Media Watch: Blue-Eyed Snakes and Old Blobs

Readers beware: Old monsters pawned off in stories said to be "new" news. Uncritical folk beliefs presented as "news." What’s going on this week online?

As cryptozoology becomes more popular, news alerts, newspapers, and websites are circulating old information, out-of-date data, and less-than-substantial "news" to capture cryptid-interested readers. And, no, I am not even talking about Pravda, the new Russian wild online contributor of stories that sound like they are straighten out of the World Weekly News!

Some recent media examples go far to demonstrate what seems to be a too common occurrence these days.

Okay, first there is the story of a "strange cow" in Nigeria that allegedly strangled a poor woman to death, after the person she owed money reportedly demonically changed the cow to do his bidding. This is an easy one; it’s just an "oh come on" story, hardly worthy of serious comment. But there it is, in a newspaper called The Tide with the masthead…"A Commitment to the Truth."

Let’s move on quickly to, a relatively mainstream outlet. On January 8, 2005, word spread across the Internet, via such things as breaking news alerts of a "dump creature." But look closer, this is an old May 2001 column of a 1999 report from an unnamed and unidentified woman of a "large, worm-like creature" with "blue eyes." It was never critically examined back then, and remains so in this latest dissemination.

Perhaps the blue eyes threw off, but, hey, it sure sounds like a rather mundane report of a common snake shedding it’s skin. And even photos have been taken of blue-eyed snakes.

Blue-Eyed Garter Snake

A "blue-eyed" garter snake, shedding its skin. © 2004 birds-n-garden – Used with permission.

What appears to be a poorly understood sighting of a snake or other reptile in a landfill is being promoted around websites this week as some great cryptid story. No wonder some people don’t take cryptozoology as a serious science.

Finally, and perhaps most sadly or silly, The Age in Australia presents readers around the globe with an article on January 9th, entitled "Monster Mash is Out of this World,". This is being shared online with the tagline that it is a summary of 2005′s monster events. One would get the idea that this is a good overview of cryptozoology, but it is not.

The writer is obviously trying for laughs in this piece, so the newspaper identifies him thusly: "Michael Dwyer (BA Eng Lit) is a Melbourne writer. He dropped science on school faculty advice when Pluto was a planet."

But, while we have a sense of humor ourselves, shouldn’t, at least, a newspaper get their dates and details right in their comedy routines? Take a gander at this paragraph from Dwyer’s "Monster Mash" item:

An even stranger sea beast washed ashore in Chile. The unidentified gelatinous mass measuring 12.4 by 5.4 metres was described by Elsa Cabrera at the Centre for Cetacean Conservation in Santiago as having "a very particular smell". One suspects it was chiefly this fact that led scientists to abandon the quest for conclusive identification.

The only trouble with this "2005 event" is that it happened in 2003. It was #4 on my top cryptozoology stories for 2003, and well-covered by the media back then. John Roach of National Geographic, for example, even used the same quotation in his July 3, 2003, National Geographic article on the case:

"It had a very particular smell, very different from a dead cetacean and from anything we have smelled before," said Elsa Cabrera, director of the Center for Cetacean Conservation in Santiago, Chile.

The Age’s Michael Dwyer, of course, drops any sense of this being a serious journalistic piece of humor when he completely confuses Dr. Cabrera’s odorous comment with what Paul Harvey would call "the rest of the story." As it turns out, of course, the Chilean scientists did not abandon the pursue of an answer to the mystery of the blob on their beach. They, instead, found an analysis of the tissue from this stranded but very dead creature was a good match for a whale, afterall.

Thus the "rest of the story" is not funny, but it’s the truth. For ridicule and entertainment, perhaps cryptozoology will be there as the future butt of some jokes, unfortunately, by inappropriate and less-than-talented journalists. But for reality and education, cryptozoology, we think, is wonder-filled and exciting when used correctly, factually, skeptically, within good nonfiction articles.