Sunday, June 22, 2014
Long-Necked Sea & Lake Monsters – The Turtle Hypothesis
This photograph from Wikimedia Commons shows a leatherback sea turtle swimming in the ocean. Could this turtle possibly be a relative of sea and lake cryptids reported from all around the world?
Over the decades, there have been numerous hypotheses advanced to account for sightings of unidentified creatures in oceans and lakes all around the world. One of the most popular hypotheses is that these animals are living representatives of plesiosaurs that survived the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event 66 million years ago. I have already discussed this hypothesis in an earlier article, and I have found it to be one of the best hypotheses for the identity of these animals.
However, there is also an alternative to the plesiosaur hypothesis that is almost as good, and that is the turtle hypothesis. According to cryptozoological investigator Chuck Pogan, many reported anatomical and behavioral characteristics of long-necked aquatic cryptids match up remarkably well with a chelonian identity.
According to several lake monster sightings, the length of the animals' necks is sometimes said to be variable. And, indeed, some turtles actually have the ability to retract their necks, making them appear shorter than they actually are.
A common objection against the hypothesis that these creatures are air-breathers is that they would be seen more frequently as they surface for air. This argument has been used against the plesiosaur hypothesis, as well as the long-necked pinniped. However, some turtles have evolved a very unique ability; the ability to breathe underwater via their cloacas. To put it into a layman's terms, they literally breathe through their butts. And this might actually allow them to remain underwater without having to surface for air as frequently as they would otherwise.
And finally, here's the kicker: In 2003, the Fauna Communications Research Institute recorded sounds that appear to be reminiscent of echolocation in Lake Champlain. This has led some people to propose a cetacean (or, more generally, mammalian) identity for these animals. However, this need not be the case. It is relatively little-known that some turtle species also have the ability to use echolocation, much like cetaceans and bats. And echolocation would appear to be especially helpful in navigating through the perpetually dark, peat-stained waters of lakes such as Loch Ness.
As you can see, the turtle hypothesis definitely has quite an impressive case. As I stated above, the most prominent and vocal proponent of this hypothesis so far is a man named Chuck Pogan.
Pogan has even proposed a name for this hypothetical cryptid turtle; he calls it the "Plesio-turtle". It is a turtle that has evolved to resemble a plesiosaur, due to convergent evolution. It has a long neck, four flippers, and a long tail. It also has a greatly-reduced (or possibly even nonexistent) shell. One of the concepts that interests me most within cryptozoology is the possibility that extant taxa have evolved to resemble extinct taxa, via convergent evolution. I have already invoked this paradigm before as an explanation for reports of Troodons that have occurred throughout North and South America.
Therefore, I am partial to the turtle hypothesis. It is currently my second-favorite hypothesis, after the plesiosaur. Anyone seeking further information on it can see Chuck's post about it on his own blog, as well as cryptozoological investigator Jay Cooney's interview with Chuck about the hypothesis.