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.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

The FBI File

We were all caught off guard when the headline read, "FBI Releases Bigfoot File".  Most had no idea that any "official" government investigation had ever been done.  We all agreed that the FBI was the least likely, in our minds, to have taken on this task.

It should be no surprise, however.  All reports that come into the police or ranger stations are documented.  If they are current sightings, someone is dispatched to the location to check it out.  That's the way law enforcement works.  Even if they think you are nuts, they still have to follow up. Following up leaves a file.

Back to the FBI.

The FBI began collecting information for the file in 1976.  Earlier this year (2019) they released 22 pages from this file.  Peter Byrne, director of the Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition of Oregon back then, convinced the agency to help in an investigation of “15 hairs attached to a tiny piece of skin”.  This was the most compelling evidence at that time.  

Involving the FBI, and their agreement to be involved, is a really big deal.  Unlike local enforcement agencies, this organization has resources worldwide and its conclusions are often a huge part of new policies of all kinds.

In one of his letters, Byrne entreated the agency, “Please understand that our research here is serious. That this is a serious question that needs answering.”

We can imagine the grins of these seasoned investigators when this was initially proposed.  While I admire Byrne for initiating and following up on this project, I would love to meet the agent who took him seriously.  How brave this guy must be to stand up to the ridicule and fight for acceptance of this bigfoot challenge.

The FBI has a "scientific and technical services division" and at the time Jay Cochran Jr. was the assistant director. “The FBI Laboratory conducts investigations primarily of physical evidence for law enforcement agencies in connection with criminal investigations,” he wrote. “Occasionally, on a case-by-case basis, in the interest of research and scientific inquiry, we make exceptions to this policy. With this understanding, we will examine the hairs and tissue mentioned in your letter.”  This is an amazing victory for all of us who work in unusual research fields.

Unfortunately, the lab testing didn't help our cause.  The 15 hairs were tested in the FBI lab and found to be from a deer.  The results, and hair samples, were returned to Byrne in 1977.  Read the 22 page FBI file here.

Many have never heard of Peter C. Byrne, but to real Sasquatch researchers his story is well known.  Born in Ireland, his fascination with the big guy began with stories of the Yeti in the Himalayas that his father often told him.  Over the course of his life he has trekked those mountains, the Rockies, and the west coast of the US.  Peter designed and led the Nepal Himalaya project financed by everyone's hero Tom Slick in 1957 through 1959.   Findings he was part of include two sets of Yeti footprints and the paradoxical Yeti scalp and the mysterious Yeti hand in a temple at the village of Pangboche.

Near the end of the project, Mr. Slick brought Mr.Byrne to Texas to discuss investigating the north american west coast.  He set up a base of operations in northern California in early 1960, and the search continued for two and a half years.  In October, 1962 Tom Slick died in the crash of a small airplane. Funding stopped, so Byrne returned to Nepal where he continued to research until 1994.

New backer David Ransburg, from Peoria, Illinois, convinced Byrne to come back to the Pacific Northwest.  Bigfoot Research Project 111 lasted five years but none of the creatures were found.  Nevertheless the experience convinced Peter of the high probability of a small group of the mysterious primates living and surviving in the Pacific Northwest.  His service to the study is just as heroic as his service with the RAF in World War Two.

Peter Byrne is, thankfully, still with us well into his 90's.  Whe the FBI files were released June 5, 2019, Byrne claimed it is the first time he saw the results of the FBI testing.  When the results came in decades previously, Byrne was in the field and a colleague was supposed to forward the results to him.  I find it highly unlikely that at some point in those ensuing forty-plus years Byrne forgot and never asked about them.  The popular theory is that he just figured the FBI was ignoring the request.  

 In the mid-1970s, an erroneous entry in an Army Corps of Engineers atlas sparked rumors that the FBI had previously analyzed "alleged sasquatch hair samples" and found that "no such hair exists on any human or presently-known animal for which such data are available." Cochrane also noted that  since the Washington Environmental Atlas was published in 1975, more requests to the FBI for bigfoot evidence spiked.  Interestingly, in the letter from The Academy of Applied Science in Boston, Massachusetts, the FBI Special Agent's name is redacted.

Peter C. Byrne is the last remaining person of the "Four Horsemen of Sasquatchery".  Now 93, he lives in rural Oregon and continues to research.

More reading:

Thursday 20 June 2019

First Nations Canadian Sighting

In March 2014 some aboriginal people had a bit of a surprise.

Tofino, British Columbia sits on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  Although it has just over 1900 residents, it is a popular tourist destination.   Surfers, hikers, nature lovers, bird watchers, campers, and whale watchers flock to the area every summer.  Because of its temperate climate, festivals of all sorts are held all year long.  Tofino was a filming location for the movie "Going the Distance" in 2004 and for "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" in 2009.  Geographically, it is just south of the Ahousaht First Nations reserve.  The reserve is taxed with patrolling the waters in the area to enforce legal fishing practices by both natives and civilians.

Ahousaht Fisheries Manager Luke Swan, Jr. and his father returned to the site and claim to have seen tracks measured at 16 inches long and seven to nine inches wide.  They also photographed the Cedar trees that had been stripped of bark about eight feet off the ground. They believe they have found evidence of the legendary biped that has purportedly been spotted in the Pacific Northwest for over a hundred years.

“Something really big stood up, probably between eight or nine feet,” he said. “The first thing I had in my mind was to get off the beach. I pushed off as fast as I could and got to deep water.”

Bigfoot Encounters website says one of the earliest Sasquatch sightings took place in B.C.’s Toba Inlet. Prospector Albert Ostman claimed he was held hostage by one of the creatures for several days in 1924.

The Ahousaht Fisheries website gives this mission statement:

The primary goal for Ahousaht's Fisheries department is to provide safe, reliable and sustainable fisheries in our seas and rivers for today and future generations.

 The Ahousaht First Nation is the largest Nuu-chah-nulth Nation.  Ahousaht means people (aht) of Ahous, a small bay on the west side of Vargas Island. All Ahousaht reserves are accessible only by boat or floatplane.  The area is also home to Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Why is this sighting important?  Aside from all sightings being important, this one has some additional credibility.  First, the sighting was by a Fisheries Officer, who would have deep familiarity with the flora and fauna of the area.  Second, this sighting comes from a member of First Nations, which has a long history of verbal teaching about Sasquatch, including petroglyphs, carvings, and sacred significance of the creature.  Finally, the area is one of the best for the ability to sustain bigfoot populations.  The Biosphere provides everything necessary, including vast remote areas where colonies could live.

More reading:

Thursday 13 June 2019

The Need for Fieldwork

I often hear it said that one is not a "real" cryptozoologist unless they go out into the field.  I'm here to tell you that is simply not true.

The nature of Cryptozoology is to find, understand, identify, protect, document and protect species that are, as yet, unidentified.  To do this, a researcher has to be familiar with many different sciences-most importantly biology, linguistics, and ecology.  To be a successful, respected researcher this requires a great deal of work.  There are thousands of "semi-discovered" species;  beasts that have been seen but not yet identified.  To understand each of them would take a lifetime.  A good researcher must choose his favorite and fully do the work.  It's not enough to just be interested.

Bigfoot researchers, the good ones, can tell you the pros and cons
of the Patterson-Gimlin film, for instance.  They have learned about cinematography, climate, zoology, and many more disciplines.  To make a legitimate claim of being a "Bigfoot Researcher" one doesn't have to go camping at all.  If the researchers choose to do fieldwork, it should only be undertaken after become very well versed in the area.  In addition to all of the reports, s/he would have to know the terrain, the dangers, and the patterns of the sightings. S/he should understand primates, of course, but also a bit about the psychology of the witness.

Too many people drag a tent and a trailcam into some cool woods to "research".  All too often this means taking some friends, building a fire and downing a few beers.  That sounds like a great time!  But it's not research.  In fact, it almost guarantees you won't experience anything cryptozoological at all.  It certainly does not fit the definition of  "research".

Another example is Mothman.  No good hypothesis has ever been brought forth for this strange beast.  In the interest of "research", thousands flock to the West Virginia Mothman Festival in the hope of meeting reality TV personalities involved in "the research".  Here's a tip; reality TV has very little reality.  Virtually everything is "reenacted", scripted, and edited.  The next tier of "researchers"go to the Mothman Museum, see a couple of documentaries, then "investigate" the TNT area where mothman was sighted in the 1960's.  While slightly better, they really are not researchers, but rather "enthusiasts".  Most don't even know that Mothman has been seen worldwide for centuries, and continues to be seen pretty much everywhere EXCEPT Point Pleasant, WV.  The better group of researchers will probably be found in the local library, the state archives, the farm museum, or Chicago.  This group will be trying to understand the psychology of a witness, the physical limitations of the proposed beast, and so much more.  None of them will be hanging out getting autographs from Josh Gates.

Fieldwork should be one of the last methods a crypto researcher should take on.  Before taking off to the woods, ask yourself these things:

  1.  Is this the time of year when sightings have occurred?
  2.  What kinds of animals are in this area?
  3.  Has fieldwork been done at this site already?
  4.  Do you have permission to be on this land?
  5.  What will you do if you DO have a sighting?

Additionally, be safe.  No fieldwork is useful if you get injured.  Be sure to have at least one other person with you (but probably not more than four on site) and reliable communication.  If there is no cell service, take a radio.

Good research in the field requires good equipment as well.  Don't waste your money on a FLIR.  Instead, pack your kit with a good camera (not your phone camera).  Make sure you have sound recording equipment.  Skip the trailcam, that's for when you are NOT in the field.

Take a pen and paper.  Make lots of notes.  Take gloves, both disposable and heavy duty.  Take some ziplock bags for living specimens and excrement and some paper ones for tree branch clippings.  Take photos of what you are collecting BEFORE you collect them.  Be sure you have plenty of water and something to drink it out of.  A first aid kit is a must, including treatment for insect, animal, and snake bites.  Take plaster (and something to mix it in and with) for molds of footprints et al.  Use sunscreen, preferably odorless.  Packaged wipes, lip balm, and toilet paper will also make your trip a little more pleasant.  Take a trash bag and leave the area just as you found it.

Too many throw a backpack of food and water in the car and take off to the woods.  These are not researchers.  These are enthusiasts, or maybe even investigators.  There is no problem with that, not at all, as most good reports come from enthusiasts.  Words matter, however.  Don't call yourself a "researcher" unless you research.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

Oak Ridges Trail Guidebook

Something a little different today; a "book" review of sorts.  It's been pretty quiet in the Great White North lately, so finding something to write about is a challenge.  

Oak Ridges Moraine is in Ontario.  It's a protected green space just north of Toronto.  It's 1,900 square kilometres (730 sq mi)  and runs from Caledon to Rice Lake.  Parts of it are under consideration to become developed, but that's not what this is about.  It has lakes and streams and many species which are listed as endangered.  Relics of historical significance relative to native peoples are found regularly.  Formed by glacial movement, the moraine is a supplier of water for many communities.

The Oak Ridges Trail Guidebook was published by the Oak Ridges Trail Association.  Edition 7 is the most recent, released Spring 2019, and costs about $50.  My copy is a second edition that I found at a yard sale.  That doesn't mean it isn't worth $50, especially if you are an avid hiker, it just means that for Cryptozoological purposes and older edition will also work.  Some local libraries in Ontario also have copies.

Fieldwork in this field requires more than just pitching a tent and buying a trailcam. If you are heading into a location that is largely uninhabited, you are definitely going to need a trail guide.  This one offers a good overview of what the Oak Ridges Moraine is, trail information, and addresses for local museums.

The gem of this is its several hiking maps.  Complete with topographical elevation lines, this is a must have for entering the Moraine on foot.  My copy has seven maps.  One is a "key map" that shows the whole moraine, and the other six are very easy to read maps of different areas.  Good caveats are also included; don't go alone, it's wet in spring, stay on the trails so you don't get charged with trespassing.

Already-discovered species who live here include the red tail hawk, red shouldered hawk, brook trout and bluebirds.  Other, less well documented species are also known to live there.  While not numerous, sasquatch sightings are ongoing, and what's called the Markham Monster" has been seen at least twice.  Both are upright, larger than human, and probably living off the bounty of the natural environment.  Reports of a hooved being on a native reserve were also happening here.

The moraine is basically surrounded by residences.    This makes fieldwork a little difficult.  First, you're not allowed to camp on the moraine, so you'll have to find something nearby or ask a resident if you can stay overnight in their back yard. Second, humans mean garbage, so it may be tempting for these creatures to forage in that source.  This makes those a little more strongly influenced by humanity and therefore may change behavior significantly.  Finally, it is a popular place.  You are likely to come across many hikers, or they you, which can make fieldwork challenging.

I picked up this book on a whim, and I am glad I did.  I recommend anyone doing fieldwork find a trail guide for the area.  You will learn more than just where the trails are.