Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Legend of the Oklahoma Octopus

The mid to late 1970’s were a time when the general public was fascinated with dangerous marine life. Steven Spielberg’ Jaws was a mega hit in the summer of 1975 and studios scrambled to make similar films about the horrors that lurked beneath the surface of rivers, lakes and oceans. Films like The Great Alligator (1979), Piranha (1978), Barracuda (1978) and The Deep (1977) capitalized on Jaws mania and moviegoers flocked to the theaters. We just could not get enough. One such film that I remember well was Tentacles (1975). It seemed promising as it featured a giant man- eating octopus and starred actors that I had actually heard of like John Huston, Shelley Winters and Henry Fonda. While the movie was a disappointment, it did make an impression. It led me to look into the question of whether or not the giant squid or a giant octopus might not be the real animal behind the kraken myth and to read all I could about sea monsters in general. I wondered, could a beast like the man-eating octopus depicted possibly be real?


I was reminded of this movie recently when I received an email from a reader asking for my opinion regarding the Oklahoma octopus. I will admit to not knowing much about the story surrounding the alleged octopus-like creature said by some to be prowling several Oklahoma lakes. I had heard a bit about the alleged creature but had not invested any time in looking into the matter. After receiving the email and reminiscing about the summers of my youth filled with movies about aquatic beasts of all kinds, I decided to learn more. I am a sucker for a good story, after all, and this tale fit the bill.

Allegedly, Native American legends going back over 200 years tell of a strange aquatic creature with a taste for human flesh. The beast is described as being the size of a horse, with reddish skin and long arms or tentacles. Today, the creature(s) is said to inhabit both Lake Thunderbird and Lake Ten Killer. According to the myth, both of these lakes have unusually high numbers of drownings and unexplained disappearances of swimmers. The legend was given credibility in the eyes of many when it was featured on an episode of the Animal Planet program Lost Tapes. Is there any truth to any of this? Is there any hard evidence to suggest that an octopus-like creature inhabits these Oklahoma lakes?


I was not able to find much in the way of evidence. As a matter of fact, I really only came up with one intriguing incident where there is physical evidence of an octopus being pulled from a freshwater reservoir and it occurred in Arkansas, Oklahoma’s neighbor to the east. On December 1, 2003, Illinois resident John Mazurek caught a fair-sized octopus that was clinging to one of the gates of the dam at Lake Conway. Mazurek was out fishing when he spotted the octopus and grabbed it. The catch was confirmed by Arkansas Fish and Game officials who said they had no idea how the octopus found its way into the reservoir. They theorized that someone had kept the octopus as a pet but dumped it in the lake once it grew too large. This certainly makes sense but the dumping would have to have taken place not too long before Mr. Mazurek came along, as the octopus was still alive when he caught it. Just how long a marine octopus could survive in a freshwater reservoir is up for debate but most would agree that it would not be very long. Regardless, the capture of a living octopus in a freshwater impoundment, even if it was in Arkansas and not Oklahoma, lends credence to the legends.

Or does it?

There are numerous problems with the idea of a population of octopus, or any other cephalopod, maintaining a breeding population in an inland freshwater lake or reservoir in Oklahoma. The first, and maybe most damning, fact is that there are no natural lakes in Oklahoma. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Every lake of any size at all in the Sooner State is a man-made reservoir. No lake in Oklahoma goes back long enough to make the alleged 200 year-old Native American legends possible. Lake Thunderbird was impounded between 1962-1965 and Lake Ten Killer, though older, was built between 1947-1952. I suspect strongly that there are no Native American legends about such a beast and that these alleged tales were added by some yarn-spinner in order to make the monster sound more plausible. Supporters of the existence of the Oklahoma octopus would likely defend the myths by stating that the creatures lived in the rivers of the state prior to the impoundment of the reservoirs but this is a tough one to swallow, in my opinion, as I have found zero evidence that suggests Native Americans believed such an animal existed. I have found no documentation of these legends and been unable to find anyone who can tell me what tribe(s) is affiliated with the myths (If I am incorrect on this and there are credible sources documenting tribal legends regarding these creatures, please email me and let me know).

Many will argue that other marine animals can survive just fine in freshwater environments. Certainly, there are some such cases. The bull shark, stingray and, on rare occasions, jellyfish are the poster children for this argument. I would simply counter by asking, is there even one species of cephalopod that has demonstrated this ability anywhere in the world? To my knowledge, the answer is no. I do not feel the bull shark/stingray argument is valid in this case.


I might be more open-minded to the possibility of a freshwater octopus if the bodies of water they allegedly inhabit were closer to the coast. For example, if a beast like this were being described in the brackish waters of Sabine Lake in southeast Texas, Lake Pontchartrain in southwest Louisiana or even a river or reservoir a bit more inland like Toledo Bend in east Texas, it would be more plausible. Oklahoma is just too far away from a marine environment to be the home of a large breeding population of cephalopods.

Still other hardcore believers in the octopus legend point to the episode of the Animal Planet series Lost Tapes that featured the creature. The episode centers around a rather unconvincing bit of video where a splash is heard and the videographer wheels to his left in time to catch a glimpse of what might be a tentacle sinking back into the water. To be blunt, the Lost Tapes series is a complete farce that falls into the same category of other mockumentaries produced by Animal Planet’s parent, The Discovery Channel, that featured megalodon and mermaids. It is simply a travesty that these programs are produced at all on allegedly educational networks much less that said networks bill them as being factual. Anyone putting their faith in the existence of the Oklahoma octopus based solely on the fact that it was featured on an episode of Lost Tapes is building their argument on a foundation of sand and setting themselves up for embarrassment.

There are other points to be made that make the existence of the Oklahoma octopus unlikely, at best. Most of these points are addressed quite nicely by Elizabeth Bergey, Ph. D of the Oklahoma Biological Survey in the video below. This presentation was created by Matt Korstjens and posted on Caleb Lack’s Great Plains Skeptic website. The video takes a couple of detours regarding other exotic invasive species in North America and the unreliability of eye-witness testimony that are a bit distracting but the interview with Dr. Bergey is solid. Take a look.



Some may think it odd that a guy that believes bigfoot and black panthers are real flesh and blood animals would doubt the existence of another alleged cryptid. That is okay. The truth is that I simply do not believe everything I hear. Even someone as open-minded to the possible existence of undocumented animals as I am needs more to go on that what is available regarding the Oklahoma octopus. Based on what I have been able to find, and it is not much, I do not feel there is anything to the legend. It is too bad really. What a great story it would be. In the end, however, it is almost certainly just that alone, a good story.


Sources:

Lack, Caleb. "Behold, the Legend of the Oklahoma Octopus." Great Plains Skeptic. 4 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. .

"Fisherman Catches Octopus in Lake Conway." THV11.com. Associated Press, 4 Dec. 2003. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. .

Bergey, Ph. D., Elizabeth. "Liz Bergey's Page." Bergey Lab. University of Oklahoma, 1 Jan. 2006. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. .



Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Wisdom of Rene Dahinden


"Something is making those damned tracks."

- Rene Dahinden


Enough said.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Didn't I Shoot?

I apologize for being absent for so long. As I mentioned on the Facebook page a little over a week ago, I had to have some minor surgery. The procedure was supposed to be pretty simple and take only 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Things turned out to be more complicated than the doctors anticipated, however, and the procedure that was supposed to take less than an hour turned into 4 hours on the table for me. Naturally, this lengthened the planned recovery time as well. I am now pretty much back to normal and will be trying to get back into the swing of things. This post, while not the topic I had intended for my first article back, is an attempt to do that.

Recently, I was interviewed by Jim Harold for his Paranormal Podcast program. You can download/stream the interview here. During the course of the interview, Jim asked me about the visual I had of what I believe to have been a wood ape in the Sam Houston National Forest in May of 2005 (you can read my account of this sighting here). During this portion of the interview, I mentioned several reasons why I felt it was highly unlikely what I witnessed was a person perpetrating a hoax. Toward the end of my relating of the account, I mentioned, somewhat in jest, that one of the reasons I believe a hoax to have been unlikely was that, “This is Texas. Everybody has a gun. This guy would have been taking his life in his hands running around in an ape suit” (paraphrase). I say “somewhat in jest” because, obviously, not every Texan owns a gun and of those that do, not everyone carries one everywhere they go. The comment was an attempt to inject a bit of levity into the interview while still making a valid point. That point being, while not every Texan carries a gun, a LOT of them do, making a hoax along these lines a very dangerous undertaking.

I received a comment from someone called “Bobodean” regarding the interview and that comment in particular. His (I am assuming the commenter is a male) comment is below:

“Regarding your siting (sic)... if everyone in Texas carries a gun...why didnt (sic) you shoot?”

I cannot be sure whether this commenter is asking a serious question or if he is taking a dig of some kind at me. I suspect it is the latter. Even if that is the case, at the heart of the comment lays a legitimate question, actually more than one. Was I carrying a gun that night as I claim so many Texans do? If so, why did I not attempt to collect the specimen I feel is necessary in order to prove the existence of the wood ape/sasquatch? These questions are fair enough so, here goes.


Was I carrying a gun that night? Yes, I was. I hold a CHL (concealed handgun license) here in the state of Texas and was legally carrying a sidearm that night. According to the latest data I could find, and I am very open to being corrected if there is more current data out there, there are in excess of 500,000 CHL holders in Texas. While this is a significant number, many might find it surprisingly low for a state with a population of approximately 26,528,398 as of 2013. Part of the reason more Texans do not obtain a CHL is that it is legal to carry a firearm in your vehicle here without a license. One only needs a CHL if they wish to carry a concealed weapon after they leave their vehicle. How many unlicensed Texans carry a weapon in their vehicle? Your guess is as good as mine on that, but I will say that the number increases every day. I also think it is safe to assume more Texans living in rural areas carry a weapon in their vehicle than those living in urban areas. So, you see, while I was attempting to bring a bit of levity to the interview when I mentioned the risk any would be hoaxers would be taking by donning an ape suit and traipsing about a lonely forest service road in rural Texas, the point is valid. A lot of Texans, including me, carry a weapon on their person or in their vehicle. To attempt to perpetrate such a hoax is almost suicidal in nature. I was not being hypocritical, as “Bobodean” seems to be implying, by making the statement I did. I was carrying that night. I know many, many other fellow Texans do the same on a daily basis and anyone attempting to perpetrate some kind of bigfoot hoax in this part of the world is taking a huge risk because of it.

Fine, you may think. Point taken. It still does not explain why you did not shoot that night. That is true enough. So, why did I not take the shot?

There are many reasons.

The sighting was fleeting. As detailed in my report, I was sitting in the front passenger seat looking out to the right of the vehicle when my friend brought the car to a stop and asked, “What is that?” I turned, leaned forward to get a better look and watched the subject turn and walk from the road into the woods to our left. The entire incident lasted only a few seconds. There is simply no way I could have unstrapped my seat belt, exited the vehicle, drawn my weapon and fired before the subject disappeared into the forest.

Having said that, and I feel this is very important, I would not have done so even if there had been more time. The first rule taught in any hunting safety course is that you must absolutely, positively identify your target before drawing a bead and pulling the trigger. You get no “do overs” once you take a shot. You have to be sure.
I was not sure what I was looking at that night, not initially. Even though I was out looking and hoping for this exact scenario, it took several seconds for my mind to work out exactly what was standing in that road. By the time I realized what I was likely seeing, it was gone. It is only in hindsight that I have become absolutely convinced what I saw that night was a living, breathing wood ape and not a man in a costume of some kind. Re-enactments, comparative measurements, etc. confirm that what I thought was “man-sized” was actually much larger. I did not have the luxury of all that data that night in 2005. I had only a few fleeting seconds in which to decide what to do. As has been established, I would not have had the time to fire a shot anyway but, even if I had been walking down that road, instead of riding shotgun in a vehicle, and able to draw my weapon quickly, I would still not have taken the shot. I simply could not be sure of what was in front of me in that moment. I do not feel this diminishes the truth behind my statement about a hoaxer taking his life in his hands by pulling a stunt along these lines, however, as there are a lot of folks out there who are less disciplined when it comes to what they are willing to shoot at and under what circumstances.

There are other reasons. I am sure most of you have read accounts where hunters claiming to have had a wood ape in their sights did not pull the trigger because they felt they “didn’t have enough gun.” I certainly fell into that category that night. I was carrying a 9mm semi-automatic handgun that is meant more for self-defense “fight in a phone booth” situations than for taking down big game at 40 yards. I could go on but I am sure you get the idea by now.

Again, while I get the feeling that “Bobodean” was taking a dig at me, he did touch on an aspect of my sighting that I have never explained in detail before. I think this post should serve to explain why I made the statement I did in the interview with Jim Harold and why, despite being armed that night, I did not take the shot.

Any more questions?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jim Harold's Paranormal Podcast Interview

I was interviewed recently by Jim Harold of The Paranormal Podcast on the topic of wood apes/bigfoot. The interview is now up and ready for listening/download.

I was a little nervous at first but I think, overall, it went well. Jim was gracious, professional and respectful of the topic. Give it a listen. I hope you enjoy it.

You can listen to/download the podcast here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The NAWAC Releases the Ouachita Project Monograph

The mission of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy is to facilitate official recognition and conservation of what it believes is a rare unlisted North American anthropoid species. Pursuant to those objectives, the organization has focused its time and resources in the Ouachita Mountain Ecoregion, dispatching teams to conduct prolonged searches and document all pertinent observations in a location with a history of reported sightings of large ape-like creatures.


The investigations, conducted over the course of four years, ranged from sixty to one hundred twenty days in duration, and produced experiences, evidence, and information thought to be significant, though not definitive to the point of validating the existence of a native North American anthropoid species. Some of the more notable thoughts and impressions recorded by scores of NAWAC team members are described and discussed in the Ouachita Project monograph.

If you entertain the possibility that the North American wood ape might exist, then this is something you are going to want to read. Visit the NAWAC website to download your copy and gain access to more than a dozen of the most intriguing audio clips recorded by the NAWAC in the place we call X.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mountain Lion Sighted, and Photographed, in Bremond, Texas

I received an email last week from a reader in Bremond, Texas detailing experiences with a mountain lion there over the last several days. The lady who wrote the email described losing multiple chickens to the predator. She also claimed to have had a pig injured by the cat. Her email is below. Please note, I have redacted the reader’s last name. I do not know if she would want that revealed. I can tell you that the last name was provided in the original email.


“We live in Bremond, Texas. This cat was on our back porch last night and killed 14 chickens and one of our mini pot bellied pigs from 4:30pm to 6:00pm... we left at 4:30, pig and chickens were fine, came back home about 6:00 and chickens were dead everywhere and pig was tore up in the flank. Then this cat was on our back porch.

Bridget *****”



I get a lot of emails along these lines. Most of the time, the readers who are reporting the incidents never see the predator responsible and can only speculate as to what the culprit might have been. This time is different. Bridget provided not only photos of tracks, but a shot of the cat itself as it sat on her porch. There is no doubt that the cat in the photo is a cougar.

I have replied to Bridget asking for some additional information and permission to visit the property, as it is not far from where I live. I have yet to hear back from her. I have been holding the photo for about a week in the hopes that I would have some more details on the incident but decided to move forward, rather than waiting any longer. I still hope to hear back from Bridget and get some additional details.


Critics will, no doubt, consider the fact that this reader has yet to respond to my queries as a sign something fishy is going on with this report. Certainly, that is possible; however, I feel like this report is likely genuine. The email I received was a matter of fact run down of what happened with no embellishment. Generally, this is a good sign. Could this be a hoax? I suppose so. I really do not get that feeling, however.


Bremond is located in central Texas and is considered to be outside of the normally accepted range of mountain lions in the Lone Star State. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife, “The Mountain Lion is found throughout the Trans-Pecos, as well as the brushlands of south Texas and portions of the Hill Country.” TPWD does concede, however that, “Sighting and kill reports indicate that mountain lions now occur in more counties than they did 10 years ago and appear to be expanding their range into central Texas.” My experiences, along with the many anecdotal reports I have received would seem to confirm this last statement.

As stated above, I do hope to hear back from Bridget and, possibly, visit the property. Whether that happens or not, mountain lions seem to be making a nice comeback in Texas and are beginning to refill a niche that has long been vacant in most of the Lone Star State. As they do so, there are bound to be some clashes between these predators and rural property owners. Hopefully, lions and people will be able to learn to coexist. I would hate to lose these majestic cats again from all but the westernmost and southernmost parts of Texas.

If that occurs, these magnificent cats might not get another chance.


References:

"Mountain Lion (Puma Concolor)." Texas Parks & Wildlife. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/mlion/>.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Bobcat, a Lynx and Occam's Razor

As I mentioned in a previous post, I captured an image of a large cat on one of my game cameras recently. The cat is larger than a typical bobcat and a golden color. It is also very muscular and robust. When I first came across the image I was initially very excited and thought I might have captured an image of one of the two big cats the property owners claim to have seen over the last two years (one tawny-colored cougar and one large, black, long-tailed cat of unknown species). I thought, “I got him!”


My enthusiasm dampened when I was able to get home and look at the photo on a larger monitor. The cat was, indeed, large and bulky and a tawny color but other characteristics seemed to clearly point to this being a bobcat. The backs of the ears are black and, though it is hard to tell due to increased pixellation in the enlarged image, appear more pointed than the ears of a mountain lion. Too, the coat, while golden in color, appears to have spots and markings typically seen on a bobcat. The markings are not as bold and distinct as those seen on a typical bobcat but they do appear to be there, nonetheless. The clincher is the lack of a long tail. While viewing the original image, I could not tell if the tail was absent or merely curled around the body of the cat or hidden behind foliage. I think it is clear in the enlargement that the tail is present but short and typical of that seen in a bobcat. The case seemed closed.


Still, this was an exceptionally robust specimen. The shoulder area is thickly and massively muscled, much more so than I am used to seeing in a bobcat. The bobcats I have photographed over the years, even the bigger ones, are all pretty lean. This guy looks like he is on steroids. The head shape did not seem quite bobcat-like to me, though I admit this could be due to the angle at which the cat was photographed. I decided to show it to some of my fellow NAWAC members and get their opinions. These are men and women who know the woods and the creatures therein. Several are wildlife biologists by trade. They know their stuff. The majority of them felt this was a bobcat, an unusually bulky and robust bobcat, but a bobcat nonetheless. There were a few, though, who felt the bobcat identification was most likely correct but the possibility that this was a mountain lion with its tail obscured by brush, down between its back legs or wrapped around on the opposite side of the body could not be absolutely dismissed due to the musculature exhibited. They were in the minority, however, so I had pretty much settled on this being nothing more than a big bobcat. As is often the case, however, something occurred next that got me rethinking things.


One NAWAC member, with whom I had shared the photos, visited a big cat rescue sanctuary a couple of weeks ago. He showed the photos (he had them on his phone) to several staff members. In all, six staff members were present and viewed the photos. Two of them said this was a bobcat right away but four, the majority, said that this cat looked far more like a lynx to them. One went so far as to say that if they had not known the photo had been taken in Texas they would absolutely say this was a lynx. It should be noted here that this facility houses a lynx as well as several bobcats and the staff is well versed in the differences between the two animals. It brought to mind a story the property owners told me when I first made their acquaintance. They had told me that the previous owner had related to them stories about the wildlife that they occasionally caught glimpses of on the property. They related to me that the previous owner specifically told them to keep an eye out for a lynx. When asked if he meant bobcat, the man said he had those on the property as well but there was a lynx occasionally seen there too. I did not really think much about that story until my friend related the opinion of the staff at the big cat sanctuary.


Is it possible? Could a lynx be roaming this part of north-central Texas?

Let’s start with the fact that the word lynx is often used universally to describe any one of two medium-sized wildcats in North America. One, as we have already established is the bobcat (Lynx rufus), the other is the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). The bobcat is basically found everywhere. They range from southern Canada, the continental U.S. and northern Mexico. The Canada lynx inhabits forests and tundras across Canada, into Alaska and some northern states. At one time these cats roamed much farther south but were extirpated by human hunting and trapping. Bobcats and Canada lynx are similar in appearance (pointed black-tipped, tufted ears and short “bobbed” tails. The coats of both species vary quite a bit with cats from more forested areas generally being darker while desert dwelling or tundra dwelling specimens are generally lighter. Both species exhibit a wide range of dark spots, bars and markings though the markings on lynx are usually less pronounced. The average lynx is larger than the average bobcat and has much larger and broader feet than its southern cousin. The larger feet help the lynx support its weight on snow. Since the two species look so much alike, it is easy to see why some people use the term lynx interchangeably with both animals.

But could a true Canada lynx be present in Texas?

The answer to that question should be, and probably is, no. There is no population of Canada lynx in Texas; however, they may be closer than many think. In 2010 the Canada lynx was reintroduced in the remote San Juan Mountains of Colorado where they had been absent since the 1970’s. Recovery has been slow. It is estimated that only 141 lynx litters were born between 2003-2010. Even so, wildlife officials have stated that the survival rates of these cats are outpacing the mortality rate. Possible evidence of this is a recent lynx sighting in southwest Colorado. A passing motorist snapped the photo below of what are clearly two Canada lynx. The San Juans are roughly 800 miles from the property where I have my cameras but only 300 miles from the Texas Panhandle border. Could a lynx have made its way into the panhandle and then meandered all the way to north-central Texas? Unlikely but, I suppose it is possible, if just barely so.


What about the old standby for anomalous cat sightings? The “it is an escaped or released exotic pet” explanation? Normally, I loathe this reasoning, as it is the most common line heard from wildlife officials when a mountain lion or black panther is reported. In the case of a possible lynx sighting, however, I must entertain it as a possibility. Both lynx and bobcat kittens are not hard to come by or acquire. They are also relatively cheap and cost less than some domestic cat and/or dog breeds. The average price I found was in the $1500-$1700 range. These are medium-sized animals and do not necessarily have to have the large enclosures of exotic big cats. They are billed by these kitten brokers as being “loving, loyal and, when tamed properly, extremely tolerant of other animals.” Personally, I do not approve of owning any sort of wild animal as a pet; however, many others do not share this opinion and the trade has thrived. Ownership of bobcats and lynx is much more common than ownership of larger cats like leopards or cougars. I suspect some of these owners have found their pets to be less “loving and loyal” than they expected and have turned them loose. It would be easier to justify dumping a bobcat or lynx than releasing a true exotic cat like a leopard or tiger. They are, after all, native to North America and far less dangerous to people. It is not implausible, to me at least, to think a pet lynx was released in or near my study site. Again, maybe not likely, but not completely out of the question.


All of that being said, I will paraphrase Occam’s razor and say that the simplest explanation is usually the correct explanation. The theory that a wild Canada lynx found its way to Texas requires a whole lot of faith. The escaped pet theory, while more plausible in my mind, still is a bit of a stretch. No, the most likely answer, requiring the fewest assumptions and least amount of speculation, is that I photographed a bobcat. It is one heck of a bobcat, bigger and more muscular than most but, still, a bobcat. There is plenty to eat out there and this cat is in his prime and reaping the benefits of a healthy environment.

My cameras remain in place, documenting the wildlife of this remarkable piece of land. Until, and unless, I get another photo of this cat that changes my mind, a bobcat it is. I just cannot go out on that lynx limb right now no matter how exciting it would be to document the species here in Texas. It is just too big a leap.

Darn that Occam and his razor.