Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sturgeon or Catfish?

A while back I posted a series of articles suggesting that the Loch Ness Monster might be a sturgeon. We pretty much know at this point that it has to be a fish, as any air-breathing mammal or reptile would be surfacing often. Likewise, the fact that a sonar scan of the loch revealed no large creatures means that the only way it could have evaded detection is to have sat on the bottom of the lake or on a ledge. A diver in the 1970's reported seeing something that looked like "an enormous frog," which I contended could have been a sturgeon seen from the front.

While all of that adds up, sturgeons are not known to inhabit the loch. However, as it turns out there's another species of fish that grows quite large, hides on lake bottoms, and could easily look like a giant frog seen from the front. That fish is the Wels Catfish. The picture above shows one of the largest ever caught, measuring 8 feet 8 inches and weighing in at 280 pounds. And we also know that Wels Catfish can be found in the loch, because they were introduced as sport fish during the Victorian era.

Steve Feltham, who has searched for a solution to the Loch Ness mystery for almost 25 years, recently commented that he believes a Wels Catfish is probably the leading explanation at this time. Some newspapers reported this as an admission that he was giving up the hunt, but Feltham fired back that this was not the case and he intends to keep investigating.

Last week, the Times newspaper reported that Steve Feltham, who gave up his job, house and girlfriend 24 years ago to look for the creature full-time, had abandoned his long quest, causing ripples among monster-lovers across the world.

But Feltham says he has no intention of quitting his hunt for the prehistoric beast, which legend has it lurks beneath the deep, dark waters of the lake in northern Scotland, although his current best guess is that "Nessie" is just a large catfish.

"It's still a massive world-class mystery," Feltham, who lives in a van on the shores of the loch, told Reuters. "It's been a life-long passion for me and I'm dedicated to being here and being fully involved in this whole hunt. I couldn't be more content doing anything else."

Feltham said he suspected Nessie was most likely to be a large Wels catfish, a native European fish that can grow up to 13 ft (4 meters) long. Victorians introduced the fish to the loch near Inverness to provide sport. "At the moment, a Wels catfish ticks more of the boxes than any of the other contenders for the explanation," he said.

In my opinion, this is precisely how cryptozoology should be pursued. Skeptics spend all their time discrediting witness and chalking everything they can't explain up to "mass hysteria," which is an explanation with about as much scientific veracity as fantasy-novel sorcery. But I have yet to see anybody besides myself call them on it.

Just as with ghost hunting, what we really should be trying to answer is the question "what are people seeing?" as opposed to "are they seeing something paranormal?" The answer to the latter question is generally going to be "no," because by definition paranormal phenomena are rare. But just because that's the case, why should we assume that the answer to the former is automatically uninteresting?

It should be noted that in this article, I noted that the back of the creature shows no dorsal fin and a mottled coloration similar to the European Sturgeon, and while I still think the way that the back is arched looks more like that of a sturgeon it could easily be a trick of the camera angle and the Wels Catfish likewise lacks a dorsal fin and has similar coloration. And as far as this article is concerned, I will grant that the silhouette actually does look a little more like a catfish than a sturgeon.

So is it a sturgeon or is it a catfish? Or could it be both? Skeptics might contend otherwise, but it seems to me that this is a completely legitimate scientific endeavor to demonstrate the presence of large fish in the loch.

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