Saturday, February 28, 2009


History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/25/09

In the Pine Barrens of New Jersey lurks a grotesque creature known as the Jersey Devil.  Descriptions vary, but the creature seems to be an odd mix of mammal, bird, and reptile.  Dr. Angus Gillespie has been collecting eyewitness reports for over 30 years; many people believe the creature to be real.  Over the last 20 years, there have been more than 200 sightings, mostly within the Pine Barrens.  In January 2004, a mother and her teenage son saw a huge black creature perched in a tree near their house; as they ran, they heard the creature swoop past and land on the roof.  The woman's husband took a picture of the tracks left in the snow on their roof -- but no one could identify the tracks.  A police investigator suggested that the creature leaving the tracks would weigh 200-400 pounds, the size of a small bear.  MonsterQuest and a group of local devil-hunters go looking for the beast.  (The 60 people and 7 cameramen is probably the largest expedition ever on the show.)  As they hunt, the show recaps the legend of the monster -- which was the thirteenth child in a 1700s family.  Born normal, it soon transformed into a demonic beast and flew up the chimney.  People have been seeing it ever since.  An investigator of the roof story suggests that the thing might have been a great horned owl -- which sometimes has a five-foot wingspan.  The witness says it wasn't an owl she saw.  In 1909, a rash of sighting swept the area, with the monster seen by hundreds over the span of 8 days; again descriptions varied wildly.

Th show suggests that the devil might be related to the recent "Montauk monster" which washed up on the Long Island coast.  (The show talks to the woman who photographed the "monster.")  Some suggested that the creature escaped from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.  The show goes to the center and talks to one of the scientists working there; Dr. Barrett says there are no secret experiments, though they do work on controling livestock disease.  He convincingly identifies the "monster" as a decaying boxer dog.  A zoologist suggests that the devil may be an African hammer-headed bat.  Could such a bat have come over with the slaves?  It seems unlikely, as such bats need warmth and year-round fruit.  In 1997, a local inkeeper had an encounter while taking out her trash, spotting the shadow of a huge wing.  A polygraph expert interviews the family with the roof encounter; they pass.  The expert believes the family saw some creature which scared the wits out of them.  The show uses their description to create a 3D sculpture of the beast, which the witnesses declare authentic.  The 60-person sweep turns up nothing unusual.  And a local expert suggests that people unfamiliar with the wild may misidentify common animals -- like the owl.  Witness have seen something, but are they all seeing the same thing, and, if so, what?

The Jersey Devil was the subject of a recent Uncanny Radio show, too.


History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/18/09

Yes, another bigfoot-like edition of MonsterQuest, this one based on the Legend of Boggy Creek.  The story started in Fouks, Louisiana, where the original sightings occurred.  Several of the townsfolk claimed to have seen, and even been terrorized by, a three-toed shaggy-haired humanoid.  A local man who's hunted in the area all his life, believes there is no evidence that the creature exists.  Of course, others claim to have seen the creature (as recently as October 2000).  One man saw the monster as he sat in a hunting stand; another spotted it on the mountainside after giving a wildlife call.  Another witness, after spotting the monster, kept looking for years until he found some prints -- of both foot and hand -- on a creek bed, which he then photographed and took casts off.  Unfortunately, the prints are not enough to prove anything; they seem to be human, though it's unlikely a human would be barefoot in a cold stream in the woods in the middle of winter.  MonserQuest sends a team out to the Sulfur River Basin look for the monster.  They ride and paddle through the wilderness and set up camera traps -- one of which gets knocked down and chewed on by a bear.  They spray reagent on the foliage (to see if it's been brushed against), and use call-blasting to try to lure out any incipent monsters.  They find some bear prints and show how, if the claws marks are absent, bear prints can look like a large human, or sasquatch, print.  They also find an very large print, not a bear, that's too old to properly analyze.  Unfortunately, none of the camera traps or high-tech gizmos turn up anything.  Analysis of a scat sample proves to be from a wild boar.  And the three-toed track photograph is analyzed as likely to be a hoax.  Thus, another quest with no actual monsters.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

MONSTEQUEST: Cattle Mutilations

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/11/09

This show recaps the usual myths about animal mutilations: strange forces, UFOs, radioactivity, etc. Early on, they do bring in a forensics expert, Dr. Nation, who says that he's never seen a "mutilation" that didn't have a rational explanation.  Ranchers, whose experience is touted by the show, disagree.  They seem to think this is unnatural. And, looking for ways to prove this unnatural phenomena, naturally they find strange things.  (There's a word or phrase in science for "finding what you're looking for," though at the moment I don't recall what it is.  Avoiding these pre-supposed conclusions is why science sets up theories and then tests them.)  And, of course, there are connections to things that look like crop circles, and dead vegetation that the show suggests are caused by 'craft."  (People who go looking for strange things always find strange things; the world is full of things that don't meet our expectations.)  The show promises to try and recreate the mutilation with surgery and lasers and perform a test on a cow body of their own.  Not surprisingly, the plastic surgeon has trouble recreating the wounds on the "mutilated" animals.  Too bad he doesn't have the same advantage millions of years of evolution have given predators -- but Dr. Nation gives a convincing demonstration of how well adapted predators are to damage carcases.  There's one wound that Dr. Nation seems to think is odd, but the show has no other explantion, except that it's strange.  And people who go looking for strange things, generally find them -- as the female researcher proves time and again during this show.  And in this experiment, the dead cow left out doesn't get scavenged quickly enough for the show.  Really, it must be something strange.  Really.

For a more rational discussion of this subject, see the Is it Real? Chupacabras show, reviewed earlier.  Naturally, since this is MonsterQuest, no actual monsters are found, and their conclusion that these things are beyond the scope of current science is just absurd.

UFO HUNTERS - Aliens at the Airport

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/11/09

The premise of this show is that alien craft are buzzing airports and airplanes.  On November 7, 2006, a dark gray, disc-shaped object appears hovering over O'Hare airport.  The alleged object then shoots into the sky, blasting a hole into the dense cloud cover; but the airline and FAA insist nothing unusual happening.  Naturally the show cries cover-up, and the team branches out to investigate.  But because the object didn't show up on radar, the FAA refused to look into the incident.  There's plenty of recorded cockpit chatter, though apparently no pictures.  The show also mentions a triangle of lights (triangle-shaped object) that appeared over Chicago in 2004.  They talk to witnesses about the alleged event, and replay the tapes from the tower.  An air controller, though, believes that the sightings were a rare weather phenomenon.  He says that if a solid object had been sighted, they would have stopped or redirected flights.  The episode then shows a video of a light supposedly buzzing an airplane in Japan (though it looks like a plane flying past a star, or a distant plane to with its landing lights on,  or maybe a flare to me).  The supposed object was only seen through the viewfinder, and the show suggests it was invisible to the naked eye but not the camera.  They do a little experiment to show that some camreas can pick up some infrared signals.  Then they do analysis of the film, though -- as often happens -- I agree with neither their premises nor their conclusions.  Really, they can't even tell if the "object" is in front of the plane or behind it.  Yet, they draw conclusions that tend to support their basic UFO premises -- that these "craft" have cloaking devices and move faster than conventional aircraft and are secretly observing our airports.

As usual, the show is filled with hearsay and recreations ... and a lack of actual evidence.

Alaska's Bermuda Triangle

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/10/09 (?)

According to this show, a person disappears in Alaska every day; the natives have a saying for this, "Gone missing," and the phrase seems to have ominous, almost supernatural overtones. With rugged terrain filled with plenty of enticing (if dangerous) things to do, and much travel done by airplane, Alaska seems to be a perfect place for such vanishings, and the show presents a "triangle" map with a huge swath of land ruled off for the alleged strange occurrences.  In 1992, three brothers disappeared when returning by plane from a remote fishing trip, no trace was ever found.  Twenty years earlier, house majority leader Hale Boggs and congressmen Mitch Begich disappeared on a route "bisected" by the alleged triangle.  The pilot who flew them that fateful day is described as "arrogant" by fellow pilots.  A huge effort, including overflight by SR-71 spy planes, was mounted to find the men, but nothing ever turned up.  The search not only included air and water searches, but also a call for people to report dreams and psychic premonitions.  The show tries to link the disappearance to Bogg's enmity with J. Edgar Hoover, though there seems to be little there.  Ironically, the pilot of the missing plane had published an article declaring icing (implicated in this week's Buffalo crash) was no problem for flying if a pilot knew what he was doing.  The narrator then mentions native legends of a lost world runed by evil spirits, but does little to follow up this idea.

The show doesn't do much to support its suggestion that people disappearing in Alaska is in any way unusual or supernatural.  With only two cases explored, the program doesn't build much of a case.  Alaska can be a very dangerous territory, filled with  mountains, glaciers, hostile terrain and animals, and unpredictable weather.  The area is also huge (remember how big Alaska is compared to the other 49 states).  Under such conditions, and with so many small planes in use by Alaskans, it doesn't seem odd to me that some people would almost literally fall off the face of the earth.  In fact, it would seem odd if they didn't.  Sadly, despite an intriuging promo, there's not much to this show.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

MONSTERQUEST: The Death of Loch Ness

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/4/09

The show starts by recapping the well-known story of Nessie, and talks to Robert Rines about his famous encounter and investigations.  In 2005, Rines scanned the entire bottom of Loch Ness with sonar.  Because he found nothing, he has come to believe that Nessie has died, and its carcass has sunk to the bottom of the lake.  He even found an intriguing underwater picture, that might show a carcass.  MonsterQuest wants to pick up where he left off, and Rines is going with them.  They've even brought a fish-shaped camera with them to act as a lure, and an ROV to poke around at anything they find.  A man names Gordon Holmes disagrees with Rines; he's had sightings very recently, and has a video to prove it.  The show reviews some famous photographic hoaxes (surgeon's photo, three hump photo) and Rines' possibly real plesiosaur-shaped photo.  Recent findings of marine shells in the lake suggest the loch was once connected to the sea, and might therefore harbor marine animals.  A "fleshy" sample pulled up by the ROV proves to be merely clay.  Holmes, meanwhile, sends out a tiny remote-controlled boat with a camera and sonar, which he hopes will be quiet enough to sneak up on the creature.

Though the MQ search covers the whole lake, like most expeditions, this MQ one turns up no evidence of the monster; all the ROV samples turn out to be merely muck.  The Holmes film analysis proves inconclusive, too, though a large fish and "catspaw" winds are offered as possible explanations.  While even official Loch Scientist Adrian Shine belives something strange is going on, and thus worth studying, no new proof is forthcoming.  Rines hopes to continue, though his advancing age may make this his last trip to the loch.  Unfortunately, like most of their episodes, this first show in the new season of MonsterQuest turns up no actual monsters.


History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/11/09

The team looks at the biggest things in the sky, reports of giant UFOs.  In 2007, a pilot over the English Channel spotted a gigantic object a mile wide in the sky.  The sighting was confirmed by radar and a 2nd pilot, a yellowish platform-like object, followed later by a second, smaller one.  In Canada and Iceland, eyewitnesses have also seen huge objects, some "twice the size of an aircraft carrier,' and the show asks, "Why are huge UFOs are following our aircraft?"  The team sets out to recreate the English sighting, declaring it one of the best documented ever.  A good chunk of the show is spent up in an airplane, talking about the original encounter with the pilot and his passenger witnesses. The passengers who go on the recreation flight give the pilot high marks for how he reacted, given how unusual the situation was.  At the end of the flight, he asked for anyone who saw anything unusual to leave their information with him.

The crew also talks to a French pilot, who saw a huge red-orange flying disc -- 800-1000' across -- below his plane.  Then the object, which was fuzzy around the edges, gradually became transparent and disappeared.  The show also mentions the sighting of a much smaller UFO--a rock that seemed to fly through the air under intelligent control.  A 1986 Japanese piolt saw a giant UFO with two smaller ones, which the pilot thought were ships sent from the larger "mothership."  The show notes that lenticular clouds, a very rare phenomenon, can appear disc-like and are very large.  Sundogs are mentioned, too, but both these phenomena are dismissed as explanation to the show's sighting.  The scientist they interview suggest that the sightings could be cause by a rare temperature inversion area, which can act like a mirror, reflecting things from afar, or even light.  Such inversions can show up on radar.  Of course, the crew doesn't believe that, either.  As usual, the show relies heavily on witness reports and very little on actual science, but they speculate that because of air traffic, these types of sightings will increase in the future.