Friday, December 27, 2013

The Year in Bigfoot

2013 has been a good year for the sasquatch. Back in February I covered the DeNovo scientific journal, a sham "independent journal" apparently created for the sole purpose of disseminating a paper analyzing supposed bigfoot DNA, and then in July I followed up with the announcement that an independent review of the same purported DNA found that it was in fact opossum DNA mixed with that of another species, raising the possibility of a half-ape, half-possum horror roaming the Pacific Northwest.

The bigfoot DNA story wasn't the only sasquatch news item of the year, either - 2013's sightings attracted more media attention than bigfoot research has in a long time. Huffington Post has a roundup of the various bigfoot stories that made the news this year.

The Bigfoot controversy reared its head (or feet) many times in 2013. The debate surrounding alleged Bigfoot DNA continued from 2012; numerous videos and still images emerged of reported Bigfoots (or is that Bigfeet? We've never really figured that out.); a Texas press conference presented a group of Bigfoot researchers who claimed to show real, never-before-seen high quality videos of the legendary tall, hairy creature; there was also a series of "clear" photos showing two Bigfoot in Pennsylvania.

Back in October I covered new research suggesting that the yeti is not an ape, but rather a species (or subspecies) of bear. In light of this finding, it's worth pointing out that if you draw up a map and put all of the bigfoot sightings on it what you get is a nearly perfect correspondence to the range of the American black bear. Now the videos from British Columbia and the "sleeping bigfoot" look like they might depict real animals - that is, as always, assuming they weren't faked.

Now the picture above is real, from 2007. It was taken by an automated camera, and again, it clearly depicts a real animal. This was touted as a possible bigfoot photo, but biologists who examined it concluded that it was most likely a bear with mange, explaining the short coat. One of the points they made is that the position of the animal, bent over and rubbing up against a tree, is very characteristic black bear behavior. The key point there is that with shorter hair, look how long the back legs are. Bears usually have think coats that conceal the lower portion of their anatomy.

It's also true that many people don't realize black bears come in colors other than black. Black is just the most common color. Their fur can be black, brown, or blonde. So bigfoot-as-bear hypothesis #1 - people see a brown "black bear" from a distance and assume it can't be a black bear because it is brown. This still doesn't explain how they can be mistaken for apes, but a shorter-than-normal coat might. In fact, there might even be a simple genetic mutation for short fur that hasn't previously been recognized.

The first British Columbia video in fact looks like it might be a bear. The animal goes from standing to walking on all fours, and there isn't a clear view of the head. One of the big giveaways with bears is that the muzzle is entirely unlike the face of an ape. In the picture above, you can kind of see the animal's face - but it is pointed directly at the camera so getting a perspective on the muzzle is difficult.

The second British Columbia video looks less like a bear, but I have to wonder - the image is from far off, and the movement is so human that it doesn't even look apelike. I seriously do have to wonder if this might be a person dressed all in black with a hood or something similar, or even a hoaxer in some kind of suit. As for the "sleeping bigfoot," all the image shows is some sort of large animal that appears to be breathing. You can't see the face at all, and while black bears do not have the sort of stringy coat that the image depicts, brown bears do.

Sadly, as the tipster in the article noted, the Pennsylvania photos are probably of odd tree stumps taken at just the right angles. I say sadly because the notion of a giant ape roaming the remaining wilderness areas of North America is romantic, but after spending a lot of years studying the phenomenon I still think that you can explain the vast majority of it as a mixture of bear sightings and hoaxes. Still, I could always be wrong.

The article also reports that a new reality television series pitting teams of bigfoot hunters against one another trying to find evidence of the creature's existence. Will this be the catalyst that finally demonstrates once or for all if sasquatch is bear or ape? If so, I will grant that only in America would a mystery like this one be cracked by a reality television competition.

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