Cryptozoology, the study of animals whose existence is unproven, lies just south of the boundary between science and pseudoscience. Unlike most psuedoscientific movements, which require adherents to suspend disbelief and ignore the realities of physics, chemistry, medicine, and, well, reality, the foundational principals of cryptozoology – that there are remnant populations of thought-to-be-extinct species and that there are still large, charismatic animals that have not yet been discovered – are grounded in ecology. In deep-sea biology, we discover new species all of the time, some of which are far more fantastical than humans can imagine. Some times, we even discover once extinct species. So it is not much of a leap to go from exploratory zoology to cryptozoology.
Last year for our Week of Ocean Pseudoscience, we counted down our top seven marine cryptids. Number seven was the elusive Steller’s Sea Ape, documented only once by renowned naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller. Even though the Sea Ape has not been seen since, Steller’s deserved reputation as a world class naturalist has kept the Sea Ape story alive. In his journal, he reports that:
During this time we were near land or surrounded by it we saw large numbers of hair seals, sea otters, fur seals, sea lions, and porpoises…. On August 10, we saw a very unusual and unknown sea animal, of which I am going to give a brief account since I observed it for two whole hours. It was about two Russian ells in length, the head was like a dog’s, with pointed, erect ears. From the upper and lower lips on both sides whiskers hung down which made it look almost like a Chinaman, The eyes were large; the body was longish round and thick, tapering gradually towards the tail. The skin seemed thickly covered with hair, of a grey color on the back, but reddish white on the belly; in the water, however, the animal appeared equally reddish and cow colored. The tail was divided into two fins, of which the upper, as in the case of sharks, was twice as large as the lower.
Few things have inspired the human imagination quite like the ocean. The vast, mysterious deep is the stuff of poets, artists, explorers, and scientists. A natural result of this seemingly endless, unfathomable world-beneath-the-waves is the emergence of a broad and persistent ocean mythology, ranging from tales of sea monsters, to near magical healing powers, to perceptions of infinite abundance. Every year, we take a week to explore these myths – the fictions, falsehoods, and pseudoscience – surrounding the ocean.
Welcome to a Week of Ocean Pseudoscience!
We’ve got some great posts on our plate, starting today. We’ll be counting down our top seven misunderstood marine creatures, exposing some deceptions from the climate denial industry, investigating rumors surrounding the use of ethanol additive in outboard motors, and having some fun with cryptozoology. David will probably have something to say about sharks, too.
Along the way, our friends from Deep Fried Sea will join us as they wander the ocean looking for the still missing Iffy and meet all kinds of weird and wonderful marine creatures.
That awesome logo was designed by Jason Robertshaw of the Cephalopodcast. If any other ocean bloggers want to join in, feel free to stamp your post with that logo and shoot me an e-mail so we can link to it from the homepage. Over on twitter, feel free to tweet us your favorite ocean psuedoscience, with the hashtag #PseudOcean (and follow us @SFriedScientist, @WhySharksMatter, and @bgrassbluecrab). So settle in for a week of ocean pseudoscience.