I judge my response to nonsense paranormal claims based on the reach of the claim outside of online paranormal groups. For example, if a ghost research interest group is making a claim that sounds like nonsense, I could research it and write about it, but if the original claim only reached 20 people in the first place, it could be a waste of time and resources.
This is why yesterday, when a colleague of mine from my day job (who has no more than a passing interest in the paranormal) told me “did you know that the Loch Ness monster is whale dicks being seen by tourists?” I finally knew that I needed to spend my Saturday morning writing this god damn blogpost about whale dicks.
My colleagues girlfriend had apparently heard this claim on that bastion of science communication known as Tiktok. I don’t know which specific account on there, but whoever shared that info may have seen the story being discussed by ‘This Morning’ on ITV, could have read this ‘I f*cking love science’ article about erect whale dicks being mistaken for sea monsters, or could have seen the viral twitter thread from comedian James Felton which very unhelpfully used a famous photo of the Loch Ness monster next to a photo of a whale dick to illustrate his point…
A surprising number of sea monster sightings can be explained by whale boners
(quick thread, sources here: https://t.co/0P61u33Blr) pic.twitter.com/OCvgxMctNP
— James Felton (@JimMFelton) April 7, 2021
The problem with this tweet from Felton is that although the neck and head of Nessie in this photo on the right does look a similar shape to a whale dick, if you do even the slightest digging into the history of Loch Ness monster sightings and photos you’ll know that this photo already had a verifiable explanation. It was a hoaxed photo published in The Daily Mail in 1934 showing a small model monster affixed to a toy submarine. (Krystek, n.d.)
Further into his popular twitter thread, Felton went on to explain that this whale dick hypothesis comes from 2005 research by Charles Paxton.
‘Charles Paxton took a look at this and other sightings of sea serpents back in 2005, for possible explanations of the accounts. They concluded – with comparisons to modern photographs and descriptions – that several accounts were actually of whale boners.’
This is just not true.
Dr Charles Paxton collaborated with Dr Sharon Hedley and Erik Knatterud to research the 1734 sighting of a sea serpent off the coast of Greenland by Hans Egede. In their paper, the researchers wrote that this history sighting was ‘likely to have been a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), a North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) or one of the last remaining Atlantic grey whales (Eschrichtius robustus) either without flukes or possibly a male in a state of arousal.’ That’s right. Whale dicks.
However, further into the paper they also point out that this conclusion should not be used as a broad explanation for the multitude of lake and sea monster sightings made on a regular basis now and through both recent and ancient history, stating ‘we have no “unmeet confidence [sic]” in our interpretation of the Egede creature. Nor are we suggesting that whales’ penises are a universal source of sea-serpent sightings‘ (Paxton, Knatterud and Hedley, 2005)
That didn’t stop people like ‘I f*cking love science’ or James Felton from doing just that which is disappointing. Often, both on this blog and in my public talks, I discuss how when it comes to those who go ghost hunting or monster hunting, they’ll use the same techniques and find the same explanations for a range of phenomena reported by the original eye-witness. This is behaviour often fuelled by an unconscious desire to be correct and to prove oneself to be right. It’s behaviour also found in skeptics who are trying to debunk paranormal claims too, who use explanations that sound like they make sense but don’t bother to research them any further to see if they are correct.
This also happened with the case of the Torquay Museum ghost. People dismissed the ghost sighting as a reflection in glass or as a publicity hoax, but it was only when me and Ben Radford took the time to investigate the case further that we discovered it was just a woman sitting on a stool illuminated by her phone in the dark. (Stevens, 2016) When it comes to trying to understand strange and bizarre phenomena reported by the public, researchers don’t need either paranormal proponents spreading their ludicrous claims or armchair debunkers who think they’re scientific skeptics using hammers (or whale dicks) to crack nuts.
In other words, put your whale dick away, you’re embarrassing yourself and nobody needs to see it.
Krystek, L, (n.d.) ‘The Surgeon’s Hoax’, The Unmuseum [Online]. Available at http://www.unmuseum.org/nesshoax.htm (Accessed 26 June 2021)
Paxton, C., Knatterud, E & Hedley, S, (2005) ‘Cetaceans, sex and sea serpents: an analysis of the Egede accounts of a “most dreadful monster” seen off the coast of Greenland in 1734’, Archives of natural history, vol. 32 no.1, pp.1–9
Stevens, H. (2016) ‘Investigating Britain’s Sexiest Ghost’, Hayley is a Ghost [Online]. Available at https://hayleyisaghost.co.uk/investigating-britains-sexiest-ghost/ (Accessed 26 June 2021)