Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Review: Discovering Cadborosaurus

Discovering Cadborosaurus
Dr. Paul LeBlond, John Kirk, Jason Walton
Hancock House, 2014

LeBlond and his colleagues are quite convinced there’s a large unidentified marine animal off the coast of British Columbia and points north and south.  They don’t quite convince me of that in this book, but they do argue strongly that there’s a puzzle here.
The authors open by emphasizing (correctly) that marine zoologists expect many more species from the sea, though most will be tiny invertebrates. The evidence for Caddy is mostly anecdotal, and the authors list sightings from 1791 to 2013 they consider valid.
What are people seeing? To put my skeptic glasses on, some of the sightings they consider good may be mistakes: the head in Alan Chikite’s 1987 sketch looks like a swimming moose (indeed, a lot of Caddy descriptions and the best-known illustrations show a rather moose-like head: even the 1937 Naden Harbor carcass LeBlond and Ed Bousfield considered their type specimen for Cadborosaurus willsi has bit of that look in its downturned snout, although it’s obviously not a land mammal.)   Horns or ears are commonly reported. Another item reported several times is Caddy chomping, or trying to chomp, on birds either on the surface or flying.
The authors start with Native American traditions of sea creatures (several to choose from) and take the story through the 1930s, when “Caddy” became famous (and named), thanks in large part to newspaperman Archie Wills. They continue through the modern era of books and TV specials and more sightings, including John Kirk’s own in 2010.
A lot of the Caddy evidence is discussed in the context of the Naden Harbor carcass. While the item fished out of a sperm whale’s stomach has been dismissed as a fetal baleen whale (clearly wrong, as the authors demonstrate with a photo of a real one) and a basking shark, it is odd how well it held together under the circumstances, and it’s not certain anyone has ever found a basking shark in a sperm whale. (Richard Ellis mentions a case in one of his books, but only in passing without a reference.) The authors imply the carcass suffered only the slight decomposition caused during the time between the whale’s being caught and its stomach being opened to search for ambergris, although it could have been in the whale considerably longer.  
They also look at the controversial Kelly Nash video from 2007.  The video unquestionably shows a number of living creatures, but their identity is not clear, and the best part – the part that Kirk and LeBlond insist shows a definite camel-like head with bulging eyes on a long neck – has been taped over since they saw it. There’s no reason to doubt the authors’ veracity, but the “missing evidence” thing pops up so often in cryptozoology that we’re all jaded about it. In this case, it reduces what might have been definitive evidence to effectively another sighting report, albeit with good witnesses.
Some of the sightings, taking into account the human inability to be precise about distances and object sizes over water, could be swimming moose or deer, others otters or seals. Two photos included from Cameron Lake look like nothing more than wave/wake action to me. But there’s a core here that remains intriguing. 
The authors wisely don’t attempt to assign a zoological identity, saying correctly that the animal needs to be proven first. They do think the saltwater and freshwater accounts from the region may collectively point to more than one animal. (If I’d been writing this, I would have excluded the freshwater accounts, given that large unknown animals in lakes are even less likely than similar creatures in the ocean, but it’s their book and their call.) You need more than one animal, though, if you accept most of the sightings here as accurate: the solid-body animal with a humped back and the “coiled” animal so slender that daylight can be seen under the “arches” are not compatible.  I’m inclined to think the solid animal is more likely and the coiled one a series of mistakes: the thermoregulation and locomotion of a coiled animal are highly problematic to me, even if you set aside the question of what they might have evolved from. 
Is it possible such a large, striking, and unique creature has evaded science? there are strong reasons to doubt it (see Loxton and Prothero, Abominable Science), but it's not impossible, and the authors try hard to steer the conversation toward there being a real mystery. They do a good job of buttressing the anecdotes with maps, photographs, and drawings.  They provide references and a good bibliography. They have, in short, assembled the best case they currently can for a large unknown “monster.” If that case is not proven, it’s also hard to lock it away as “solved.” 


Laurence Clark Crossen said...

Do they still accept the baby sea serpent caught in a bucket that Darren Naish so completely identified as a pipe fish?

The multiple vertical undulation mode of locomotion would be unique but it would explain their high speed and many cases seem poorly explained by such phenomena as lines of porpoises.

Matt Bille said...

I've loaned my copy out, so I can't be specific on the pipefish right away. I don't think the multiple vertical undulation is physically workable: it doesn;t add up to a thunniform shape, as Bousfeld and LeBlond suggested: rather, it would induce multiple vortices and much surface drag and be very inefficient.

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

I mean if a whale exists with a more elongate shape, it seems to me that a whip-like action, where it folds up its spine and then straightens it out sequentially may impart great speed.

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

A whale's spine would flex vertically so then we wouldn't be talking about a thunniform shape I don't think. Whales already flex vertically at the next, back and flukes. Why would additional flexures be inefficient locomotion?

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

This motion would only proceed from after the torso.

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

Bousfeld and LeBlond do not have a cetacean model. I suspect a cetacean that has this mode of locomotion. Could have any Basilosaurs been equiped for this? I know the current reconstruction does not indicate this, but I would like the matter to be re-examined. What kind of muscle attachments on the bones would be involved....