At the beginning of the 21st Century monsters still roam the remote, and sometimes not so remote, corners of our planet. It is our job to search for them. The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] is - we believe - the largest professional, scientific and full-time organisation in the world dedicated to cryptozoology - the study of unknown animals. Since 1992 the CFZ has carried out an unparalleled programme of research and investigation all over the world. Since 2009 we have been running the increasingly popular CFZ Blog Network, and although there has been an American branch of the CFZ for over ten years now, it is only now that it has a dedicated blog.

Friday, 21 March 2014

ZACHARY MANN: SWIMMING WITH RAY

   What is it about our local lakes and reservoirs we feel comfortable with? Is it the convenience of being just a short distance from a relaxing swim in the blistering summer heat? Is it the potential to fritter away an entire Sunday fishing with your children a là The Andy Griffith Show? Or is it knowing you have a “safe” place to take the children to learn to swim free from long car rides, unruly tourists and the potential for things to be swimming around just below the surface? Things that might be dangerous to you or your loved ones. Well I hate to say it, but the waters of your own back yard might harbor a secret. A hidden resident you didn’t even know was there.
If you think you need to travel to exotic locations such as Malaysia, Argentina, Scotlan, or Japan in order to find reports of strange lake monsters living just below the surface you’d be wrong. Across America from Virginia to California, Texas to New York, there are reports of strange creatures living in our favorite swimming holes. Creatures you would have never have guessed might be there.
When I was in my freshman year of high school I remember sitting in first period on day and I started talking with two of my friends Mallory and Molly. The two were talking about a baby (three to four foot) alligator that had recently been seen in a reservoir system about twenty miles southwest of where we lived. And even though there were no connecting bodies of water linking our reservoir with theirs Mallory was a little more than worried that such a creature might make its way into ours. I explained to her the unlikeliness of that and reassured her that everything would be fine. I never heard  anything further of this little gator, no further sightings emerged and a quick look through local newspaper archives doesn’t turn up anything regarding a capture. Given how unpredictable Virginia weather can be, seriously this week alone we have had all four seasons worth of weather at once, I can only assume the poor little guy didn’t survive his first winter. However, what if you had a long standing tradition of an unusual kind of creature living in your local pond as it were? How would they get there? These are some of the things we’re going to look at today.
The track record for unknown animals, that is creatures truly unknown to science and not just releases or escapees like out of place alligators, existing in man-made lakes is not a good one. That was one of (and I stress one of) the disturbing things I found out about the alleged Oklahoma Octopus back when I was researching it earlier for a previous blog posting ( see that one for more details if you’re interested). The lakes and reservoirs where these “mysterious” drownings where taking place where all artificial lakes created in the early to mid-1960s by damming up the local river ways. The argument put forward by some people trying to defend this idea of a creature in the lake is that whatever was living in there before the dams where constructed would become trapped. That is a fair point. But you always have to ask was there any sightings or even local lore prior to such an event appending. If not than it looks really bad.
This all brings us to the main focus of our discussion today. About a lake, a monster, and a joke (?). In Huntingdon County Pennsylvania there sits a lake. Not just any lake mind you, the largest lake  in the state that is completely contained within the state’s boarders. This Raystown Lake. Yet the lake is not a natural body of water. It was created by man. The Simpson family of Huntingdon first proposed the lake as a potential source for hydro electric energy. Construction was completed in 1973 by the Army Corps of Engineers and it has been used ever since as a way to control flood waters, for use as a tourist attraction, and to supply the people of the surrounding communities with electrical energy.  Yet it seems like Raystown can add one other thing on its list of accomplishments, being the home of a Lake Monster.
The locals have named him Raystown Ray (nice alliteration) and he has been the talk of the town ever since. “We’ve known it’s been in there a while now,” is an official response from Managing Director of Raystown Lake Dwight Beal. People have wondered is it a vegetarian or does it eat meat? Maybe they are worried for their children?  In 2006 professional wildlife biologist Jeff Krasuse stated the creature must be a vegetarian, because they have had no reported sightings of it eating fish or any other kind of aquatic animals. It is unclear if he was merely playing along or if he genuinely means this. Wow. Most public places try to down play their connection to supposed lake monsters or even deny that their bodies of water have ever had sightings of such strange kinds of creatures, but they sure are completely willing to jump right on the Ray bandwagon. The official Raystown Ray website, yes such a thing exists, claims that sightings go back decades. The oldest sighting I could find was on their own website in 1994. That doesn’t seem like a lot of time to build up your monster cred, but to be fair it is technically been  decades, two to be specific, since that happened. That is when on a sunny morning in July a group of tourists were out on the lake when they saw something strange in the water. The witness claims it was about 40-50 feet away and was about 10-12 feet long. The shiny black object surfaced, spun around for a bit, and then submerged.  According to the website a lot of sightings happen around April. So I guess that means we can expect to be hearing about more Ray sightings soon.
Now one thing Ray has in his favor, over say an octopus in Oklahoma, is that we actually have eyewitnesses with names and dates that give a somewhat, and in a few cases more than somewhat, detailed description of what they allegedly saw. Those that get a good look at him say he looks similar to the classical depictions of the Loch Ness Monster, that is to say a Plesiosaur or other long necked creature. Ray also has alleged photos of himself, all of which are available for viewing on the official Raystown Ray website. There are a couple are old looking, though no specific date is given for the date at which they were supposed to be taken. These consist of large dark shadows under the water. One supposedly taken in 2009 shows a very distinct hump like object in the water. However, one photo is quite different.
The photo in question was taken sometime prior to 2010 and shows a very clear object in the lake. Taken from a distance, it looks like a cliff or hill above the lake, a distinct long necked creature is seen swimming in the lake. If you Google Raystown Ray this will almost always be the first image you’ll see pop up. Now the official website shows this and states it is one of a series of photos taken in succession, but only one photo is on display. In fact I’ve seen no other photos from this session, except one, which I’m pretty sure is just a super imposed version of the first photo as the creature seems to be in the same position without any changes in movement. This photo caused the investigative team from the SyFy channel’s show Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files to come and investigate in 2010. Their investigation included talking to eyewitnesses, attempting to recreate the images (something I think they very well succeeded in doing yet they themselves feel they did not), and going out onto the lake for a night time search for the beast. They didn’t find any proof of a large animal in the lake and so they ruled that the case remained “opened.
The photo in question was taken sometime prior to 2010 and shows a very clear object in the lake. Taken from a distance, it looks like a cliff or hill above the lake, a distinct long necked creature is seen swimming in the lake. If you Google Raystown Ray this will almost always be the first image you’ll see pop up. Now the official website shows this and states it is one of a series of photos taken in succession, but only one photo is on display. In fact I’ve seen no other photos from this session, except one, which I’m pretty sure is just a super imposed version of the first photo as the creature seems to be in the same position without any changes in movement. This photo caused the investigative team from the SyFy channel’s show Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files to come and investigate in 2010. Their investigation included talking to eyewitnesses, attempting to recreate the images (something I think they very well succeeded in doing yet they themselves feel they did not), and going out onto the lake for a night time search for the beast. They didn’t find any proof of a large animal in the lake and so they ruled that the case remained “opened.”
According to the website a lot of sightings happen around April. So I guess that means we can expect to be hearing about more Ray sightings.
I must say this particular photo has always struck me as odd. Why if this was indeed a series is there no picture of the creature submerging? Did the photographer leave before the creature disappeared? If so why? Why not try and get as many photos of everything as possible? And it seems that certain fears might have been right. I recently came across claims that Raystown Ray might have begun as an April fool’s joke. The assertion is that Ray never existed at all. That being said there are some things to address. First to be fair to Ray hopefuls, no specific persons are named as possibly the joker in question. Nor is it stated just when the “prank” was said to have originated. Nor does it clearly state if the entire Ray saga started as a hoax or if just this recent Nessie like photo is the hoax. If the recent Nessie-like photo is indeed a hoax what about the older sightings? They do predate this photo by almost twenty years. And what about those other older (but less detailed) photos allegedly depicting Ray? They certainly look “old” going by the quality. But such things can be faked using things like Photoshop. And the entire Raystown Ray website is managed and run by the local tourism board. And the creature does appear most frequently in April. The more questions you ask the more things become muddy.
As the weather begins to warm up we all begin to look towards the summer. Cookouts, fun times with families, and vacations. Vacations to exotic destinations and local destinations alike. For many of us that includes our local swimming holes. Soon families will be swimming, children will be splashing, and good times will be had by all. So as we all suit up and prepare to take that first plunge into the water let me be the first to remind you all to wait a half hour after eating, always swim with a buddy, and don’t for get to keep an eye on your surroundings. You never know what might be in there with you.
Editor's note: The great value of Zachary's articles is their analytical nature.  He isn't one of those people determined to see cryptids everywhere.  Rather, he combines belief with skepticism in a balanced way.  We could do with more writers like him. 

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