Monster season is upon us

Unusual creatures keep appearing. Are they new species or mere baldies?

Chris Murphy / Whitehotpix / ZUMA / KEYSTONE

A few weeks ago, two nurses were strolling along the shore of Big Trout Lake, in northern Ontario, when their dog hauled something from the water. It was the corpse of a creature, about 30 cm long, unlike anything they’d ever seen: bald-faced, with a glossy pelt and cloudy white eyes. The nurses snapped some photos, but when others returned to find the body, it was gone. Ever since, the First Nation community there (population 1,450) has been abuzz. Based on the photos, “it’s not a muskrat; it’s not an otter; it’s not a rat,” says Chief Donny Morris, adding that some are nervous the animal—dubbed “the ugly one”—could be a bad omen.

This snaggle-toothed monster isn’t the first of its kind. In the summer of 2008, New Yorkers were agape when the body of a hideous bald beast with an eagle-like beak, later named the “Montauk Monster,” washed ashore on Long Island, horrifying the locals and delighting New York media. (“Good luck with your hell demons,” gossip blog Gawker said.) The following year, other monsters were reported from Alaska to Panama, with much wild speculation that they were Montauk Monsters, too. Now, Ontario has a monster of its own. With the ice melting and more people poking around the lakeshore, monster season is here.

The Montauk Monster was given its name by Loren Coleman, who lives in Portland, Maine. He’s devoted the past 40 years to cryptozoology, the study of hidden or unknown animals like the Yeti. (A bit of trivia: the term “Sasquatch,” he notes, was coined in a Maclean’s article about Bigfoot in 1929.) Judging from the Montauk Monster’s feet, skull and other features, “it’s definitely a raccoon” gone bald from floating in the water, he says. The uptick in mystery creatures that followed was probably due to all the coverage the Montauk Monster got, having washed up in the media hub of NYC, but the others weren’t real monsters either—the Panamanian creature turned out to be a sloth, and the one in Alaska was most likely a beached seal. “These animals are really mundane,” he says.

Still, even the most mundane creature can look rather alarming when it loses its fur. Last summer, a bald creature—this one still alive—terrorized west end Toronto, feasting on residents’ garbage and becoming a minor YouTube sensation. Like the Montauk Monster, it turned out to be a raccoon, one that looked admittedly scary: “Underneath all that fluff, raccoons don’t look so great,” says York University professor Suzanne MacDonald, who identified the creature. And earlier this year, a wrinkly naked beast named the “Oriental Yeti” was discovered in China, sparking media coverage around the world. “Hairless animals seem to generate a lot of interest in the public mind,” MacDonald says. The most recent mystery monster remains unidentified, although Coleman thinks its glossy fur suggests it’s a mink, while MacDonald thinks it could be a wolverine. Without the body, “we’ll probably never know what it was,” Morris says. One thing’s for sure, he adds: it’s not a bald raccoon, since there aren’t any that far north.

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