What Is Cryptozoology?

Cryptozoology is the science of monsters. The Florida Skunk Ape and Chessie, the sea serpent in the Chesapeake Bay, are just two of the unknown monsters cryptozoologists study.

The problem with cryptozoology is that most "legitimate" scientists don't take it very seriously. And the public's concept of a cryptozoologist is a half-crazed, wild-eyed dreamer chasing the impossible. Creatures like Bigfoot, the Florida Skunk Ape, the Loch Ness Monster, and other bizarre creatures are certainly lively grist for the tabloid mill. Hardly a week goes by without a front page story emblazed across a supermarket tabloid announcing that so-and-so was kidnapped by a Sasquatch and was privileged to witness first hand the family life of these elusive creatures.

And therein lies the rub.

Like UFO abductions, encounters with unknown beasts are usually taken with a grain of salt -- reports from "˜The Twilight Zone". Cryptozoologists, however, are deadly serious about their monsters. The possibility that such creatures may exist -- no matter how fantastic they may be -- fires their inquiring natures.

Cryptozoology is the study of "hidden animals". New species of life are found nearly every day by scientists, but cryptozoology focuses on large varieties like sea serpents and ape-like bipeds. The problem for the cryptozoologist is, other than general skepticism by the general public, is that details of many of these creatures are shrouded in folklore. Take for example the Florida Spunk Ape, an obvious cousin of Bigfoot.

People call it a "skunk ape" for the simple reason that it's accompanied by an aroma that smells like a mixture of skunk spray, rotten eggs, and cow manure. It is a huge beast, described as being seven feet tall, weighing in at around 300 pounds, with dark-colored fur. It lumbers through the Everglades and is seldom seen by humans. When it does make an infrequent appearance, however, it creates quite a stir.

Whether the Florida Skunk Ape exists is highly questionable. When an "eyewitness" tells his tale, you sometimes get the feeling that you are the victim of a good-natured put-on. Florida residents have a lot of fun telling about the beast and their encounters with it. They have even provided the Ape with a conspiratorial edge.

In the 1970s it was rumored that the Federal Government had actually bagged a Skunk Ape. They held it under arrest in a mysterious vault, deep in the Everglades. However, the animal saw its chance to escape one day. It crashed through a concrete wall like Superman, and was never seen again.



Cryptozoologist Ben S. Roesch argues that the Skunk Ape, like Sasquatch, should be systematically studied by a primatologist. Likewise sea serpents should be studied by marine biologists. "The key ingredients in good cryptozoological research," he says, "comes down to the ability to do excellent research...and the ability to think critically."

Sometimes specialists do get in on the act and, when this happens, sometimes the unknown creature turns out to have a natural explanation -- maybe. The most famous example of this is the sea monster Chessie.

Chessie has been sighted in the waters of Chesapeake Bay for over 200 years, and has been described as a long, dark, serpent-like creature, over 30 feet long, that swims along at almost 10 miles per hour. It doesn't appear to be bent on harming any human being. In fact it is known, at times, to be quite playful.

Although sea serpent affectionadoes like to claim that Chessie is a holdover from the prehistoric era, most scientists think this is highly unlikely. For one thing the Chesapeake Bay, though large, is rather shallow as compared to more famous monster hangouts as the Loch Ness. The second reason is climate. The waters of the bay can get quite cold in winter.

A more plausible explanation for Chessie occurred in 1994 when a large Florida manatee suddenly appeared in Chesapeake Bay. This one -- oddly enough named "Chessie" -- had made an estimated 28-day odyssey from its native habitat near Jacksonville to the mouth of the bay. The animal was captured, tagged, and flown back home.

The next year, Chessie was back. This time the creature had covered a distance of 525 miles in just 19 days. He was first spotted near Chincoteague Island on July 4. By August 13, he had traveled as far as Rhode Island before turning back to return to the warm waters of Florida.

Cryptozoologists will tell you that tales of sea serpents often begin when an unknown animal is first sighted in the water. Some of the more classic stories are thought to have their roots in rare sightings of giant squids -- a gargantuan sea creature whose existence was only hinted at until recently. Normally the giant squid, which can reach an overall length of more than a hundred feet, lurks in deep water, unseen, and seldom comes to the surface. When it does, however, the mere sight of one, especially for the ancient mariner aboard his fragile wooden boat, could strike fear in the heart of the boldest of sailors.

Not so, the manatee. This seal-like creature is large and cumbersome, true -- averaging about 10 feet in length and weighing 800-1200 pounds -- but are hardly fearsome. They are docile animals and have been known to be very friendly toward humans. But the sudden appearance of one, especially in a place like Chesapeake Bay, can be startling.

Perhaps the monster of the Chesapeake Bay is really a manatee, made more serpent-like by the human imagination. Now that it is definitely known that at least one of these gentle giants makes the trip from Florida each year, much of the mystery concerning Chessie appears solved. And it could very well be, except for one small detail.

The photos and film that exist of Chessie were studied by Smithsonian Officials and they concluded that it was a living animal that was pictured, but they could not identify it.

And at that point of scientific bewilderment, the cryptozoologist happily steps in to bravely carry on.

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