I reply to a blog post from Paul Pursglove of the United Kingdom ("Pterosaurs and Cryptozoology"). Before delving into details on his post, however, let's consider something known by almost everyone exposed to Western science but rarely appreciated by anyone. "Pterosaur" refers not to a species but to many species; in fact there are two major types: Rhamphorhynchoid and Pterodactyloid. So how is that not appreciated? Critics of living-pterosaur investigations ("LP" cryptozoologists) have failed to consider a problem with what some of them so loudly proclaim about pterosaur "extinction." It is not proven; it is assumed.
How many species of pterosaurs may have lived without leaving any fossils that have been discovered! How many species may have been rare! How many species may have been common! How rare the paleontologist who considers the obvious implication: Fossils in museums and laboratories cannot prove the extinction of any general type of organism---not even one general type! And "pterosaur" refers to a general type of organism. How simple that is! How rarely acknowledged! All we might say with certainty is that many individual dinosaurs and pterosaurs died in ways that allowed their bodies to become fossilized, and a worldwide catastrophe seems a likely explanation for many deaths. But many deaths do not necessarily add up to an extinction of a general zoological type.
Now to the post (July 1, 2010) by Mr. Pursglove. I appreciate the openness in the last sentence: "I would be delighted if someone found a modern day pterosaur, but I am not going to join the search myself." I don't recall any other critic who came to the point so plainly about having no desire for personal involvement in searching for living pterosaurs. But he is open about being practically-closed, and part of my purpose is to encourage major expeditions and research into living pterosaurs. So let us examine his post in detail.
Pursglove says that "the reports of sightings have been coloured with the changes in scientific thinking about pterosaur anatomy over the years." If so, why does he give no details? What sightings? What years? What anatomy? What "scientific thinking?"
The two sketches above are both composites from multiple sketches shown to two eyewitnesses. The top one was chosen by Brian Hennessy, a psychologist; he saw a "prehistoric" flying creature in daylight, in 1971. The bottom one was chosen by Duane Hodgkinson, a flight instructor; he saw a "pterodactyl" flying in daylight, in 1944. (Both sightings were in New Guinea) As I reported in my scientific paper "Reports of Living Pterosaurs in the Southwest Pacific" (Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 45, #3), the differences in relative lengths of head crest in the sketches are within a reasonable margin of eyewitness error: The apparent differences in headcrest length do not necessarily mean the creatures themselves differed much in this feature. The point? At least in these two sightings (two of the most important reports; two of the most credible eyewitnesses), the accounts are markedly similar, notwithstanding the difference between the years 1944 and 1971. Mr. Pursglove, however, has given us no relevant details, in his original post, to support his apparent insinuation that eyewitnesses are improperly influenced by images (perhaps in books, magazines, or various media) that change over a period of years.
Pursglove also says that "most of the sightings occur in areas where UFO sightings are common." Again, he gives no details. Does he know that apparent pterosaurs are seen in many areas of the world? If I am not mistaken, UFO's are also seen in many areas of the world. And airplanes fly at night in many areas of the world. UFO's do not cause us to doubt the existence of night-flying airplanes. What is his point?
He says that "I cannot find a sighting reported by a biologist or a palaeontologist with detailed knowledge," but he never asked me. Perhaps no other cryptozoologist in the world has interviewed more living-pterosaur eyewitnesses from North America and Europe than I have (I have also interviewed many eyewitnesses in Papua New Guinea, but there biologists and paleontologists are uncommon except as visitors). I would have at least referred him to Professor Peter Beach (in the northwest U.S.). Just ask.
Pursglove says that the ropen "reported from the Malaysian islands and New Guinea" is reputed to be a very large long-tailed pterosaur. Yes, according to the Western usage of the word "ropen," it is indeed proclaimed by cryptozoologists Paul Nation, Garth Guessman, David Woetzel, and me (Jonathan Whitcomb) to be a Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur; over a number of years, this idea has spread both within the cryptozoology community and elsewhere. Among the natives of the Southwest Pacific, the ropen is known by many names in many languages. (Pursglove mentions a few of them.)
He may have read more relevant web pages, and apparently at least one of the newer pages, than most critics, for he mentions the names "duwas" and "kor." Apparently he has not read my book Searching for Ropens (second edition), for he assumes that appearances of a long-tailed flying creature, at dusk, are more common than sightings of the flying lights (we call them "ropen lights," "indava," etc). The reverse is true in Papua New Guinea.
But what does he mean by, "sightings have not been confirmed?" That sounds vague to me. On Umboi Island, in 2004, I interviewed many eyewitnesses. Three of them (Mesa Augustin, Gideon Koro, and Wesley Koro) all saw the same giant flying creature, in daylight, at the same time. Each eyewitness confirmed that sighting. I know of another sighting on the northwest coast of Umboi; scores of natives had gathered for a funeral procession when a glowing ropen flew overhead. Many sightings have involved multiple eyewitnesses, so how are those sightings not "confirmed?" If Pursglove means that no photos or videos have been recorded during a sighting, then he has not read enough. Paul Nation videotaped two indava lights, in late 2006, on the mainland of Papua New Guinea, and that video footage was later analyzed by a missile defense physicist.
I could go on, but the point is this: We need to think both clearly and deeply, and we need to listen to those who specialize in the investigation of eyewitness sightings of apparent living pterosaurs. In addition, we need to understand that cryptozoology (living pterosaurs in particular) is far outside the field of paleontology. Let us search for living pterosaurs, not search for paleontologists who may have seen them.