Another “spectacular” sea monster fossil discovery is ruined by some ridiculous journalists who can’t rid themselves of the stupid pop culture habit of comparing every ancient sea predator to a mythical creature. This is really getting old.
The recent news is of a nearly intact ichthyosaur skeleton discovered on Scotland’s Isle of Skye and announced in the press as the Storr Lochs Monster just screamed out to be compared to the Loch Ness Monster. And it was, by a few outlets who go too far.
The fossil, found in 1966 by the manager of the hydroelectric Storr Lochs Power Station, had been in museum storage. It was recently announced in a public release. Read all about it in these news pieces:
Jurassic ‘Sea Monster’ Emerges From Scottish Loch (National Geographic)
Move over Nessie: Scottish sea monster uncovered in national museum (AFP, Yahoo News, Phys Org)
The first two articles, from BBC and USA Today, get two thumbs up from me for being accurate without sensationalizing the story. Good job.
National Geographic has a good piece ruined by the mention of “Nessie”: “scientists have unveiled a monster that would make Nessie blush” – a silly, nonsensical reference. But even the scientist is quoted referencing lake monsters:
“Although some people think that sea monsters live here today in our lakes, there were actually real ones that lived here over a hundred million years ago,” says Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh, one of the lead researchers analyzing the fossil.
That was unnecessary. The atrocious AFP piece will be the article that gets probably the widest distribution and will be the most read and shared. From the headline to the content, it is not good science writing, it’s hype. The specimen is said to be a “deep-sea killer” of the type “sometimes called sea dragons”. Well, carnivores have to kill to eat, and one book was written on the subject called “Sea Dragons” to encompass plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs. No one really calls them that.
Brusatte digs himself a deeper hole with another quote:
“They were bigger, scarier and more fascinating than the myth of Nessie. The new fossil is one of them. It actually lived in Scotland 170 million years ago!”
The same antics occurred in 2015 when an ichthyosaur was found at Bearreraig Bay in Skye, and when a placoderm fossil was found in the Scottish Highlands.
I understand the desire to reach audiences with exciting finds and scientific triumphs, but invoking myths and manufactured drama is just not the right way to do it. Stick to the facts, stop making them monsters. Giant marine reptiles were successful and amazing animals that were an important chapter in earth’s life history. The marvelous tale of Nessie is in a different category entirely. Invoking “Nessie” every single stinking time a plesiosaur, ichthyosaur or other toothy carcass, fossilized or otherwise, makes the news cheapens the discovery into a cartoon monster story and reinforces the mistaken notion that Nessie is a living prehistoric survivor.
Journalists, editors, scientists: Stop it.