Over the past week we’ve been treated to a barrage of news stories about a mysterious carcass which washed up on the beach of Montauk, Long Island, on July 13th. Dubbed “The Montauk monster”, it even rated a video bit on CNN.
Alas, the ‘monster’ has been identified, and is none other than the decayed remains of a raccoon that had spent lots of time in the water. Details can be found at Tetrapod Zoology.
There was never any doubt in my mind that this would turn out to be the remains of a mundane animal, even though I couldn’t identify the specific animal myself. The combination of water and decay can create all sorts of strange alterations in ordinarily familiar animals, creating a sort of Rorschach test for the imaginative viewer. The same phenomena seems to occur in many (if not all) cases of UFO observation: witnesses, faced with something they cannot immediately explain, leap to the most exotic and outlandish conclusions first.
For instance, on April 25, 1977 the Japanese trawler MS Zuiyo Maru picked up the following badly decayed carcass:
This image is still displayed all over the web as evidence of a still-extant pleisosaur-like creature. Reputable biologists of the time, however, concluded it was the remains of a basking shark:
The lower jaw of the shark is one of the first parts to fall off during decomposition, leaving what can appear to be a long, elongated neck and small plesiosaur-like head.
The Montauk Monster will be remembered as another milestone of mainstream journalism: the week that ‘dead raccoon washed up on beach’ became a national news story…