Thursday, 14 May 2015

Those Otters Again

Somebody takes a picture of an otter in a Nessie like position and the media come out saying this is a "common cause of Nessie sightings". Dr. Jonathan Wills recently took the above picture of an otter swimming around the port of the town of Lerwick on the Shetland Islands.

After a recent hoo-haa about pesky logs fooling people into seeing plesiosaurs and even the tired earthquake theory again producing a small rumble, it's the turn of the humble and unassuming otter to deceive those incredulous witnesses.

Now there is nothing new about otters and Nessie. Within months of a strange sea monster being reported in the Highland loch in 1933, otters were one of the first explanations to be trotted out in the defence of normality. It's a situation I thought was best summed up in the picture below.

Ever since then, they have occasionally been dragged out of their holts to explain various sightings. I covered one such case in 2012. It was the Harvey-MacDonald land sighting from 1934 in which it was suggested the witnesses mistook a three foot otter for a ten foot monster.

Now, don't get me wrong. People can mistake branches, otters and earthquakes for thirty foot monsters. As I have said before, if they saw the otter at 500 yards for 2 seconds in a fog, then I can entertain the idea that they got it wrong.

At the same time, such a sighting is hardly likely to make it into the Nessie Hall of Fame. In fact, it would be lucky to be recorded for future researchers. Of course, I am exaggerating to make a point. Each case is assessed on its own merits, but the principle still stands, the better the sighting the less talk of otters, please.

If we are going to approach this problem of eyewitness reports with a degree of quantifiability, I remind readers of my formula below and you can read more about it here. Sceptics tend to set W to 0.

I now await some journalist to exclusively reveal how "most Nessie sightings" can be accounted for by boat wakes.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

What is the Most Popular Cryptid?

In the last ten years, Google has scanned, digitised and put online more than 30 million books. These proved to be a valuable resource a few years back when I researched my book, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness". 

However, with an estimate 130 million titles in print, the job is a quarter done. This means forgotten and perhaps valuable references to the Loch Ness Monster and its forerunner, the Water Horse, remain undiscovered.

In the meantime, I also put Google Ngrams to use in that book and apply it again here. This is a tool provided by Google for researchers interested in tracking trends of words and phrases in the scanned literature.

Below, I show the occurrences in the printed literature of the terms Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Loch Ness Monster, Nessie, Yeti and Sea Serpent. This is an interactive chart which allows you to highlight individual trends since 1933.

Since certain terms can represent the same cryptid, they are summed to give one representative trend. Here is the equivalent static image below (click on to enlarge) and you can go here for the source.

It is clear that the Bigfoot phenomenon is more than twice as far ahead as Nessie. Bigfoot overtook Nessie in the popularity stakes in the mid 1960s which coincides with the Patterson-Gimlin film. Given Bigfoot is very much more ensconced in the American psyche than the Loch Ness Monster, its superior popularity is more or less guaranteed unless a Nessie film of the same quality of Patterson-Gimlin turns up.

Why the Yeti is so high up is a bit of a mystery since photographs and eyewitness accounts are so thin on the ground. Note that like the Bigfoot, it was an image that triggered an uptrend when Eric Shipton's famous Yeti footprint hit the media in 1951.

Also note that the sea serpent has been a pretty consistent performer since the 1930s and even jousted with the Loch Ness Monster for literature hits throughout 1933 to the mid 1960s when Nessie began an upward trajectory. Apart from a slight dip after the Rines expeditions and the onset of scepticism, the trend for Nessie did not level off until the early 2000s.

Since then literature hits has stayed pretty constant as books and articles on the creature address it from the various levels of myth, legend and reality. One wonders what it will take to initiate a new trend in Loch Ness Monster literature?

However, with three possible books on the publishing horizon this year, the trend look set to at least maintain itself sideways. Try out Google Ngrams yourself to see what trends you can discover.