Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is already considered to be his magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my ShukerNature blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my published books (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Eclectarium blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

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Sunday, 16 February 2020

'BORDER' – A MINI-REVIEW OF A MAJOR MOVIE INSPIRED BY SCANDINAVIAN MYTHOLOGY AND CRYPTOZOOLOGY


Publicity poster for Border, featuring Eva Melander as Tina (© Ali Abbasi/John Ajvide Lindqvist/META Film/Black Spark Film & TV/Karnfilm/TriArt Film – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational and review purposes only)

Last night, I watched a very strange Scandinavian fantasy movie, made in Sweden, but it was strange for all the right reasons. Entitled 'Border', it was directed by Ali Abbasi, produced by META Film/Black Spark Film & TV/Karnfilm, and released by TriArt Film in 2018. I'd wanted to see it for ages, but it only received limited cinema release here in the UK despite being an Academy Award nominee. Happily, however, I recently managed to purchase it on DVD.

Based upon an original short story entitled 'Gräns', written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote this movie version's screenplay, 'Border' tells the story of a shy Swedish customs/border guard named Tina, whose decidedly homely physical appearance belied her remarkable gift for quite literally sniffing out human emotions, enabling her to detect by olfactory means if a person was feeling guilt, shame, anxiety, or other normally concealed traits. Needless to say, this unusual talent proved very useful in identifying incoming visitors to Sweden who were smuggling contraband or worse.

Always ill at ease with other people, Tina was only truly at peace when alone in the forest, among Nature - until an equally strange and homely-looking man named Vore appeared on the scene, and to whom she was instantly attracted, especially when she discovered that just like her, he bore a mysterious scar at the base of his spine, as if something had been surgically removed, something like a tail...? Those readers of this mini-review who are au fait with Scandinavian mythology and/or manbeast-related cryptozoology will no doubt have already guessed where this plot is going. Suffice it to say that Tina finally learns the shocking truth that although they are humanoid, she and Vore are not human. But more shocks are to come, especially in relation both to a very disturbing investigation that she is involved in as part of her work, and also to her origin.

See the present ShukerNature article's Postscript to read the story of this delightful 'Border'-relevant entity (© Dr Karl Shuker)

This movie at times makes for very dark, bleak, desolate, and quite merciless but also very compelling viewing, its otherworldliness holding my interest and attention at all times, although the penultimate scene, when Tina finally visits the past that had been hidden from her throughout her life is truly heartrending. Having read a great deal on the subject of the entities that Tina and Vore are, I have to say that I strongly suspect that this movie's makers took great liberties when it came to depicting certain aspects relating to their, shall we say, procreative anatomy and behaviour, but perhaps I am simply ill-informed here (if I am, I hope that my Scandinavian friends and colleagues will educate me accordingly!).

Ideally, 'Border' could have benefited from being dubbed into English, but its English subtitles more than adequately sufficed, especially as the acting prowess of its two leading stars (Eva Melander as Tina, Eero Milonoff as Vore) was of such quiet (and occasionally not so quiet) intensity that very often words were not required, their visual strength was more than sufficient to tell the audience all that it needed to know. All in all, 'Border' is quite simply unlike any movie that I have ever seen before, truly bewitching, often disturbing, and ineffably sad, a very unexpected example of humanity's inhumanity to those who are different, for whatever reason. As for anyone who hasn't seen this movie but would like to know the true nature of Tina and Vore, let's just say that those who enjoy insulting, demeaning, and arguing with others on social media provide a major clue, albeit in name only - think about it...

Finally, please click here to view a trailer for 'Border' that is currently accessible on YouTube.

Another publicity poster for Border, featuring Eva Melander as Tina and Eero Milonoff as Vore (© Ali Abbasi/John Ajvide Lindqvist/META Film/Black Spark Film & TV/Karnfilm/TriArt Film – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational and review purposes only)


POSTSCRIPT – CONTAINS 'BORDER' SPOILERS!!
If you don't want to discover what Tina and Vore were in 'Borders', read no further!

About 13 years ago, I was walking round a local car boot sale at the end, while all of the sellers were packing away their unsold wares, ready to go home, when, lying amidst a pile of unsold items discarded by various sellers, and staring up at me disconsolately, was the delightful plush-furred, tufted-tailed, Scandinavian troll pictured in the two photographs included above and below by me in this present ShukerNature article.

I knew full well that, just like all discarded items there, his fate was to be loaded onto a lorry by one of the car boot sale's litter pickers and then tipped onto a fire and burnt. Needless to say, therefore, without further ado I picked him up, and found that he was perfectly clean and intact, but unwanted by his owner and unchosen by any of the buyers at the sale. So I duly took him back home with me. Ever since my rescuing him from his destined fiery fate, he has sat very happily upon a pile of postcards and CDs in my study, surveying his surroundings and clearly very content to be here, just as I am to have been able to save him and add him to my eclectic menagerie.

Don't you just love a happy ending!!

Rescued from a fiery fate! (© Dr Karl Shuker)



Friday, 24 January 2020

MORE PHOTOGRAPHS OF MOTTY - THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE AS NEVER BEFORE SEEN


Motty with his mother Sheba at Chester Zoo in 1978 (© Dave Haynes)

On 1 March 2011, I uploaded here on ShukerNature an expanded version of an article of mine that had previously been published by the British monthly magazine Fortean Times. It's not very often that an animal can truly be described as unique, but the subject of that article really was. Named Motty and born at Chester Zoo, England, on 11 July 1978, he was the world's one and only confirmed hybrid of an African elephant and an Asian elephant. And as these species are housed in separate genera, Motty was not only an interspecific hybrid, he was also an intergeneric one. In fact, prior to his highly unexpected birth, it was not thought possible that an offspring resulting from a mating between an African and an Asian elephant could even occur – but Motty's arrival proved everyone wrong.


Tragically, however, this very surprising little newcomer died only 11 days after being born, and in spite of his extraordinary identity Motty was all but forgotten for many years thereafter – until, that is, my article (the most detailed account of Motty ever published) restored him very deservedly to public attention and piqued the interest of entirely new generations of readers. Moreover, as a result of my article's level of popularity, various readers sent to me extra information concerning Motty and also several additional photographs of him, none of which had previously been made public, as well as some remarkable visual reconstructions of what he may have looked like had he survived into maturity, all of which I duly posted in a couple of follow-up ShukerNature articles (click here and here to view them).


Now, I am delighted to say that after perusing those articles of mine, a further reader contacted me on 16 and 17 January 2020 to share with me (and also, very kindly, to permit me to share here with you) some more Motty photographs, again previously unseen and therefore making their public debut here. The reader in question is Dave Haynes, who was a keeper at Chester Zoo during Motty's all-too-brief life, and who not only recalled seeing him but also snapped some photos of him with his Asian elephant mother, Sheba. So here, by kind permission of Dave, are his photographs, offering new and very precious visual insights into the little miracle that was Motty.

Motty and Sheba with keepers Ray Packwood (left) and Paul (© Dave Haynes)

All five photographs here are reproduced courtesy of their owner and copyright holder, Dave Haynes – thank you so much, Dave!





Friday, 6 December 2019

SHUKERNATURE BOOK 2 IS HERE! LIVING GORGONS, BOTTLED HOMUNCULI, AND OTHER MONSTROUS BLOG FAUNA


ShukerNatureBook 2 is here! – which also just so happens to be Book #30, my 30th published book in 31 years of cryptozoological research and writing  (and not counting those many additional volumes for which I have acted as consultant and/or contributor rather than sole author) (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)

Here be monsters! Following the success of my first ShukerNature book, published by Coachwhip in April of this year, I now take great pleasure in inviting readers to pay a second visit in hard-copy format to my long-running, award-winning blog – which for over a decade has been uniquely uncovering and documenting the most extraordinary, and truly monstrous, denizens of cryptozoology and unnatural history ever reported and investigated.

Within this second spellbinding Coachwhip-published compilation in book form of blog articles selected and updated from ShukerNature, you will encounter such incredible entities as an eight-legged blue devil in Belize and the big grey man of Ben MacDhui, thylacines in New Zealand, Chile's lost mini-llamas, and Canada's elusive duck beavers, medieval bottled manikins, the garden of a water-horse, and the menagerie of Medusa, resurrected lijagupards and rediscovered litigons, Lewis Carroll's mock turtle and the cryptids of Doctor Dolittle, a marvellous mini-beast named after yours truly, Herman Melville's Polynesian mystery cat and Harry Potter's giant whip scorpion, plus Loys's South American 'ape', gargantuan grasshoppers, and other fascinating fauna of the fraudulent kind, chupacabra chimpanzees, griffinosaurs, celestial stags, Australian monkeys, Europe's last wildmen, what may (or may not?) be the real-life biblical Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a decapitated unicorn from South Africa, and so much more besides.

Its full wraparound cover (© Dr Karl Shuker/Coachwhip Publications)

Its gates are open wide, waiting only for you to step inside its sequestered, shadowy domain and see with your own disbelieving eyes the monsters and miracles lurking there! From living gorgons to hidden homunculi, it's high time for a return visit in tangible, page-turning state to ShukerNature!

Copies can be ordered directly from Amazon US here, from Amazon UK here (please ignore the latter UK site's glitch-generated overlong delivery estimate), and at all good online or shopping street bookstores.

Holding my very own first copy of ShukerNature Book 2 (© Dr Karl Shuker)





Saturday, 16 November 2019

THE SIX-LEGGED SEA SERPENT OF STRONSAY - STILL BASKING IN CRYPTOZOOLOGICAL CONTROVERSY?


Modern-day artistic representation of what the Stronsay beast might have looked like if it had literally resembled in life the eyewitness descriptions of it in death (© Tim Morris)

Down through the centuries, countless reports of mysterious sea ‘monsters’ have been reported, often grouped together within that infamously heterogeneous cryptozoological conglomerate popularly known collectively as the Great Sea Serpent. In most cases, such reports consist entirely of eyewitness sightings, unsubstantiated by anything tangible that can be directly examined afterwards by interested researchers. Occasionally, however, physical evidence IS obtained…

Perhaps the most famous of such cases occurred at Stronsay, one of the Orkney Islands off northern Scotland. On 26 September 1808, farmer John Peace was fishing east of Rothiesholm Point when he saw what seemed to be the carcase of a whale, cast up onto the rocks, above which were flocks of circling seabirds. He rowed up to it in his boat and examined it, and found that it was a very peculiar-looking creature, which did not resemble anything known to him. At that same time, another farmer, George Sherar, was watching Peace from the shore, and was able to confirm all of this. About 10 days later, moreover, he was able to see it for himself, because it was washed ashore on Stronsay, lying on its belly just below the high tide mark.

When Sherar discovered it there, he measured it, and found it to be 55 ft long. At least two other eyewitnesses (the afore-mentioned Peace and carpenter Thomas Fotheringhame) also measured it, and they obtained the same result. It was very serpentine, almost eel-like in general build, but possessed a 15-ft neck, a small head, and a long mane running along its back to the end of its tail. Most bizarre of all, however, was that it seemed to have three pairs of legs, and each foot had five or six toes. Sherar salvaged some vertebrae and the skull of this extraordinary creature – duly dubbed the Stronsay beast.

From the Wernerian Natural History Society's memoirs for 1808-1810, published in 1811, a sketch of the Stronsay sea serpent based upon eyewitness George Sherar's description and agreed by Sherar to be "an exact resemblance" of what he saw (public domain)

Details of its discovery and description ultimately reached Patrick Neill, secretary of Edinburgh's Wernerian Natural History Society, and at a meeting of the society on 19 November 1808 Neill released some details on this subject. At the next meeting, on 14 January 1809, he gave the Stronsay beast a formal scientific name - Halsydrus pontoppidani *, 'Pontoppidan's water snake of the sea' (after Erik Pontoppidan, an 18th-Century Norwegian bishop who had collected many sea serpent reports).

Erik Pontoppidan (public domain)

At that same meeting, Scottish anatomist Dr John Barclay, who had examined some of the beast's remains in Orkney, presented a paper in which he described the vertebrae, skull, and one of the creature's legs. His paper, accompanied with detailed diagrams, was published in 1811, within the society's memoirs, and attracted a great deal of attention. The vertebrae were very striking, resembling cotton reels, and were cartilaginous, but with calcification that radiated from the centre of each vertebra in a star-like pattern. The leg was also cartilaginous, but was not a real, jointed leg at all; it was merely a fin.

Dr John Barclay, 1820 portrait (public domain)

To many people, these features meant little, but they meant a great deal to the eminent naturalist Sir Everard Home, who was working at that time upon an exhaustive study of the basking shark Cetorhinus maximus - the world's second largest species of shark, but generally harmless, living on plankton. When Home heard about the Stronsay beast, he felt sure that it must have been a shark. This is because the only creatures to have cartilaginous vertebrae are sharks and rays, and the only creatures to have cartilaginous vertebrae with star-shaped calcification are sharks. Furthermore, when he compared the Stronsay beast's vertebrae, skull, and other salvaged remains with the corresponding portions of a known specimen of basking shark, they matched very closely.

Sir Everard Home (public domain)

Yet the long-necked, six-legged, mane-bearing Stronsay beast looked nothing like a basking shark - so how could this drastic difference in appearance be resolved? In fact, it was quite simple.

Stronsay beast vertebrae, an engraving from Barclay's 1811 paper (public domain)

When basking shark carcases begin to decompose, the entire gill apparatus falls away, taking with it the shark's characteristic jaws, and leaving behind only its small cranium and its exposed backbone, which have the appearance of a small head and a long neck. The triangular dorsal fin also rots away, sometimes leaving behind the rays, which can look a little like a mane - especially when the fish's skin also decays, allowing the underlying muscle fibres and connective tissue to break up into hair-like growth.

Additionally, the end of the backbone only runs into the top fluke of the tail, which means that during decomposition the lower tail fluke falls off, leaving behind what looks like a long slender tail. The pectoral and sometimes the pelvic fins remain attached, but become distorted, so that they can (with a little imagination!) look like legs with feet and toes. The resulting deceptively plesiosaur-like carcase is popularly (and fittingly) dubbed a pseudo-plesiosaur.

Finally, male sharks have a pair of leg-like copulatory organs called claspers, which would yield a third pair of 'legs', as happened with the Stronsay beast. Suddenly, a male basking shark has become a hairy six-legged long-necked sea serpent!

How a basking shark carcase decomposes into a pseudo-plesiosaur (© Markus Bühler/Journal of Cryptozoology)

Over the years, almost all of the Stronsay beast's preserved remains have been lost or destroyed, but three vertebrae are retained in Edinburgh's Royal Museum of Scotland - the last remnants of Stronsay's world-famous hexapodal sea serpent. Its mystery, conversely, continues to the present day, and for very good reason. The longest conclusively-identified basking shark that has been accurately measured was a truly exceptional specimen caught in 1851 in Canada's Bay of Fundy; whereas the average length for its species is under 26 ft, this veritable monster was a mighty 40 ft 3 in. Yet even that is almost 15 ft less than the length claimed by eyewitnesses for the Stronsay beast. Even the largest scientifically-measured specimen of the world's biggest fish - the whale shark Rhincodon typus - was only(!) 41.5 ft long.

Accordingly, in 2008 archaeogeneticist Dr Yvonne Simpson, who had been studying the Stronsay beast's few preserved remains since 2001, was reported in various media interviews as stating that due to its size she wondered whether it may have been some other species of shark rather than a basking shark, and was hoping to conduct DNA tests upon some newly-recovered bone fragments from this contentious carcase that had been given to her by a private collector (Daily Telegraph, 8 September 2008). However, nothing further seems to have emerged regarding this potentially exciting prospect.

Some cryptozoologists have also questioned whether the 55-ft Stronsay beast really was a basking shark, speculating that it may have belonged to a still-unknown, giant relative. One of the world's largest known sharks, the formidable megamouth Megachasma pelagios, remained wholly unknown to humankind until 15 November 1976, when the first recorded specimen was accidentally hauled up from the sea near the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Consequently, the prospect of undiscovered species of extra-large shark still eluding scientific discovery in modern times is far from being as unlikely as one might otherwise assume.

Megamouth shark (© FLMNH Ichthyology/Wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Alternatively, might the Stronsay beast simply have been an exceptionally large specimen of basking shark after all? In a Facebook comment concerning this classic sea monster carcase posted on 16 October 2019, American cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard offered the following pertinent thoughts:

Of course there were more outsized fish in those days - before population explosions, pollution and aggressive, industrialized fishing took hold. Perhaps the Stronsay Beast represented one of the last monster-sized basking sharks? 

This is the possibility that I personally consider most reasonable.

A third option is that the latter beast's size may have been measured inaccurately by its eyewitnesses – the option favoured by Home, who discounted the claimed 55-ft total length in favour of a more conservative yet still very impressive 36 ft. Yet if so, it seems very strange that three separate people measured it (one of whom, Thomas Fotheringhame, was a carpenter and therefore skilled in accurate measurement) and all obtained the same 55-ft total length for it. As is so often true with cryptozoological cases that date back quite considerably, it is likely that no conclusive answer will ever be obtained, so the controversy surrounding the Stronsay beast seems destined to persist indefinitely.

Having said that: during December 1941, history somewhat repeated itself in the Orkneys when a strange carcase, 25 ft long, was washed ashore at Scapa Flow. Its superficially prehistoric, plesiosaurian appearance was presumably sufficient for Provost J.G. Marwick, who had documented it in detail in a local newspaper account (Orkney Blast, 30 January 1942), to dub this enigma 'Scapasaurus'. Fortunately, a single vertebra from its remains was preserved and retained at London's Natural History Museum, which readily identified it as a basking shark.


* Taxonomic tail-note: Halsydrus pontoppidani Neill, 1809 is currently designated as a junior synonym of the basking shark's officially-recognised binomial name, Cetorhinus maximus Gunnerus, 1765.

Basking shark (public domain)