The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, our Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ Canada to the CFZ global family.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Your Title Here

Did you know you can contribute to this blog too? I always welcome "guest bloggers". Here are some guidelines:

  • Size doesn't really matter. We're more interested in content and clarity than length.

  • General interest zoology, biology, and other 'ologies are welcome. Just try to keep it in a relative Fortean Zoology/Cryptozoology scope. This study is multidisciplinary so there are lots of options.

  • Canadian references are helpful--Canada has just about every sort of known crypto links so it should be easy to find a reference

  • Cite your sources and add links of further value

  • Send to in plain text, pdf or word format.
If I use your submission, I will email you the link so you can share it with others. If I don't use your submission I will email you with some ideas on changes or a clear reason why I didn't find it appropriate.

You don't have to be a scientist or scholar! Why not write about your favorite Canadian Crypto Topic and see your name in print!

A cow pooed on the soccer field.

OK this really isn’t about cows or poo-not really.  It’s about deposing a witness.  My 10 year old son came home from school and announced that he saw a cow poo on the soccer field.  Given that we live in a highly urban—even densely populated—area, I found this highly unlikely.  Yet like any good investigator I didn’t challenge his report, I simply began asking questions.

Witnesses are the foundation of any study.  It would be largely pointless to go sit in some random patch of woods in order to photograph Bigfoot if he has never been seen there.    Weird lumps in the water aren’t Ogopogo until someone makes a report.  Typically, we researchers are not the initial witnesses.  This means we are highly dependent on what people tell us in order to build an investigation.  Because it all starts with a witness, it is imperative that we deal with them respectfully, honestly, and thoroughly.

Having respect for a witness is sometimes a bit of a challenge.  In the case of the soccer cow, my first instinct was to roll my eyes and disbelieve.  Realistically though, he likely didn’t come up with this story out of thin air.  There had to have been a spark to it.  If I didn’t know him, I would have to first assess if he is a credible witness.  I would have conversations with him, via email, phone, or in person, and through a series of discussions would get an idea of his creditability.  I will admit right here that I rarely do my own witness interviews—I have an associate who does this for me because she is MUCH more tactful than I am!  One of the steps in establishing credibility is to be certain that the witness is not under the influence of drugs or a mental illness.  While I would likely blurt out “Are you nuts?” or “Are you taking any medications?”, Tere would subtly discover their mental state with a series of more benign questions.  She would ask about how the day started, how it progressed, the events leading up to the discovery, what they had for lunch, if they skip breakfast regularly,  and other questions that give an idea of the witness general health and lifestyle.  She might make a trip to the washroom and sneak a peek at the medicine cabinet, but you didn’t hear that from me!  In the entire interview, however, the witness must be taken at face value—they should never get the sense that you don’t take them seriously as this will prevent them from opening up to more information.  They should never get the impression that you are judging them either—who is going to work with someone who is judging them?

The second step is to get the facts of the event, and to make honest, albeit respectful, observations.  In the case of my son, I asked “Did you actually see the cow?” and he admitted that he had only seen the poo, but said that others had seen the cow.  Knowing that most elementary school children in urban Toronto have likely never SEEN a cow, this had me suspicious.  I told him honestly that I couldn’t imagine how a cow could have wandered into the school soccer field.  I asked if there were special programs that day, or if any other unusual animals had been reported.  They had not.  So I moved on to questions about what he actually saw, which was a pile of poo.  I asked for a very detailed description of what he saw, and asked him to sketch it.  His description was that it was “like a volcano”.  So I shared with him my knowledge of poo (and yes, unfortunately it is extensive) and that when cows leave skat, it is generally flat like a cookie rather than tall like a volcano.  You can use your skills and knowledge with your witnesses and their descriptions too—for instance, if your witness reports that the lake monster they saw had fur, you could tell them that statistically the lake beings have smooth skin or scales.  You would then talk about water animals that have fur and see if known animals have similar other attributes to what it was that they saw.  Do this respectfully—ask them to think and reason WITH you to ascertain the possibilities and refine the descriptions that you are given.  This will not only help you focus your investigation, but also perhaps put them more at ease with what they saw.  I recently was involved in an investigation in Ohio where witnesses reported hearing a woman screaming in the woods.  Nobody had reported seeing a woman, or even an apparition, so the focus had to be on the sound.  I asked about the neighbors, and the neighborhood, and the general makeup of the community.  The primary witness disclosed that on a nearby farm there were peacocks.  I shared my knowledge that pea hen makes a sound very much like a woman screaming for help.  Suddenly the phenomenon was not quite so Fortean.  Fortunately I was dealing with a witness who was open to explanation rather than someone certain the event was cryptic, and while I was hesitant to stamp this mystery “solved”, I told him I felt sure this was, at this point, the most likely explanation and thanked him for his help in the research.

Finally, when dealing with a witness it is crucial to be thorough. My son and I visited the soccer field and photographed and observed this “cow poo”.  Had this been a more serious investigation, I would have also taken samples for testing.  I ruled out deer scat (deer poo in pellets) and considered that the pile came from a large dog.  It was likely either canine or human, and I’d really rather not think about the latter.  When a witness claims a Sasquatch sighting, be just as thorough—find out the weather, the flora and fauna, the time of day of the sighting.  Visit the sight for other visual clues—broken branches, mashed grass, available food for such a creature.  Look at the human and vehicular traffic patterns.  If your beast resides in a lake, take water temperature and water samples.  Learn about what “normal” creatures eat.  Surround yourself with information so that you can make reasonable assessments.

All too often “researchers”  take witness testimony at face value and stop there.  The witness is looking for information so if all a researcher does is feed  back what the witness reports, then the witness gets no information.  Thoroughly interview your witnesses and make the effort to assess all the aspects.  Sometimes cow poo is dog doo.

Read More:  (the bottom two links are very helpful) 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Ontario Goes Cuckoo

Breakfast Television, CityTV Toronto’s popular morning show, has caused yet another stir in Ontario. When locals “discovered an alligator” in a local pond, CityTV and BT made it news. Now they’re at it again, and the possibility of an odd creature in Ontario has got people talking. In a casual conversation, host Kevin Frankish mentioned that there “have been roadrunners sighted in Ontario.” In the few hours since, I have received more than a dozen emails asking if this is true. The simple answer is…maybe.

Three years ago, two men who live on the Bruce Peninsula reported seeing a Greater Roadrunner. One of the men is a Texas native and well familiar with roadrunners. It seems unlikely that his visual record would be wrong. The greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is an essentially flightless bird. It has wings, but they are weak and render this species of cuckoo virtually grounded. They live and breed in the southern US and Mexico build platform nests in the brush and on cactus. Roadrunners do not migrate and need little water. They eat fruit, insects, seeds, and small reptiles and it kills the larger prey by a swift blow of its beak to the back of the neck, or by holding the prey in its beak and bashing it against rocks. It stands about a foot tall, with a body that is brown with black streaks and sometimes pink dots. Its breast is tan or white, as is its belly, and its crest is mostly brown. Both males and females have a patch of bare skin behind each eye which is orange and blue in the female and orange and white in the male. They have four toes on each foot, two forward and two back, and from beak to tail’s end, the bird is about two feet long, half of which is tail.would be wrong. The second man spotted a roadrunner nearly 20km away within 24 hours of the first sighting, Given that these birds can run up to 42 km per hour it is possible that this was the same bird.

Researchers suggest that the actual bird sighted was not a roadrunner. One researcher suggested that it was” a partridge” which is what the locals call the Spruce Grouse. Ruffled Grouse are also plentiful in Ontario and the suggestion was made that this explained the sighting. Ontario is home to the Black Billed Cuckoo, a relative of the roadrunner but very much smaller, so it is possible that this bird was one of those. By virtue of the bird running a fair distance on the ground and not “ducking” its head as it did so implies that it was not one of these regular Ontario bird species. Several comparison photos are below to let you make your own decision. Since Ontario gets regular shipments of food from Mexico and the southern US, it is plausible that this bird caught a ride and ended up in the colder climate by mistake.

Spruce Grouse


Greater Roadrunner


Black-billed Cuckoo


I spoke with the Ministry of Natural Resources in both the Bruce County area and near Peterborough and they have no reports of roadrunners in Ontario. Biologists havesaid the harsh winter climate would be deadly to the species, and an abundance of predatory mammals would make survival even more difficult.

Nobody is calling the witnesses cuckoo, but we do suggest that maybe the bird sighted wasn’t one either.

More Reading:

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Ogopogo Pogo

Is it Ogo? Is it not? Is it Ogo? Is it not? Recently a BC gentleman named Richard Huls taped something in the water at Lake Okanagan in BC. The national news media, then the international news media, immediately ran with the story that he had seen the famous lake monster.

The problem is, that isn’t what he said. Mr. Huls claimed only to have taped/photographed SOMEthing in the water that he felt certain was not a simple wave. One source claims the video has over 200,000 views on YouTube, but I was unable to substantiate that. It was, however, featured on the top rated morning show Good Morning America. MSNBC proclaimed Huls was offering “proof” of Ogopogo. Mr. Huls actually said, however, that he had a recording that showed something living in the water—something large that did not parallel the waves—and that he believes in the existence of the lake monster. Those are very different statements. I applaud Mr Huls for his open mind and careful words; not so much praise for media outlets who sensationalize and take great liberty with quotes.

The best film of the probable creature is actually one shot in 1968 by Arthur Folden. The Huls video is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which is its poor quality. As skepdebunker Ben Radford notes, at about the 39 second point, the film seems to show two objects rather than one, floating just below the water. Realistically, this could be just an example of some of the thousands of logs in the Lake. On the other hand, a marathon swimmer claimed that in 2000 two large creatures swam with him in the lake. The lake has been searched and no concrete evidence has surfaced. Witnesses still continue to report the 40+ foot long serpent.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Bobbing for Bessie

Deep in the waters of Lake Erie there may be a friendly giant commonly called “Bessie”. The first recorded sighting occurred in 1793 and she (or her offspring) continues to make waves in the area.

The 1793 sighting, from near Sandusky, Ohio, came from the captain of the sloop Felicity. This ship was built in Michigan in 1774 and had a crew of six men. She carried two swivel guns and belonged to His Majesty George III. The captain was shooting ducks and sighted what he described as a large snake, more than 16 feet long. Three more sightings came in from ships in 1817, and the water snake was reported to be copper in color and up to 30 feet long. At one point muskets were fired at “Bessie” with no visible effect. The third sighting was by two brothers named Dusseau and occurred near Toledo, Ohio, on the far western shores of Lake Erie. They claimed to have come across a creature between 20 and 30 feet long, writhing on the beach. They described it as looking like a large sturgeon with arms. The brothers fled the area and when they returned the animal was gone, presumably reclaimed by the waves. What was left on the beach they described as scales about the size of silver dollars.

In 1892, the entire crew of a ship witnessed rough water about half a mile ahead while en route from Buffalo, NY to Toledo, OH. When they came up on the waves, they described “viciously sparkling eyes on a creature that was 50 feet long and 4 feet in circumference. Four years later, at Crystal Beach near Fort Erie, Ontario, four witnesses reported watching a creature with a head like a dog for about 45 minutes before it disappeared into the lake near nightfall. Reports continue through the decades, and as early as last summer (2011) reports continue to come in from reliable, sane people.

(photo from 1993 Weekly World Report)

What is Bessie? Certainly she lives in local legend, and many stories may have little basis in fact. Witness testimony, however, cannot be discounted in many reports. In 1969, a gentleman named Jim Schindler came within 6 feet of the creature near South Bass Island. In 1989, something was captured by sonar that was about 35 feet long and cigar shaped, swimming about 30 feet down. She has been reported looking like a snake, a sturgeon, and even a porpoise. Some descriptions say her mouth forms a grin, which would be similar to a bottle-nose whale. A whale in Lake Erie is unlikely though, and porpoises are not fresh water animals. Seals and otters have been documented in nearby Lake Ontario and there is access between the lakes so technically, it is possible for them to be in Lake Erie. Neither animal grows to the size reported; in fact they are nothing like a snake in shape.

There is one report of an injury. In 2001 near Port Dover, a woman was bitten and a six inch set of puncture wounds was documented. It is likely that this is from a bowfin, who are known to protect their nests quite aggressively. Given that Bessie is reported to be huge, certainly the victim would have seen her attacker as she was swimming in quite shallow water. Dr. Harold Hynscht, who treated the wounds from this victim and two others a few days later, said he had no idea what would have made the marks even though he was an experienced diver and was familiar with local aquatics. With the upper and lower bites 6 inches apart, the mouth would have to be quite large.

What is most disturbing, however, is the rapid decline of the health of Lake Erie. Since the 1990s, the lake has become infested with a poisonous algae, causing significant decline in the oxygen in the water. Local fish are dying and invasive mussel species are increasing, and agricultural pollutants are problematic. Lake Erie is home to 50 percent of the fish in the Great Lakes, even though it contains only 2 per cent of the water. What was once a rich feeding ground for Bessie is quickly becoming toxic and barren. Additionally, the water level in Lake Erie is declining, due in part to increased shoreline projects to accommodate commercial ventures in the western basin. Pollutants and declining water levels also increase the overall temperature of the lake, so if Bessie is a cold water creature this could put her in even more peril.

Here’s hoping the lake can sustain her until she can be scientifically studied.

Further reading:

History of Detroit and Wayne County and early Michigan, By Silas Farmer, ISBN-10: 0810333260

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Working 9 to 5

Many apologies for the absence of late, sometimes life gets in the way. That's what this blog is about.

Cryptozoology takes a lot of hard knocks. Often called "pseudoscience", those of us who practice actual research would appear to the disbelievers as time wasters. To them, we do nothing all day except sit and read fiction and perhaps generate fiction because, after all, "monsters" couldn't be real--our parents said so at age 5. This bleeds over to the never-ending search for support in the academic community as well. Would it kill them to run a few DNA tests at the local university? Could the PhD's not even consider that our (usually non-PhD) work could maybe, possibly, perhaps actually have some merit? Could philanthropic folks with a genuine interest not rise above their shame and make a public contribution? Oh were are the Tom Slick's of this generation? Lack of funding and respect ultimately means that those of us with a passion for the study of unknown (unproven?) creatures have to fall back on a "day job". I am fortunate that my "day job" is actually paranormal study--I get to research, publish, consult, and investigate and get paid for it; hence my absence over Halloween. I was working.

Even though I am paid well, I don't work a standard 40 hour workweek. During the Halloween season (which the media seems to think is the only time ghosts appear) I do really well financially. The other 11 months of the year, I'm happy to get 10 paid hours a week. It's not a living wage. Thankfully, I have a spouse who makes enough to support the family and my income is only supplemental. Every couple of years I give birth to a new book which means a little more in the kitty, but generally I just reinvest that into equipment and future books. I'm a slave to my "hobby"--paranormal research.

Sadly this is the case for most of us in Cryptozoology. Even Loren Coleman, probably the most prolific writer on the subject right now, has a "day job" throughout most of his career as a Cryptozoologist. Like many others, he teaches and lectures, and maintains the International Cryptozoology Museum in Maine. Dr. Karl Shuker, Britain's version of Loren (said with a grin, of course!) is equally prolific and respected yet even on his Facebook page he lists himself as a "Zoologist, Media Consultant, and Author" rather than "Cryptozoologist. John Green of B.C., aka Mr Sasquatch, was/is a journalist. The other three of the "Four Horesmen of Sasquatchery", Rene Dahinde, Grover, Krantz, and Peter Byrne are all either dead or aging. Is the era of "professional research" going by the wayside?

We who seek knowledge in Cryptozoology are starting to lose our role models. Huelvemans, Keel, Krantz and so many other leave behind some very big shoes to fill. Can we fill them if we are tied to income producing positions outside the field? Have the pseudo-skeptics killed all hope of achieving the respect that this research garnered in the 1950's and 60's?