Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

No more “Whatsits”?


I’m very late on this, but David Acord has started a new weekly cryptozoological newsletter, The Cryptid Chronicles, and from the free sample first issue it seems very interesting. I found “The Whatsit That Wasn’t (Or Was It?)” story particularly nice, as to me it highlights how the public and media perception of creatures is influenced by culture. Acord writes:

“As we’ve seen repeatedly over the years, properly identifying strange mammals can be tricky. Mange or other skin diseases can turn otherwise normal-looking foxes, coyotes and dogs into weird beasts that are often hastily labeled as cryptids or, worse, bonafide chupacabras (as happened in Texas in 2006 and 2007). Usually the disease is diagnosed within a few days or weeks and the story goes away. But in 1971, a strange case popped up in North Dakota that fooled biologists and zoologists alike. (…)
It all started in the late fall of 1971, when Morris Baker found the animal on his farm in Rollette County during a snowstorm. Baffled by its strange appearance – it appeared to possess the qualities of several animals all rolled into one – it was sent first to the North
Dakota State University branch at Bottineau and then transferred to the Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot. Scientists at both locations were stumped, and gave it the nickname “Whatsit.” Others simply called it “The Thing.”

As it was 1971, there was still no Chupacabras label to put into the animal – the term would only be made popular in the late 1990s. And, more importantly, there was still no practical DNA testing. Even so, the “Whatsit” was eventually identified as a mangy red fox, but not after a long time.

Acord feels the explanation is puzzling nevertheless, as it would mean all those scientists failed to identify a common animal, and the news media didn’t exploit the blunder when it was discovered. Could this be?

I do think so, as all modern cases where DNA testing was conducted revealed these strange mammals to be indeed common, yet poor looking animals, and embarrassed some experts much sooner. And those “I have never seen anything like it” statements are always there. Invisible gorillas.

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