Montauk “monster?” No, it’s a raccoon

August 5, 2008

Darren Naish at Tetrapod Zoology did the scientific work any RKSI person ought to do, and identified the carcass that washed up on a beach in Montauk, New York, as a poor old raccoon.  (“RKSI?”  Road Kill Scene Investigator — though maybe this should be “Beach Kill.”)

Raccoon, Tennessee Department of Health Photo

Raccoon, Procyon lotor, Tennessee Department of Health photo

Beaches of Montauk, New York, appear to be safe.

Religionists often accuse me of having “faith” in science, and to a small degree that is accurate.  I do have faith that, much of the time, there is a rational explanation for things that at first appear magical, or to verify stories of monsters, goblins, or Republican platform planks.  Naish uses his experience in watching decomposing critters on the beach to show how to identify the creature in Montauk.  This is a powerful demonstration of the power of scientific methods:  Naish worked the issue from 3,470 miles away (about 5,585 km).

With a bit of luck the popularity of this monster story, and the resolution of the mysteries by Naish and other like-minded scientists, might inspire a few people to do the CSI-style thing, to actually study science.  One might study animal anatomy, as Naish has done, or one might apply to the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology program at the Knoxville campus.

Naish said:

Like all of these sorts of mysteries, this one was fun while it lasted, but the photos that really clinched it for a lot of people weren’t (so far as I can tell) released on the same day as the initial, tantalizing mystery photo (the one shown at the very top). And I don’t mind this sort of thing too much: we get to see a lot of dumbass speculation, sure, but the immense interest that these stories generate show that people – even those not particularly interested in zoology or natural history – have a boundless appetite for mystery animals. If only there were some clever way of better utilizing this fascination.

The truth is out there. Sometimes it helps to have a good university library and some scientific knowledge to flush it out, and flesh it out.  Students, you can become the bearer of answers you seek.

Word of the day:  Taphonomy (beyond the usual, “one more science creationists don’t do”)

Other resources:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula, once again (so many tips there, it’s probably soaked).

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