In the world of cryptozoology, that is the search and study of unknown or unidentified animals, one of the things that is highly prized is photographic evidence. In the absence of any sort of body or physical evidence of these mysterious creatures the next best thing we can hope for is pictures taken of our quarry, but the sad case is that this rarely goes far to really proving anything at all, and considering all of the hoaxes and fakers in this day and age such photographic “proof” is becoming of less and less use in our quest to get to the bottom of these mysteries. For every promising picture there seem to be a dozen fakes, and it seems only natural that such photographs should generate plenty of discussion, skepticism, and controversy, no matter how clear the images may be. Here we will take a look at a selection of such cryptozoological photographs of mysterious animals that have in their times generated intense debate and controversy, and which in the end remain inconclusive.
One of the most famous, bizarre, and indeed controversial photographs of an alleged monster ever taken comes from an era well before trickery such as Photoshop, making it all the more impressive that it has remained so widely discussed to this day. In 1964, the Le Serrec family was boating in a lagoon at Stonehaven Bay, of Hook Island, in Australia, when they purportedly saw a huge black mass estimated as being around 80ft long drift into view in the shallow, clear waters. On closer inspection it was found to be what almost looked like an immense, tadpole-shaped creature with eyes on the top of its head and a huge mouth. It apparently was so still as it hovered in the water that the family actually thought it might be dead at first, yet it then suddenly opened its cavernous mouth in a jolt of life and swam away out of sight.
The photograph that the Le Serrecs took of the beast shows a massive, black shape reminiscent of a tadpole just beneath the transparent water, but it is impossible to make out any details. It has over the years been accused of being a staged hoax, although no one is quite sure how it was pulled off. There are also still plenty of people who think the so-called “Hook Island Monster,” is real and that the photo is genuine, but considering there are absolutely no other sightings of the creature in those waters before or since, and the fact that the photograph is frustratingly inconclusive, it seems this one will remain merely within the realm of debate and speculation for some time to come.
From the very same era, in the very same year in fact, we have another mysterious photo from the wilds of Australia. In 1964, a woman named Rilla Martin was on holiday in Vicoria, at a rural, rugged place called Ozenkadnook. As she was driving down an unpaved wilderness road she claimed to have seen a very peculiar creature standing at the edge of the woods along the road. Martin was apparently able to snap one photo of it before it loped off into the trees, and what a photo it is.
The picture shows what appears to be a large, burly dog-like beast with a dark body and white stripes, and it looks rather bizarre and not quite like anything known to live in the area or anywhere else for that matter. The photo of the “Ozenkadnook Tiger” sparked immediate speculation as to what the mysterious creature could be, ranging from that it was evidence of a surviving Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, to that is was merely a weird looking feral dog or dingo. There is also the possibility that it was a hoax, and one damning piece of evidence for this is was reported in 2017 by Peter Hoysted, a columnist for The Australian newspaper. Hoystead claimed that the photo was of nothing more than a cardboard cutout painted to look mysterious and photographed in some brush as a practical joke by the father of cartoonist Bill Leak. Is that what this is, just a cut out? Whatever it is, the photograph is still discussed, and it has not been completely solved just yet.
Moving into more recent years we have a series of odd photographs taken in the Brazilian Amazon Basin by celebrity fisherman and star of the TV Show River Monsters, Jeremy Wade. On two separate occasions, in 1993 and 1994, Wade witnessed a strange animal in the water with a serrated dorsal fin while searching for the elusive pink river dolphin. Wade managed to take photos of the animal on both occasions, and some of the locals told him it was a creature called the Holadeira, or “Sawtooth Dolphin,” although many other people of the area had never seen or heard of it. It has been suggested that this is simply a pink river dolphin with an injury, possibly from a boat propeller or fishing net, but Wade has insisted that the serrations on the back were too perfect and evenly spaced to be that, and has maintained that it is a new species. What do you think it is?
From 2000 we have the spectacular and much discussed photograph of a purported “Skunk Ape,” which is a large, hairy, ape-like humanoid said to dwell in the remote swamps of Florida, North Carolina, and Arkansas, and which is so named for the foul, overpowering stench that it said to permeate the air around it. In 2000, two photographs were received by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department, in Florida, from an anonymous woman who claimed to have taken the pictures in her backyard after hearing the massive creature rummaging about. The photographs in question are rather striking, clearly showing what looks very much like a large, bipedal ape partially obscured by some palm fronds.
Although the photographs are quite clear, there has of course been much skepticism aimed at the controversial images. One is that the creature seems to be perfectly stationary between the two photos, suggesting that it is not a living creature at all, but rather a fabricated construct. It has also been suggested that it is just a black bear which only seems mysterious in these particular photographs. It could also be a photograph of a large primate such as an orangutan, and it has been pointed out that there is absolutely no way to even be sure where the photos were even taken at all. Still, others continue to maintain that these are some of the best evidence for the existence of the Skunk Ape there is. Interestingly, the eye shine that is apparent in the “Myakka Ape” photographs is indicative of the creature having what is called a tapetum lucida, which is a layer of tissue in many nocturnal animals behind the retina that reflects light and increases night vision, and which is absent in great apes and most primates. So what was this thing?
A very widely discussed cryptozoological photograph surfaced in 2008, with the discovery of a strange animal carcass that washed up on the beach at Ditch Plains Beach, near Montauk, New York, on July 12, 2008, just about a mere 10 miles from Plum Island. Dubbed the “Montauk Monster,” the carcass was that of some sort of stocky quadruped with comparatively thin legs, clawed paws that appeared to end in dexterous fingers, an elongated skull with jagged, pointy teeth on the lower jaw and what looks like a beak on the upper portion, and leathery skin dotted with patches of sparse hair all ending in a slender tail. It certainly looks like something not of this world, and was also said to exude an unbearable stench. When photos were released of the mysterious creature they immediately went viral, prompting intense scrutiny and debate as to what it could be, with “rodent-like creature,” and “eagle-dog,” typical examples of some of the colorful descriptions thrown around.
One of the first ideas was that this was all simply a hoax or a viral marketing campaign, but there were many, including visual effects experts, who pointed out that if it was a doctored photo then it had been very well done indeed. Of course since the location where the carcass was found lies only around 10 miles away from Plum Island and its secret government research facility there was a lot of chatter that it was some sort of escaped mutated experimental specimen that had somehow drifted to Montauk. More grounded and rational analysis of the photos has suggested that this was merely the bloated, partially decomposed body of a dog, pig, or even more likely a raccoon, with the decomposition process radically altering the animal’s physical appearance to make it seem more mysterious than it actually is. It is hard to say for sure, as the actual body itself was never officially examined and we have only the photos to go on, leaving the identity of the Montauk Monster hotly debated to this day. Unbelievably, the following year, in 2009, a nearly identical carcass washed up in the same area, although it is unclear of just what happened to it or if the two are connected at all.
More recent still is a photograph that emerged in 2015 to take the Internet by storm. The picture was taken by a 52-year-old Scottish man named Harvey Robertson as he was on vacation on the Greek island of Corfu. Robertson was on a cruise with his family at the time that took them into some of the area’s many spectacular sea caves. It was here that he snapped some pictures of the stunning azure and green waters, and although he did not notice anything unusual at the time, when looking back through his pictures he noticed that he had captured the image of a large, mysterious sea creature lurking under the water. The strange, rather eerie-looking animal looks strikingly odd, with a strangely shaped snout and eyes, the whole of which looks sort of like a cross between a hippopotamus and a dolphin. When the photos were released there was a flood of discussion and debate on them, ranging from that the creature is some new species to that it is merely an anomalous looking boat bumper, but the mystery has yet to be conclusively solved.
The following year, in 2016, there was an equally mysterious water-dwelling monster supposedly caught on camera near Zhoushan, in eastern China. According to reports, fishermen in the area had been pulling in their nets when they saw something very bizarre in the water which they had never seen before and snapped photographs of it. The mysterious animal looks almost like a cross between a crocodile and a dolphin, with strange eyes, a long, broad snout, grey skin, and two protuberances near the end of its apparent mouth. Speculation has run wide, saying that this is beaked whale, a sturgeon, a crocodile, a dolphin, or even a hoax, but it does not seem to have gotten a satisfactory answer. What in the world is this thing?
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in cryptozoology that doesn’t always seem to be true at all. We have come to a point where such photographs as we have looked at here are essentially no more than oddities to be picked apart and discussed, but ultimately not illuminating the truth behind there creatures. Without a body or some irrefutable evidence, it seems that photographs like this will remain just more pieces of the puzzle that we are trying to put together, but they are still damn fun to look at and talk about.