Return of the Montauk Monster!

May 28, 2009

The so-called "Montauk Monster" was a strange creature that supposedly washed ashore on a beach in Montauk, New York, in July 2008.

A photo of the odd animal circulated around the Web and became the subject of national media interest. Some say it is a hoax; others believe that the photo depicts a known animal. Some believe it looks like a pig, while others vaguely and cryptically suggest that the animal is somehow a result of "biological warfare." Recently, reports of another Montauk Monster are circulating the web.

In both cases, real animals are viable possibilities. Animal diseases such as sarcoptic mange can create apparent monsters, for example transforming sick dogs or coyotes into the dreaded (and likely mythical) blood-sucking chupacabra. The same process occurs with decaying animals that have been misshapen by bloating, predation, and decay.

Many monster enthusiasts believe that huge, unidentified masses that occasionally wash up on beaches throughout the world are sea monsters. These finds, often called globsters, are obviously flesh, yet have decayed so badly that they lack bones or distinguishing features. One classic globster washed ashore in 1896, when giant waves tossed a massive fleshy corpse on a beach at St. Augustine, Florida. The rubbery, six-foot-high blob was examined by a local naturalist, who initially speculated that it was likely from a giant octopus far larger than any previously seen. Many other such blobs have washed ashore, including one in Chile in July 2003 and another in Newfoundland in 2001. In 2004, scientists examined all available globster specimens using electron microscopes, and applied biochemical, molecular, and DNA analysis. The conclusion: the globsters were simply decayed whales.

So what is the Montauk monster? The scientific consensus is … a raccoon. Darren Naish, a British paleontologist, examined photos of the animal and concludes it is a raccoon: "The Montauk monster… owes its bizarre appearance to partial decomposition," Naish said. "The tendency for the soft tissues of the snout to be lost early on in decomposition immediately indicates that the ‘beak’ is just a defleshed snout region: we’re actually seeing the naked premaxillary bones. The match for a raccoon is perfect once we compare the dentition and proportions. The Montauk animal has lost its upper canines and incisors (you can even see the empty sockets), and raccoons are actually surprisingly leggy (claims that the limb proportions of the Montauk carcass are unlike those of raccoons are not correct)."

It is not surprising that people could not identify what they saw, as science shows that ordinary decay can create extraordinary monsters.