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And Bigfoot Said...

Donate We compare vocalizations attributed to Bigfoot with the sounds of real animals known to be in the area.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Cryptozoology

Skeptoid Podcast #656
January 1, 2019
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Today we're going to head out into the deep dark woods of the Pacific Northwest, legendary home of a great hulking bipedal ape — the Sasquatch. Known to us only by anecdotal accounts, Bigfoot (as we more commonly call it) is said to be fond of making vocalizations: whistles, screams, and grunts. Many a Bigfoot hunter has made recordings, and today we're going to listen to some of the best regarded of these, and compare them to known sounds. Will any of them stand up to scrutiny? Well, we'll see.

Without further ado, we'll get right to what you most want to hear. This is one of the most classic and best known recordings, a sort of long drawn-out howl, said to have been recorded in Ohio in 1994:

Another really famous recording is this whoop:

Many of them follow this theme of high whistling or drawn-out howls, like this one claimed to be from 1972 in Estacada, Oregon:

Sometimes it's a series of short screams that seem to sound a lot like primates, like these:

As interesting as these clips are, it turns out that the field of Bigfoot vocalizations is completely dominated by one particular set of recordings that garner the majority of the attention and monopolize the literature. They are regarded by Bigfoot believers as topnotch evidence and dismissed by scientists as among the very least plausible. They're called the Sierra Sounds, available for purchase on two albums. They are claimed to have been recorded over the space of three years in the 1970s from inside a single blind in a secret location in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, by two guys named Alan Berry and Ronald Morehead. The recordings comprise about 90 minutes of high quality audio, much of it like this:

The story itself is wildly implausible. Over three years of trips to their secret blind while that activity was happening just a few feet away — every time they visited — it never once occurred to Berry and Morehead to pull aside the tent flap and take a photograph. The explanation they offered is that it was hard to see out. To believe in the authenticity of their recordings is to believe that they were simultaneously the luckiest Bigfoot hunters ever, and the least competent.

Nevertheless, many Bigfoot believers embrace the tapes wholeheartedly, some even having done "linguistic analysis" and claiming to have deciphered a Bigfoot language from them, most notably the Navy translator and self-described Bigfoot language expert R. Scott Nelson. Although many non-linguist Bigfoot believers speak in glowing terms of their colleague's self-published papers discussing his Bigfoot language, actual linguists remain unpersuaded. Dr. Karen Stollznow wrote in Scientific American in 2013:

...Working as a translator doesn't qualify someone to identify or describe undocumented languages. This is an area of anthropological linguistics, although it appears as if many cryptozoological fans confuse "crypto-linguistics" as a field that researches the language of cryptids.

She concluded that these language-sounding parts of the Sierra Sounds recordings (which are often called "samurai chattering") were likely human-made hoaxes, and at least one YouTuber demonstrated his own replication of them:

But the real problem is not that the samurai chattering can be so easily hoaxed, it's that they are so radically unlike any other alleged Bigfoot recordings. Also writing in Scientific American, vertebrate paleontologist Darren Naish said:

...These sounds... sound nothing at all like the others that have been reported and recorded, and have only been heard exclusively in one small area.

This disparity is the largest problem with the field of Bigfoot vocalizations as a whole. The sounds are wildly diverse — much too diverse, in fact, to represent a single creature. Real animal species produce a consistent, homogenous range of vocalizations. Speaking of all the alleged Bigfoot recordings as a whole, Naish continued:

What's notable is that these vocalisations are phenomenally diverse: the 'Ohio howls', 'Samurai chatter', the whoops, whistles, growls and howls attributed to this animal well exceed what we'd expect for a single animal species that communicates over long distances, and there's nothing approaching homogeneity of the sort present across known primate species.

It turns out there's likely a very good reason for the diversity of the recordings: they are all made by different animals. For, as it turns out, very few of the alleged Bigfoot recordings are unknown to those familiar with wildlife sounds. Just as one introductory example, think back to that "whoop" sound and see how it compares to a common loon, a bird active at night:

Or that famous Ohio howl, compare it to this pair of timber wolves:

Now, it's noteworthy that the vast majority of these long howl sounds available online are of terrible quality. One possible explanation is that the clearer the recording is, the easier it is to identify as a known non-Bigfoot species of animal. So the ones that remain as claimed Bigfoot recordings typically sound like this:

I've found everything from owls to bobcats to foxes to marmots that can be made to sound like that given enough echo and distortion, so there's hardly any point in trying to match it up. But here's a fox that's similar:

And for every recording of a known animal you find, you have to remember that it's just one call from one specimen, and animals all have many different types of calls and variations.

Remember the alleged Bigfoot sound that was a bunch of short, high-pitched monkey sounding barks, give a quick comparison to this compilation of fox sounds:




Foxes are one of the real champions of vocalization, able to sound like virtually anything you can think of. Lynxes can have an uncanny ability to sound like two people yelling at each other:

But if I was going to make a Bigfoot sound, I would look no farther than the wild boar:

Or the black bear:

And for that famous whistling scream so often reported as a Bigfoot, I would turn first to the barred owl:

Really the lesson here is best summarized by the famous saying attributed to Dr. Theodore Woodward: "When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras." It's smart advice. The probable explanation is always a better bet than the improbable one. If you hear an unearthly howl in the woods at night, is it possible that you're not personally familiar with the entirety of the range of coyote and wolf howls, or are you forced to conclude that an unknown giant hairy monster must exist?

And by the same token, when you hear that strange sound, did you truly rule out all the possible vocalizations of elk, marmots, foxes, and owls? Could there be known animals up there you're not too familiar with? All too often, cryptid fans make the failed leap of logic "I don't know what that is, therefore I do know, and it's Bigfoot." In fact it's no more likely to be Bigfoot than it is the psychic projection of an alien living inside the hollow Earth, which is equally improbable. That they don't go to that explanation instead reveals that their thinking is not unbiased.

If Bigfoot is out there — and so far, we've no compelling reason to think he might be — he will likely be hard to miss. If and when we do make that determination, the evidence will likely be a little stronger than some audio tapes of unproven origin that are half a century old.


By Brian Dunning

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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "And Bigfoot Said..." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 1 Jan 2019. Web. 15 Sep 2019. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4656>

 

References & Further Reading

Berger, M., Berger, G. Howl! A Book about Wolves. New York: Scholastic, 2002.

Edwards, G. "Linquists Battle Over Bigfoot Language." Bigfoot Lunch Club. BigfootLunchClub.com, 1 Jul. 2013. Web. 27 Dec. 2018. <http://www.bigfootlunchclub.com/2013/07/linquists-battle-over-bigfoot-language.html>

Naish, D. "If Bigfoot Were Real." Scientific American. Nature America, Inc., 27 Jun. 2016. Web. 27 Dec. 2018. <https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/if-bigfoot-were-real/>

Radford, B. "Bigfoot Blamed for Strange Shrieks." Live Science. Future, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 27 Dec. 2018. <https://www.livescience.com/26663-bigfoot-strange-sounds.html>

Radford, B. "Bigfoot at 50: Evaluating a Half-Century of Bigfoot Evidence." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Mar. 2002, Volume 26, Number 2: 29-34.

Stollznow, K. "(Big)foot in Mouth: Bigfoot Language." Scientific American. Nature America, Inc., 24 Jul. 2013. Web. 27 Dec. 2018. <https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/bigfoot-in-mouth-bigfoot-language/>

 

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