Monday, January 11, 2010

The science of seeing sea monsters

Dr. Charles Paxton has published (in the eminent Journal of Zoology, no less!) an analysis which provides important insight on how seriously we should take reports of large unidentified marine animals. Paxton's paper focuses on one key parameter: how well witnesses are estimating distances to the object of their attentions at sea. The distance, which can be tricky to estimate over open ocean, affects the perceived size of the animal and how well a witness can tell a "sea monster" from a whale, shark, or other known denizen of the oceans.

Paxton's Abstract:
Analysis of the nearest reported distance in accounts of seemingly unknown, large, marine animals (sea monsters) by boat- or water-based eyewitnesses, revealed that, contrary to expectation, the majority of sightings were at close distance (<200 m). This suggests that misidentification of inanimate objects or known animal species due to great distance was unlikely. Assuming a uniform distribution of objects around the boat, the reported sightings were far closer than expected, implying a bias in the sighting or reporting process. The distribution of reported distances from boat- or water-based eyewitnesses was almost identical to that of shore-based witnesses. Unidentified large marine animals were more likely to be reported to be closer if the report was anonymous or secondhand. The gap of time between recollection/reporting and the actual sighting did not influence reported distance. There was no relation between reported distance and reported length. There was some equivocal evidence that the absence of a stated distance in a report might be an indicator of a hoax.
THANKS TO: Charles for sharing this.

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