Monster hunters gear up for Weird Weekend

The world's biggest gathering of Nessie fans, Yeti spotters and other 'cryptozoologists' will be held in the UK this summer. Are they fantasists, or is it science?

England’s annual ‘Weird Weekend’ has a claim to be the strangest festival of the summer. Held each August, it draws a motley crowd of dabblers from the far fringes of science. There are ufologists, who investigate alien encounters and parapsychologists who study psychic phenomena. The largest group, however, are the cryptozoologists – the monster hunters.

A cryptid, in the jargon of the field, is supposedly a real animal whose existence is not recognised by conventional science. Some are creatures of folklore, like the Thunderbird of Native American myth – a vast bird of prey. Then there are the mysterious apes like the Yeti, which is said to prowl Himalayan glaciers.

Others are more like survivors from a prehistoric age – there are reports of Brontosaurus-like creatures inhabiting African rivers; glowing Pterosaurs over Pacific islands; long necked Plesiosaurs in northern lakes.

Plenty of people claim to have seen these animals, but eyewitness accounts don’t amount to solid evidence. Whenever an official scientific investigation is conducted, cryptids suddenly turn shy. None of the many attempts to properly study the Loch Ness Monster, for example, have found anything more exciting than fish.

So, when cryptozoologists discuss the latest sightings, they often meet with a sceptical, even scornful, response. The general view is that this is pseudoscience – no more respectable then believing in witchcraft, or talking to fairies at the end of the garden.

But, at a seminar in London last week, the speakers (all serious scientists) warned the audience not to dismiss cryptozoology too quickly. After all, they pointed out, there really are some very strange animals out there.

Take, for instance, the Colossal Squid – a beast longer than a double decker bus, with barbed tentacles and eyes as big as soup plates. Sailors have been telling tales of such sea monsters for centuries, but their existence was not proved until 1925. The Coelacanth, a fish presumed to have died out millions of years ago, was found living happily off the African coast. And we discover new species all the time.

Daydream believers

Does that mean we can all start believing in Yetis and Scottish dinosaurs? Most will remain unconvinced. After all, if history teaches us anything it’s that non-scientific humans are extremely unreliable witnesses.

On the other hand, would it be a mistake to think we have found out all there is to know about our world? The true scientific spirit is not about answers but about questions and open-mindedness – a willingness to examine the evidence on its merits rather than dismissing ideas out of hand.

You Decide

  1. Could creatures like the Yeti or the Loch Ness monster really exist? Why / why not?
  2. Why do you think some people are convinced that cryptids exist? What makes people want to believe?

Activities

  1. Create an original artwork based on a cryptid, or invent your own.
  2. Do some further research on a cryptid of your choice and write a short article discussing whether it is fact or fiction.

Some People Say...

“Believing in Yetis is just stupid – these people deserve to be mocked.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How many of these cryptids are out there?
Supposedly, quite a few. There are giant bears in Russia; dragon-sized lizards in Australia; and hairy humanoids in America. Most countries have some kind of mythical creature haunting its wild places. Even England has the Beast of Bodmin Moor, supposedly a huge black panther.
And people really believe in this stuff?
Yes, although there are a range of different views. Some take a scientific interest. Others have an almost religious respect for these creatures. There's a theory, for example, that the North American Sasquatch is really a mystical being, which only appears to the truly faithful.
Hmmm. Very convenient.
Indeed. But just because some cryptids look like fakes, it doesn't mean they all are.

Word Watch

Brontosaurus
a huge plant-eating dinosaur with a very long neck and tail. The name means 'thunder lizard' in ancient Greek.
Pterosaurs
Flying bat-like dinosaurs with long sharp beaks and huge wings. The name means 'bird lizard'.
Plesiosaurs
A family of prehistoric sea creatures with long necks and flippers. Some people think the Loch Ness Monster is a descendant of the plesiosaurs.
Sceptical
Disbelieving
Pseudoscience
An unfriendly term used for ideas that are unscientific but pretend to be proper science. Of course, there is great debate over what counts as pseudoscience and what doesn't.

Subjects

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