We’ve all heard stories about fantastical creatures that people swear they’ve seen and have evidence of but can never be confirmed. Think Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Mermaids or the Kraken. While there’s no evidence backing the existence of these creatures, either in present day or at any point in the past, there must be a reason why such legends were created in the first place. In most cases, the legend in grounded in fact.
During this Halloween season, we’re bringing you four stories from scientists who know a little something about the real-life animals that inspired these legendary creatures. In this episode, the second in a two-part series, we chatted with Rodrigo Salvador, Curator of Invertebrates at the Museum of New Zealand, about the connections between giant squids and the Kraken, and Danielle J. Serratos, Director/Curator of the Fundy Geological Museum, about the links between prehistoric aquatic reptiles and the Loch Ness monster, respectively.
This episode was produced and mixed by Shane M Hanlon.
Shane Hanlon: 00:00 Hi, Vicky.
Vicky Thompson: 00:01 Hi, Shane.
Shane Hanlon: 00:03 Do you want to play a game? Are you a fan of Saw?
Vicky Thompson: 00:07 What?
Shane Hanlon: 00:07 Did you ever see the movie Saw?
Vicky Thompson: 00:10 Did you ever see the movie Saw?
Shane Hanlon: 00:12 Yeah.
Vicky Thompson: 00:13 No, I’ve seen the previews for it. I know what you’re referring to.
Shane Hanlon: 00:18 It’s okay.
Vicky Thompson: 00:20 I don’t know. “Do you want to play a game?” Is that what it is?
Shane Hanlon: 00:23 Yes, that’s it. This isn’t about Saw. But today I do have a little…
Vicky Thompson: 00:27 Immediately off track.
Shane Hanlon: 00:29 No, no, we’re coming back. I have a quiz for you.
Vicky Thompson: 00:33 Okay. Okay.
Shane Hanlon: 00:34 All right.
Vicky Thompson: 00:35 I’m excited.
Shane Hanlon: 00:36 Sure. Okay.
Vicky Thompson: 00:37 I’m weirdly excited.
Shane Hanlon: 00:39 And this is going to be Halloween themed since this is coming out on Halloween. My first question for you is, what two creatures make up a griffin? Can you picture a griffin?
Vicky Thompson: 00:51 Yes. I think I can picture a griffin.
Shane Hanlon: 00:55 What do you think?
Vicky Thompson: 00:56 Something with wings and something with claws. A lion and an eagle. I don’t know. Something with wings.
Shane Hanlon: 01:07 Yes.
Vicky Thompson: 01:07 No, really?
Shane Hanlon: 01:10 Yeah. Look at you, Vicky.
Vicky Thompson: 01:11 Oh, good. Okay.
Shane Hanlon: 01:13 All right. We’re one for one.
Vicky Thompson: 01:15 Clapping for myself.
Shane Hanlon: 01:16 Okay. So I have a multiple choice question for you now. So which of these is not a nickname for mermaids? Is it a siren, a naiad, a kelpie or a sirenia?
Vicky Thompson: 01:34 Okay. It’s B or D.
Shane Hanlon: 01:36 Naiad or sirenia?
Vicky Thompson: 01:38 Yeah.
Shane Hanlon: 01:38 Okay.
Vicky Thompson: 01:39 Naiad.
Shane Hanlon: 01:42 So, wrong. Wrong on both accounts. It’s actually, it’s a kelpie.
Vicky Thompson: 01:49 Oh, kelpie? That sounded so correct.
Shane Hanlon: 01:50 I know. I made that up. Ha ha ha.
Vicky Thompson: 01:55 Oh. Good job.
Shane Hanlon: 01:55 Well, so let me put it this way, actually. A kelpie is a thing, but it’s a shapeshifting organism that does often take the shape of a mermaid, but it doesn’t have to be a mermaid. Mythology’s fun. I don’t know. All right, moving on.
Vicky Thompson: 02:10 I don’t know. I’d like to go to the [inaudible 00:02:11] producers on that one.
Shane Hanlon: 02:14 Moving on. Okay. So one more quick one for you.
Vicky Thompson: 02:15 Okay. Okay.
Shane Hanlon: 02:20 So I’m going to give you different names of Bigfoot, and you should guess what region of the world that they originated from. Does that make sense?
Vicky Thompson: 02:27 Okay.
Shane Hanlon: 02:28 Okay. So start with Sasquatch. Where do you think the word Sasquatch came from, or what part of the world?
Vicky Thompson: 02:36 Appalachia. No. I don’t know. I just feel like that’s where Bigfoot lives.
Shane Hanlon: 02:42 Yeah. I mean…
Vicky Thompson: 02:44 Sasquatch, Sasquatch. No, no, no, no, no. Oh, North America, I think for sure. I feel like, I think for sure, I really put my foot down on that. Alaska, Canada, that way.
Shane Hanlon: 03:03 It’s from Canada. There you go. All right.
Vicky Thompson: 03:06 Why did I decide it’s from North Carolina? Okay.
Shane Hanlon: 03:08 Yeah. And this is a really great audio medium to just watch you think. But then we just have seconds of dead air, which is really fun.
Vicky Thompson: 03:15 Oh, sorry.
Shane Hanlon: 03:15 No, it’s fine.
Vicky Thompson: 03:18 Should I make thinking sounds?
Shane Hanlon: 03:22 No, I came up with the quiz, so this is on me. All right. What about Yeti?
Vicky Thompson: 03:28 Okay. I wish you had given me all the names at once and then let me circle back to them individually, because I feel like I’m going to use up my choices. Yeti. I feel like Yeti is a Nepal name.
Shane Hanlon: 03:46 It is Nepal. Look at you. All right.
Vicky Thompson: 03:50 I’m [inaudible 00:03:51] fist pumps. Fist pumping for myself.
Shane Hanlon: 03:53 What about a Yowie?
Vicky Thompson: 03:55 Oh, I have never heard that before in my life. Yowie. I’ll say Florida.
Shane Hanlon: 03:59 Oh, actually, no, the answer is not that. Yowie, I don’t know that you’d guess it. It’s from Australia.
Vicky Thompson: 04:06 Australia-
Shane Hanlon: 04:07 Yeah, if you didn’t know that one…
Vicky Thompson: 04:07 That sounds so correct.
Shane Hanlon: 04:08 I had to Google that one. I have one for you though.
Vicky Thompson: 04:11 Okay. Okay.
Shane Hanlon: 04:12 A skunk ape.
Vicky Thompson: 04:17 A skunk ape.
Shane Hanlon: 04:22 Yeah. You’ve actually already said it.
Vicky Thompson: 04:24 That’s North Carolina? That’s Florida.
Shane Hanlon: 04:27 That’s Florida. Of course, it’s Florida.
Vicky Thompson: 04:30 A skunk ape?
Shane Hanlon: 04:31 It’s pretty amazing. Yeah. There’s actually a Skunk Ape Museum down like Everglades area I did not go to, but I’ve passed it. It’s pretty fantastic. So here’s where-
Vicky Thompson: 04:43 Got to go back.
Shane Hanlon: 04:45 Next time I’m there. So just as a reminder for folks why we’re doing this, this is the second of a couple episodes we brought back about monsters and legend and their connection to science, and also bringing back the voice of my former co-host, our former colleague, Nancy.
Vicky Thompson: 05:04 Nancy.
Shane Hanlon: 05:05 Yeah. So you’ll hear, this episode will be myself and Nancy and some hopefully spooky but also really engaging stories about myths and legends and monsters.
Vicky Thompson: 05:21 Very cool.
Shane Hanlon: 05:24 Science is fascinating, but don’t just take my word for it. Join us as we hear stories from scientists for everyone. I’m Shane Hanlon.
Nancy Bompey: 05:35 And I’m Nancy Bompey.
Vicky Thompson: 05:36 And I’m Vicky Thompson.
Shane Hanlon: 05:37 And this is Third Pod from the Sun. So like I said up top, this is the second episode in a two-part series where we’re looking at mythical creatures and the animals that inspired them. And this one, and this is just coincidence, but we’re talking about two sea creatures, and so we’re going to start with the kraken.
Nancy Bompey: 06:00 What’s a kraken? I know. I mean, actually I heard, isn’t there something that’s like, “Bring on the kraken”? Isn’t that from a movie?
Shane Hanlon: 06:06 Yeah, well, so the Pirates of the Caribbean movies had that in it. And it’s a mythical sea creature that we’re going to learn more about, and so we’ll bring in our first interviewee to talk about it.
Rodrigo Salvad…: 06:21 So my name is Rodrigo Salvador and I’m a curator of invertebrates at the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington. And I actually specialize in snails, land snails mostly. And as a curator, my job is to conduct research on mollusks and to look after, take care and expand our collection of mollusks and also do outreach activities in the museum
Nancy Bompey: 06:53 Okay. That still does not explain what a kraken is.
Shane Hanlon: 06:56 We’re getting there, all right? Just wait.
Rodrigo Salvad…: 06:59 Let’s start in the beginning. So as for my interest, it kind of started very early. I mean, the first memory of receiving a book as a gift was a book about Greek mythology that I got from my sister. And I kind of immediately got into it. And ever since then, it’s just been a sort of extension of it, so I’ve always liked to read about these monsters, these stories about the gods, et cetera.
Shane Hanlon: 07:34 And this was independent of your scientific interest, you just have this interest in Greek mythology?
Rodrigo Salvad…: 07:40 Completely independent. Because when I was a child of course I was interested in dinosaurs, as all children are. But then that kind of faded away a little bit. I got into engineering in university, actually, and then I dropped out and changed to biology. So I kind of lost the interest in all the dinosaurs and the living world at some point, but then got back in it. And I mean, in between there was Dungeons and Dragons, of course. And I suppose that after I started biology, one thing just led to another in a natural way.
Shane Hanlon: 08:26 The initial interest, then, was in Greek mythology.
Rodrigo Salvad…: 08:29 Yeah, I suppose that has to do with Dungeons and Dragons. I’m always [inaudible 00:08:34] as the dungeon master, so I have to prepare adventures, come up with monsters, et cetera. So I already had an interest in mythology, so I was kind of looking into several monsters that started off as sort of a common animal and just the legend just built up, and the kraken was just one of them. But then there came one day that I thought, well, I could actually write an article about this kraken. I’m already studying malacology so it just felt natural.
09:13 And so I started to investigate it, the story behind it, all the reports that we have in the literature about sightings of these monsters, et cetera. And that goes back to the 12th century in Norway, so that’s the first actual report of a kraken, if you believe it. And the thing is, back then there were several sea monsters around, and there is this very old manuscript written by a king of Norway in the 12th century, and he lists all sorts of sea monsters, a kraken is just one of them. But I think what happened in time as the centuries just passed, all these monsters, some of them they kind of were not strong enough, I suppose, in the folklore, in people’s minds, et cetera, and they just kind of faded away. And the kraken was just a strong enough monster to survive in people’s memory, I suppose.
Shane Hanlon: 10:22 There’s mention of kraken going back hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, right? The connection you’re making, and I want to ask, is this a connection unique to you, or are there other folks out there who have looked at kraken and thought, okay, these people are probably seeing a giant squid?
Rodrigo Salvad…: 10:41 So yeah, in the very first reports, we don’t have actually much information besides the fact that the kraken was gigantic. So at first it had a sort of amorphous quality to it. Some people said it was like a mountain or an island, so you can also imagine the proportions of the monster. But then it kind of started to evolve along the centuries. So we have representations of the kraken as a giant humanoid, like a giant lobster, and a giant cephalopod too, of course. But the thing is, by the time you reach the 18th century, the kraken already had a sort of established cephalopod look. And it was such a strong image in the minds of the Nordic countries that Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, the modern biological classification, he actually included the kraken as a cephalopod in his book. The original book, Systema Naturae, that kind of defined and started the system of biological classification, it had the kraken listed as a real animal under cephalopod.
Shane Hanlon: 12:03 I found it really interesting that the kraken was listed as a species in and of itself, but it turns out there’s a lot of murkiness in the “Is it a squid, or is it a kraken?” Realm, so I asked Rodrigo for some clarity. When was the first description of a giant squid as something separate and apart from this. As itself, when did that first description happen?
Rodrigo Salvad…: 12:26 That was in Greece, actually. So it’s Aristotle, I think 4th century BC.
Shane Hanlon: 12:33 A long time ago. Okay.
Rodrigo Salvad…: 12:35 And it’s funny because back then they knew that there were squids, normal squids, and there was a giant version of squids that was a different animal. And they actually just treated it as an animal, not a monster. And they had plenty of monsters so you are left wondering why this one is not a monster. But anyway, they treated it as a real animal.
Shane Hanlon: 13:01 Was there kraken, and then as people found out that there was also this thing out there that potentially could be the kraken, did it come together kind of separately? Because I think in my mind it was giant squid, and it turns out the thing that people thought was a kraken was actually always just a giant squid. But from the way you describe it, it’s that the kraken wasn’t always a squid, it was this thing in the sea that was destroying stuff.
Rodrigo Salvad…: 13:27 So it’s very possible that the animal that started the whole thing was actually a giant squid. We can never be a hundred percent sure about it, but there are good indications of it. So if you go back to other reports of the kraken along the centuries, you will find something like… There’s a bishop, Pontoppidan, in Norway, and he wrote extensively about the kraken. And that was the first moment when it was clearly a cephalopod. I mean, despite the huge, colossal size he assigns to the monster, there are some things like the fact that it could make the waters around it dark. So that’s kind of a cephalopod thing, expelling ink to warn off predators, et cetera. So I think those were the very first signs that it was related to a cephalopod. Of course, anything back then in the 12th century, even before that, anything that people would see while they were crossing from Norway to Iceland, anything that they would see floating around and it was kind of big, people would get scared of it.
Shane Hanlon: 14:48 I know with kraken there are these myths and stories of kraken taking down ships and causing all of this damage. So assuming that giant squids are actually krakens, is there evidence that giant squids have ever done anything like this? Have they ever taken down a ship or anything like that? Is there any validity to the myths that were told in the past?
Rodrigo Salvad…: 15:17 No, definitely not. So I suppose that seeing one of those on the surface of the water might scare you quite a lot, especially if you were traveling around in a flimsy wooden boat back then. But the reality is that when squids are floating on the water like that, especially the giant squid which lives deep under water, so they usually reach the surface when they have already spawned their eggs and are dying. So they would not be able in any sense to attack a ship or anything. But the thing is, well, they still have the defense mechanism, so that includes, of course, releasing ink on the water. And they can also spout water through a structure called a funnel, that’s how they move, with jet propulsion. But if they do that on the surface and people see just a jet of water, so that might scare someone.
Shane Hanlon: 16:23 Sure.
Rodrigo Salvad…: 16:24 And it’s very likely that when they got back home, they wanted to tell the story. And these stories just kind of increased a little bit every time they were told, and then that’s how you end up with a monster.
Shane Hanlon: 16:40 Yeah. I can imagine over the years, they become more and more exaggerated as the stories get passed on.
Rodrigo Salvad…: 16:48 Yeah. Just add one other detail. And of course, if you’re telling a good story about a monster, it needs to be big, it needs to be able to sink a ship and eat its entire crew, that sort of thing.
Shane Hanlon: 17:02 So Nancy, now do you know what a kraken is?
Nancy Bompey: 17:09 Yes, I do.
Shane Hanlon: 17:09 Do you enjoy learning in our podcast interviews?
Nancy Bompey: 17:12 Always learn something new.
Shane Hanlon: 17:15 Well, we wanted to… Or didn’t want to, but we happened to end up sticking with this theme of aquatic monsters, and we talked to someone else who has some expertise on these linkages between real life animals and the mythical monsters.
Danielle Serrat…: 17:31 So my name is Danielle Serratos. I’m the Director/Curator at the Fundy Geological Museum, which is located in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia on the Bay of Fundy, which is worldwide famous for having the highest tides in the world. I specialize in researching Mesozoic marine reptiles, which would include plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs and mosasaurs. Mosasaurs have been fairly popular in media for the past couple years due to Jurassic World and the quite voracious mosasaur that’s in the water pen in that movie. But more recently, I’ve been working on Canada’s oldest dinosaurs, the prosauropods and the earliest reptiles, as well as the reptiles that were living alongside those, Canada’s earliest dinosaurs. So moving more into the land environments.
Shane Hanlon: 18:26 I think it’d be helpful to place folks in time. So when was the Mesozoic? When is the period where these animals that we’re going to be talking about lived?
Danielle Serrat…: 18:39 So I’m actually going to go on a bit of a tangent here because providing a quick overview of Mesozoic marine reptiles is not really all that quick.
Shane Hanlon: 18:48 Fair enough.
Danielle Serrat…: 18:51 So the Mesozoic was the geological era from 252 to 66 million years ago, and includes the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. So that’s the Mesozoic part. The marine reptiles is a bit more complicated. So they’re reptiles the same way that dinosaurs were, but there are some pretty significant differences between marine reptiles and dinosaurs. The biggest one is marine reptiles, there’s a lot of fossil evidence that they gave birth to live young, so instead of laying eggs the way that dinosaurs did. A notable exception would be turtles, which just goes to show that classifying animals can be a really tricky problem. Marine reptiles, they also lived in the ocean, or at least in brackish waters like an estuarine system.
19:46 The only aquatic dinosaur that we currently know of is the spinosaurus, and it seems to have stuck to fresh water. So that designation of mostly being on land versus mostly being in the ocean is a pretty clear delineation. And then lastly, marine reptiles had fins or flippers, whereas dinosaurs had and have toes with claws. So it’s important to keep in mind that these evolutionary relationships are incredibly complicated and general statements in science should always come with a caveat. For example, dinosaurs evolved from some reptiles, the same way birds evolve from some dinosaurs, but that doesn’t mean that birds are actually reptiles. They just share many characteristics due to sharing ancestors.
Shane Hanlon: 20:33 Nancy?
Nancy Bompey: 20:35 Yes.
Shane Hanlon: 20:37 Do you know your, I guess, geologic epochs, your time scales?
Nancy Bompey: 20:43 Mesozoic, Jurassic, [inaudible 00:20:47]. I have no… I am just saying words.
Shane Hanlon: 20:49 This is why we have Danielle. What about your different aquatic reptiles, like mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs?
Nancy Bompey: 20:57 Dinosaurs, [inaudible 00:21:01]. No.
Shane Hanlon: 21:03 Well, we got a quick background on kind of the eras. Now, I really wanted to ask Danielle to dive into plesiosaurs in particular, and their influence on these myths that we’re going to be talking about.
Danielle Serrat…: 21:18 Plesiosaurs were around mostly from the end of the Jurassic through the end of the Cretaceous or the mass extinction event that wiped out almost all the dinosaurs and all the marine reptiles that we were talking about as far as plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and mosasaurs go. So when we talk about marine reptiles, especially during the Mesozoic era, so during the age of dinosaurs, we’re talking about four major groups, plesiosaurs being my area of interest, but there’s also mosasaurs, which people would associate with the Jurassic World movies.
Shane Hanlon: 21:56 I was going to ask about that. All right.
Danielle Serrat…: 22:00 And then ichthyosaurs, which are very, very popular in England because the first ichthyosaur skeleton was found on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, and turtles. So of course turtles are still around today, but they look vastly different than they did during the age of dinosaurs. In fact, archelon, which was a turtle that is hundreds of millions of years old at this point, was roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Nancy Bompey: 22:30 So she’s interested in these prehistoric reptiles, but how does that lead to her interest in the Loch Ness monster, these other kind of things?
Danielle Serrat…: 22:40 I have been a science communicator for the majority of my career in paleontology. And inevitably when you work with plesiosaurs, you have to learn about the Loch Ness monster. It’s just something that comes with the territory. So the Loch Ness monster is a story that most likely dates back about 1,500 years ago to the Pictish standing stones in the Scottish Highlands. So nowadays, these Pictish standing stones are more frequently associated with the term water horse or kelpie, but these depictions have fins and flippers, which really encourages that connection to prehistoric plesiosaurs and other Mesozoic marine reptiles to some extent as well. Like you alluded, the ichthyosaurs, while they look different, a lot of these mythological creatures have a weird accumulation of different types of body parts. So it’s totally fair game to say that ichthyosaurs would be a part of this inspiration as well. Well, ichthyosaur skeletons and fossils would be.
Shane Hanlon: 23:50 Well, there was a lot of chimeras, right, essentially just pulling different body parts from different organisms to make the thing of your choosing almost?
Danielle Serrat…: 23:58 Absolutely. And that totally makes sense when you think about it from a paleontological perspective, because so often the fossils that we find are not articulated, which just means that we find individual bones kind of scattered about and moved in different areas relative to how they would’ve been connected when the animal was still alive. So going back to the Loch Ness monster, there’s this story of a missionary who in the year 565 claims to have come upon a swimmer being attacked by a monster in the lake, in the loch, which was recorded in his biography. And then the history of digging up fossils predates the written word, but there were significant advances in what would become the field of paleontology in the early 1800s when Mary Anning, who we talked about before, when Mary Anning discovered the first ichthyosaurus and the first complete plesiosaur at the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it’s so incredibly important for the fossils that we find there.
25:11 So 110 years later from her discovery of that plesiosaurus, a local couple made newspaper headlines claiming to have seen an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the loch’s surface. A year later, so this would’ve been the early 1930s, a physician published a picture of the long-necked monster, but a deathbed confession from a stepbrother 60 years later revealed that the photo had been an elaborate hoax that they had made with wood and a toy submarine.
Shane Hanlon: 25:45 Oh, wow.
Danielle Serrat…: 25:47 Yeah.
Shane Hanlon: 25:47 That’s dedication.
Danielle Serrat…: 25:49 It is. And it’s funny how that part of the story is not commonly known. A lot of people know about the surgeon’s photograph, but very few people know that there was an official retraction of that photograph.
Shane Hanlon: 26:01 I mean, that’s how retractions work, unfortunately.
Danielle Serrat…: 26:05 True. Yeah. So while we’re drawn to this idea of prehistoric monsters, especially in the ocean, I think it really draws from this idea that humans love a good mystery. They really love the idea of this is phenomenal or extraordinary, and let’s tell this story and not worry about the pesky facts that redact it later.
Shane Hanlon: 26:32 Sure. So I guess, when were the first connections, so people talking about stories for what you said, like 1,500 years almost, when did the connections first start happening between these stories and these supposed firsthand accounts to, oh, but it could actually be this, or it could be backed up by the fossil record or whatever it might be? When did that start happening?
Danielle Serrat…: 27:03 The first well-documented evidence that people were tying fossils in the rock record to these mythological stories like the Loch Ness monster probably weren’t appearing until the early 1900s. Fossils were really being bought and sold for museums and private collectors in the late 1800s, but it was mostly a hobby for people, especially in the UK at that time. Yes, there was scientific research going on, but it was a beginning field at that time, and it was very insular, it was very classist, it was very sexist.
27:48 So there were very few people that had access to that information. Even though they were being put in museums, the fossils weren’t necessarily being put together accurately. There was a lot of confusion and building from the ground up in that field at that time. So I would say fairly confidently that those sorts of, I guess, interactions or relations between mythological creatures and actual fossils, full fossil skeletons at least, being compared wasn’t happening until the early 1900s.
Shane Hanlon: 28:25 When talking to Danielle, I found it interesting that the Loch Ness monster, let’s say truthers, they like to use fossil evidence to say that yes, the monster existed and may still exist. And that was the case dating back hundreds of years using these fossils to support their claims. I wanted to know, though, kind of the opposite. I was wondering when folks started looking at the fossil record and using current technology to say, yes, something like this may have existed in our history, but most certainly does not now.
Danielle Serrat…: 28:57 I think when you talk about using scientific evidence of fossils, specifically with plesiosaurs, to sort of debunk this idea of the Loch Ness monster, that idea had been around probably as long as the surgeon’s photograph had been a thing. However, the evidence has really accumulated strongly and been strongly presented in the last probably 30 to 40 years. So there’s this desire for this compelling horror story that there’s this lake monster that’s going to come out and attack innocent bystanders. But extensive lidar sweeps across the Loch Ness and the surrounding area have pretty definitively verified that nothing near the size of a plesiosaur is living in that lake and nothing really on that size scale would even be possible to survive in Loch Ness at this point, just because we have a really good understanding of what size these animals would’ve been on a global distribution, not just in the UK.
30:08 And these were large marine reptiles. I mean, we’re talking anywhere between three and 11 meters long. They were sizeable creatures. And the fossil evidence shows us that they all lived in salt water to brackish water, and of course the Loch Ness is fresh water. So that’s another indicator that there’s no scientific evidence to really support this idea that they’d still be living in a fresh water environment. Now, to top it all off, there’s also this idea that we really understand ecological niches and food webs and these big picture ideas about how animal communities live nowadays. And yes, that’s comparing them to modern species, but we have enough fossil evidence to talk confidently about what resources would be necessary for animals like plesiosaurs to have survived, and the Loch Ness simply doesn’t have that size or that level of resources to support even one plesiosaur, let alone generations needed to survive the past, well, at least the past 66 million years.
Shane Hanlon: 31:19 Are there still people out there who fervently believe that Loch Ness is still there? And I guess, can you speak to, or do you know any of their arguments or why they would still think this?
Danielle Serrat…: 31:33 Well, there are definitely people who still believe the Loch Ness monster is real. Even people who are not invested in it, they just casually assume that’s true because they know someone who has said it or they read some article online or watch some fake documentary or something. So there’s definitely people who are kind of casually interested in that idea and also vehemently believe that the Loch Ness monster is real and it’s simply outsmarted everyone who’s gone looking for it. The excuses abound.
Nancy Bompey: 32:12 So we’re talking about the Loch Ness monster, but do other countries have these kind of same, similar myths like the Loch Ness?
Danielle Serrat…: 32:18 So one of the most famous examples of people thinking they had found a live plesiosaur would’ve been in the seventies off the coast of Japan. There was a fishing vessel that brought up a carcass that when they pulled it up with their, I believe it was a trawling net, it had this really elongated neck. The skull still had some dead tissue on it, and the fins did as well, but a lot of the ribs were exposed and a lot of the cartilage and bone-like structures were exposed. So it was very decayed and it had been scavenged upon so it wasn’t clear what the animal was. So people took photos from, I want to say from the docks when the boat came in, and it just plastered global newspapers. It was this massive headline of “Fisherfolk discover prehistoric ocean dinosaur,” or something. And it actually took a little while to figure out what was going on there.
33:22 So they did end up contacting some of their local scientists there in Japan, and they did some DNA testing, of course, which the technology was not as advanced as it is today, but in the seventies that was still a possibility. So they eventually figured out that it had been a thrasher shark skeleton, that the cartilage that makes up their bones of a shark were still fresh enough that the skeleton stayed together, still held together mostly by muscle that had not yet been scavenged and eaten. And so a lot of the exterior, like the skin and a lot of the soft organs were missing but that musculature and that cartilage was still there enough to kind of keep it together. And thrasher sharks actually, when you take away a lot of their ribs and organs, they look like they had really long necks.
Shane Hanlon: 34:19 Throughout this conversation. I was really interested, why do folks find this so intriguing? I wondered why people still really want to and do believe in things like Loch Ness monster.
Danielle Serrat…: 34:32 As far as why people choose to believe those stories, I think human civilization has a very long and storied history of believing things that the evidence just simply isn’t there for. And that’s okay, right? Because if we don’t have that sense of wonder and sense of discovery, what are we doing? You talk about being a scientist, that literally is the driving force for most scientific breakthroughs and endeavors is that sense of wonder, that desire to discover new things, to make new understandings and share them with the world. So I can’t fault people for wanting to believe something extraordinary because that’s what makes the world interesting, right?
Shane Hanlon: 35:23 Nancy, do you believe in anything like unexplained, like mythical creatures or ghosts or something like that?
Nancy Bompey: 35:33 No, definitely not. Do you?
Shane Hanlon: 35:38 I don’t believe in the stuff we’ve been talking about. I don’t not believe in ghosts, I mean…
Nancy Bompey: 35:44 Really, that’s interesting.
Shane Hanlon: 35:47 Again, I said this before, but I wish people could see the shade that you’re throwing at me with your eyes. Well, all right, folks, that’s all from Third Pod from the Sun.
Nancy Bompey: 35:58 Thanks so much, Shane, for bringing us this story. And of course, thanks to Rodrigo and Danielle for sharing their work with us.
Shane Hanlon: 36:04 This podcast was produced and mixed by me.
Nancy Bompey: 36:07 We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please rate and review us, check us out wherever you get your podcast, or always at thirdpodfromthesun.com. And if you missed it, there’s a part one to this series that you can check out.
Shane Hanlon: 36:21 Thanks, all, and we’ll see you next time.
Vicky Thompson: 36:28 Go on.
Shane Hanlon: 36:29 No. What is this?
Vicky Thompson: 36:32 What is what’s happening right now?
Shane Hanlon: 36:33 Yeah, what’s going on here?
Vicky Thompson: 36:34 Oh, I was just trying to think if Nancy… Well, Nancy’s from New York, it doesn’t matter. I was thinking of a region for Nancy. And it’s New York.
Shane Hanlon: 36:45 Nancy’s from New York. But she lives by me now, so now she’s in Arlington.
Vicky Thompson: 36:47 Yeah.
Shane Hanlon: 36:48 Anyway-