Study of Sea Monsters Helps Greater Understanding

by Douglas Chapman

Dr. Charles Paxton, a researcher, statistician and ecologist at Scotland's University of St. Andrews, maintains that spottings of sea monsters are useful in more than one way. He notes that anecdotal evidence, when utilized in the correct manner, can provide information about both people's perception and the unexplained.

Paxton and other researchers of his calibre discussed the possibility of incorporating cryptozoology into recognized science at an event entitled "Cryptozoology: Science or Pseudoscience?" as part of a Communicating Science program put on by the Zoology Society of London on July 12, 2011.

He spoke to the website LiveScience prior to this event, on the subject of sea monsters, and on the specifics of creature observation. He talked about paying attention to the distances of apparent monsters from boats. He had once thought people who reported such things were seeing known things but at a distance.


Both reported distance and animal size can factor into analyses of the historical sightings of sea monsters. But some things can be misidentified. Paxton mentioned an 18th century sighting, when observers travelling to Greenland's Danish colony spotted an animal they thought had a serpent-like tail. Paxton and other researchers mentioned that it could possibly be the reproductive organ of an animal, likely a whale.

Since perhaps only 10 people in the world would be qualified to know whether an encountered marine animal has likely not been described by science, reports from laypeople have to be taken with a measure of skepticism.

But, as he put it in program notes for the event: "The plural of 'anecdote' can be 'data'."

According to Paxton, the rate of discovery of new animals has not decreased, but the ones which remain to be found are probably in places where they would not usually encounter humans. Thus laypeople would not be the first to describe them.

Paxton does not believe in the Loch Ness Monster, but admitted he only once visited Loch Ness.


"Get Kraken: Why Scientists Should Study Sea Monsters," LiveScience,, 7/6/11

"Communicating Science: Cryptozoology: Science or Pseudoscience?", a ZSL (Zoological Society of London) Science and Conservation Event, 12 July 2011,,459,EV.html

"Cryptozoology: Science or Pseudoscience?", ZSL Living Conservation, Communicating Science Series, 12 July 2011,

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