The Decade in Cryptozoology: fun, frivolity and frustration

The 21st century in cryptozoology began with promise of scientific investigation and attention. Available technology and dedicated researchers came together over the internet to share ideas and data. Their goal was to amass a body of evidence compelling to the scientific community and the greater public. They sought biological evidence and, as always, credibility and respect.

The decade in Bigfootery began with pondering over the Skookum cast (2000) but ended with the Big Guy a greater star in the commercial circles than the scientific ones. What happened to the rest of the cryptid critters? Did they find their place amidst scientific nomenclature? Or, did society simply reinvent them in a new form? I took a look at all the top stories in cryptozoology from the past 10 years to see what transpired. (Thanks to Loren Coleman for compiling these lists every year. I never miss it.) Here are my observations (along with undue commentary and speculation).

Almost…

Alien big cats (ABCs) in the United Kingdom were on track to be exposed as genuine in 2002. With various interesting finds and plausible theories of origin, big cats were coming out into the light. Then, they seemed to shrink in size under a critical eye, fizzling in interest with no resolution, no consensus and no well-established explanations. Those kitties are stealthy.

Tantalizing stories that went no where included the Myakka ape photos (2000-2001) from Florida. Further details were never clarified about this very real-looking orangutan fellow. Was this a zoo photo? The case is cold.

The orang-pendek may have left hair and prints for intrepid explorers. But, the results were far from conclusive. Then, the ivory-billed woodpecker caused hope to surge (2005-2006) for cryptid-hunters and birdlovers everywhere. By the end of the decade, we were no closer to having confirmatory evidence that it lives on in the Arkansas swamps.

Lake monsters tanked

Lake monsters made big waves early in the 2000s. “A monster for every lake” (or pond) seemed to be the slogan for mystery seekers and tourists boards everywhere. It was obvious that many tales were exaggerated or fabricated to draw attention and visitor dollars. Other were better explained by more common swimming beasties like moose, deer and otters in a row. Those who imagined a bigger body mass just submerged beyond sight HATED the hypothesis that otters could be the cause of surface disturbance.

Nessie herself shunned the public eye prompting rumors she died. Regardless of the quality or scarecity of sightings, locals loved hosting their own monsters, taking advantage of marketing ploys, merchandise sales and logos making the subject appear like a cheap, hackneyed publicity stunts. At the turn of the decade, lake monsters have tanked.

Dogmen Days

Doglike creatures were rampaging all over the net this past 10 years.

The best new cryptid stories came from the wilds of Michigan and Wisconsin where a monstrous mix of Bigfoot + werewolf frightened the bejeezers out of locals. The manimal meme produced the debated mystery film of the decade, the Gable film (2007-2009). This unsourced, obviously staged film was an example of the explosion in coverage afforded to amateur videomakers via YouTube and similar public sharing sites. (See Video Nasties for more)

Even rather average domestic dogs looked weird to the public. A huge, blown-out-of-proportion blitz occurred over a so-called mutant in Maine. This straggly black critter caused concern to the locals and started a train load of undue speculation postmortem (2006). It’s a dog. Nothing left to see here. Moving on…

Canids with curious skin conditions caused a flurry in the southern US (2004). In a stunning morphing of cryptid characteristics, dark skinned, skinny, hairless canids became “El Chupacabras”. No longer was the chupa a bipedal alien-like goat stalker. He was robbed of his excellent supernatural other-worldliness! Now chupa was a coyote-sized, wrinkled, blue, umm…. coyote. These poor things made live and dead appearances in major media outlets. It was awful.

The most shocking part was how a common disease, sarcoptic mange, could make local fauna so unrecognizable. It occurred with some hairless bears as well. A bear with no hair looks remarkably weird. And ape-like. A Pennsylvania trail cam photo from 2007 received careful scrutiny. Even though other bears were all around, some observers refused to accept the obvious and chose the ridiculous explanation.

Monster Twitters

A similar phenomena could be seen in the plethora of internet monsters flying around the web in the 2000s. It was common for them to be designated with names reflecting their place of origin. The iconic internet monster was the Montauk Monster (2008) in New York. A sequel followed with the Cerro Azul beast (2009) from Panama. Both hairless and disturbing in appearance (bald was ‘in’ this past decade) these pathetic dead things were photographed prostrate and undignified but without the gore of death. This safe-for-work factor contributed to the widespread coverage from media posing the question “What is it?”  It turned out both were common animals, a raccoon and sloth, respectively, in which we city folk were painfully unfamiliar. Though it took biologists minutes to determine what these bodies were in life, the public twittered links for weeks after tagged as “aliens”, “demons”, “mutants”. We do love some good monster mysteries. But the truth? Not so much.

Video Nasties

It was the 40th anniversary of the Patterson-Gimlin film in 2007. With basically no definitive information yet come to light, it remains either one of the greatest pieces of nature footage or the greatest hoax ever. For decades, we have analyzed it perhaps as much as its resolution will allow. We’ve heard all the stories, retellings, documentaries and confessions. It’s hard to imagine what more could be said. Yet, it remains unresolved.

This past decade saw the arrival of many new videos of purported Sasquatches so contrived or blurry that they became laughable. Many more blobsquatches and fur-blurs were posted online for “consideration”. These are just more pointless games of Where’s Waldo and cases of paradolia. Move on, please. These waste our time. Trail cams for capturing cryptids were also a bust.

Monster Quest resurrects hope every season. I am utterly bored by it. This show is so generally unscientific, muddled together and repetitive. Bias overwhelms the premise of investigation. (“Science searches for answers” Really?) I can’t buy in anymore. I get the feeling they may abandon the Quest after 2010. But, who knows? (“HOLY &*%(!! What was that!?) Maybe they will get lucky.

Monster Mania

Sasquatch, Yeti and Nessie became commercial stars once again. Nessie was revealed in all “her” glory in a Toyota ad and Sasquatch was punked by fools gnawing on beef jerky. As our beloved cryptids turn commercial, they become less biologically real. Those who attempt to seriously study them as zoological creatures appear more on the fringe. While gaining in cultural popularity, they lost scientific credibility, relegated (once again, one might say) to the realm of absurd characters in TV and movies.

The collection of Sasquatchiana and monster merchandise (“swag”) housed in the new International Cryptozoological Museum seems more akin to a Museum of American History than Natural History. There is no good evidence to examine. The first decade of 2000  produced disappointingly little to bolster the claim. We are relegated to examining simulacra of reality and artistic interpretations. It’s very cool, pop culturally, but it isn’t enough.

The wicked blow to cryptozoology this decade was the Georgia Bigfoot Hoax (2008). While many groups and individuals blatantly attempted to save face from the fallout, there was guilt by community association. The inept characters and circus of greed confirmed what the public mostly believes (rightly or wrongly) about the core of Bigfootery – that it’s a joke. The public will remember a costume in a freezer with possum guts.

New Species and Hope?

The biggest scientific discovery was prehistoric. (Or is it?) Homo floresiensis remains were found in Indonesia (2004-5). A scientific kerfuffle erupted because of access to and interpretation of the fossils. It appears that the find is really as marvelous as  suspected  – an authentic and interesting new species. It’s such a compelling find that we’re tempted to put living Flores man in contact with historical peoples (as in the Ebu Gogo legend). Flores man gave hope to cryptozoology like nothing else. But, the time gap between the populations remains too large.

As usual, cryptozoologists hung their hat on the plethora of new species and entire new collections of species found in unexplored places. The fact that MANY new species are found every year actually goes against the idea that larger, more charismatic cryptids will be found. The world is ever more explored and revealed. Rare and tiny creatures are discoverable. It’s the 21st century and no living hairy hominids or lake denizens have been documented. The odds rise that they are just not there to find.

Cryptozoology 2.0

Just as crypto-enthusiasts have taken to the web to share sightings and speculation, news stories, research ideas, photos and videos, the skeptical community has built up the same grassroots networks to critique. Cryptozoologists do not have a formal peer review process in place and no journal in which to publish. Instead of being open with evidence and ideas, there is the habit of retreating into closed communities where unwelcome comments are edited or deleted. No unprejudiced, trusted outlet for news and information exists.  This current condition is detrimental to the field and is contributing to the dip in credibility. However, new voices are encouraging in their carefulness and enthusiasm, including the skeptical voices who are just as enthusiastic about monsters as the believers.

SquatchyPants in hiding.

All in all, lots of fun, frivolity and frustration are evident these past 10 years. Interest remains high among proponents, skeptics and the public. It’s the substance that is elusive. It does not help that mystery proponents will disregard reasonable explanations with a wave of the hand. Will the next ten years provide substance? Or, is cryptozoology on track to submerge into depths of the paranormal? What do you think?

Comments on this topic are welcome.

UPDATE: I changed “swag” in reference to the ICM paragraph to “merchandise” because swag suggests something you get for free. I also fixed the spelling of “simulacra” because pedantic commentators like to point out such things (and miss the forest, so to speak).

UPDATE2: Hmm. Someone wise in the ways told me “swag is swag” and also said more that I won’t print here but it was really funny. “Swag” is back.

Here is my reply to Loren Coleman’s temper tantrum on Cryptomundo. The link I provided to it was disallowed for posting. See the bottom of the referenced reply for more.

About idoubtit

Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news. Doubtfulnews.com SpookyGeology.com

0 thoughts on “The Decade in Cryptozoology: fun, frivolity and frustration

  1. idoubtit: Just curious–do you doubt the existence of God also?

    To quote you directly from your “About Me” page located on your blogsite,
    ” I’m interested in anomalous natural phenomena of all kinds.” You also define yourself as a “liberal and a humanist”.

    The definition of “anamalous” according to Merriam-Webster is 1) “inconsistent with or deviating from what is usual, normal or expected” and 2a) “of uncertain nature or classification or 2b) marked by incongruity or contradiction.

    Based on the very description of yourself, how do justify your captious declarations in your blog on the Decade in Crytozoology? If you are a liberal as you proclaim, why do you balk at the lack “confirmatory evidence” in cryptozoological research? Lack of evidence has never stopped a true researcher or scientist from persisting in his/her quest. The number of new species of animals, plants, insects, sea life, et al, are found almost everyday. Species thought to be extinct are rediscovered also, though unfortunately rare.

    What exactly would it take to make you salute a glass half full instead of criticizing a glass half empty– a 7 foot Sasquatch in your own backyard? Geez lady, if you don’t like it, then get out there yourself and find a big cat or a lake monster or a bigfoot. Don’t sit there writing on your little blog about whine about it.
    Now back to my first question. If you must have proof that something exists, then you must be skeptical of God too. There is no proof, only faith. And that my dear lady, is why you are a skeptic, because you have no FAITH.

  2. It’s interesting how folks are so intent on quoting dictionaries…

    I am more than skeptical of gods, Susan. A secular humanist does not believe that gods interfere with humans or any activity on earth. I do not deny that God exists, I just see no evidence for it and I live life as if there were not gods.

    Frankly, I don’t understand your comments. You’ll have to spell out the claim or argument you are making because it’s not clear.

    Cryptids are a phenomena but not a zoological one. My opinion is that they are cultural ones. We interpret certain situations in terms of mystery animals.

    Faith is belief without evidence. I have faith in various everyday things, not the supernatural.

  3. Here’s one: Cryptozoology (more specifically, hairy giant/living non-sapiens homind hunting/studies) became the subject of cultural study. Sure, there have been a few attempts at history or even cultural examination of cryptids. But studies of monsters in society and especially monster hunters, got a lot more attention this decade. From inside, between blogs, books, and basic cable, monster hunters have (Be they on a MonsterQuest, or Three Men Seeking Monsters, etc.) gotten the highest profile they’ve had probably in three decades, since the Rhines photos at Loch Ness.

    But moreover, attention has increased from the outside. In the last few years, we’ve had three different “The History and Culture of Bigfoot” books being written by non-cryptozoologists, as well as two more recent volumes (one on paleontology in China, including the hunt for the Yehren) and one on the Wildman in Southeast Asia and the floresiensis hypothesis you mention above. UFOs and those that chase them went through a similar phenomenon in the mid-to late 1990s and into the 2000s.

    1. Yes. You are right. This aspect is fascinating to me. After all these years, why do people still dedicate so much of their lives (or all of it) to these creatures? They are the new Rene Dahinden. If you invest so much of your time and belief to the idea that cryptids are out there to find, you will not be at all willing to admit that they don’t. It would be to difficult to give up that worldview. Interestingly, it appears that Dahinden’s worldview slowly crumbled as he went his whole life without finding the creatures he sought. Instead, some of the new cryptozoologists might trend towards the paranormal view just to preserve the idea that cryptids can stay hidden from man after all this time.

      Thanks for commenting. Do you recommend certain books? (I admit I REALLY enjoyed Three Men Seeking Monsters.)

      1. Re: belief in the face of failed hypotheses, paranormal explanations, etc.

        I don’t think this is the case for Bigfoot folks. IMHO, in a lot of cases those who follow the paranormal/multidimensional/etc. for the beasts, they have other reasons to be predisposed towards that.

        But for other phenomena, including other cryptids and UFOs, I do think what you describe is exactly what happens, and it doesn’t happen to the old so much as the young. There are a number of researchers/writers/etc. I think that are smart and thoughtful, and at some point enough evidence against a non-mainstream explanation piles up, and they are faced with three choices: bow out, go outside the box to a hypothesis that can’t be easily falsified because it isn’t constrained by the physical world, or double down on the original explanation. In some cases, the second and third options often follow in sequence in the same person’s trajectory, and in that third option, the earlier paranormal dalliance is buried or disowned.

  4. Interesting article and point of view. I appreciate your well thought out reply to Susan, who appears to view everything thru her narrow lens of ‘faith.’ What faith and god have to do with cryptids is beyond me, but it is apparently VERY important to Susan.

  5. Re: Books

    Well, I’m sure you know the volumes, but the recent North American Bigfoot ones are Daegling’s Bigfoot Exposed (which I’ve read and taught out of), Buhs’ Bigfoot: Life and Times of a Legend, McLeod’s Anatomy of a Beast (neither of which I’ve read, though I’ve got a library copy of McLeod sitting behind me). An earlier book that touched on the topic is Pyle’s Where Bigfoot Walks, but that’s more of a travel and philosophical/naturalism essay that utilizes Bigfoot as a frame (and unlike say some of the academic or quasi-academic books supposedly about UFOs that came out in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it’s not an exploitative frame intended to sell books from an author who would otherwise never get that sales level. It’s a good concept).

    The other two I note are Schmalzer’s <The People's Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China which is a mix of the history of science in modern China, Zhoukoudian, but has a chapter on the Yehren and what it means for science and the public in China; and Forth’s Images of the Wildman in Southeast Asia, which looks at the various wildman stories of SE Asia (orang pendek, ebu gogo in detail, and does examine the floresiensis concept (I’ve browsed these two, but have not sat down and digested them, so I can’t 100% assess them).

    As for UFOs and their believers, the books are varied, and coming up with a bibliography would take a bit of time. I cite or discuss many of them in one form on my blog. There is a moderately sized academic literature for the contactees because they are so obviously new religions, it is easy for students of religion and culture to deal with them. Abduction has gotten a similar treatment as Bigfoot is now getting: authors examining the phenomenon from a mix of needing to explain the phenomenon and looking at it from cultural and psychological contexts, with mixed results. There are off the top of my head about half a dozen books examining abduction from the outside, maybe more, including Matheson’s rarely cited but fairly devastating content analysis of how various abduction “therapists” are so key to variation in tales, and how it has grown like a literary genre; Denzler’s Lure of the Edge and Susan Lepselter’s work (which is included in Battaglia’s hit-and-miss E. T. Culture), which both include ethnographic research in abduction support groups, Brown’s <They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves which I browsed last year and don’t remember a lot about, Jodi Dean’s Aliens in America which has one or two interesting ideas in it but at this point I wouldn’t recommend (it had virtue of getting to the topic early), Clancy’s more traditional skeptical book, and I’m probably forgetting a few.

    For the rest of ufology, the coverage is less satisfying. Gregory Reece’s book on the topic <UFO Religion is fairly shallow and too light. I have a long review Jim Moseley’s wickedly funny Shockingly Close to the Truth in conjunction with Peebles’ Watch the Skies on my blog. Colavito’s Cult of Alien Gods tries to blame H. P. Lovecraft for all of Ancient Astronauts and all of UFOs, and while he makes a link that most people don’t know about (via Morning of the Magicians), I agree with most comments I’ve heard or read that he pushes the link too far (Lovecraft’s fiction just expresses a larger current of Theosophy and related concepts that ultimately spawns many UFO beliefs, including Ancient Astronauts), and while it covers some of the Anc. Astr. literature and history, it hits more the highlights than being a thorough history.

    In regards to UFO folklore, art, and pop culture, there is Curran’s photoessay In Advance of the Landing which also looks at the fringes of ufology, and the Nesheim’s <Saucer Attack! which is out of print and has been somewhat replicated but without the interesting historical elements by the blog UFOPop.

    1. I liked Buhs’ book a lot. And I have MacLeod’s on the shelf to read. I’ve read Lure of the Edge and have Moseley’s book on my “to get” list too. Daegling’s was eye-opening – I thought very well done. Thanks for the recommends.

      1. BTW, since this post, I’ve read Macleod’s book. It was alright, but I got the feeling it covered a lot of the same ground as Long’s take down of Roger Patterson. The most interesting section for me was on Ivan Sanderson. But after I heard the Monster Talk interview with MacLeod, it became clear that this was an “also-ran” project originally conceived of as a documentary, and the focus on a few personalities, and the relatively short length (rather than being a more general chronological history and scientific examination like Daegling’s) makes sense.

        I’ve also in the interim read Three Men Seeking Monsters. Parts of it were really fun, but I think its true value isn’t either as an account of monster hunting activity, or as an examination of these legends, but rather as one of the more readable summaries of the “UFOs/Cryptos are quasi-demonic” perspective, the Keelian heresy if you will, that I believe is going to get more and more ground in these communities as the mid-20th century retro-colonialist ideas of monsters, and the space/nuclear age dreams of star brothers or alien invaders start to dissipate demographically (that’s the politest way I can put it).

  6. You know what really get’s me angry when people dismiss UFOs. Witnesses. It is the arrogance and lack of humility and they way they treat them which is so sickening. There is no evidence they are ETs. UFOs are mistaken identity. Did any of you actually read Project Bluebook. If you had you would know the Unknowns were truly that. They” couldn’t be explained even if more data” was available to the investigators. We are talking ” craft” people seen by highly reliable witnesses. These same type craft have been seen by pilots astronauts and astronomers with ground and plane radar conformation. All of the above commentors who have reduced the entire UFO community to cultural stereotype should be ashamed of themselves. I want to say something else. None of the people above could ever pass the rigorous intellectual testing for an astronaut and some of them, not only have seen UFOs, but some believer fervently they are ETs. When any of you have walked on the MOON come talk to me otherwise pat each other on the back, for me, I’ll believe the people who were there.
    Joe Capp
    UFO MM

    1. Who was talking about UFOs?

      Anecdotal evidence can get us started but it can’t be that which we rely upon for certainty. See my post on this:
      http://idoubtit.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/satisfying-anecdote/ But, I’m pretty sure you won’t like it. I will say, however, that it is not fair to treat witnesses as crazy or under the influence. Most certainly are attempting to be sincere. There is a VERY good chance that they have just misinterpreted what they saw. We all do that ALL the time. Yet, I don’t believe a good deal of what I hear everyday, especially what others “swear” is true and especially about things that would overturn centuries of knowledge that is well established. Again, as with cryptids, the bar is set very high for evidence of alien spacecraft visiting earth. I’ll change my mind when/if we find the evidence.

      Thanks for visiting Joe.

  7. Totally agree with your this post and your reply, and the comments left here.
    I too have tired or Loren’s blog and elitist attidude. One good thing to come out of this: I found your blog, which I will now continue to frequent.

    And a thumbs down from me regarding the slight to you here on The Anomolist site too, altought thats what brought me here…

    ciao

  8. I’m a secular humanist and doubting thomas. While I’d be absolutely delighted to learn that a fantastic, legendary species has come to light, my nature demands that I wait for the evidence. What’s fascinating to me is that as technology advances, cryptozoology mythos morphs right along. Now, believers are speaking of Bigfoot as though it possesses an innate ability to avoid, say, trap cameras, and in this way the creature conscientiously preserves its obscurity. I foresee that within 15 years the Bigfoot meme will shift from shy and rare cryptid to magical and wiley, cryptid. Bigfoot will be regarded as another familiar cultural icon is. It will be, basically, a really tall leprechaun.

    1. When believers fail to find natural explanations to suit them, they often resort to paranormal explanations, like super senses, interdimensional travel, psychic powers, etc. That tends to really piss off the flesh-and-blood advocates. Too many researchers are set on the idea that the thing exists and will go to any length to defend that idea rather than discarding it.

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