Sasquatch Coffee

More Otter Nonsense

Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 15th, 2007

Spicer Nessie

An old drawing of the animal described by Mr. and Mrs. George Spicer seen crossing the road near Dores, Scotland, one of the two examples examined today.

Ten days ago, I posted what became a very popular entry here (+125 comments), “Otter Nonsense”.

In discussing my appearance with Joe Nickell on CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now”, I noted that Nickel used a broad brush in debunking Lake Monster accounts.

The major “skeptic” argument presented during the CNN interview was Joe Nickell quickly telling and returning again to statements that all Lake Monster reports could be explained as being otters. While some mundane reports, needless to say, must be investigated with the appearance of otters in mind, Nickell’s global debunking was “otter nonsense.”

The mention of otters has figured in Lake Monster accounts from around the world. Here are two instances from a couple famed locations.

River Otter

The common otter, also called the European river otter and the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra).

An good example of how the otter has been used as background and an improbable explanation for an alleged Waterhorse seen near Loch Ness, Scotland, is the Mr. and Mrs. George Spicer incident of July 22, 1933.

Returning from a vacation in northern Scotland, the Spicers were driving south from Inverness along the Lakeshore Road at about 3:30-4:00 in the afternoon. The matter-of-fact, down-to-earth London banker and his wife had passed through Dores, and were on their way to Foyers. The weather was “fine” and visibility was good. Suddenly, as the car came up a slight incline, the bushes about 200 yards ahead became agitated, and out emerged an enormous animal, which crossed the small road, from left to right, in front of them. Startled, Spicer first braked then quickly accelerated instead, nearly striking the huge, dark long-necked creature in the process. The animal shuffled jerkily across the road, slipped through the underbrush, and seemed to vanish into the loch.

George Spicer was so upset by the encounter that he immediately penned a letter to The Courier. The Spicers described what they saw as a “terrible dark elephant grey, of loathsome texture, reminiscent of a snail.” Furthermore, Spicer said it had “a long neck which moved up and down in the manner of a scenic railway, and the body was fairly big, with a high back; but if there were any feet they must have been of the web kind, and as for a tail I cannot say, as it moved so rapidly, and when we got to the spot it had probably disappeared into the loch.” He also noted that the “dragon or prehistoric animal” appeared to be “carrying a small lamb or animal of some kind.”

The most controversial line in the letter dealt with the creature’s size: “Length six feet to eight feet and very ugly.” Various researchers and critics have been quick to note that Spicer changed the creature’s length in his retellings of the story. But it’s easy to see why. In the first letter, which was written in haste, Spicer did indeed write that the creature was six to eight feet in length. But later, while rethinking what he saw, how the creature had filled the 10-12 ft wide road, Spicer told Nessie author Constance Whyte that it was “the same length as the road is wide” and he told author Rupert T. Gould that it was probably at least 25 feet in length. Of course, in its first edition the Sunday Times of London made things even worse with a typo; they had the length at 300 feet! This was changed to 30 feet in later editions.

In the 1990s’ BBC program X-Creatures, British skeptic Adrian Shine revealed that he thought the Spicers had just seen an otter hopping across the road, distorted by heat waves. But even the largest male otter known makes a poor fit for Spicer’s creature, and the mild weather makes “heat waves” a rather unlikely possibility. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep, pages 99-100.

And from Utah…

In 1860, The Deseret News quoted Marion Thomas and three brothers named Cook as having seen the thing in Bear Lake, opposite Swam Creek. Reportedly 20 feet long, they said it was covered with “light brown fur like that of an otter.” Two flippers, like fishermen’s oars, “extended upwards from the body” (whatever that means). They were so close they could have shot it with a rifle, if they had had one.

Commenting on this report, Peter Costello, in his In Search of Lake Monsters, said: “Preconceptions about what monsters must be has influenced them to speak of a serpent’s head, when from the exactness of the rest of the account we can see it must have been a mammal. The light brown fur, like an otter’s, is a detail worth noting. Clearly this is no otter, though. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep, page 195.

Sources: Roland Binns, The Loch Ness Mystery Solved (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1984); Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe, The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep, (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2003); Peter Costello, In Search of Lake Monsters (New York: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1974); Rupert Gould, The Loch Ness Monster and Others (London: Geoffrey Bles: London, 1934); Constance Whyte, More Than a Legend: The Story of the Loch Ness Monster (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1957).

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


38 Responses to “More Otter Nonsense”

  1. Saribou responds:

    That’s a giant otter. Maybe the skeptics should explain that. And heat distortions? In Loch Ness?? Maybe in the Outback… but Scotland is not known for blistering temps.

  2. DWA responds:

    An otter hopping across the road.

    Distorted to enormous stature.

    By heat waves.

    Sounds plausible to me. I mean, we already know that South American otters are hyyyyooooooge! Which probably means that they can swim a long way. And they’re so large they actually make their native weather move with them. So we have an otter, with its own little weather bubble, a pretty big beastie as it is…

    Why are unknown animals so, I dunno, scary to people?

    This is what I’m talking about when I refer to just-plain-loopy heat-brain distortions of mundane phenomena.

    Alternative description: simple. Um, ape.

    Whoops, wrong cryptid.

    Or maybe not…a sasquatch is big enough to cause such a misidentification…and they can swim too…

    Hmmmmmmmm….

  3. fuzzy responds:

    Talk about “loopy”!

  4. DWA responds:

    Well, my own personal theory is that a hyyyyoooooge school of salmon was crossing the road.

    But the otter explanation sounded, um, better?

  5. mystery_man responds:

    Maybe it was an elephant, crawling along the ground, its size distorted by heat waves and the reflection of Venus off of swamp gas. Ah, the mundane explanations. Let’s systematically work through every far fetched hypothesis that doesn’t involve a new creature and leave the possibility of a new animal for after the inevitable theory of escaped zoo otters doing a synchronized swimming routine as trained. :)

    I would be more willing to say that this sighting just never happened than to go with the explanation of an otter distorted by heat waves to make it appear to fill the entire road.

  6. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: we better watch it. We’re going to start sounding, oh I dunno, frustrated or something.

    Does anyone propounding something so preposterous think that none of us has seen heat waves on a road often enough to know that they can’t do what’s being discussed here? Or know enough about what’s causing them to know that in Scotland, the heat waves, and not the Nessie, would be the big story?

    Maybe this is what gets me about scenarios like this: scientists playing little people for fools. While displaying a reflexive propensity, and considerable talent, for tap dancing.

  7. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- Well, not all scientists. Not the ones working in the field of cryptozoology anyway, or the ones associated with the TBRC. Heck, I guess I am a scientist and the work I do is as mainstream as it gets, yet here I am. I don’t think it is going to be just individual scientists that we need to convince. I would go out and search if it payed the bills and I think others might too. What needs to change, in my opinion, is the basic overall attitude within the scientific community and the fear of taking bets as you put it before. I’m still nervous to let on that I am into cryptozoology with colleagues and they might not even personally object, but rather would feel that they are expected to reject the idea of cryptids. I feel it is more the expectations put on scientists as a whole that need to change. This will of course happen if Bigfoot is proven to be real, but the trick is getting it to happen now.

  8. corrick responds:

    Assuming that the Spicer sighting in 1933 was legitimate, there is a very local and logical candidate I have seldom if ever seen offered, a solitary gray seal.

    Male gray seals weigh from 375 to 880 pounds and grow to almost ten feet long. Females weigh between 220 and 572 pounds and reach lengths of up to seven and a half feet. And yes, both gray and harbour seals have been spotted on occasion in Loch Ness.

  9. jerrywayne responds:

    The picture of Spicer’s creature was seriously revised later to make it look more “Nessie”-like; i.e. more like a plesiosaur. And it is this picture that some critics have suggested resembles an otter.

  10. AtomicMrEMonster responds:

    Wait a minute…

    I posted about the Spicer sighting in the original “Otter Nonsense” topic and pointed out the flaws in measurement (among other things).

    Cliff notes on the sighting (done from memory):

    The original estimate was that the thing he saw was 2 meters long (About 6 feet). When told the actual width of the road, he changed it to 3 point something meters. Years later, the estimate ballooned to 8-9 meters (which comes out to around the length given in the illustration shown in this post).

    You’re gonna have to go back to the original “Otter Nonsense” if you want more details, though…

  11. corrick responds:

    AtomicMrEMonster responds:
    June 15th, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    Wait a minute…I posted about the Spicer sighting in the original “Otter Nonsense” topic and pointed out the flaws in measurement (among other things).

    corrick responds:

    And how important is that considering what we know about the accuracy of eyewitness testimony? Seriously, read a few books about zoology as well as cryptozoology.

    The locomotion of the animal described by Spicer is exactly the same as a phocid and the size described falls well into an area of human error. Large phocids are known to exist in Loch Ness on occasion.

    As far as the Spicer sighting goes, it was a seal.

  12. springheeledjack responds:

    This IS exactly why I have problems with the scoftic side of things. To suggest that it was a band of otters hopping across the road, or even a single really BIG otter. That is the most ludicrous explanation I have heard, ever.

    As for the seal, then we are back to Heuvelmans’ long necked seal.

  13. springheeledjack responds:

    I am with Atomic on the locomotion. It is very similar in the report to seals. BUT you cannot discount the long neck. Maybe the Spicers were not accurate on size completely, but the fact that they mentioned the long neck goes a long way to pointing toward something outside their normal range of experience.

  14. springheeledjack responds:

    Obviously, folks, it was a group of scientists carrying a balloon over the road and preparing to do some reconnaissance of the area to do some surveying for the new road going through (crab all you want, but this theory is every bit as sound as the otter theory and my next one…at least according to scoftics)…and the Spicers HAD probably been nipping at the bottle, and since they were in Europe proper, it was probably Absynthe in the bottle so they were hallucinating…discount this sighting altogether…

  15. Ceroill responds:

    I think this is the first time I’ve seen the original sketch rather than the later modified one. Otters. Pah!

  16. Lyndon responds:

    corrick,

    Good theory with the seal. The Spicer report is alwasy one I had trouble with. You are right, grey seals are known in the loch and the road on that side of the loch is very easy to reach from the water. It’s easier to reach than the other side.

    I don’t know about the lamb though. Maybe the Spicer report was just a leg pull.

  17. Lyndon responds:

    By the way, I once slept overnight on the loch shore just past Dores and it would be very easy to get to the road in that section of the loch from the water. The road is not that much higher up than the loch shore there (as opposed to much of the northern side of the loch where it is much higher and a steeper climb up) and it would take little effort for a seal to reach the road near Dores from the water.

  18. kamoeba responds:

    Anyone ever consider that Spicer was lying?

  19. dogu4 responds:

    When I hear of these sightings one condition I like to see reported is the weather. If someone is down in the marine layer of air on a nice day and it’s not too windy, whether from the deck of a boat or on the shore, it could be excellent conditions for temperature inversions and the resultant refractive illusions; mirage and fata morgana. Just a couple of the surprising phenomenon to be seen out on the water. Add to that our proclivity to honestly misinterpret stuff.
    Never the less, I can and do give credence to the appearance of creatures outside the normally expected inventory.

  20. jerrywayne responds:

    The Spicer “sighting” is a poor choice if one wishes to ridicule or dismiss the otter explanation. Spicer’s original letter (if it is an accurate account) can reasonably be understood as an otter (or seal) sighting made in haste and with the news backdrop of recent “monster” reports. The COURIER printed Spicer’s letter along with their suggestion that he probably saw a large otter. Also, “Nessie” believer, Henry Bauer, at least in his book, dismisses all land sightings as misidentifications or hoaxes. (If I remember correctly).

    The otter explanation, however, may not be definitive. There are published discrepancies concerning the account. Not only the size of the creature, but the distance it was seen (50 yards, 150 yards, 200 yards.) the time of day it was seen (early morning, afternoon) and what was seen (a large creature carrying another animal, a large creature not carrying another animal, a creature with no visible tail, a creature with a tail laying on its back, a creature gone long before Spicer reached the spot it was seen, a creature almost run over by Spicer as it crossed the road, etc. Even the two different pictures (drawings) that appeared in published accounts later are too divergent to represent the same animal. In other words, the Spicer account is too messy to use as evidence of a “monster”, much less as an example of the alleged silliness of the otter explanation.

    While I won’t charge hoax here, there is something coy in tone about Spicer’s original letter. And that coyness has always bothered me.

  21. jerrywayne responds:

    If the Spicer sighting is not an outright hoax, may I suggest readers find the original account by Spicer and pick from the following most likely explanations:

    He saw a:

    1) Dragon

    2) Prehistoric whale

    3) Plesiosaur

    4) Waterhorse

    5) otter

    6) seal or

    7) who knows what.

    If you picked 1, 2, 3, or 4, may I suggest you just might be a “Fortean”.

  22. corrick responds:

    I agree with jerrywayne about the Spicer sighting. There are a lot of contradictery “facts” offered in the many recountings. Still, if in fact he did see something, I would guess it was a seal. The size difference alone would account for Spicer’s “WoW” reaction.

    And Lyndon makes some excellent points about the specific geopraphy of the sighting. Nothing can replace actually visiting a location. Many thanks.

  23. Loren Coleman responds:

    Actually, a real Fortean would be open to making any of those choices.

    But let’s not get sidetracked by defining Forteans incorrectly as a way to split hairs here.

  24. fuzzy responds:

    “…temperature inversions… refractive illusions… mirages… fata morgana…”???

    Sounds like a UFO comment from thirty years ago!

  25. mystery_man responds:

    I find the whole Spicer account a bit off too. As I said before, I’d be more willing to say that perhaps the whole thing was made up rather than fit what was reported into a perhaps implausible mundane explanation. Considering I am not as up to snuff on my Nessie facts as other cryptids, can anybody tell me what kind of ratio we are looking at with water based Nessi reports as opposed to accounts of Nessie being reported as a creature capable of venturing onto land? To me, the notion of an animal that is known to frequently move onto land points towards a possible seal of some sort.

  26. AtomicMrEMonster responds:

    corrick:

    And how important is that considering what we know about the accuracy of eyewitness testimony? Seriously, read a few books about zoology as well as cryptozoology.

    Wowza…no need to be so defensive; my post wasn’t directed at you. I just found it odd that a case I had posted about and showed that it was possible to have it be an otter was now being touted as a case that couldn’t possibly have been an otter. Even worse, there was no explanation as to why it was more likely. Now if Mr. Coleman had broken down the case and showed how the animal the Spicers saw exhibited seal-like behavior (such as this), I wouldn’t have made a peep.

    I’m not “married” to the otter explanation or anything (In fact, I showed how one of the cases explained away as being an otter was wrong), but if you had read the original post, you would’ve seen the case I was presenting. I have no problems with the seal examplanation; it’s a good explanation as well. But considering how the titles of these topics involve otters, can you really fault me for not immediately thinking “seal”?

    springheeledjack:

    corrick made the comment on seal locomotion, not me, so I doesn’t deserve credit for his work.

  27. springheeledjack responds:

    Atomic…you are right, but I will appeal to the fact that multiple witnessses have made the comment that said creature was moving in undulating movements… which knocks out reptiles, and move things toward mamalian critters…mystyery_man,…a I right…if that is so, then we are looking at a mammal and not a fish or a reptile….speak out if I am wrong….but speak…

  28. springheeledjack responds:

    I am kind of on the heuvelmans track with the long neck seal…but we will see…

    mytery_man…I am reiterating that I would lvoe to talk biology with you…I have some theories….

  29. springheeledjack responds:

    again, I think we go with first impressions and it was something that spanned the road and it was not an otter…unless we have a mutant long necked otter in which case we are moving into a new speciea….

    the point is that we have a case where someting is definitely not fitting the norm and we are then left with something that does not fit within normal paramaters….

    as friend of mine often says….bring it…

  30. sasquatch responds:

    When I see’s a seal, I says; hey look y’all, I see’s a seal! Gimme a break…Also wasn’t there a motorcyclist that had a similar encounter on the road above the Loch?

  31. mystery_man responds:

    SHJ- I’d like to hear some of your theories and talk biology. I tend to go with a mammalian explanation simply because of the temperatures around the Loch. I am not sure exactly about the normal temperatures there, but Scotland is not exactly an ideal place for large, cold blooded reptiles. Although this report happened in the summer, the creature would likely be a year round reisdent so I would be suprised if it is a reptile in a Scottish Loch. I would not rule out some sort of giant salamander though, as they prefer cold water and they would be able to leave the water.

  32. dogu4 responds:

    Mystery Man…that assertion regarding large cold blooded reptiles seems right enough, but there are f cold blooded animals that do live in cold water besides our salamander friends: octopus, deep water sharks, eels, plasmodiums (and my favorite crypto species, hagfish). I think there may be a size at which point no matter what the metabolism is, heat will be conserved and the problem will be overheating. I’m still researchin’ the polymorphism of anadromous fish but the salmon landlocked species it seems sometimes will revert back to saltwater patterns.
    Enjoying this discussion. thanks

  33. mystery_man responds:

    Dogu4- There are animals in marine environments that thrive in cold water true enough. But in this case I am talking about a cold, freshwater Loch and large reptiles rather than sharks or octopus. Coldwater areas like this do not lend themselves to being ideal habitat for large reptiles of this sort and I think you will find Scotland and similar habitats to be lacking these sorts of animals. Other cold water creatures that you mention are a possibility, but I was talking about reptiles in this case. I feel a large reptile such as a crocodillian living in the cold waters of the Loch in an area where no known examples of this sort of organism exist, in an unlikely habitat for such a creature is a tad far fetched. If you were to ask me which is more likely, a new type of European reptile that is large and uniquely adapted to cold water, a type of giant freshwater octopus, or a mammal that is well represented by many large species known to be adapted to cold water, even fresh water, my guess is that a mammal is a good possibility. It is not my only theory, as you known from my other posts on other threads, but it is a highly plausible one.

  34. mystery_man responds:

    Let us also remember that this discussion is based around the Spicer sighting, which features a land roving creature. Not too many sharks or hagfish that fit this description, especially in fresh water.

  35. mystery_man responds:

    If we are to discuss creatures that do not get out of the water and are entirely water dwelling, then I have lots of different theories on what Nessie could be. This account features a creature that obviously leaves the water to make forays onto land, so that is what I am speculating about here and a mammal seems like a good possibility in regards to this sighting. A mammilian explanation for Nessie in general makes sense in many ways to me, but it is not the only possible answer, of course.

  36. mystery_man responds:

    Dogu4- Sorry, I forgot to comment on what you said about larger reptiles maintaining heat. This is a very good point and is known as gigantothermy. When a reptile is large, it has more mass to hold in the heat and so the heat takes a longer time to leave the body. If they get cold, they simply have to move and the energy will produce heat. Since reptiles gain heat faster than they lose it, this could very well lead to the overheating that you mentioned. An interesting reptile that employs this is the leatherback turtle, which maintains a body temperature quite a bit higher than the surrounding water. If nessie is a reptile, then i guess this could be a possibility. Good point.

    In actuality, I guess we should consider that it is not always easy to clearly differentiate animals as having strictly endothermic and ectothermic tendencies since some animals display a bit of both and fall somewhere in the middle. There are animals that can display both poikilothermic traits (varying body temperature), and heterothermic traits (constant body temperature) and so it is true that thermophysiology can be more like a spectrum than anything categorical. I suppose since there are a wide range of thermoregulatory strategies that are employed by many cold blooded animals allowing them to survive in cold areas, it is feasible this could be going on in the Loch somehow. Perhaps reptiles should not be discounted too quickly, I just felt that this particular area does not have good representation of this happening. Interesting speculation.

    I still feel mammals are a good possibility too. Good discussion.

  37. shumway10973 responds:

    Has anyone here seen pictures (or maybe been there in person) of the rock at Loch Ness (I believe it’s near there) that the Celtic people carved every animal on? We recognize all but one, the water horse. There is no way an otter could ever be an explanation for any of the Loch Ness sightings, especially the sonar blip of something larger than their boat and moving faster than they could keep up.

    And for the Utah sightings: I might have missed it in the above report, but other sightings of the original Mormon settlers along with the natives of the area have almost all described those creatures as looking like nessie except that they have ears like a dog. I will have to find my book again, but I do believe it might have said a face like a dog. In any case, 2 things, otters do not have ears like a dog and I have never heard of inland otters swimming in Salt Lake (where some of the reports came from).

  38. jerrywayne responds:

    We should remember that Spicer’s account occurred in 1933. There were no TVs and probably very few nature shows at the cinema. An otter (or family of otters) crossing the road was probably a foreign experience. Perhaps the same thing with seals. Add newly minted “monster” and “sea serpent” stories about the lake, and the release of KING KONG, and one can see how Spicer may have given an overblown account of his “sighting”.



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