Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bownessie and the Pennsylvania Bigfoot

Serves me right for implying, a couple of posts ago, that the cryptozoological reports were becoming a bit thin of late.  Just yesterday there were two news stories about alleged sightings of strange, mysterious creatures.

The first comes from England's Lake Windermere, a deep glacial lake in Cumbria.  A worker at an IT company in Bowness, unfortunately named Tom Pickles, was on a company-sponsored team-building activity with his colleague Sarah Harrington when they saw something moving through the water.

"I thought it was a dog," Pickles said.  "Then I realized it was much bigger, and moving really quickly.  Each hump was moving in a rippling motion, and it was swimming fast.  I could tell it was much bigger underneath from the huge shadow around it.  Its skin was like a seal's, but its shape was abnormal -- it's not like any animal I've ever seen before.  We saw it for about twenty seconds.  It was petrifying.  We paddled back to shore straight away."

But not before taking a photograph with his cellphone:

Okay, I notice two things here, one of them practical, the other technical.  The first is that Pickles and Harrington work for an IT company, and presumably are pretty handy with a computer -- including digital editing software.  The second is that the creature -- which in Pickles' description was huge and was "swimming really fast" -- is only leaving a wake behind it.  Large objects (boats, whales, pleisiosaurs) moving quickly through the water not only leave a trail of disturbed water behind them, they also push water in front -- a so-called "bow wave."  What this looks more like is a stationary object with water flowing slowly around it -- which is impossible considering the situation.

Also, I have the same objection to the Lake Windermere Monster (who has been christened "Bownessie") as I do to the original Nessie of Loch Ness; both of the lakes are glacial in origin, and were under a great deal of ice 1.5 million years ago.  Since the allegation is that such creatures are survivals from the dinosaur age, which ended 65 million years ago, it's a little hard to fathom how they have survived for all that time in a lake which (1) didn't exist for about 63 million years of that time, and (2) was under a sheet of ice for the million years that followed.

Considerably closer to home, we have a report of a Bigfoot sighting near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  A commuter identified only as "Sam" was merging onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Route 60 early in the morning last Tuesday, when he saw a huge, hairy, dark brown figure that stood out against the snow-covered hill behind it.  It was trudging through the deep snow, moving "effortlessly." 

Sam pulled over, and backed up, but by this time the creature was near a stand of trees, and in three or four strides had disappeared from view.

Sam immediately contacted Eric Altman, president of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society.  (Of course there's a Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society.)  Altman and his associate, Chris Brinker, went in to investigate.  Their report included the following:  "Looking around, we discovered what appeared to be very large impressions in the snow that resembled the shape of human prints, and they were bipedal.  The tracks were old, had snow blown over them, and there was a thin layer of ice/snow on top, so we cannot say for sure if they were human or something else.  However, they did definitely resemble the shape and size of large human-like prints and were bipedal."

So, to summarize; they're definitely absolutely maybe kind of sure.

Altman and Brinker followed the tracks for some time, which (they report) went through underbrush instead of around it, and had a stride averaging 27 inches (which doesn't seem all that big to me, honestly; they report their own strides as 17 inches, which in my mind qualifies as "mincing through the snow").   They also found some droppings, which they admitted could have been from a cow or horse, but they are "currently looking for a lab that would be willing to test it."

Altman seems convinced, although he admits that it could have been a highway worker who, seen from a distance, might have been mistaken for a Bigfoot.  Admittedly, I've seen highway workers who could pass for proto-hominids, so we must keep that possibility in mind.

In any case, you'll be glad to know that the members of PBS (no, not that PBS, I'm still talking about the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society here) are on the job.  I suspect this means we'll never hear any more about it.  The droppings will turn out not to be BigPoo, but cow or horse droppings, and "Sam," having had his fifteen minutes of fame, will disappear like the Bigfoot he supposedly saw.

So, that's the cryptozoological report for today.  From Lake Windermere to Pittsburgh PA, you can count on Skeptophilia for all of the latest news of creatures that probably don't exist.

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