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Friday, 27 January 2017

THE SALTERN COVE CHAMELEON


Monster or Mirage
On Tuesday 27th July, 2010 at 3:30pm, a plesiosaur-like creature was seen hunting a school of mackerel, just 30 yards off shore by locals of Saltern Cove, Paignton. The fish were so alarmed that they swam into the shallows and beached themselves, in an attempt to escape the monster.

Gill Pearce who photographed the creature, described it as being about 3 meters long with a rounded greenish-brown hump, large flippers and a small reptile-like head on a two and a half foot long neck. She said that its proportions were about the size and girth of a sea lion.

Photo by Gill Pearce
A Chameleonic Chimera
Eyewitness Graham Oxley, 63, from Paignton, who was walking his dog along the beach at the time was amazed by this unusual creature. He said: "I went down to the beach with my dog and I saw what I thought was a turtle. I saw a black dome which was more rounded than a turtle's shell and its head kept popping out of the water every five minutes. It seemed to lurk over some weeds in about four foot of water for around half an hour. That was when I realised it wasn't a turtle at all. What I thought was the shell was actually the creature's back and it seemed to change colour like a chameleon. When it was in the shade it was a black colour and then when it swam off it changed to a greenish-brown colour. It seemed to camouflage itself. That's probably why not many people have spotted them. It was standing, feeding on the weeds and had its back arched."

He rushed home to get his camera, but when he returned the creature was already swimming away.

Can Canny Creatures Camouflage?
Is it possible that alleged lake and sea monsters of the plesiosaur variety might have a chameleon like ability to camouflage and change colour to match their surroundings?

While the author appreciates that it is quite a stretch of the imagination to add a scientifically improbable attribute to an animal that is widely accepted to have become extinct, he also maintains that this is a book of sightings, theories and conjecture, and if our witness says the animal changed colour, then we must allow for his assertion to be submitted and examined. In effect, we must initially take the witness at his word, and follow his lead until he be proved genuine, false or mistaken. Considering everything possible, taking courage in our convictions, enough at least, to 'go down the rabbit hole' and see where it leads us.

Pearly Plesiosaur, Iridescent Chameleon
Now, the witness reports that the creature was hunting mackerel in the shallows and hid amongst seaweed in about 4 feet of water, presumably in an attempt to ambush the fish it was hunting. At this point the witness states that the creature was black, then he says that he saw the creature change from black to greenish-brown when it left its hideout amongst the seaweed. He said: "When it was in the shade it was a black colour and then when it swam off it changed to a greenish-brown colour. It seemed to camouflage itself." This statement from the witness emphasises a certainty about the animal using camouflage to hide, something it stopped doing as soon as it left its hiding place amongst the seaweed.

Photo by Gill Pearce
I initially thought that the witness' observation of the animal changing colour was a trick of the light and that its colour had just appeared to look black in the shade, compared to its greenish-brown colour in full light. I then considered that the animal had changed colour, and that the light and shade conditions were incidental. I now believe that being in the shade affected the colour of the creature, and that it was not a misperception on the part of the witness. It would appear that the creature's colour itself is affected by light.
So, when it left the patch of shade it was in, its colour was changed by its exposure to a stronger source of light.

If this is a little hard to swallow, we must remember that it is well documented that some reptiles like The Panther Chameleon do have the ability to change colour to match their environment or mood. If this creature is a reptile, which it most certainly would be if it's a plesiosaur, then it is not altogether inconceivable that it possesses a trait similar to another tetrapod like the chameleon. Furthermore, there are environmental pressures to consider as can be seen in the many other species in the sea such as the Cuttlefish, Flounder, Squid and Octopus that change their colour for the purpose of ambush hunting or to hide from predators.

It may be that the harsh environment of the sea combined with the creature's mode of predation/hunting, could perhaps provide some explanation for this very unusual physical ability.

Why Change Colour?
Until quite recently the Chameleon's ability to change colour was a mystery to science, but now we know that the Chameleon uses a layer of special cells nestled within its skin to change colour, and unlike animals such as the Octopus and Squid that accumulate or disperse pigments within the cells of their skin, the Chameleon instead has two thick layers of iridophore cells that have pigment that affects how light reflects off its skin, thus changing its colour.
If our 'mystery animal' is a Plesiosaur and if it has the ability to camouflage it truly would be an astonishing discovery and something quite different to what is currently espoused via the pervading paradigm, whose model has not only convinced us of the immutability of the physical characteristics of these Extinct animals, but also of their diet, breeding habits, living quarters and dare I say it...even their colour.

Arched Back, Straight Back, Humped Back, Ridged Back
Morgawr photos showing humps
changing shape
There is another very strange and interesting aspect to this sighting apart from the eyewitness account of the creature preying on a shoal of fish and its changing colour to hide amongst seaweed. The other extraordinary aspect of this sighting is that the witness, when describing his 30 minute sighting states that at one point, "It was standing, feeding on the weeds and had its back arched." Although there are eyewitness accounts and photos showing said creatures with arched or pointed backs, straight backs, humped backs and stepped or ridged backs and although some witnesses have testified to seeing these humps, arches or ridges become flat or straight , no one has really ever had such an exposed and extended view of one of these creatures in this position as our witness Graham Oxley has. This unusual physical dexterity seems to be quite common to plesiosaurid monster reports and it would be interesting to have an anatomist examine some of our fossil examples of this species to determine whether or not they may have been capable of this type of movement.

The Suspension of Disbelief
I find it hard to reconcile that I could have read this report several times over the last 6 years without noticing the most extraordinary thing about it, which is a unique eyewitness report on the possibility of the chameleonic colour changing abilities of plesiosaurid sea monsters. In my defence I had been so distracted by the tantalising photographs of the animal and the already elucidating eyewitness account of its hunting a shoal of mackerel fish, (an assumed, but understandably previously unrecorded aspect of the animals behaviour) that, a small detail, such as the creature's ability to change colour, easily went under my radar. It was only after deciding to feature the sighting in my book and reviewing the details once again, that the awesome observation that they change colour stood out to me. I wondered what the implications of this could be and if it could be proven, how would it change the way we present this species in our textbooks? As cryptozoologists, would it affect the way we search for these already, near-impossible to find monsters of the waters?

Pangea Panacea
So, how do we deal with such reports, where people claim to see and photograph or film, creatures that died out long ago? It simply does not help the witnesses of these magnificent creatures to be told that they could not have seen what they saw, because the creature in question doesn't exist anymore or is not known to have this or that particular attribute or trait (according to what we currently know or believe). So, let us keep our minds open, not to nonsense and faerie tales, but to the possibility of the lucid unknown, objectively looking at the facts and testimonies with a fresh eye and a clear conscience, leaving no stone unturned, regardless of what our peers may say about our spurious conclusions, our imaginative naivety and our misplaced beliefs.

In this modus operandi, we can seek out truth, reveal deception and perhaps learn a little more about the world we have sought to box, way before its gifts are wrapped and ready to be given to the ones we love; exposing a bigger world, filled with adventure and engaging a fresh generation of explorers to live for the thrill of the chase.



Written by Andrew McGrath

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Friday, 13 January 2017

LAND OF THE AFANC

Teggie - The Beast of Bala Lake 

Is there a pint sized plesiosaur living in a lake in North Wales? Over the years, many people have sighted an animal in Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) in Snowdonia National Park, resembling the Loch Ness Monster, only on a much smaller scale than Nessie is purported to be at around 8 to 12 feet long. Like many other lake monsters Teggie has affectionately been given its name in emulation or perhaps recognition of its perceived familial similarity to the monster of Loch Ness. 
Although not as regularly sighted as its Scottish cousin, Teggie has been sighted many times over the years at Lake Bala, Wales' largest and deepest Lake.

Description

Screen shot of an 'alleged' Afanc/Addanc by Nick Taylor 

The animal is regularly described as greyish brown or black in colour, between 8 to 30 feet long, (although most reports describe a creature around 8 to 12 feet long) with 1 to 2 humps, a long neck and a roundish head about the size of a football with a crocodilian snout. 

Significant Sightings
A strange creature was witnessed under water by a team of 9 divers In 1975. They were at a depth of 98 feet and about 30 feet out in to the lake when they suddenly saw a browny grey flank of something very large go through the beam of their torch lights. They did not see the head, and did not stick around to see the tail of this very long creature that seemed to keep going through the beam for a long time. The witness who reported the sighting, out of fear, broke off the line and made his way to the surface. When the rest of the divers came up shortly after, each said that they had seen something, but could not define exactly what it was.

In a somewhat strange parallel, Dewi Bowen, a former Lake Warden at Llyn Tegid, almost occupying the same position as Alex Campbell, the Lake Warden of Loch Ness, claimed to have seen a mysterious creature in September of 1976 when he saw something resembling a massive crocodile break the surface of the water. He said “All of a sudden I saw a greyish object moving in the water. Whatever it was, it was 8 feet long and had a small hump in the middle. It was moving towards the Llanycil (eastern) shore. I jumped into my car and drove to the point where it thought the object would come ashore, but I was unable to locate or see it again. When people pressed me afterwards for a description of the object I saw, I told them that it looked more like a crocodile than any other creature”.

A sighting was made in 1979  by John Melville Rowlands, a local businessman, who was fishing on the lake with his cousin. They both saw a creature, 8 feet long, with a large head like a football and big eyes. The creature swam towards them but disappeared a few yards before reaching their boat

Two friends went camping at Pant yr Onnen campsite next to Bala lake. One hot day they decided to swim the width of the lake and back. When they were half way across, a large creature between 12ft to 14ft in length swam underneath them. The friends both noticed that it had flippers on its sides which it was using to propel itself downwards. It disappeared into the depths and the friends swam back to shore in panic! The next day they found a very large, dead pike on the shore, with large bite marks on it.

A lesser known encounter was had by a B Vickers who claimed to have witnessed the monster at close range at the age of 14 in the summer of 1992. "It was twilight and I was on the shingle beach of the lake, in front of the Catamaran Club, looking for flat stones to skim on the lake's calm surface. Without thinking, I suddenly turned a full 180 degrees and looked straight at the monster. The reason for my sudden turnaround was because it was looking right at me. It was about twenty metres away, it's black head and neck clear above the surface of the water." The witness was convinced that the animal looked like a plesiosaur and estimated its length to be approximately twelve feet.

In March 1995, two men from London, Andrew and Paul Delaney, were on a fishing holiday at the Lake. The men who knew nothing of the history of Bala's lake monster, were fishing in a boat when they were shocked to see a small head that appeared 80 yards away from them. It rose on a long neck until it was about 10 feet out of the water and then as suddenly as it had appeared, it disappeared back in to the lake.

Later in 1995, in yet another parodic parallel of Loch Ness', a Japanese film crew, staged a three day investigation of the lake in a mini-submarine similar to that of Operation Deepscan. In keeping with the tradition of lake monster hunting, they did not find the monster. The expedition was not completely without success however, as they did manage to obtain a sonar contact with a very large unidentifiable object, moving swiftly beneath the surface. 

Bio-Sonar, Acoustic Night Vision?
One wonders if the hearing of these animals is incredibly sensitive. In Lakes where they have been 'hunted', they seem to be able to evade detection very well or at least move out of range of the pursuing sonar beams, boats and submarines very easily, although they are occasionally captured, temporarily at least, on sonar. 
These strange sonar 'hits' are made in several lakes that claim to have Monsters like Teggie residing in them (Lake Windermere, Loch Ness,  Lake Okanagan, Lake Champlain; to name a few). I remember reading about the research of Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler, who recorded strange echolocation sounds in Lake Champlain very similar to those made by Dolphins and Beluga Whales. Her discovery of these sounds has been attributed by many to the monster of Lake Champlain, another plesiosaur like creature that resides in a large lake in North America. As I read her work I began to believe in not only the possibility of these animals having echolocation, but moreover, about the total necessity of them possessing this ability to navigate through the depths of some of the deep bodies of water they are said to inhabit. 

Rural Isolation and the Weekend Getaway
If there is a monster lurking in the depths of Llyn Tegid and if such creatures do exist, how would a breeding population survive there and what would they eat and Why aren't they seen more often by the many people who engage in fishing, Boating and Watersports on the lake?
I have a theory that these creatures populate most lakes, lochs, rivers and coastal waterways in the UK and that, as amphibious animals, they can move over land when necessary to feed or breed in other bodies of water or use rivers that connect to other lakes and the sea to find fresh feeding grounds or a mate.  I also think it's probable that many of them like Nessie in Loch Ness are seasonal visitors, using the rivers to travel in and out from the sea, following salmon, eels or other fish migrations and using the sheltered lochs and lakes to give birth to their young. Some however, are probably landlocked and may also hibernate during the colder part of the year as other reptiles are known to do. Perhaps they could also be nocturnal hunters, protected by the darkness and minimal nighttime lighting that is common in rural areas of the UK. Perfect conditions for a shy and elusive animal to thrive in.  

Locally Sourced
As far as food is concerned, the lake is very productive. It is home to the ancient & famous Gwyniad fish. but also has an abundance of other fish species including Pike, Perch, Brown Trout and Eels. There are also up to 1000 ewes grazing in the surrounding fields and hills, which seasonally produce many lambs, a good additional food source, if Teggie; like Nessie is an amphibious animal. (It is worth mentioning here that Nessie has been spotted several times on land  whilst making its way back to the Loch with prey in its mouth.)

The Lake
Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) is approximately four miles long, half a mile wide and 40 metres deep, Bala is on the A494, 22 miles west of Llangollen. The location is in relative rural isolation, and is a popular fishing and watersports destination.


The Beast of Barmouth 


The Beast of Barmouth
Photo by Mohammed Tahla
A Slippery Start 
The Mawddach Estuary at Barmouth, North Wales, may be home to a monster. The creature was first sighted in 1805 when a ship in the Menai Strait was said to have been attacked by a sea serpent which wrapped itself around the ship's mast until the crew fended it off. The monster then proceeded to follow the vessel for a couple of days before vanishing.The creature is generally described as having big green eyes, a short or long neck with a square crocodilian face or an egg shaped head like a seal, with 2 spines or ridges along its back, feet like huge saucers with 3 pointed claws, (possibly webbed), and a long tail that has a flipper at its end. Although infrequently sighted, there have been several sightings of a monster since 1882 that could be of the same mysterious creature. 

The Sightings
in 1882 a sighting of a creature in the sea appeared off Llandundno Pier, when a large object was observed moving very quickly through the sea.
One year later in 1883 a local woman claimed to have seen huge footprints in the sand that were as large as an elephants, in the Mawddach Estuary at Barmouth.
A Harlech man witnessed  a crocodile like creature walking along the river bank near the estuary In 1937.

Two people holidaying in the area in 1971, found very large footprints 12-18 inches in diameter at the water's edge, just north of Llanaber.   

In the spring of 1975, six Harlech schoolgirls witnessed an enormous creature on Barmouth beach. The girls described  the creature as being about three metres long, with huge green eyes, a long neck , a long tail, and feet like huge saucers. "It was like a dinosaur,'' said one of the girls, "It walked towards the sea and entered the water". The girls said they could see its green eyes peering at them before  it sank beneath the waves.
The summer of 1975 yielded a strange sighting near Harlech, when Marjorie and Vernon Bennett saw a creature whilst sailing. From a distance they initially thought  it was a seal. As they approached, they were shocked to see a creature with a fairly short neck like a turtle’s and an egg shaped head. On Its back it had two spines which were sharply ridged. It was about seven feet long.

Another sighting in 1975 was made by a fishing vessel near Bardsey island, near the end of the Lleyn Peninsula.  A group of fisherman saw a creature with a huge body and a long neck surface next to their boat, the fisherman said that they observed the creature  submerge and surface for over an hour.
In 1981, a holidaymaker to Barmouth claimed to have seen something much larger than a fish and moving very fast, submerging  just off the coast.
A Monsterous Holiday
The sightings seemed to have died away until just last year, when the Daily Express newspaper featured a picture of 'The Monster'  taken by a local resident of Llanarth, Mohammad Tahla on his way to collect his pension.  The sighting was in the Estuary of the River Aeron (Afon Aeron) 60 miles away from Barmouth. This sighting prompted the newspapers to report that the Barmouth Monster had migrated south. However, this migration does not quite fit in with the fact that the Barmouth Monster has not been sighted in its regular haunt for the last 35 years and it would perhaps be better explained by a species that frequents the coastal waters, rivers and lakes of our land, most likely in search of food. This to me offers a much better explanation for the rarity of these sightings. It is one thing for an animal to be elusive, but it is another altogether for such an animal of such extraordinary appearance to be continually present in an area, yet only sighted every 30 years or so. Additionally, it is very clear that at least 2 of the eyewitness descriptions are of different individuals, of different lengths ranging from 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 Metres approx). It has always bemused me that when we talk about 'resident' sea or lake monsters in any particular location, that we forego logic and the natural order of living creatures and somehow imagine a single individual living in a body of water, for hundreds or even thousands of years, like some kind of lonely 'spectre', haunting the same lonesome waters for eternity. Whereas, in actual fact, the sheer wealth of 'supposed' water monster sightings of varying descriptions in the British Isles, points to a healthy, if somewhat transient population of these mysterious aquatic beasts.


My sketch of the Beast of Barmouth based upon Mohammed Tahla's photo
and eyewitness descriptions.
Same Family, Different Nation
So what is the Barmouth Estuary Monster? We can be grateful in this case that the few land sightings of the creature along with the description of its sea serpent and crocodilian like features help to eliminate some of the usual suspects for misidentification (the Sturgeon, Seal, Eel etc). The few descriptions we do have of this creature seem to point towards the Plesiosaur explanation, but, unlike the classic Nessie descriptions, this particular creature seems to have a few anatomical differences. The first difference that most obviously stands out is the double serrated or ridged spine on the creatures back that has been clearly seen by several witnesses. This is something that can be clearly observed in the photo of the Afon Aeron creature that was seen in 2016. The creature also differs in its having round webbed feet with 3 claws or toe nails as opposed to flippers like Nessie and other reported lake monsters. It's face is crocodilian, with a blunt square head or an egg shaped head, this again differs from Nessie & Friends who are always described as having a comparatively small head in relation to its body size, that is either sheep, horse or eel like in appearance. Finally, The Barmouth Estuary Monster was described as having a flipper on the end of its tail. As far as I am aware, there are no other reports of such an appendage on the tails of any other reported water monsters in the British Isles. 
If such creatures do exist today and are similar to those found in the fossil record, the description of this animal would closely match that of the Nothosaur, an animal that is about 4 metres (13 ft) long, with a broad flat skull, needle like teeth, webbed toes and possibly a fin on its tail, it is assumed to be a fish eater.

An artists depiction of a Nothosaurus


The Pembroke Dock Monster

A Beer Battered Fish? 
A massive creature resembling an extinct Marine Saurian was witnessed  in the river Cleddau, at 1pm on March 5, 2003 by Lesley John, the barmaid of the Shipwright Inn on Front Street. Lesley was busy pulling a pint for one of her regulars when she glanced out at the river and saw something strange. She said “It was a big black fin moving slowly through the water and drawing ripples after it.”

David Crew (the landlord) and three regulars rushed out to get a closer look,
He said, “It didn't look anything like the classic Nessie description, with a row of humps or a long neck, It moved smoothly and I felt that it had limbs below the surface that it propelled itself with. A car ferry goes across this part of the river regularly. The monster was about five times as long as a car.”

One of the three, Peter Thomas, who had noticed the creature whilst dining by the window, was the first to get a closer look at it. He said, “I saw a diamond-shaped, snake-like head lifted a couple of feet clear of the water. It was gliding along smoothly, without moving side to side, or up and down. It swam against the tide and caused turbulence. I spend most weekends on the river, but I have never seen anything like this before.”

David Crewe, the Landlord of The Shipwright Inn said that the creature was also witnessed by a crowd of people who had been standing outside the pub.



The Pembroke Dock Monster
Photo by Anon.

An Anonymous Photo
A few days after the sighting, a photo of the monster was sent to the Shipwright Inn anonymously, presumably, to protect the photographer from public ridicule. In the photo, a long dark form can be seen in the water, Its length has been estimated at approximately 60ft. 


15 Minutes of Fame
The creature gained a little notoriety for a short time when it was featured on the now defunct Australian TV show, Animal X. but there have not been any other sightings of the creature since 2003.

A Post Extinction Distinction
The witnesses who saw this creature describe a large Diamond shaped head on a short neck with a long wide body, and a long tail with what looked like a fin at the back of the creature. Some cryptozoologists have speculated that it could be a type of Mosasaur. The Mosasaurus was a giant sea dwelling reptile, similar in shape to a monitor lizard, with an elongated body, 4 paddle like fins and a broad tail (possibly featuring a tail fluke)



Location, Location, Location
Pembroke Dock is a town in Pembrokeshire, South West Wales, lying north of the river Cleddau. Originally a small fishing village known as Paterchurch. The town was greatly expanded from 1814 onwards following the construction of a Royal Naval Dockyard. This dockyard is the world's second deepest harbour and could easily accommodate, for a short time at least, an animal of very large dimensions.


The Eyes of the Law
The proof that these creatures exist has yet to be produced scientifically, although one often wonders what kind of proof, save that of a captive living animal or a completely intact carcass would suffice for the hardened sceptic. So many examples of photographic and film evidence as well as corroborative eyewitness sightings and carcass discoveries have been recorded over the years and from all over the world, of these incredibly similar looking creatures, living in the same kinds of environment and exhibiting the same kinds of behaviour, that it almost seems a foregone conclusion in the collective mind, that there is a substantial population of prehistoric aquatic reptiles, still living around the Globe. 


An Allegiance to Anecdotal Evidence
Those of us who are convinced by the 'anecdotal' evidence, are just waiting for science to catch up or at least to involve itself in the search for these elusive creatures. It is my firm belief that there are a wealth of species just waiting to be discovered, not just 'out there' but 'right here' as well, in the lakes, rivers and seas of our beautiful island.




Written By Andrew McGrath, 



'Land of the Afanc' is an abridged chapter taken from my forthcoming book 'Beasts of Britain'





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