The Cryptid Zoo: Plesiosaurs in Cryptozoology

Plesiosaurs are aquatic, predatory reptiles that lived during the same time period as the dinosaurs and are often wrongly thought to be dinosaurs. Plesiosaurs had paddles instead of legs. There were many species of plesiosaur that came in a number of shapes, including some elongated, serpentine forms. The classic plesiosaur can be described as having a turtle-shaped body (but without any shell) with a dinosaur's long neck and tail attached. There are certain sea serpents and lake monsters, such as the Loch Ness Monster, that strongly resemble plesiosaurs in many of the reports made by witnesses. Therefore, some people working in the field of cryptozoology have suggested that the mystery of lake monsters and sea serpents has been solved. These creatures are surviving plesiosaurs, and as soon as we manage to capture one we will see that this is true.

However, the plesiosaur concept is an older theory that has lost credit in recent years. Current thinking in the field of cryptozoology has mostly discarded plesiosaurs in favor of zeuglodons, primitive whales that supposedly looked just like sea serpents. People working in the field of cryptozoology say that zeuglodons are more likely candidates than plesiosaurs because sea serpent and lake monster reports often contain features that indicate mammals, not reptiles. These features include hair, vertical spinal undulations and cold-water habitats. Even if something looked extremely like a plesiosaur, it could still be a zeuglodon. Known zeuglodons did not look hugely different from plesiosaurs, and if any zeuglodons were still around today, it is possible that they might look even more like plesiosaurs because of the forces of parallel evolution.

Quite a number of globsters (controversial rotten carcasses that wash up on sea shores) have been touted as plesiosaurs because they strongly resemble the classic plesiosaur shape. These nearly always get officially labeled as basking sharks, because when basking sharks become rotten enough and certain parts drop off, they develop an overall shape that looks remarkably like a dead plesiosaur. This fact is so well known among scientists that they seldom investigate such a globster first hand. Often the "basking shark" declaration is issued without a second thought whenever people claim that a dead plesiosaur has washed up on the beach. Most of the time, scientists are saving themselves from wasting time with yet another basking shark, but a few "plesiosaur" globsters have remained a force to be reckoned with in the field of cryptozoology, because they exhibited features not consistent with the basking shark hypothesis, such as the wrong size, a body with almost no rotting that still looked like a plesiosaur, or bone characteristics not found in sharks.

The basking shark hypothesis has also been used, erroneously, to explain away sightings of live creatures that resemble plesiosaurs. Basking sharks do not look anything like plesiosaurs until after they have become quite rotten. Reports of creatures swimming around in a very animate way and raising long necks from the water could not be basking sharks unless the witnesses had an incredible breakdown in their perceptual equipment. If the witnesses had suffered such a breakdown, it would be far easier to attribute the sighting to pure hallucination or to some living creature observed under very odd conditions than to a dead carcass that does nothing but float.

You can find out more about Plesiosaurs from the following sources:

Campbell, Elizabeth Montgomery and Solomon, David. The Search for Morag. New York: Walker, 1973. Pages 54-55, 172-174, 176

Clark, Jerome and Coleman, Loren. Cryptozoology A-Z. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Page 133
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Coleman, Loren. Mysterious America: The Revised Edition. New York: Paraview Press, 2001. Page 89

Lake Monsters: Plesiosaurs

McEwan, Graham J. Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland. London: Robert Hale, 1986. Pages 109, 111

Newton, Michael. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology: A Global Guide to Hidden Animals and Their Pursuers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005. Pages 76, 79, 96, 164, 166, 178, 192, 242-243, 252, 310-311, 321, 330, 333, 353, 359, 375-376, 397, 399, 406, 429, 467, 476, 508-509

Weidensaul, Scott. The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species. New York: North Point Press, 2002. Pages 155, 160-163

Wikipedia, The. Plesiosaur

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