mid-1990s was fortunate enough to view the better-quality (albeit still very pixellated) 1st-generation copy video (of the two copy videos available in Britain back then) of the original Japanese documentary. (Unfortunately, conversely, as fully described in Part 1, I was only able to view the other, notably inferior and incomplete 2nd-generation copy video, so my efforts at making sense of what I was looking at were greatly hampered.)

In a couple of articles published during the mid/late 1990s (TCR, autumn 1996; CFZ 1997 Yearbook, 1997), followed up a decade later by a short recap article posted on his Tetrapod Zoology internet blog on 26 October 2008, Darren painstakingly analysed frame by frame, feature by feature, what could be discerned in the 1st-generation copy video’s migo footage, and he concluded that the creature in this footage was surely a crocodile, specifically a saltwater crocodile C. porosus. However, there are ostensibly two major problems with this identity, as Darren acknowledged.

Saltwater crocodile foraging in surf (© R Brown et al.-ZooKeys/Wikipedia – CC BY 3.0 licence)

Firstly: the creature’s huge size as claimed for it by Roy, who had initially stated that it was 33 ft long but later upsized his estimate to 50 ft. For even though C. porosus is the largest living species of crocodile, it rarely exceeds 20 ft long. Consequently, in his analysis of the migo footage as seen by him in the 1st-generation copy video, Darren queried whether even Roy’s lower size estimate of 33 ft was accurate, and used the presence of birds flying in front of and behind the creature in an attempt to introduce scale into the migo segment, which in turn indicated a smaller size for the creature.

However, he also emphasized the poor quality of even this superior of the two available copy videos, noting how pixellated, jerky, out-of-focus, and amalgamated with the water surface the creature appeared. In my opinion, this negates any perceived scale-related significance of the birds, because they too are insufficiently clear.

Darren and I engaged in deep, meaningful cryptozoological conversation at the CFZ’s Weird Weekend 2007 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Moreover, in his 1997 article Darren also stated: “If, however, Mackal’s observations are the result of sightings in the field, rather than later viewing of the video footage, they are harder to dismiss”. During his communications with me, Roy revealed that his estimates were based both upon his analysis of the original migo footage (as opposed to inferior copy videos of it) and upon binocular-assisted migo observations made directly in the field (see also later).

Secondly: the series of vertical undulations seemingly performed by the creature, which is a mammalian not a reptilian characteristic, thus explaining why Roy had initially favoured an archaeocete identity for it. In Darren’s opinion, conversely, these undulations were not actually real, but merely an optical illusion, a distortion artifact caused by the pixellation present in the film footage. Significantly, moreover, during the late 1990s Roy changed his mind concerning what he considered the taxonomic identity of the migo to be – from an archaeocete to a crocodile. But why exactly hadhe changed his mind? And did this mean that he now agreed with Darren’s thoughts?

A very recent reconstruction of the basilosaurid archaeocete Basilosaurus (© Markus Bühler)

The simple answer to both of those latter questions lies in a fact that has been almost entirely overlooked in the cryptozoological literature, until now – namely, that Roy did not participate in only one expedition seeking the migo. In fact, he took part in two – the second migo expedition taking place just a few months after the first one, yet receiving little or no international coverage. Nevertheless, during this second expedition some noteworthy observations were made, and this time at close range. Furthermore, some additional film footage of the migo was obtained, again at close range this time, which Roy was able to view but has never been publicly released as far as I am aware.

In other words, Roy was the only cryptozoologist to have viewed both the much clearer original (as opposed to inferior copy-video quality) migo footage included in the documentary of the first expedition and also those various additional segments of footage (some shot at close range) collectively filmed during the two expeditions yet which even today still remain unseen by anyone not associated with the documentary and expeditions. Needless to say, therefore, this gave him a huge advantage over those of us who had only seen one or other of the two very imperfect copy videos of the single segment of migo footage shown in the documentary. Moreover, unlike any of us he had also been able to view the migo directly and at close range in the field.

Saltwater crocodile swimming (© Thinboyfatter/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

During his conversations with me, Roy stated categorically that based upon what he had thus seen in the infinitely superior footage selection exclusively available to him for viewing, plus his own close-range observations in the field, there was no optical illusion present – the creature that was the migo was definitely undulating vertically. Or, to be precise, the creatures.

For although he now shared Darren’s view that the migo was crocodilian in identity, Roy informed me that at least one of the extremely lengthy (and therefore hitherto very puzzling) examples of this mystery creature captured on film was not a single crocodile specimen. Instead, it was actually three separate crocodile specimens in very close, vigorous contact with each other – two seeking to mate and a third one intimately associating with them, thereby yielding a composite mega-beast. Furthermore, the energetic body-twisting activity featuring in such behaviour explained the hitherto-perplexing vertical undulations seen in the segments of film footage.

Prof. Roy P. Mackal (public domain)

But don’t take my word for it – happily, I am able to present here Roy’s very own publicly-revealed words on this contentious cryptozoological subject. In 1998, I prepared and conducted an interview with Roy concerning his fascinating cryptozoological investigations down through the decades. This was then written up by me and forwarded with his permission to a British partwork magazine entitled The X Factor, which was devoted to mysteries (including cryptozoological ones) and the unexplained (and was no relation, incidentally, to the later TV pop star talent show of the same title!). Although it accepted the interview for future publication, The X Factor sadly came to the end of its run before it was able to do so. As I have retained the original transcript, however, I have since published the interview myself on ShukerNature (click hereto access it). Below is the relevant section from it concerning the migo:

Q3: Since first spying it in 1994, your opinion has changed concerning the likely identity of the migo, the monster of Lake Dakataua in New Britain. Why is this, and what do you now believe the migo to be?

 

A3: Our original video recordings of the migo clearly established that there were animals, or animal, at least 50 ft or about 14 m in overall length present in the lake from time to time. Lake Dakataua is a freshwater lake, completely isolated from the sea by only 400-500 ft. It is freshwater without any fish in it, due primarily to the salts spewed out by the active volcano at its edge. Images of the serrated back and the contours of the migo that we obtained on the videos in the Japanese expedition suggested that its zoological identity might involve reptiles, or even primitive whales known as archaeocetes.

 

During the second expedition a few months later, additional video sequences and observations were made at close range, establishing that the 50 ft creature was in fact three specimens of the saltwater or estuarine crocodile Crocodylus porosus – a female in heat being tracked by two males. One of the males was clasping the female’s tail, and the other male was clasping the tail of the first male. Altogether this produced a composite ‘creature’ possessing what had seemed to be a head, neck, and two humps, and measuring in the order of 50 ft or so in total length.

In various of his letters to me concerning the migo, Roy stated that he was planning to write both a scientific paper documenting the migo and an expedition report covering the two migo expeditions and their findings. These publications presumably would include full details of (and possibly even photographic stills from) the additional, hitherto-unreleased segments of film footage, as well as the close-range observations, plus a rigorous explanation of the migo constituting a crocodilian composite ‘creature’. He added that they would be submitted to the International Society of Cryptozoology’s scientific journal Cryptozoology. Tragically, however, not long afterwards the Society folded, with no further volumes of its journal appearing; and as far as I am aware, even if Roy did complete his paper and expedition report they have never been published anywhere. Sadly, Roy passed away in 2013, so except for the precious details presented in this ShukerNature article of mine, it seems very unlikely now that his unique, invaluable knowledge and insights regarding the migo that he obtained during the two Japanese expeditions and the documentary’s preparation will ever be made known.

Saltwater crocodile – key to the migo mystery? (© Bernard Dupont/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

And on that unhappy note, this is where the history of the migo mystery ends, at least for now. There seems no longer any question that the nature of the beast is crocodilian, but as to the precise species involved, the proportion of sightings based upon single crocodile specimens, and the proportion based upon closely-associating multiple specimens, who can say? And how can we explain, as documented in Part 1, the multiple-eyewitness sighting from 1971 of a migo reputedly sporting a covering of short black hair?

Having said that: to my mind, the most logical, parsimonious explanation is that saltwater crocodiles do exist here, especially given how close this lowland lake is to the sea, with sightings of single specimens having been conflated with rarer but much more visually dramatic sightings of collective, energetic crocodile mating behaviour – basically, some conga-contorting crocodiles in heat, linked closely to one another in a line. And it is these latter ‘composite creatures’ that have given rise to mistaken claims of extra-long, slender, vertically-undulating mystery beasts, which have been dubbed the migo. In short, as a creature of cryptozoology the migo probably does not actually exist.

Composite crocodile created by two saltwater crocodiles swimming in a line (© Jim Bendon/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

As for the supposed sighting of a hairy migo, I can only assume that this is based either upon an alga-covered crocodile (Lake Dakataua does contain algae – various species belonging to the genus Chara) or even upon an entirely different, mammalian animal that once again has been erroneously added to the migo mixture. Also, as I noted in Part 1, some New Britain villagers use the term ‘migo’ in relation to monitor lizards, thereby muddying the already murky waters of the migo mystery even further!

Certainly, it would not be the first time that an ostensibly single mystery beast type has proved likely to consist in reality of several taxonomically discrete animal types all mistakenly lumped together by observers and/or investigators. Judging from the vast range of descriptions given by eyewitnesses, the Loch Ness monster, for instance, is far too diverse morphologically to be just a single animal type (i.e. it has probably been ‘created’ by the erroneous lumping together of sightings of otters, big eels and other types of large fish, water birds, and occasional seals, as well as some unusual wave formations and misidentified boats – plus, conceivably, even a genuine cryptozoological creature). Ditto for the great sea serpent, the East African Nandi bear, North America’s modern-day thunderbirds, and Britain’s mystery cats.

A montage of Nessie morphologies, based upon differing eyewitness descriptions (© Richard Svensson)

A quarter of a century has passed since the last cryptozoological quest in search of a solution to the riddle of the migo took place. Perhaps, therefore, it is time now for another one, to determine unequivocally just what does lurk in Lake Dakataua, and to release for full public and scientific scrutiny more than just a single brief, blurry segment of film footage as evidence?

 

I wish to dedicate this article to the late Prof. Roy P. Mackal, whose longstanding friendship, encouragement, and shared interest in cryptozoology will always mean so much to me, including his kindness in writing a magnificent foreword to my 1995 book In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, which was reprinted in its greatly-expanded, fully-updated successor, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors(2016).

My two books investigating the possible existence of prehistoric survivors (© Dr Karl Shuker/Blandford Press/Coachwhip Publications)

 

 

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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MIGO? REVISITING THE MONSTER OF LAKE DAKATAUA. PART 2: A CROCODILIAN CONUNDRUM!

by on Dec.19, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Saltwater crocodile at Australia Z00 (© Sheba/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

The island of New Britain is the largest member of the Bismarck Archipelago, situated east of Papua New Guinea (PNG), the latter country in turn occupying the eastern half of the mini-island continent of New Guinea and owning this archipelago. As documented in Part 1 of this 2-part ShukerNature blog article (click here to access Part 1), New Britain contains several large bodies of freshwater, one of which is named Lake Dakataua.

From the early 1970s to the late 1990s, this lake attracted considerable media attention worldwide due to its alleged aquatic monster, the migo, described by local eyewitnesses as being extremely slender and lengthy (estimated to be up to 50 ft long). During 1994, a Japanese TV production company launched two expeditions to the lake, their crew accompanied on both occasions by renowned Chicago University biologist and cryptozoologist Prof. Roy P. Mackal, in the capacity of their scientific advisor. Roy was also a longstanding correspondent and friend of mine for many years and kept me fully informed of proceedings regarding the migo.

Map of Papua New Guinea. including New Britain (arrowed red) and the location on it of Lake Dakataua (arrowed green) – please click to enlarge for viewing purposes (© NordNordWest/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Moreover, the crew actually succeeded in obtaining some segments of film footage purportedly showing the migo. One of these segments, obtained during the first expedition, duly appeared in a documentary later screened on Japanese TV.

Back then, the two most notable identities that had been offered for the migo both constituted prehistoric survivors – either a surviving wholly aquatic lizard known as a mosasaur (favoured by the documentary makers) or a surviving elongate whale known as an archaeocete (initially favoured by Roy, but see later for his dramatic change of opinion). Yet according to the current fossil record, archaeocetes became extinct around 25 million years ago, and mosasaurs even earlier, around 65 million years ago.

Modern-day life restorations of the mosasaur Tylosaurus (left) and the basilosaurid (aka zeuglodontine) archaeocete Basilosaurus (right) – not to scale (public domain / © Dmitry Bogdanov/Wikipedia – CC BY 3.0 licence)

But what about known modern-day animal species? Are there any that could explain the migo?

In September 1983, Japanese explorer/writer Atsuo Tanaka had stayed in the native village of Blumuri not far from Lake Dakataua, and claimed that many of the villagers did not believe that anyone had seen a monster there, or even that it existed. Moreover, after personally observing some 6-10-ft-long crocodiles in this lake, his own opinion was that any ‘monster’ sightings that may have been made there were of a dugong or a crocodile, perhaps even belonging to an unknown crocodile species, but more probably either the New Guinea crocodile Crocodylus novaeguineae or the larger saltwater (aka Indopacific) crocodile C. porosus. Such a situation if correct would be far from unprecedented.

A saltwater (aka Indopacific) crocodile C. porosus (public domain)

As far back as 1956, Wilfred T. Neill reported in a Herpetologica article that while serving with the US Army Air Forces in the Pacific during World War II he once flew over New Britain and that from the air:

…I observed a number of crocodiles, the largest about eight or nine feet long, around the margins of upland lakes. Circumstances rendered it impossible to spend any time in investigation; but at one point the plane passed so low over a lake that a crocodile was frightened into the water, and I could see it plainly.

Neill then stated that some weeks later he attended a lecture on jungle survival given by an officer who had been forced down into the interior of New Britain. While making his way to safety, this officer had similarly seen crocodiles about its lakes, but claimed that they were shy, fleeing into the water at his approach. So, although no specific lake, including Dakataua itself, was named in these reports, they demonstrate that crocodiles are indeed known from lakes in New Britain. Weill later opined in his article:

…whilst a positive statement is not justified, I feel that the New Britain lake crocodiles probably are not C. porosus; they are much more apt to be either C. n. novaeguineae or an undescribed relative thereof.

New Guinea crocodile Crocodylus novaeguineae (© Wilfried Berns/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

Even so, New Britain certainly falls within the overall geographical range spanned by the known distribution of C. porosus. Also of note is that in a limnological study of Lake Dakataua conducted in 1974 by PNG-based wildlife biologists E.E. Ball and J. Glucksman and published six years later by the scientific journal Freshwater Biology, they stated that crocodiles were indeed present there. Moreover, in a Journal of Tropical Ecologyarticle from February 1987, presenting an inventory and limnological review of PNG’s freshwater lakes, M.R. Chambers reported that both of the two known species of crocodile mentioned by Neill in his 1956 account can be found in PNG’s lowland lakes (of which Dakataua is one).

Further to Neill’s comment about a possible undescribed species, it is worth noting that as recently as July 2020, an extensive study of mainland New Guinea’s southern population of C. novaeguineae, geographically isolated from its northern population by this huge island’s central ridge of highland mountains, revealed its members to be so genetically, morphologically, and behaviourally discrete from the those of the northern one that the southern population clearly constituted a valid species in its own right. So in a paper documenting this study, published by the journal Copeia, it has been formally named C. halli, Hall’s crocodile. This name honours University of Florida zoologist Dr Philip Hall, who had speculated back in the 1980s that these two populations may constitute entirely separate species, but sadly passed away before any formal scientific study to evaluate his suggestion was conducted.

Dr Bernard Heuvelmans (Wikipedia – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Also of note, it was Neill’s Herpetologicaarticle that veteran Belgian cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans cited as his reference source when including the migo in his famous annotated checklist of apparently unknown animals with which cryptozoology is concerned, published in 1986 by the now-defunct International Society of Cryptozoology’s well-respected peer-reviewed scientific journal Cryptozoology. In his checklist, Heuvelmans suggested that the migo may be:

An unknown species of crocodile (or is it, as has been suggested, a surviving mosasaur?) known as migo, in Lake Dakataua, on the island of New Britain, in the Bismarck Archipelago (Neill 1956).

Bearing in mind, however, that Neill’s article makes no suggestion whatsoever of a mosasaur, unequivocally referring to the New Britain lake creatures under consideration by him as crocodiles, from where did Heuvelmans obtain his mosasaur information? Apparently he was aware of a Japanese newspaper report from February 1972 referred to by me in Part 1 of this present ShukerNature article, in which Shohei Shirai, then head of the Pacific Ocean Resources Research Institute, had aired his view that the migo may be an undiscovered modern-day species of mosasaur.

No longer palaeontologically-accurate but still aesthetically-exquisite, a vintage illustration of a mosasaur and two ichthyosaurs by Heinrich Harder (public domain)

In addition to Prof. Roy Mackal and myself, another Western scientist with a longstanding interest in cryptozoological creatures who became intrigued with the mystery of the migo was British palaeontologist Dr Darren Naish, who in the mid-1990s was fortunate enough to view the better-quality (albeit still very pixellated) 1st-generation copy video (of the two copy videos available in Britain back then) of the original Japanese documentary. (Unfortunately, conversely, as fully described in Part 1, I was only able to view the other, notably inferior and incomplete 2nd-generation copy video, so my efforts at making sense of what I was looking at were greatly hampered.)

In a couple of articles published during the mid/late 1990s (TCR, autumn 1996; CFZ 1997 Yearbook, 1997), followed up a decade later by a short recap article posted on his Tetrapod Zoology internet blog on 26 October 2008, Darren painstakingly analysed frame by frame, feature by feature, what could be discerned in the 1st-generation copy video’s migo footage, and he concluded that the creature in this footage was surely a crocodile, specifically a saltwater crocodile C. porosus. However, there are ostensibly two major problems with this identity, as Darren acknowledged.

Saltwater crocodile foraging in surf (© R Brown et al.-ZooKeys/Wikipedia – CC BY 3.0 licence)

Firstly: the creature’s huge size as claimed for it by Roy, who had initially stated that it was 33 ft long but later upsized his estimate to 50 ft. For even though C. porosus is the largest living species of crocodile, it rarely exceeds 20 ft long. Consequently, in his analysis of the migo footage as seen by him in the 1st-generation copy video, Darren queried whether even Roy’s lower size estimate of 33 ft was accurate, and used the presence of birds flying in front of and behind the creature in an attempt to introduce scale into the migo segment, which in turn indicated a smaller size for the creature.

However, he also emphasized the poor quality of even this superior of the two available copy videos, noting how pixellated, jerky, out-of-focus, and amalgamated with the water surface the creature appeared. In my opinion, this negates any perceived scale-related significance of the birds, because they too are insufficiently clear.

Darren and I engaged in deep, meaningful cryptozoological conversation at the CFZ’s Weird Weekend 2007 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Moreover, in his 1997 article Darren also stated: “If, however, Mackal’s observations are the result of sightings in the field, rather than later viewing of the video footage, they are harder to dismiss”. During his communications with me, Roy revealed that his estimates were based both upon his analysis of the original migo footage (as opposed to inferior copy videos of it) and upon binocular-assisted migo observations made directly in the field (see also later).

Secondly: the series of vertical undulations seemingly performed by the creature, which is a mammalian not a reptilian characteristic, thus explaining why Roy had initially favoured an archaeocete identity for it. In Darren’s opinion, conversely, these undulations were not actually real, but merely an optical illusion, a distortion artifact caused by the pixellation present in the film footage. Significantly, moreover, during the late 1990s Roy changed his mind concerning what he considered the taxonomic identity of the migo to be – from an archaeocete to a crocodile. But why exactly hadhe changed his mind? And did this mean that he now agreed with Darren’s thoughts?

A very recent reconstruction of the basilosaurid archaeocete Basilosaurus (© Markus Bühler)

The simple answer to both of those latter questions lies in a fact that has been almost entirely overlooked in the cryptozoological literature, until now – namely, that Roy did not participate in only one expedition seeking the migo. In fact, he took part in two – the second migo expedition taking place just a few months after the first one, yet receiving little or no international coverage. Nevertheless, during this second expedition some noteworthy observations were made, and this time at close range. Furthermore, some additional film footage of the migo was obtained, again at close range this time, which Roy was able to view but has never been publicly released as far as I am aware.

In other words, Roy was the only cryptozoologist to have viewed both the much clearer original (as opposed to inferior copy-video quality) migo footage included in the documentary of the first expedition and also those various additional segments of footage (some shot at close range) collectively filmed during the two expeditions yet which even today still remain unseen by anyone not associated with the documentary and expeditions. Needless to say, therefore, this gave him a huge advantage over those of us who had only seen one or other of the two very imperfect copy videos of the single segment of migo footage shown in the documentary. Moreover, unlike any of us he had also been able to view the migo directly and at close range in the field.

Saltwater crocodile swimming (© Thinboyfatter/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

During his conversations with me, Roy stated categorically that based upon what he had thus seen in the infinitely superior footage selection exclusively available to him for viewing, plus his own close-range observations in the field, there was no optical illusion present – the creature that was the migo was definitely undulating vertically. Or, to be precise, the creatures.

For although he now shared Darren’s view that the migo was crocodilian in identity, Roy informed me that at least one of the extremely lengthy (and therefore hitherto very puzzling) examples of this mystery creature captured on film was not a single crocodile specimen. Instead, it was actually three separate crocodile specimens in very close, vigorous contact with each other – two seeking to mate and a third one intimately associating with them, thereby yielding a composite mega-beast. Furthermore, the energetic body-twisting activity featuring in such behaviour explained the hitherto-perplexing vertical undulations seen in the segments of film footage.

Prof. Roy P. Mackal (public domain)

But don’t take my word for it – happily, I am able to present here Roy’s very own publicly-revealed words on this contentious cryptozoological subject. In 1998, I prepared and conducted an interview with Roy concerning his fascinating cryptozoological investigations down through the decades. This was then written up by me and forwarded with his permission to a British partwork magazine entitled The X Factor, which was devoted to mysteries (including cryptozoological ones) and the unexplained (and was no relation, incidentally, to the later TV pop star talent show of the same title!). Although it accepted the interview for future publication, The X Factor sadly came to the end of its run before it was able to do so. As I have retained the original transcript, however, I have since published the interview myself on ShukerNature (click hereto access it). Below is the relevant section from it concerning the migo:

Q3: Since first spying it in 1994, your opinion has changed concerning the likely identity of the migo, the monster of Lake Dakataua in New Britain. Why is this, and what do you now believe the migo to be?

 

A3: Our original video recordings of the migo clearly established that there were animals, or animal, at least 50 ft or about 14 m in overall length present in the lake from time to time. Lake Dakataua is a freshwater lake, completely isolated from the sea by only 400-500 ft. It is freshwater without any fish in it, due primarily to the salts spewed out by the active volcano at its edge. Images of the serrated back and the contours of the migo that we obtained on the videos in the Japanese expedition suggested that its zoological identity might involve reptiles, or even primitive whales known as archaeocetes.

 

During the second expedition a few months later, additional video sequences and observations were made at close range, establishing that the 50 ft creature was in fact three specimens of the saltwater or estuarine crocodile Crocodylus porosus – a female in heat being tracked by two males. One of the males was clasping the female’s tail, and the other male was clasping the tail of the first male. Altogether this produced a composite ‘creature’ possessing what had seemed to be a head, neck, and two humps, and measuring in the order of 50 ft or so in total length.

In various of his letters to me concerning the migo, Roy stated that he was planning to write both a scientific paper documenting the migo and an expedition report covering the two migo expeditions and their findings. These publications presumably would include full details of (and possibly even photographic stills from) the additional, hitherto-unreleased segments of film footage, as well as the close-range observations, plus a rigorous explanation of the migo constituting a crocodilian composite ‘creature’. He added that they would be submitted to the International Society of Cryptozoology’s scientific journal Cryptozoology. Tragically, however, not long afterwards the Society folded, with no further volumes of its journal appearing; and as far as I am aware, even if Roy did complete his paper and expedition report they have never been published anywhere. Sadly, Roy passed away in 2013, so except for the precious details presented in this ShukerNature article of mine, it seems very unlikely now that his unique, invaluable knowledge and insights regarding the migo that he obtained during the two Japanese expeditions and the documentary’s preparation will ever be made known.

Saltwater crocodile – key to the migo mystery? (© Bernard Dupont/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

And on that unhappy note, this is where the history of the migo mystery ends, at least for now. There seems no longer any question that the nature of the beast is crocodilian, but as to the precise species involved, the proportion of sightings based upon single crocodile specimens, and the proportion based upon closely-associating multiple specimens, who can say? And how can we explain, as documented in Part 1, the multiple-eyewitness sighting from 1971 of a migo reputedly sporting a covering of short black hair?

Having said that: to my mind, the most logical, parsimonious explanation is that saltwater crocodiles do exist here, especially given how close this lowland lake is to the sea, with sightings of single specimens having been conflated with rarer but much more visually dramatic sightings of collective, energetic crocodile mating behaviour – basically, some conga-contorting crocodiles in heat, linked closely to one another in a line. And it is these latter ‘composite creatures’ that have given rise to mistaken claims of extra-long, slender, vertically-undulating mystery beasts, which have been dubbed the migo. In short, as a creature of cryptozoology the migo probably does not actually exist.

Composite crocodile created by two saltwater crocodiles swimming in a line (© Jim Bendon/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

As for the supposed sighting of a hairy migo, I can only assume that this is based either upon an alga-covered crocodile (Lake Dakataua does contain algae – various species belonging to the genus Chara) or even upon an entirely different, mammalian animal that once again has been erroneously added to the migo mixture. Also, as I noted in Part 1, some New Britain villagers use the term ‘migo’ in relation to monitor lizards, thereby muddying the already murky waters of the migo mystery even further!

Certainly, it would not be the first time that an ostensibly single mystery beast type has proved likely to consist in reality of several taxonomically discrete animal types all mistakenly lumped together by observers and/or investigators. Judging from the vast range of descriptions given by eyewitnesses, the Loch Ness monster, for instance, is far too diverse morphologically to be just a single animal type (i.e. it has probably been ‘created’ by the erroneous lumping together of sightings of otters, big eels and other types of large fish, water birds, and occasional seals, as well as some unusual wave formations and misidentified boats – plus, conceivably, even a genuine cryptozoological creature). Ditto for the great sea serpent, the East African Nandi bear, North America’s modern-day thunderbirds, and Britain’s mystery cats.

A montage of Nessie morphologies, based upon differing eyewitness descriptions (© Richard Svensson)

A quarter of a century has passed since the last cryptozoological quest in search of a solution to the riddle of the migo took place. Perhaps, therefore, it is time now for another one, to determine unequivocally just what does lurk in Lake Dakataua, and to release for full public and scientific scrutiny more than just a single brief, blurry segment of film footage as evidence?

 

I wish to dedicate this article to the late Prof. Roy P. Mackal, whose longstanding friendship, encouragement, and shared interest in cryptozoology will always mean so much to me, including his kindness in writing a magnificent foreword to my 1995 book In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors, which was reprinted in its greatly-expanded, fully-updated successor, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors(2016).

My two books investigating the possible existence of prehistoric survivors (© Dr Karl Shuker/Blandford Press/Coachwhip Publications)

 

 

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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MIGO? REVISITING THE MONSTER OF LAKE DAKATAUA. Part 1: IN SEARCH OF PREHISTORIC SURVIVORS?

by on Dec.17, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Model of the zeuglodontine archaeocete Basilosaurus (© Markus Bühler)

For a short time during the mid-1990s, a mysterious freshwater beast said to inhabit a lowland lake on the island of New Britain, east of New Guinea, was making waves in both the literal and the literary sense. Known mostly as the migo (but see later for a multitude of other monikers), it hit media headlines worldwide, featuring in numerous reports and articles globally, due to some very intriguing film footage that had lately been obtained by two Japanese expeditions, which was claimed to show this mystifying, unidentified creature swimming in Lake Dakataua.

But then, just as suddenly as it had raised its hitherto cryptic head above the water surface, the migo abruptly vanished from the news, never to be heard of again, except for a very occasional mention here and there in cryptozoological circles.

Map of Papua New Guinea. including the island of New Britain (arrowed) (© NordNordWest/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Consequently, it is high time, surely, to resurrect this long-forgotten mystery beast, reviewing its very convoluted, controversial history in the present two-part ShukerNature article. Indeed, as far as I am aware, this article constitutes the most extensive coverage of the migo published since the 1990s.

The migo first attracted notable attention beyond its island homeland on 1 February 1972, when a Japanese newspaper entitled the Mainichi Daily News reported a strange water monster known locally by this name, which supposedly inhabited Lake Dakataua (aka Lake Niugini in some reports), a caldera lake in the western portion of New Britain. At approximately 320 miles long, New Britain is the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago, situated off the northeastern coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG), which is the country occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, and to whom the Bismarck Archipelago belongs. The lake has a diameter of 1400 ft, has a maximum depth of roughly 400 ft, and contains a submerged volcano plus three small islands.

Map of New Britain, with Lake Dakataua arrowed (© Kelisi/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

According to Shohei Shirai, at that time the head of the Pacific Ocean Resources Research Institute, who was quoted in that newspaper report, the migo was similar in appearance to a mosasaur. This is the name given to a taxonomic superfamily of sometimes very large prehistoric lizards (the biggest species was up to 56 ft long) that were closely related to today’s monitor lizards or varanids. However, they were exclusively aquatic in lifestyle, equipped with flippers and a laterally-compressed tail, the latter being portrayed with a fin in some restorations. Other than Mosasaurusitself, the most famous and frequently depicted mosasaur was North America’s very impressive Tylosaurus, whose largest species is believed to have attained a total length of up to 46 ft.

Although mosasaurs are traditionally assumed to have been wholly marine in lifestyle, one exclusively freshwater species is now known – Pannoniasaurus inexpectatus, which was formally named and described in 2012 from fossilized remains found in what is today Hungary. According to the current fossil record, the mosasaurs had all become extinct by the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 66-65 million years ago, along with the last dinosaurs, plesiosaurs, and pterosaurs.

Modern-day reconstruction of the North American mosasaur Tylosaurus (public domain)

In January 1994 (not 1993, as sometimes erroneously claimed online), after arriving in PNG during the rainy season a crew from a Japanese TV production company named the Stream Company, and headed by Nadaka Tetsuo, journeyed on to New Britain and thence to Lake Dakataua in the hope of encountering the migo. Moreover, after setting up cameras around this lake, they actually succeeded in filming what they deemed to be its enigmatic denizen, which was duly included in a TV documentary programme subsequently screened on Japanese TV. Yet with the internet still in its infancy back then, so that sharing film footage, TV shows, etc, online was by no means a common occurrence, and with no excerpts from it shown on UK TV at that time either, it didn’t seem likely that I’d manage to view this programme.

Happily, however, fellow cryptozoologist Jon Downes of the CFZ had recently received a 1st-generation copy video of it from a Japanese correspondent, Tokuharu Takabayashi, and kindly prepared from it a 2nd-generation copy video that he then sent to me for my own personal viewing. Below is an abridged version of the lengthy descriptive account that I wrote after viewing the documentary.

Might the migo be a living mosasaur? (© Dr Karl Shuker)

After arriving at Lake Dakataua, the Japanese TV crew met the chief of a village near to the lake, and on the third day of their visit they interviewed some local eyewitnesses, sailed on the lake, and obtained footage of what they claimed to be the migo. They also attempted vainly to lure the migo using dead chickens, and lowered a cage and sound-recording equipment into the water, In addition, they sent divers into the lake and nearby sea, as it was suggested that the horseshoe-shaped Dakataua might be connected to the nearby sea via underwater channels.

Comments were exchanged on-screen with Prof. Roy P. Mackal, an eminent Chicago University biologist with a longstanding interest in cryptozoology, who had accompanied the TV crew to Lake Dakataua and had served as the documentary’s scientific advisor. Roy had previously led various expeditions of his own in search of aquatic mystery beasts around the world, and he regularly corresponded with me via letters and telephone calls concerning a wide range of cryptozoological subjects.

Prof. Roy P. Mackal (© Prof. Roy P. Mackal)

Roy mentioned to me in one such letter that although he had advised against doing so, Shirai’s mooted mosasaur identity was promoted throughout the documentary by its makers. However, their cause was not assisted by a woefully inadequate computer-animated model with an inflexible body.

Excluding some footage of a blurred hump, what initially appeared to be the actual migo footage obtained by the Japanese TV crew consisted of two sections. The longer of these, lasting approximately 5 minutes and shot at a distance of about 1200 yards according to Roy, showed what Roy referred to in the documentary as three different body portions of a very long, large animal, travelling through the water from right to left across the screen. There was an indistinct head, staying out of the water throughout the footage, Behind this was a smaller portion that could have been a neck. Further back, maintaining a constant distance from the ‘neck’, was a large flattened hump that seemed to be propelling the ‘head’ and ‘neck’. Every few moments, the hump submerged, then swiftly bobbed back up, seeming to show that the creature was propelling itself via vertical undulations – a mode of progression normally exhibited by mammals, not by reptiles or fishes. There were some close-ups, which seemed to show that the dorsal surface of the hump was serrated, but this may have been an optical illusion.

Sketch of a frame from the above-described documentary footage showing a migo (© Lisa Peach/CFZ)

Earlier in the documentary, there were a few seconds of footage that on first sight seemed much more impressive. When I forwarded it frame by frame, it revealed what appeared to be a section of the body rapidly emerging from the water in a vertical upsurge and bearing two slender projections resembling dorsal fins or spines, before submerging again – followed immediately by the vertical emergence of what may have been a tail, bearing two horizontal, whale-like flukes. Unfortunately, however, and as confessed very sincerely and apologetically by Jon himself, due to what he subsequently referred to as the extremely primitive nature of the only video-copying equipment that he had been able to access at that time the quality of the 2nd-generation copy video of the documentary that I had received from him was extremely poor (“somewhat akin in quality to one of the ‘bootleg’ copies of Disney movies which one can purchase at car boot sales” is how he subsequently described it). Jon also stated: “It appears that my equipment even managed to miss out bits of the documentary”.

Due to this lack of visual clarity and continuity, I had not realized that those above-noted few seconds of footage earlier in the documentary had apparently been filmed by the TV crew not at Lake Dakataua, but instead at sea while approaching New Britain in a boat, and actually showed some dolphins partially surfacing near to the boat. Happily, this was readily discernible in the better-quality 1st-generation copy video that Jon had received from Japan and I was swiftly informed accordingly, thereby saving me from wasting much time contemplating this particular section of footage.

Scan of the very first migo-related letter received by me from Prof. Roy P. Mackal, dated 16 February 1994, in which he documented his initial thoughts concerning the migo (aka migaua) following his recent return home to the USA from the Japanese expedition to Lake Dakataua in January 1994 – please click pages to enlarge for reading purposes (© Dr Karl Shuker/Prof. Roy P. Mackal)

Following his return in mid-February 1994 to the USA from New Britain, Roy corresponded with me in depth concerning the migo, via a series of letters beginning with one dated 16 February 1994 (and reproduced in full above for the very first time anywhere) that I have retained on file (and in which he always referred to it as it the migaua) as well as via a number of telephone conversations. He stated that it was about 33 ft long (an estimate that he subsequently revised upward to 50 ft – see later) and travelled at a speed of 4 knots.

Initially ruling out a crocodile or a fish identity, being influenced by its apparent locomotion via vertical undulations, he postulated that it was an evolved, surviving archaeocete. In other words, Roy was suggesting that the migo may be a member of a primitive taxonomic group of cetaceans (whales), the archaeocetes, but one that had not become extinct at least 25 million years ago as indicated by the current fossil record for these creatures, but had instead survived to the present day and in so doing had therefore undergone 25 million years or more of continued evolution, which may conceivably have rendered their bodies more flexible than those of their fossil antecedents.

Modern-day life restoration of Basilosaurus cetoides (© Dmitry Bogdanov/Wikipedia – CC BY 3.0 licence)

Archaeocetes include the very elongate zeuglodontines, such as the famously huge Basilosaurus, which officially died out just under 40 million years ago. One species, B. cetoides, is believed to have reached a total length of almost 70 ft. Zeuglodontines may have been able to undulate vertically, although the current palaeontological consensus is that those known from the fossil record were far less capable of such movements than had traditionally been believed and depicted in early illustrations.

Judging from their dentition, zeuglodontines were carnivorous (as opposed to planktonivorous, like certain very large present-day cetaceans). However, during an limnological investigation of Lake Dakataua during October-November 1974 (whose findings were published in February 1980 by the scientific journal Freshwater Biology), PNG-based wildlife biologists E.E. Ball and J. Glucksman discovered that its waters were very alkaline, and that although it contained an abundance of invertebrates in its upper levels, as well as amphibians, it did not contain any fishes. So if, in view of its seemingly elongated body, the migo is indeed a zeuglodontine archaeocete, what does it feed upon?

Another restoration of Basilosaurus (© Tim Morris)

As Roy disclosed, the answer is simple: namely, the abundance of waterfowl that settle upon the lake’s surface, their presence there also having been confirmed by Ball and Glucksman in their 1974 study. The need to remain near the surface in order to seize these birds presumably explains why the migo is seen more often (and filmed more easily!) than other supposed lake monsters, which seemingly feed predominantly upon fishes and therefore do not break the water surface so frequently.

According to the afore-mentioned Tokuharu Takabayashi, Lake Dakataua was visited in October 1978 by Japanese cryptozoologist Toshikazu Saitoh, who learned from natives in the nearby village of Blumuri that the lake monster was known to them variously as the massali, masalai, and mussali (all three names translating as ‘spirits’). It was first seen during the summer of 1971 by five eyewitnesses, who said that it was about 30 ft long, and had a relatively small head with long pointed jaws, like a crocodile’s, containing many sharp teeth; plus a long neck, a burly but streamlined body, a slender crocodilian tail, and two pairs of flippers (the front pair noticeably larger than the hind pair) that resembled those of a marine turtle.

Hairy migo (aka mussali or massali) based upon 5 eyewitness accounts, 1971 (© Toshikazu Saitoh/CFZ – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

The image conjured forth when all of these morphological features are combined actually recalls a mosasaur, as favoured by the Japanese team, rather than the zeuglodontine identity favoured by Roy, especially as zeuglodontines possessed only vestigial, scarcely-visible external hind limbs, their tail was not crocodilian, and their neck was not long. However, there is one further migo feature still to be mentioned here, which throws all attempts at identifying this mystery beast into total confusion. According to the five eyewitnesses from summer 1971 noted above, the creature that they saw was covered in short black hair!

Mosasaurs were true lizards and were covered in scales, as verified by several well-preserved fossil specimens. Even allowing for the effects of continued evolution, it is exceedingly unlikely that a modern-day mosasaur lineage would have evolved a hairy pelage. The same applies to a contemporary zeuglodontine, whose streamlined body’s hydrodynamic efficiency would surely be impeded by a covering of hair.

As shown here, mosasaurs were scaly, not hairy (© Markus Bühler)

Returning to the migo’s variety of local names, the usage of ‘massali’ and similar terms in preference to ‘migo’ by the Blumuri villagers could be dismissed as mere differences in dialect, were it not for the comments of yet another Japanese visitor to Lake Dakataua – namely, the explorer/writer Atsuo Tanaka, who stayed at Blumuri in September 1983. Confirming to Tokuharu Takabayashi that the villagers’ names for the lake’s monster were ‘massali’ and also ‘rui’, he asserted that ‘migo’ was actually the native name for a 3-ft-long species of monitor lizard! He also claimed that many of the villagers did not believe that anyone had seen a monster here, or even that it existed.

After personally observing some 6-10-ft-long crocodiles in Lake Dakataua, Atsuo Tanaka’s own opinion was that any ‘monster’ sightings that may have been made there were of a dugong or a crocodile (perhaps even an unknown species of the latter reptile, but more probably either the New Guinea crocodile Crocodylus novaeguineae or the larger saltwater aka Indopacific crocodile C. porosus).

New Guinea crocodile Crocodylus novaeguineae (© Wilfried Berns/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

Incidentally, a third identity proffered for the migo that just like a surviving mosasaur or a living archaeocete invoked a prehistoric survivor but which attracted far less public attention was inspired by a giant Mesozoic crocodilian related to today’s alligators. Formerly called Phobosuchusbut nowadays known as Deinosuchus, it is currently represented by four fossil species, and an undiscovered modern-day descendant of this formidable reptile was suggested in relation to the migo by mystery investigators Edward Young and Ronald Rosenblatt in a short Fortean Times magazine article (December 1994/October 1995) reviewing cryptozoological creatures reported from, and recent mainstream zoological discoveries made in, New Guinea and its outlying islands.

Known from the fossil record to have existed 82-73 million years ago during the Upper Cretaceous, Deinosuchus is believed to have attained a truly monstrous total length of up to 40 ft (i.e. twice that of today’s largest known crocodilians). Consequently, in terms of size it may indeed match or come close to the lengths attributed to the migo.

Life restoration of Deinosuchus rugosus, known from fossils found in North Carolina (© Andrey Atuchin/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Yet as with the mosasaur and, to a lesser extent, the archaeocete identities, the likelihood is not great that a modern-day Deinosuchuslineage exists not only undescribed by science but also unrepresented by any fossilized remains that even partially bridge the gap of many millions of years between itself and its most recent confirmed prehistoric precursors. In addition, Deinosuchus fossils are presently known only from North America, not from New Guinea or indeed anywhere else in the world.

Returning to Tanaka’s opinion that the migo sightings at Lake Dakataua may feature some form of recognised modern-day crocodile, such a situation if correct would be far from unprecedented – as will be revealed in Part 2 of this ShukerNature article, coming soon, in which I shall explore in depth the fascinating crocodilian conundrum at the very heart of this truly monstrous mystery. Don’t miss it!

Life restoration of Deinosuchus riograndensis, known from fossils found in Texas (© Sphenaphinae/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

 

 

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SNAKES ALIVE! ARE THERE SERPENTS IN NEW ZEALAND?

by on Dec.16, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

An Australian pygmy copperhead Austrelaps labialis– but do non-native specimens of Austrelaps species also thrive in the wilds of New Zealand? (© Person/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

I’m always on the lookout for reports of cryptids that have rarely received mainstream cryptozoological attention. Consequently, the following case is of particular interest to me – not just for this latter reason, however, but also because of the grave, far-reaching ecological threat that it poses to rare endemic fauna, should this out-of-place ophidian example truly exist.

The dual-island country of New Zealand is one of the very few snake-free places on Earth – officially. Recently, however, I was startled to learn that in reality there have been a fair few reports of snakes existing in several widely separate locations on both North Island and South Island. In a fascinating article for The Spinoff, investigator Charlie O’Mannin, who has sought these unofficial ophidians in both the literature and the field, carefully reviewed this fascinating if hitherto-obscure herpetological subject (click hereto access his article).

Perhaps the most persistent example concerns claims that various old West Coast gold mines contain thriving, perpetuating populations of Australian copperheads. These venomous elapid snakes belong to the genus Austrelaps, and there are three species. Namely, the pygmy copperhead A. labialis (native to South Australia), the highland or Ramsay’s copperhead A. ramsayi (New South Wales and Victoria), and the lowland copperhead or superb snake A. superbus (New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia).

The highland or Ramsay’s copperhead (© Will Brown/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

Unrelated to their New World namesake the American copperhead Agkistrodon contortrix, which is a species of viper, not an elapid, Australian copperheads are medium-sized, averaging around 3.5 ft long, rarely exceeding 6 ft. They are active in cooler climates (as occur in New Zealand), and very diverse in colour, ranging from black through a variety of browns and reds to yellowish, depending upon the individual, but as a result of only being moderately-sized and quite shy, they can be quite elusive even in their native Australian homeland. They earn their common name from their head’s predominant (but not always present) copper shade.

In 2014, after interviewing several veteran gold prospectors who vehemently claimed that such stories of copperheads in mines here were true, a journalist duly contacted New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), who promptly conducted a thorough search. This was because the putative presence of snakes was deemed to be a biohazard, on account of the risk that these ostensibly non-native reptiles posed to the indigenous NZ fauna. No snakes were found, but the matter was considered serious enough to warrant the commissioning of a professional herpetologist to prepare a formal report, which included the exact GPS coordinates where according to one prospector in 1990 a copperhead had actually wound itself round his arm before vanishing when shaken off.

O’Mannin obtained a copy of this report and visited the precise location, but no serpent showed itself to him. In his own article, he also includes details of much earlier reported snakes, of which the most intriguing is a metre-long (approx. 3 ft) individual encountered in 1875 by loggers working within the Ureweras range, which is one of the most remote regions in the whole of North Island. They swiftly killed it, but how can this specimen’s existence there be explained?

Lowland copperhead (© Ed Dunens/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

Although New Zealand has been isolated from all other land masses for many millions of years, it is home to various native species of lizard and frog, so is it totally beyond the realms of possibility that snakes do exist here too? If so, the chances are that they are nothing more special, zoologically speaking, than escapee/released non-native pets, or even specimens that have stowed away on foreign ships or in imported produce.

Also, some snakes are good swimmers, including, tellingly, the Australian copperheads, so perhaps via a combination of swimming and rafting on floating vegetation, some specimens have made their own way here from southern mainland Australia and/or Tasmania? Indeed, Australian copperheads spend much time in the water, where they hunt and feed primarily upon tadpoles, and frogs. Such invasive forms would therefore pose a particular threat to New Zealand’s quartet of unique, mostly rare species of famously archaic, ‘living fossil’ leiopelmatid frogs if their presence here were to be officially verified.

Least likely, but not impossible, as New Zealand’s existing native herpetofauna demonstrates, is that at least one highly-elusive endemic snake species may exist here, still awaiting formal scientific discovery. This is a very tantalising prospect, and one that I intend to pay close attention to in the future – so watch this space!

Archey’s frog Leiopelma archeyi, a critically-endangered species belonging to an entire taxonomic family of archaic frogs, Leiopelmatidae, endemic to New Zealand, but greatly threatened if invasive Australian copperheads, whose preferred prey are frogs and their tadpoles, do exist here (© David M. Green/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.5 licence)

 

 

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SNAKES ALIVE! ARE THERE SERPENTS IN NEW ZEALAND?

by on Dec.16, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

An Australian pygmy copperhead Austrelaps labialis– but do non-native specimens of Austrelaps species also thrive in the wilds of New Zealand? (© Person/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

I’m always on the lookout for reports of cryptids that have rarely received mainstream cryptozoological attention. Consequently, the following case is of particular interest to me – not just for this latter reason, however, but also because of the grave, far-reaching ecological threat that it poses to rare endemic fauna, should this out-of-place ophidian example truly exist.

The dual-island country of New Zealand is one of the very few snake-free places on Earth – officially. Recently, however, I was startled to learn that in reality there have been a fair few reports of snakes existing in several widely separate locations on both North Island and South Island. In a fascinating article for The Spinoff, investigator Charlie O’Mannin, who has sought these unofficial ophidians in both the literature and the field, carefully reviewed this fascinating if hitherto-obscure herpetological subject (click hereto access his article).

Perhaps the most persistent example concerns claims that various old West Coast gold mines contain thriving, perpetuating populations of Australian copperheads. These venomous elapid snakes belong to the genus Austrelaps, and there are three species. Namely, the pygmy copperhead A. labialis (native to South Australia), the highland or Ramsay’s copperhead A. ramsayi (New South Wales and Victoria), and the lowland copperhead or superb snake A. superbus (New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia).

The highland or Ramsay’s copperhead (© Will Brown/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

Unrelated to their New World namesake the American copperhead Agkistrodon contortrix, which is a species of viper, not an elapid, Australian copperheads are medium-sized, averaging around 3.5 ft long, rarely exceeding 6 ft. They are active in cooler climates (as occur in New Zealand), and very diverse in colour, ranging from black through a variety of browns and reds to yellowish, depending upon the individual, but as a result of only being moderately-sized and quite shy, they can be quite elusive even in their native Australian homeland. They earn their common name from their head’s predominant (but not always present) copper shade.

In 2014, after interviewing several veteran gold prospectors who vehemently claimed that such stories of copperheads in mines here were true, a journalist duly contacted New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), who promptly conducted a thorough search. This was because the putative presence of snakes was deemed to be a biohazard, on account of the risk that these ostensibly non-native reptiles posed to the indigenous NZ fauna. No snakes were found, but the matter was considered serious enough to warrant the commissioning of a professional herpetologist to prepare a formal report, which included the exact GPS coordinates where according to one prospector in 1990 a copperhead had actually wound itself round his arm before vanishing when shaken off.

O’Mannin obtained a copy of this report and visited the precise location, but no serpent showed itself to him. In his own article, he also includes details of much earlier reported snakes, of which the most intriguing is a metre-long (approx. 3 ft) individual encountered in 1875 by loggers working within the Ureweras range, which is one of the most remote regions in the whole of North Island. They swiftly killed it, but how can this specimen’s existence there be explained?

Lowland copperhead (© Ed Dunens/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

Although New Zealand has been isolated from all other land masses for many millions of years, it is home to various native species of lizard and frog, so is it totally beyond the realms of possibility that snakes do exist here too? If so, the chances are that they are nothing more special, zoologically speaking, than escapee/released non-native pets, or even specimens that have stowed away on foreign ships or in imported produce.

Also, some snakes are good swimmers, including, tellingly, the Australian copperheads, so perhaps via a combination of swimming and rafting on floating vegetation, some specimens have made their own way here from southern mainland Australia and/or Tasmania? Indeed, Australian copperheads spend much time in the water, where they hunt and feed primarily upon tadpoles, and frogs. Such invasive forms would therefore pose a particular threat to New Zealand’s quartet of unique, mostly rare species of famously archaic, ‘living fossil’ leiopelmatid frogs if their presence here were to be officially verified.

Least likely, but not impossible, as New Zealand’s existing native herpetofauna demonstrates, is that at least one highly-elusive endemic snake species may exist here, still awaiting formal scientific discovery. This is a very tantalising prospect, and one that I intend to pay close attention to in the future – so watch this space!

Archey’s frog Leiopelma archeyi, a critically-endangered species belonging to an entire taxonomic family of archaic frogs, Leiopelmatidae, endemic to New Zealand, but greatly threatened if invasive Australian copperheads, whose preferred prey are frogs and their tadpoles, do exist here (© David M. Green/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.5 licence)

 

 

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‘WOLFEN’ VS ‘THE WOLFEN’ – COMPARING AND CONTRASTING A CRYPTOZOOLOGICAL MOVIE WITH THE CLASSIC NOVEL THAT INSPIRED IT

by on Dec.10, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Front cover of my copy of Whitley Strieber’s fascinating novel The Wolfen, upon which the movie Wolfen was loosely based; this is the 1992 resissue of Coronet Books’ 1979 paperback edition (© Whitley Strieber/Coronet Books – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

On 14 July 2020, I finally got around to watching Wolfen, directed by Michael Wadleigh and filmed on location in the South Bronx area of New York City. It is the 1981 movie version of The Wolfen, which is bestselling Communion author Whitley Strieber’s fascinating, classic novel from 1978 about a cryptic – and cryptid – species of super-intelligent canid that through convergent evolution has attained a humanoid level of sentience and even certain morphological attributes, such as very dexterous hand-like paws.

Yet it has remained largely unknown to Homo sapiens, except for supposed legends of werewolves and cynocephali that in reality are based upon fleeting and generally fatal (for humans) encounters with wolfen, for whom lost, abandoned, and ill humans are their natural prey. And then, fate steps in, and suddenly a series of grisly human killings in modern-day NYC leads the police to the sensational discovery of this hitherto hidden species of dogman.

The Wolfen is definitely one of my all-time favourite cryptozoology-themed novels, but sadly the movie was for me a distinct disappointment. To begin with, Albert Finney played an increasingly tiresome NYPD cop named Captain Dewey Wilson who was meant to be the dysfunctional anti-social genius character that crops up so regularly in sci-fi movies. Sometimes these work well, other times they are simply irritating – Wilson was definitely drawn from the latter category.

Front cover of the official Wolfen DVD that I own and have now watched (© Michael Wadleigh/Orion Pictures – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Also, whereas in the novel the wolfen were categorically cryptozoological – as I noted earlier, even their paws were humanoid – in the movie they are portrayed entirely as morphologically normal wolves, super-intelligent but outwardly indistinguishable from typical black-furred or (in one instance) white-furred wolves, which for me was a major let-down. Conversely, their cunning ability in the movie to lure curious humans within range by imitating a baby crying is conspicuous only by its absence in the novel. There was also a recurrent red herring theme related to shape-shifting and recalling the skinwalkers, which again did not appear in the novel but perhaps featured in the movie in order to distract viewers from the distinct lack of morphological separation here between wolf and wolfen.

A modern CGI-driven remake may well succeed where in my opinion this present almost 40-year-old film has failed in doing justice to the highly original, thought-provoking subject of Strieber’s novel. Don’t get me wrong, Wolfen is by no means a bad movie, it’s just not the movie that I was hoping – expecting – it to be. But everyone has their own opinion – so click here to check out the original theatrical trailer for Wolfen, and make up your own mind.

Also, click here and here to read more on ShukerNature concernng werewolves, wulvers, cynocephali, and other dogmen in traditional legends and lore from around the world.

Dramatic artistic representation of a scene from the movie Wolfen (© Richard Svensson)

 

 

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‘WOLFEN’ VS ‘THE WOLFEN’ – COMPARING AND CONTRASTING A CRYPTOZOOLOGICAL MOVIE WITH THE CLASSIC NOVEL THAT INSPIRED IT

by on Dec.10, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Front cover of my copy of Whitley Strieber’s fascinating novel The Wolfen, upon which the movie Wolfen was loosely based; this is the 1992 resissue of Coronet Books’ 1979 paperback edition (© Whitley Strieber/Coronet Books – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

On 14 July 2020, I finally got around to watching Wolfen, directed by Michael Wadleigh and filmed on location in the South Bronx area of New York City. It is the 1981 movie version of The Wolfen, which is bestselling Communion author Whitley Strieber’s fascinating, classic novel from 1978 about a cryptic – and cryptid – species of super-intelligent canid that through convergent evolution has attained a humanoid level of sentience and even certain morphological attributes, such as very dexterous hand-like paws.

Yet it has remained largely unknown to Homo sapiens, except for supposed legends of werewolves and cynocephali that in reality are based upon fleeting and generally fatal (for humans) encounters with wolfen, for whom lost, abandoned, and ill humans are their natural prey. And then, fate steps in, and suddenly a series of grisly human killings in modern-day NYC leads the police to the sensational discovery of this hitherto hidden species of dogman.

The Wolfen is definitely one of my all-time favourite cryptozoology-themed novels, but sadly the movie was for me a distinct disappointment. To begin with, Albert Finney played an increasingly tiresome NYPD cop named Captain Dewey Wilson who was meant to be the dysfunctional anti-social genius character that crops up so regularly in sci-fi movies. Sometimes these work well, other times they are simply irritating – Wilson was definitely drawn from the latter category.

Front cover of the official Wolfen DVD that I own and have now watched (© Michael Wadleigh/Orion Pictures – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Also, whereas in the novel the wolfen were categorically cryptozoological – as I noted earlier, even their paws were humanoid – in the movie they are portrayed entirely as morphologically normal wolves, super-intelligent but outwardly indistinguishable from typical black-furred or (in one instance) white-furred wolves, which for me was a major let-down. Conversely, their cunning ability in the movie to lure curious humans within range by imitating a baby crying is conspicuous only by its absence in the novel. There was also a recurrent red herring theme related to shape-shifting and recalling the skinwalkers, which again did not appear in the novel but perhaps featured in the movie in order to distract viewers from the distinct lack of morphological separation here between wolf and wolfen.

A modern CGI-driven remake may well succeed where in my opinion this present almost 40-year-old film has failed in doing justice to the highly original, thought-provoking subject of Strieber’s novel. Don’t get me wrong, Wolfen is by no means a bad movie, it’s just not the movie that I was hoping – expecting – it to be. But everyone has their own opinion – so click here to check out the original theatrical trailer for Wolfen, and make up your own mind.

Also, click here and here to read more on ShukerNature concernng werewolves, wulvers, cynocephali, and other dogmen in traditional legends and lore from around the world.

Dramatic artistic representation of a scene from the movie Wolfen (© Richard Svensson)

 

 

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THE DOBHAR-CHÚ – TRAILING IRELAND’S MYSTERIOUS MASTER OTTER. Part 2: MODERN-DAY ENCOUNTERS?

by on Nov.29, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Artistic representation of the dobhar-chú or master otter, based upon traditional Irish folklore (© Philippa Foster)

In Part 1 of this ShukerNature article (click hereto read it), I recalled the traditional lore appertaining to an Irish mystery beast known as the dobhar-chú or master otter, and I also documented a seemingly true but fatal confrontation between one of these supposedly savage, bloodthirsty beasts and a woman on the shore of Glenade Lake in northwestern Ireland’s County Leitrim – with the avenging slaughter of the murderous dobhar-chú by her husband actually carved for all to see on her still-existing gravestone in a local cemetery.

This remarkable incident allegedly occurred almost three centuries ago, back in 1722, but as I shall now reveal here in Part 2, encounters with large unidentified creatures in northwestern and western Ireland that bear much more than a passing resemblance to the dobhar-chú have also occurred in modern times – and, indeed, are still doing so.

Glenade Lake (© Daev Walsh)

The origin of a folk story featuring a bizarre-sounding specimen of dobhar-chú that reputedly sported a long horn on its head like a lutrine unicorn, County Sligo in the Republic of Ireland’s northwestern portion is sandwiched between County Leitrim to the right, and County Mayo to the left. Several islands are present off the western coast of Mayo, including Achill (Ireland’s largest coastal island, but attached to the mainland by a bridge), whose principal cryptozoological claim to fame is Sraheens (=Glendarry) Lough. This is a small, circular lake, approximately 400 ft in diameter, very windswept and isolated, which is said to be frequented by strange water monsters.

Most of Ireland’s aquatic cryptids are of the ‘horse-eel’ variety – i.e. sinuous eel-like entities but with horse-like heads. The Sraheens Lough monster, however, is apparently very different.

Achill Island (in red) on map of Ireland (© WikiDon/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

At around 10 pm on the evening of 1 May 1968, two local men, John Cooney and Michael McNulty, were driving past this lake on their way home when suddenly an extraordinary creature, shiny dark-brown or black in colour and clearly illuminated by their vehicle’s headlamps, raced across the road just in front of them and vanished into some dense foliage nearby. They estimated its height at around 2.5 ft and its total length at 8-10 ft, which included a lengthy neck, and a long sturdy tail. It also had a head that they variously likened to a sheep’s or a greyhound’s, and four well-developed legs, upon which it rocked from side to side as it ran. Needless to say, its fully-formed legs and long tail readily eliminated any possibility that it was a seal that had come ashore onto Achill from the coast. Just a week later, a similar beast crawled out of the lake and climbed the bank as 15-year-old Gay Dever was cycling past, shocking him so much that he dismounted to watch it go by. It seemed to him to be much bigger than a horse, and black in colour, with a sheep-like head, long neck, tail, and four legs (of which the hind ones were the larger). Other sightings were also reported during this period, but the identity of the animal(s) was never ascertained.

In the 13-volume encyclopedia, The Unexplained, edited by Peter Brookesmith, and first published in part-work form during the early 1980s, an unnamed artist’s reconstruction of the Sraheens Lough monster originally appeared in an article on Irish lake monsters written by veteran unexplained mysteries chroniclers Janet and Colin Bord but is nowadays readily accessible online. The illustration was based upon the eyewitness accounts given above for this monster, but as can be seen here it also happens to be exceedingly similar to the Conwall gravestone’s depiction of the dobhar-chú! Both share a sleek body and powerful hindquarters, long slender tail, lengthy but not overly elongate neck, distinct paws, and relatively small head. Indeed, one could easily be forgiven for assuming that the two illustrations had been based upon the same animal specimen (let alone species). Could such an arresting degree of morphological similarity be nothing more than a coincidence, or is the dobhar-chústill in existence amid the countless lakes of the Emerald Isle?

Artistic reconstruction by unnamed artist of the Sraheens Lough monster as sighted by John Cooney and Michael McNulty on 1 May 1968 (© Orbis Publishing – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Cryptozoological sceptics have pointed out that with a circumference of only 1,200 ft, surely Sraheens Lough is too small to support water monsters of this nature. However, anything capable of running across roads on four sturdy limbs is equally capable of moving from one lake to another, not residing permanently in any one body of water – which could explain why sightings of monsters in Sraheens Lough are sporadic rather than regular.

Some very interesting additional reports of modern-day Irish cryptids resembling giant otters can be found in a fascinating book entitled Mystery Animals of Ireland (2010), authored by longstanding Celtic cryptozoology specialists Gary Cunningham and Ronan Coghlan. For example, some time in 1999-2000 near to Portumna in County Galway (south of County Mayo), Patrick Sullivan from Cleggan, Connemara, was driving along the N65 towards Loughrea when he suddenly saw an unfamiliar-looking animal wandering on the opposite side of the road. Curious to see more of this creature, he was able to turn around and drive back, and later reported that it resembled an otter but was larger and darker. As he watched, it moved off the road and disappeared into some undergrowth. In around 2001, the Sraheens Lough monster reared its otter-like head again, with a new, recent sighting featuring in a debate concerning this mystery beast that was broadcast on Radio na Gaeltachta. But the most significant recent sighting took place during April-May 2003, on Omey Island, in Connemara, County Galway, and featured Waterford artist Sean Corcoran and his wife.

Sean Corcoran’s sketch of an alleged dobhar-chu seen by him on Omey Island, County Galway, in 2003 (© Bang Art/WikipediaCC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

In October and November 2009, Sean contacted me to provide me with details of their sighting on this island, and it was also documented by Gary and Ronan in their book. Omey contains two freshwater lakes, and is accessible on foot when the tide is out. Sean and his wife were camping on Omey, near to Fahy Lough, the larger of its two lakes, when at around 3 am one morning they were alerted to a strange yelping cry coming from the sand dunes at the lake’s western side. Armed with a torch, they set out to investigate, and encountered just 2-3 yards away an animal described by Sean as being larger than his pet Labrador dog. The creature speedily swam across the lake to its furthest side, where it then emerged, clambered onto a large rock, and reared up onto its hind legs. In this pose, it was estimated by Sean to be around 5 ft tall, and was observed to be dark in overall colour but sporting orange-red flipper-like feet. It then turned away and disappeared into the darkness, leaving Sean and his wife to return to their tent, thoroughly bemused by what they had just seen.

Tellingly, as pointed out by Gary and Ronan in their coverage of this sighting, Fahy Lough is only about 20 yards from the sea at Omey’s sheltered western point, with the marine waters around this island being plentifully supplied with available food for such a creature, including fishes and crustaceans. Moreover, during previous camping holidays on Omey, Sean had seen animal scats near Fahy Lough that when examined were found to contain the remains of crabs and other shellfish.

Sean Corcoran’s sketch of an alleged dobhar-chu seen by him on Omey Island, County Galway, in 2003 rearing up onto its hind legs (© Bang Art/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Otters are well known for rearing up onto their hind legs to obtain a better view of something of interest to them, so the Omey beast’s behaviour certainly accords with that. However, its size is far bigger than one would expect a normal Irish otter to be, and its orange-red feet (which to give the appearance that they were flippers suggests that they were extensively webbed) are also wholly atypical for the latter.

In view of how near the unidentified beast seen by Sean was to the sea, it is nothing if not interesting to note that a mysterious but rare species referred to locally as a ‘sea otter’ reputedly once inhabited a large stagnant pool in one of Achill Island’s famous seal caves, the cave in question being known as Priest’s Hole. This ‘sea otter’ was said to be distinguished from normal otters by its large size and uniformly black or near-black pelage, broken only by a single white patch on its throat. The source of this information was Harris Stone, an elderly man who was living close by there in around 1906.

A Eurasian otter standing upright on hind legs (© Holger Uwe Schmitt/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0)

Equally intriguing is a large taxiderm otter spotted by Gary Cunningham when visiting an Irish pub in April 1999. The pub is called Hynes Pub, and is situated in the village of Crossmolina, in County Mayo. What attracted Gary’s attention to the stuffed otter, placed on top of the pub’s television, was not only its size (he estimated it to be about 4.5 ft long), but also its noticeably elongate form, with a remarkably lengthy neck, slightly elongated hinds limbs, long bushy tail (not a typical otter accoutrement!), and its very dark, almost black-coloured fur. Being with his family, Gary did not have the opportunity to gather details concerning the history of this curious specimen, but he was struck by how different it was from the usual Irish otter while comparing surprisingly closely to the appearance of the dobhar-chú carved upon the gravestone of Grace Connolly.

Although he was well aware that morphological distortions can certainly occur during the preparation of taxiderm specimens, having inspected this otter closely Gary was not convinced that its highly distinctive form could be explained away in this manner. He was able to snap two colour photographs of it, which he has most kindly made available to me, enclosing them with a very detailed letter on the subject of Irish water monsters that he wrote to me on 29 May 2000, and as they reveal here it is indisputably unusually elongate in form.  Clearly, therefore, it would be beneficial for this enigmatic specimen to be subjected to a formal zoological examination, perhaps even taking from it a small tissue sample for possible DNA analysis, and to enquire from its owners its background history.

Mystery taxiderm otter at Hynes Pub (© Gary Cunningham)

Mystery beasts reminiscent of the dobhar-chú have even been reported occasionally from northern and northwestern Scotland, although these Caledonian counterparts have attracted much less attention, even from cryptozoologists (but click here to read my earlier ShukerNature article re such beasts). One of the earliest but most intriguing accounts is contained in The History of the Scots From Their First Origin (1575), authored by Hector Boece, which was very kindly brought to my attention by Scottish correspondent Leslie Thomson. The relevant excerpt reads as follows:

…on the summer solstice of the year 1510 some kind of beast the size of a mastiff emerged at dawn from one of those lochs, named Gairloch, having feet like a goose, that without any difficulty knocked down great oak trees with the lashings of its tail. It quickly ran up to the huntsmen and laid low three of them with three blows, the remainder making their escape among the trees. Then, without any hesitation, it immediately returned into the loch. Men think that when this monster appears it portends great evil for the realm, for otherwise it is rarely seen.

Loch Gairloch is a sea loch on Scotland’s northwestern coast; it measures approximately 6 miles long by 1.5 miles wide. As for the creature that emerged from it, I think it safe to assume that its tail’s oak-felling prowess owes more to literary exaggeration than to anatomical accuracy. Conversely, the likening of its feet to those of a goose probably indicated merely that they were webbed. Overall, therefore, the mastiff-sized, web-toed, fleet-footed, quadrupedal water monster of Gairloch does recall the master otter of Glenade Lake, but its taxonomic identity, as with the latter beast’s, remains unresolved.

Loch Gairloch (© David Crocker/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

Furthermore, according to Scottish writer Martin Martin, writing in his most famous book, A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland (1703), on the Inner Hebrides island of Skye (where Martin was born):

…the hunters say there is a big otter above the ordinary size, with a white spot on its breast, and this they call the king of otters; it is rarely seen, and very hard to be killed.

Needless to say, this description readily recalls the so-called ‘sea otter’ with a white spot on its throat reported from the Priest’s Hole seal cave on Ireland’s Achill Island by Harris Stone just over a century ago.

Was there – or is there – a white-throated strain of giant ‘king’ otter in Scotland, equivalent to Ireland’s master otter or dobhar-chú, and possibly resembling the saro (see later)? (public domain)

Also of relevance here is Wee Oichie or Oichy, the monster of Loch Oich – which is situated directly below the much larger and more famously monster-associated Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, and is 4 miles long. Wee Oichie traditionally sports a flattened head rather than the familiar equine form often noted for Nessie and various other Scottish loch monsters. Having said that, the head of the very big, black, serpentine beast that rose to the surface one summer’s day in 1936 was vaguely dog-like, according to A.J. Robertson who spied it while boating at the loch’s southwestern end. Certain other eyewitnesses, moreover, including a former loch keeper at Oich interviewed by investigator J.W. Herries during the 1930s, have likened Wee Oichie to a huge otter.

As a river connects Loch Oich to Loch Ness, some researchers have speculated that perhaps Wee Oichie and Nessie are one and the same (always assuming, of course, that they do actually exist!), merely swimming back and forth from one loch to another via this interconnecting river. Indeed, during the mid-1930s, Herries interviewed three eyewitnesses who claimed to have actually observed such an animal journeying via this exact manner from Ness to Oich.

Loch Oich – home to Wee Oichie? (© Claire Pegrum/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

Also greatly deserving of mention here is that one of Britain’s most respected zoologists, the late Dr Maurice Burton, speculated in his book The Elusive Monster (1961) that the existence of an undescribed species of giant otter or otter-like creature might indeed help to explain the Loch Ness monster. Although dismissing most Nessie reports as floating algal mats or misidentified known animals, in his book he considered it possible that a small number of reports genuinely featured an undiscovered long-necked lutrine form:

Those who have made a study of otters in the wild know that they are probably the most elusive animal in the countryside. That, at least, is my experience. An otter may work a river near a village and nobody be aware of its presence…

Let us suppose that the habit and habitat of such a long-necked otter-like animal haunting Loch Ness agree with those of the common otter. Then we have to deal with a most elusive beast, hunting mainly inshore, perhaps basking at times at the water’s edge, which for long stretches is out of sight except to the person who, very occasionally, takes the trouble to walk along it. Possibly it may go up the rivers and burns, but wherever it may go there are a thousand and one hiding places where even an animal of these proportions could lie hidden, or could move about without exposing itself unduly, especially if it were mainly nocturnal. If we argue that such an animal would be bound to be seen sooner or later, even in so sparsely populated an area – well, that is the kind of frequency with which it has been reported.

Perhaps Burton’s most memorable claim was that if a long-necked giant otter (or otter-like beast) did exist, it should not be looked for in the loch itself but on land close by instead: “…in the marshes or on islands (e.g. Cherry Island [a small island on Loch Ness, at Fort Augustus]), up the burns and rivers or along the shores of the loch, although it may also be seen occasionally in the water”. How ironic it would be if generations of Nessie seekers have been looking for the LNM in entirely the wrong habitat!

Loch Ness – is this huge expanse of inland water home to an elusive form of extra-large otter? (public domain)

Is it possible that some form of super-sized otter really did – and even still does – exist in northwestern and western Ireland (and perhaps in northern and northwestern Scotland too), especially in sheltered, little-frequented areas near to the coast, having long since established its place in traditional folklore while eluding formal scientific discovery? Some Eurasian otters do live along coasts, hunting in seawater, and are indeed sometimes dubbed ‘sea otters’ by local observers, but they also need regular access to freshwater in order to clean their coat. Perhaps down through the years, some such specimens have attained greater sizes than normal, wholly freshwater individuals, their more remote locations protecting them from the unwelcome attention of hunters, and with their impressive appearance but elusive nature having gradually converted them into a magical, folkloric beast, the dobhar-chú.

In any case, from a purely morphological standpoint extra-large otters are by no means restricted to cryptozoology and mythology. In terms of overall size and weight, the biggest species of otter known to exist today is the sea otter Enhydra lutris. Native to the northern and eastern coasts of the North Pacific Ocean, it measures up to 5 ft long and usually weighs up to 100 lb, but a few exceptional specimens weighing up to 119 lb have been confirmed. Although much lighter than the sea otter, the longest known modern-day species of otter is the South American giant otter or saro Pteronura brasiliensis, which can measure up to 6 ft long, weigh up to 71 lb, and is sometimes referred to as a water dog or even a river wolf. Judging from early descriptions of this species, however, it is possible that a few exceptionally large male individuals formerly existed, growing up to as much as 8 ft long, but hunting probably reduced such specimens’ occurrence.

South American giant otter or saro (© Renaud d’Avout d’Auerstaedt/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.5 licence)

Moreover, absolute confirmation that otters can actually attain truly enormous, colossal sizes comes from a gigantic prehistoric species known as the bear otter Enhydriodon dikikae. Named after its huge ursine skull, and inhabiting Ethiopia during the Miocene, this stupendous creature is believed to have weighed around 440 lb. And China’s Late Miocene lays claim to a wolf-sized otter called Siamogale melilutra, known from a cranium unearthed at a Yunnan province fossil site and formally described in 2017.

Nevertheless, both of the above-noted living species still share the same overall morphology as other otters (the post-cranial morphology of Enhydriodon and Siamogale are currently unknown), their bodies certainly not resembling a greyhound’s, whereas that of the dobhar-chú seemingly does. Consequently, this is a major problem when attempting to reconcile the latter mystery beast with rare sightings of extra-large, coastal-dwelling Eurasian otters.

Artistic representation of Ethiopia’s prehistoric bear otter Enhydriodon dikikae (© Hodari Nundu)

Judging from the data presented in this article, if the dobhar-chúis a real animal that has been accurately described by eyewitnesses and depicted on the gravestones, then surely it must be taxonomically discrete from the normal Eurasian otter? Moreover, the very sizeable true sea otter Enhydra lutris is an exclusively marine Pacific species that never reaches British or other Atlantic coasts, so this species cannot be involved here either (although, intriguingly, based upon two fossil carnassials uncovered, a related prehistoric species, E. reevei, is known to have existed in East Anglia as recently as the Pleistocene epoch, which ended a mere 11,700 years ago).

Nevertheless, until a specimen is (if ever) obtained, Ireland’s mysterious master otter will continue to linger with leprechaun-like evanescence amid the twilight limbo between Celtic folklore and contemporary fact.

Vintage engraving of a sea otter from 1895 (public domain)

 

This article is a greatly-expanded, updated version of the dobhar-chú account that appeared in my 2003 book The Beasts That Hide From Man, which in turn was an expanded version of my original 1990s dobhar-chú article that appeared in Strange Magazine.

The Beasts That Hide From Man (© Dr Karl Shuker/Paraview Press)

 
 

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THE DOBHAR-CHÚ – TRAILING IRELAND’S MYSTERIOUS MASTER OTTER. Part 1: GLENADE LAKE AND A GRAVESTONE

by on Nov.27, 2020, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

Dobhar-chú carved upon Grace Connolly’s tombstone (© Daev Walsh)

At no more than 39 in long in total length, the Asian small-clawed otter Aonyx (=Amblyonx) cinereus is the world’s smallest species of living otter. As a result of how commonly it is exhibited in British zoos, however, it is possibly the most familiar one to many people here – more so, in fact, than our own larger native species, the Eurasian otter Lutra lutra, up to 4 ft long on average (and confirmed maximum length of 4.5 ft), due to the latter’s famous elusiveness.

If we turn from zoos and mainstream zoology to the sequestered realm of cryptozoology, however, its archives of eyewitness reports and folkloric traditions indicate that an even bigger and far more formidable otter might also be encountered in the British Isles. This little-known but thoroughly fascinating mystery beast, known as the dobhar-chú and investigated by me for over 20 years now, is the subject of this present two-part Shukeraturearticle, which as far as I am aware is the most detailed documentation of it ever published.

Asian small-clawed otter (© Dr Karl Shuker) / Eurasian otter (public domain)

The dobhar-chú is a supposedly mythical beast from northwestern and western Ireland, is also called the dobarcu, master otter, and king otter, and was classed by English folklorist Dr Katharine Briggs as a prototype animal representing all of its kind there. For Ireland is indeed home to the afore-mentioned Eurasian otter, where it is referred to as the Irish otter, exists at this species’ greatest population density anywhere in Europe, and was once deemed to be a separate species in its own right. In The Anatomy of Puck (1959), Briggs termed the dobhar-chú the master otter, and it was evidently larger than normal otters because she stated that it was said to have appeared once at Dhu-Hill, with “…about a hundred common-sized otters” in attendance. According to legend, an inch of the master otter’s pelt will prevent a ship from being wrecked, a horse from injury, and a man from being wounded by gunshot or other means.

In Myth, Legend and Romance. An Encyclopaedia of the Irish Folk Tradition(1990), Dr Dáithí ó hÓgáin described it as a large male otter called the king otter, reiterating much of the information presented by Briggs but also noting that it was totally white in colour except for its black ear tips and a black cross upon its back, and that it never slept. Yielding an unexpected parallel with the werewolf legend, this uncanny creature could only be killed with a silver bullet, and its killer would himself die no longer than 24 hours afterwards.

Artistic representation of the dobhar-chú or master otter, based upon traditional Irish folklore (© Philippa Foster)

For quite some time, the relatively sparse details given above were all that I knew concerning the dobhar-chú – but during the mid-1990s fellow British mystery beast researcher Richard Muirhead kindly supplied me with several additional sources of information. These offer a much more extensive, and sinister, insight into Ireland’s most mystifying mammal.

The fascinating excerpt presented below is from Roderic O’Flaherty’s book A Chorographical Description Of West Or H-lar Connaught (1684), and chronicles an extremely alarming incident that had reputedly taken place approximately 10 years earlier at a very large, deep, 6-mile-long lake in County Mayo, western Ireland, called Lough Mask (=Measca or Measg):

The man was passing the shore just by the waterside, and spyed far off the head of a beast swimming, which he tooke to have been an otter, and tooke no more notice of it; but the beast it seems there lifted up his head, to discern whereabouts the man was; then diving, swom [sic] under water till he struck ground: whereupon he runned [sic] out of the water suddenly, and tooke the man by the elbow, whereby the man stooped down, and the beast fastened his teeth in his pate, and dragged him into the water; where the man tooke hold on a stone by chance in his way, and calling to minde he had a knife in his pocket, tooke it out and gave a thrust of it to the beast, which thereupon got away from him into the lake. The water about him was all bloody, whether from the beast’s bloud [sic], or his own, or from both, he knows not. It was of the pitch of an ordinary greyhound, of a black slimy skin, without hair as he immagined [sic]. Old men acquainted with the lake do tell there is such a beast in it, and that a stout fellow with a wolf dog along with him met the like there once; which after a long strugling [sic] went away in spite of the man and dog, and was a long time after found rotten in a rocky cave of the lake, as the water decreased. The like, they say, is seen in other lakes of Ireland, they call it Dovarchu, i.e. a water-dog, or Anchu, which is the same.

As the above beast was evidently mammalian in nature, it seems reasonable to assume that it was not actually hairless, instead possessing short fur but which, when wet, adhered so closely to its body that the beast seemed to its human victim to be shiny and hairless. This same optical illusion occurs with otters, mink, and other short-furred aquatic mammals when first emerging from water.

Alongside a sculpture of a giant otter (© Dr Karl Shuker)

The following letter, written by Miss L.A. Walkington and published by the journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1896, recalls a second apparently real, violent encounter with a dobhar-chú, but, tragically, there was no happy ending this time:

When on a recent visit to Bundoran [in County Leitrim, northwestern Ireland], we heard a legend concerning a tombstone in the graveyard of Caldwell [Conwall], which induced us to visit the place. The story is as follows:- A young married woman went to wash her clothes in a stream near the house, and an animal called by the natives a dhuraghoo (that is spelled as pronounced, but I have never seen the word written), came out of the river and attacked her. Her husband (or brother according to some accounts) missing her went to look for her, and found her dead and the beast sucking her blood. The dhuraghoo attacked the horse; for the husband seems to have been on horseback. The horse being frightened, ran away, but became exhausted at a village called from this circumstance Garronard (‘garron’, a bad horse; ‘ard’, a high place). The dhuraghoo is said to have gone “through” the horse and to have killed it. It was then speared by the husband who at the same time killed its young one. The dhuraghoo is said by some to have been an animal half wolf-dog, half-fish, by others an enormous sea-otter…Two other tombstones are shown in connexion with the story, one bearing an image of the horse, and said to be that of the husband. Perhaps some antiquary may be able to throw light on the legend and on the nature of the dhuraghoo.

In a later issue of this journal for 1896, Miss Walkington’s letter drew the following response from H. Chichester Hart:

…I have heard at Ballyshannon, a few miles from Bundoran, the following account of the “Dorraghow,” as it was pronounced in that district. He was “The King of all the Lakes, and Father of all the Otters. He can run his muzzle through the rocks. He was as big as five or six otters.” My informant thought he was long dead.

The master otter also appeared in a poem entitled ‘The Old House’, within a 1950s anthology, Further Poems, by Leitrim poetess Katherine A. Fox. The relevant lines read:

The story told of the dobhar-chu

That out from Glenade lake

Had come one morning years ago

A woman’s life to take.

Situated between the Arroo mountains to the east and the Dartry mountains to the west, Glenade Lake (aka Glenade Lough) is roughly 1 mile long, half a mile wide, covers an area of approximately 0.3 square mile, and is home to a wide diversity of freshwater fishes, including pike, perch, roach, and eel, as well as a sizeable crustacean called the white-clawed crayfish. Consequently, it could certainly feed a piscivorous mammal, especially one that may not be resident there, but moves around from one such lake to another (and of which Ireland is very plentifully supplied), as otters are wont to do.

Glenade Lake (© Daev Walsh)

During his researches, Richard Muirhead also uncovered a much longer poem, of unverified source (though claimed by some to have been written by a local headmaster). Entitled ‘The Dobhar-chú of  Glenade’, it is devoted entirely to the master otter’s deadly attack upon the hapless maiden and its fatal encounter with her vengeful husband. Regrettably, its style is somewhat lurid and turgid, as witnessed by the following excerpt:

She having gone to bathe it seems within its waters clear

And not returning when she might her husband fraught with fear

Hastening to where he her might find when oh, to his surprise.

Her mangled form still bleeding warm lay stretched before his eyes.

Upon her bosom snow white once but now besmeared with gore

The Dobarcu reposing was his surfeitting been o’er.

Her blood and entrails all around tinged with a reddish hue.

“Oh God”, he cried, “tis hard to bear but what am I to do”.

Shakespeare it ain’t, that’s for sure! Nevertheless, its 16 verses yield the most detailed version of this story currently known to me (although some of the details contained in it differ from those noted in Miss Walkington’s letter), and it is therefore of great value.

It dates the incident as occurring approximately 200 years prior to the poem’s composing (the poem itself may date from around 1920), and features a man called Terence McGloughlan who lived close to the shore of Glenade Lake with his wife, Grace Connolly.

Reconstruction of the master otter’s fatal attack upon Grace Connolly (© Randy Merrill)

One bright September morning, Grace visited Glenade Lake to bathe, but when she did not return home Terence retraced her steps, and upon reaching the lake he found her dead body, torn and bloodstained – with her murderous assailant, a dobhar-chú, lying asleep across her bosom. Maddened with grief and rage, Terence raced home for his gun, returned to the scene of the horrific crime and shot his wife’s killer dead. In the fleeting moments before it died, however, the dobhar-chú gave voice to a single piercing squeal – which was answered from the depths of the lake. Seconds later, the dead creature’s avenging mate surfaced, and Grace’s terrified husband fled.

Reaching home, Terence told his neighbours what had happened, and they advised him to flee the area at once. This he did, accompanied by his loyal brother Gilmartin, both riding speedily on horseback, but doggedly pursued by the whistling dobhar-chú. After 20 miles, they reached Castlegarden Hill, dismounted, and placed their horses lengthwise across the path leading into it. Standing nearby, with daggers raised, they awaited the arrival of their shrill-voiced foe – and as it attempted to dash through the horses’ limbs, Terence plunged his dagger downwards, burying it up to its hilt within the creature’s heart.

Was Glenade Lake once home to a pair of master otters? (an 1856 otter painting, public domain)

Needless to say, it would be easy to dismiss the story of Grace Connolly as nothing more than an interesting item of local folklore – were it not for the existence of two dobhar-chú gravestones, commemorating the above episode. These are documented in an extensive article by Patrick Tohall, published by the journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1948. The first of the two monuments is a gravestone in Congbháil (Conwall) Cemetery in the town of Drumin (Drummans), forming part of the approach to the Valley of Glenade from the coastal plain of north County Leitrim and south County Donegal, and just a few miles south of Kinlough, beside the main road leading from Bundoran to Manorhamilton.

A recumbent flag of sandstone roughly 4.5 ft by 1 ft 10 in and dated 24 September 1722, what makes this the more interesting of the two stones is that it actually portrays the dobhar-chú itself – described by Tohall as follows:

The carved figure is set in a panel about 17.5 ins. by 7 ins. It shows a recumbent animal having body and legs like those of a dog with the characteristic depth of rib and strength of thigh. The tail, long and curved, shows a definite tuft. The rear of the haunch, and still more the tail, are in exceptionally low relief, apparently due to the loss of a thin flake from the face of the slab. So far the description is canine. The paws, however, appear unusually large, while the long, heavy neck and the short head into which it shades off, together with the tiny ears are all like those of an Otter or such Mustelida. 

The head and neck are bent backward to lie flat on the animal’s backbone. A human right hand, clenched and with fingers facing the spectator, is shown holding a weapon which has entered the base of the neck and reappears below the body in a short stem which suddenly enlarges to finish as a barb.

The article contains a photo of this depiction, taken by society member Dr J.J. Clarke. Unfortunately, in my files’ photocopy of Tohall’s article, the illustrations had not reproduced well. In autumn 1997, however, after I had communicated with one of my Irish correspondents, Daev Walsh, concerning it, he and a colleague, Joe Harte, independently visited the dobhar-chúgravestone in autumn 1997. Not only were they both able to confirm that it still existed, they also took some excellent photographs of it, which they kindly passed on to me to use in my own writings as I saw fit. These lucidly portray the carved dobhar-chú, revealing that its head is indeed small and somewhat lutrine. Equally, after studying the photos, I agree with Tohall’s description of its body as canine – almost greyhound-like, in fact, except for its large paws and lengthy neck.

Close-up of the dobhar-chú carved upon Grace Connolly’s tombstone (© Daev Walsh)

Interestingly, when I showed the pictures of the carved dobhar-chú to various cryptozoological colleagues, some of them mistakenly assumed that the clenched hand of the dobhar-chú’s slayer was actually the creature’s head! However, it is far too small to be this, and when the photos are viewed closely, the fingers of the clenched hand, which face the camera, can be clearly discerned gripping a spear-like weapon, as can the creature’s real head, thrown back across its back. Even the thin line of its mouth is readily visible.

Some of the wording on the gravestone is still legible too, identifying the person buried beneath as Grace Con, wife of Ter MacLoghlin. According to Tohall, she was still spoken of locally, but as Grainne, not Grace, and he also pointed out that Ter is undoubtedly short for Terence, and that it is Gaelic custom for a married woman to retain her maiden name – explaining why Grace was referred to on her gravestone as Con rather than MacLoghlin. Tohall considered it likely that her gravestone was prepared while her death was still fresh in local memory, because similar gravestones in this same cemetery are characteristic of the period 1722 to 1760. This, then, would appear to be the last resting place of the hapless young woman killed by the dobhar-chú, whose own existence is commemorated here too – all of which seemingly elevates the episode from folklore to fact.

Scale illustration providing an estimate of size for the dobhar-chú alongside an average-sized human (© Connor Lachmanec)

As recently as World War I, the second dobhar-chú gravestone, which was that of Grace’s husband Terence, was still in the cemetery of Cill Rúisc (Kilroosk), at the southern entrance to Glenade, but had broken into two halves. At some later date, these were apparently placed up onto a boundary wall, and subsequently disappeared. Fortunately, however, at the time of Tohall’s researches it was still well-remembered by all of the region’s older men, who stated that it depicted some type of animal, and was popularly known as the Dobhar-Chú Stone. When asked whether the animal had resembled a dog, the only person who could recall the creature’s appearance stated that it was more like a horse.

Recalling the story of the dobhar-chú in his article, Tohall placed the home of Grace (or Grainne) and her husband in the townland of Creevelea at the northwest corner of Glenade Lake, and (like Miss Walkington, above) stated that Grace visited the lake to wash some clothes (not to bathe, as given in the 16-verse poem). Indeed, several variants of the story exist elsewhere in the general vicinity of Glenade, but Tohall believed that the Conwall gravestone was particularly important – for constituting possibly the only tangible evidence for the reality of the dobhar-chú.

Two views of the dobhar-chú carving (highlighted in white) in situ on Grace Connolly’s tombstone (© Joe Harte)

Tohall offered some interesting reflections upon the terminology of the master otter’s native name. Both in Ireland and in Scotland, ‘dobhar-chú’, which translates as ‘water-hound’, has two quite different meanings. One is merely an alternative name for the Eurasian otter, but is rarely used in this capacity nowadays (superseded by ‘mada-uisge’). The other is the name of a mythical otter-like beast, and is still widely used in this capacity within the County Leitrim region. Tohall reserved the most intriguing insight into the master otter concept, however, for the closing sentence of his article:

The best summary of the idea is set out in the records of the Coimisium le Béaloideas by Sean ó h-Eochaidh, of Teidhlinn, Co. Donegal, in a phrase which he heard in the Gaeltacht: ‘the Dobharchú is the seventh cub of the common otter’ (mada-uisge): the Dobhar-chú was thus a super otter.

Today, the world beyond Glenade and its environs in northwestern and western Ireland seems to have largely forgotten about the dobhar-chúand its sinister deeds. However, it may be premature for cryptozoology to assume that this enigmatic animal is entirely confined to the shadows of the distant past – for it might conceivably have made some unexpected appearances in very recent times too, as will be revealed in Part 2 of this ShukerNature article.

 

This article is a greatly-expanded, updated version of the dobhar-chú account that appeared in my 2003 book The Beasts That Hide From Man, which in turn was an expanded version of my original 1990s dobhar-chú article that appeared in Strange Magazine.

The Beasts That Hide From Man (© Dr Karl Shuker/Paraview Press)

 

 

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