Eyewitness Reliability and the Stranded River Monster
One of the things that most intrigues me and keeps me going on in Cryptozoology are the eyewitness accounts. Yes, I know a lot of the criticism that certain people lobby at Cryptozoology is that it “relies too much on what eyewitnesses have to say with no real evidence.” While I do agree that some people do put way too much stock eyewitness accounts, even ones that are very sketchy, I’ve always had a real problem when people use this excuse for not taking eyewitness accounts more seriously. Yes some experiments and studies show some eyewitnesses have a hard time accurately judging things like size and distance of objects. This becomes even harder when they have an encounter that lasts only for a brief second or if there are no points of reference to which to compare things.
But other studies and experiments have shown that many people can in fact accurately judge size, shape, color and distance, sometimes even if their encounter lasts only a few seconds or if they have no real points of reference. So to call all eyewitness encounters worthless and, yes, I’ve seen and heard a few people who really should know better than that, really bothers me. It implies that all people are stupid and unreliable. Well, if that was really the case than we need to overturn most of the legal decisions made of the past and present which even in a world of DNA gathering, still bases a lot of their cases on eyewitnesses. How ironic and quite sad, I might add, that in America you can sentence a man to death solely over what someone claims to have seen, yet if that same person claims to have seen Bigfoot he is mocked and publically ridiculed.
I would also say that I try to be an eternal optimist, thinking that the glass is always half full and that people will ultimately try to be honest and do the right thing. I’m well aware that mindset can lead to a person being taken advantage of by some less honorable people, sadly, it has happened to everyone at some point in their life, but I still to this day try to have faith in mankind and what eyewitnesses have to say without being too naive.
Also another thing that keeps me into Cryptozoology and holding out hope that there may in fact be exciting new animals, both large and small, out there are those rare, what I call make or break, eyewitness accounts. What I mean is that the typical eyewitness encounter is usually very quick and often without points of reference or even other eyewitnesses to corroborate their stories. I have a feeling these are the kinds of reports that, while they should still be looked at, are also the kinds of reports that some people put way too much stock into when trying to establish whether or not a Cryptid is real. Yet there are those few truly remarkable reports that, when you look at them with a critical eye and really take the time to investigate them, you can only come to one of two conclusions, either that this person is lying to you or they must have seen what they saw, an unknown type of animal. The Patterson film is one such incident. Regardless of your opinion on its authenticity, you have to admit that there really is only one of two explanations for it, a hoax or proof that such a creature exists, at least in 1967 when it was shot, in America. The following is another, less famous example, of this kind of eyewitness account. It’s about two neighbors, a river in Georgia, and a day that would change their lives forever.
Way down in Georgia, near the town of Darien, the Altamaha River flows. This river connects huge expanses of smaller creeks, marshes, and swamps before forming into a large open marshland and eventually emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. And it is here in the water ways that for centuries people have talked about a strange creature occasionally surfacing to the shock and amazement of the residents. They call it the Altamaha-ha, sometimes shortened to Altie.
The first people to record sightings of this beast where the indigenous Tama people of Georgia. Their oral history goes back centuries and ever since they have been living here they have had sightings of a most unusual animal, unlike any other kind normally found there. Sightings include a timberman in the 1920s who said it was snake-like, a group of hunters in 1935 also gave that same description, and a Boy Scout troop in the 1940s had a run in with a most unexpected guest on one of their outings. Sightings continue to this day including a fisherman in 2002 and one as recently as 2010. However, as interesting as most of these sightings are, they are mostly the ‘typical’ kind. That is someone saw something strange in the water from a distance and only for a few moments before it was gone. And while, as I said earlier in the post, we shouldn’t dismiss these sightings out of hand, they don’t provide too much detail, at least not enough to form a strong idea of what, if anything, this creature might be. But one sighting is very different.
In the summer of 1980 neighbors Barry Prescott and Andy Greene where driving north on interstate 95. As they passed over a bridge on Cathead Creek they saw something surfacing out in the river. Two things caught their eyes, one, the creature was massive, Barry said it was the biggest thing he had ever seen in the river. The second thing was it was quiet physically unlike anything they had ever seen before. They stopped their car and pulled over to the side of the road in order to get a better look.
The creature whatever it was had run aground on a mud bank in the water and was mostly, but not completely out of the water. At first it seemed as though it was resting, but it very quickly discovered it couldn’t get back into the water. It began to panic and thrash wildly in order to get back into the water. They watched it for what they estimate to be between ten and twenty minutes so they had a very good long look at it. They said it was about twenty feet long in total, dark brown in color, with a fat body, a very thick tail and neck, a turtle like head, and a pair of front paddle like flippers. They didn’t mention seeing any rear flippers meaning that it either didn’t have them or they never came up out of the water. The creature struggled for most of the time it was on the bank with occasional rest periods, but it would always go right back to trying to get into the water after a short time. They said the way it moved was never side to side, but it would always undulate in an up and down motion. It also used those front paddle like flippers to try and push itself off the bank. Eventually it succeeded and got itself back into the river. It then swam off out of sight.
This is one of the longest and most detailed sightings of a “river monster” I think I’ve ever come across. Just what could they have seen? The Altamaha River is full of large animals, could one of them be responsible? Let’s look at the suspects. The animal they said they saw had an overall reptilian look to it, and the biggest such kind of creature found in the Altamaha River that fits that description is the American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis.
These massive reptiles can grow up to more than thirteen feet and weigh several hundred pounds, but if you stop and look at how the two men described the creature they saw, it becomes clear this was no alligator. Firstly Alligators have clawed webbed feet, not paddle like flippers. Second what appears to be the overall body plan of the creature suggests a creature accustomed to total marine life. Third and probably most telling, outside the flippers, is the behavior of the creature is totally unlike that of an alligator. Alligators do spend most of their time in water, but they can very easily come out unto land. They have to in order to build nests and lay their eggs. They have also been observed walking for miles over dry land in order to reach new pools of water. Why would something so used to coming out on land be in such a panic over not being in the water? The behavior of the creature suggests an animal that is used to totally being submerged in water never needing to come out on to shore. Clearly these men didn’t see an alligator that day.
What other large creatures live here? Well sometimes sea turtles come along ways up the river from the shore, but they are just as unlikely as the alligators to be what the men saw. The overall body shape and size is completely wrong for even the biggest turtles and they too have no problem, and regularly do, come up onto land. Dolphins and some large sharks like the Bull Shark,Carcharhinus leucas, can come up many miles from the coast. Could they be what the men saw? Extremely unlikely. The creature’s movement as it tried to free itself, as well as the detailed physical descriptions these men gave, in no way suggests a dolphin or any kind of large fish.
So where does that leave us? Based on their long detailed account and their familiarity with local wildlife, we can come to only one of two conclusions, either they are hoaxers or they really saw what they claimed to have seen, a creature unlike anything known to modern science. So now the dividing point and the big question is do you believe that they are truthful or not? To me having read their firsthand account as well as seeing recorded interviews with Barry, I have to say that I’m very inclined to believe them. They have never profited from reporting their story and have everything to lose by coming forward with their sighting, namely their reputations in the community.
I freely admit that, there are many people out there who have nothing better to do than try and make fools out of others. I also admit that no story, no matter how detailed and seemingly credible, will ever be definitive proof without some kind of physical evidence to back it up. And even the most highly regarded stories can be frauds, that the famous Lake Khaiyr giant newts, a story held in regard by Cryptozoologists for decades has been exposed as an almost certain hoax is proof of that. But while I know extreme caution must always be implied when dealing with Cryptid reports, I guess my eternal optimism propels me forward.