The plural of ‘anecdote’ can be ‘data’: statistical analysis of viewing distances in reports of unidentified large marine animals 1758–2000

Authors

  • C. G. M. Paxton

    1. Research Unit for Wildlife Population Assessment, Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, UK
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  • Editor: Andrew Kitchener

Correspondence
C. G. M. Paxton, Research Unit for Wildlife Population Assessment, Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling, University of St Andrews, The Observatory, Buchanan Gardens, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9LZ, UK.
Email: cgp2@st-andrews.ac.uk

Abstract

Analysis of the nearest reported distance in accounts of seemingly unknown, large, marine animals (sea monsters) by boat- or water-based eyewitnesses, revealed that, contrary to expectation, the majority of sightings were at close distance (<200 m). This suggests that misidentification of inanimate objects or known animal species due to great distance was unlikely. Assuming a uniform distribution of objects around the boat, the reported sightings were far closer than expected, implying a bias in the sighting or reporting process. The distribution of reported distances from boat- or water-based eyewitnesses was almost identical to that of shore-based witnesses. Unidentified large marine animals were more likely to be reported to be closer if the report was anonymous or secondhand. The gap of time between recollection/reporting and the actual sighting did not influence reported distance. There was no relation between reported distance and reported length. There was some equivocal evidence that the absence of a stated distance in a report might be an indicator of a hoax.

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