Whatever Happened to the Migo? Revisiting the Monster of Lake Dakataua. Part 1: In Search of Prehistoric Survivors? – Sh…

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Whatever Happened to the Migo? Revisiting the Monster of Lake Dakataua. Part 1: In Search of Prehistoric Survivors? – Sh…
Model of the basilosaurid (aka zeuglodontine) archaeocete Basilosaurus (© Markus Bühler)

For a
short time during the mid-1990s, a mysterious freshwater beast said to inhabit
a lowland lake on the island of New Britain, east of New Guinea, was making
waves in both the literal and the literary sense. Known mostly as the migo (but
see later for a multitude of other monikers), it hit media headlines worldwide,
featuring in numerous reports and articles globally, due to some very
intriguing film footage that had lately been obtained by two Japanese
expeditions, which was claimed to show this mystifying, unidentified creature
swimming in Lake Dakataua.

But
then, just as suddenly as it had raised its hitherto cryptic head above the
water surface, the migo abruptly vanished from the news, never to be heard of
again, except for a very occasional mention here and there in cryptozoological
circles.

Map of Papua New Guinea. including the island of New Britain (arrowed)
(© NordNordWest/Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

Consequently,
it is high time, surely, to resurrect this long-forgotten mystery beast,
reviewing its very convoluted, controversial history in the present two-part
ShukerNature article. Indeed, as far as I am aware, this article constitutes
the most extensive coverage of the migo published since the 1990s.

The
migo first attracted notable attention beyond its island homeland on 1 February
1972, when a Japanese newspaper entitled the Mainichi Daily News reported a strange water monster known locally
by this name, which supposedly inhabited Lake Dakataua, a caldera lake in the western portion of New Britain. At
approximately 320 miles long, New Britain is the largest island in the Bismarck
Archipelago, situated off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG),
which is the country occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea,
and to whom the Bismarck Archipelago belongs. The lake has a diameter of 1400
ft, has a maximum depth of roughly 400 ft, and contains a submerged volcano
plus three small islands.

According
to Shohei Shirai, at that time the head of the Pacific Ocean Resources Research
Institute, who was quoted in that newspaper report, the migo was similar in
appearance to a mosasaur. This is the name given to a taxonomic superfamily of sometimes
very large prehistoric lizards (the biggest species was up to 56 ft long) that
were closely related to today’s monitor lizards or varanids. However, they were
exclusively aquatic in lifestyle, equipped with flippers and a
laterally-compressed tail, the latter being portrayed with a fin in some
restorations. Other than Mosasaurus
itself, the most famous and frequently depicted mosasaur was North America’s
very impressive Tylosaurus, whose
largest species is believed to have attained a total length of up to 46 ft.

Although
mosasaurs are traditionally assumed to have been wholly marine in lifestyle,
one exclusively freshwater species is now known –
Pannoniasaurus
inexpectatus
,
which was formally named and described in 2012 from fossilized remains found in
what is today Hungary.
According to the current fossil record, the
mosasaurs had all become extinct by the end of the Cretaceous Period, around
66-65 million years ago, along with the last dinosaurs, plesiosaurs, and
pterosaurs.

Modern-day reconstruction of the North American
mosasaur Tylosaurus (public domain)

In
January 1994 (not 1993, as sometimes erroneously claimed online), after arriving in PNG during the rainy
season a crew from a Japanese TV production company named the Stream Company, and
headed by Nadaka Tetsuo, journeyed on to New Britain and thence to Lake
Dakataua in the hope of encountering the migo. Moreover, after setting up
cameras around this lake, they actually succeeded in filming what they deemed
to be its enigmatic denizen, which was duly included in a TV documentary programme
subsequently screened on Japanese TV. Yet with the internet still in its
infancy back then, so that sharing film footage, TV shows, etc, online was by
no means a common occurrence, and with no excerpts from it shown on UK TV at
that time either, it didn’t seem likely that I’d manage to view this programme.

Happily,
however, fellow cryptozoologist Jon Downes of the CFZ had recently received a 1st-generation
copy video of it from a Japanese correspondent, Tokuharu Takabayashi, and
kindly prepared from it a 2nd-generation copy video that he then
sent to me for my own personal viewing. Below is an abridged version of the
lengthy descriptive account that I wrote after viewing the documentary.

Might the migo be a living mosasaur? (© Dr Karl
Shuker)

After
arriving at Lake Dakataua, the Japanese TV crew met the chief of a village near
to the lake, and on the third day of their visit they interviewed some local
eyewitnesses, sailed on the lake, and obtained footage of what they claimed to
be the migo. They also attempted vainly to lure the migo using dead chickens,
and lowered a cage and sound-recording equipment into the water, In addition,
they sent divers into the lake and nearby sea, as it was suggested that the
horseshoe-shaped Dakataua might be connected to the nearby sea via underwater
channels.

Comments
were exchanged on-screen with Prof. Roy P. Mackal, an eminent Chicago
University biologist with a longstanding interest in cryptozoology, who had
accompanied the TV crew to Lake Dakataua and had served as the documentary’s
scientific advisor. Roy had previously led various expeditions of his own in
search of aquatic mystery beasts around the world, and he regularly
corresponded with me via letters and telephone calls concerning a wide range of
cryptozoological subjects.

Prof. Roy P. Mackal (© Prof. Roy P. Mackal)

Roy
mentioned to me in one such letter that although he had advised against doing
so, Shirai’s mooted mosasaur identity was promoted throughout the documentary
by its makers. However, their cause was not assisted by a woefully inadequate
computer-animated model with an inflexible body.

Excluding
some footage of a blurred hump, what initially appeared to be the actual migo
footage obtained by the Japanese TV crew consisted of two sections. The longer
of these, lasting approximately 5 minutes and shot at a distance of about 1200
yards according to Roy, showed what Roy referred to in the documentary as three
different body portions of a very long, large animal, travelling through the
water from right to left across the screen. There was an indistinct head,
staying out of the water throughout the footage, Behind this was a smaller
portion that could have been a neck. Further back, maintaining a constant
distance from the ‘neck’, was a large flattened hump that seemed to be
propelling the ‘head’ and ‘neck’. Every few moments, the hump submerged, then
swiftly bobbed back up, seeming to show that the creature was propelling itself
via vertical undulations – a mode of progression normally exhibited by mammals,
not by reptiles or fishes. There were some close-ups, which seemed to show that
the dorsal surface of the hump was serrated, but this may have been an optical illusion.

Sketch of a frame from the above-described
documentary footage showing a migo (© Lisa Peach/CFZ)

Earlier
in the documentary, there were a few seconds of footage that on first sight
seemed much more impressive. When I forwarded it frame by frame, it revealed
what appeared to be a section of the body rapidly emerging from the water in a
vertical upsurge and bearing two slender projections resembling dorsal fins or
spines, before submerging again – followed immediately by the vertical
emergence of what may have been a tail, bearing two horizontal, whale-like
flukes. Unfortunately, however, and as confessed very sincerely and apologetically
by Jon himself, due to what he subsequently referred to as the extremely
primitive nature of the only video-copying equipment that he had been able to
access at that time the quality of the 2nd-generation copy video of
the documentary that I had received from him was extremely poor (“somewhat
akin in quality to one of the ‘bootleg’ copies of Disney movies which one can
purchase at car boot sales” is how he subsequently described it). Jon also
stated: “It appears that my equipment even managed to miss out bits of the
documentary”.

Due to
this lack of visual clarity and continuity, I had not realized that those above-noted
few seconds of footage earlier in the documentary had apparently been filmed by
the TV crew not at Lake Dakataua, but instead at sea while approaching New
Britain in a boat, and actually showed some dolphins partially surfacing near
to the boat. Happily, this was readily discernible in the better-quality 1st-generation
copy video that Jon had received from Japan and I was swiftly informed
accordingly, thereby saving me from wasting much time contemplating this
particular section of footage.

Scan of the very first migo-related letter received
by me from Prof. Roy P. Mackal, dated 16 February 1994, in which he documented his initial
thoughts concerning the migo (aka migaua) following his recent return home to
the USA from the Japanese expedition to Lake Dakataua in January 1994 – please click pages to enlarge for reading purposes (© Dr
Karl Shuker/Prof. Roy P. Mackal)

Following
his return in mid-February 1994 to the USA from New Britain, Roy corresponded
with me in depth concerning the migo, via a series of letters beginning with
one dated 16 February 1994 (and reproduced in full above for the very first time anywhere) that I have retained on file (and in which he always
referred to it as it the migaua) as well as via a number of telephone
conversations. He stated that it was about 33 ft long (an estimate that he
subsequently revised upward to 50 ft – see later) and travelled at a speed of 4
knots.

Initially
ruling out a crocodile or a fish identity, being influenced by its apparent
locomotion via vertical undulations, he postulated that it was an evolved,
surviving archaeocete. In other words, Roy was suggesting that the migo may be
a member of a primitive taxonomic group of cetaceans (whales), the
archaeocetes, but one that had not become extinct at least 25 million years ago
as indicated by the current fossil record for these creatures, but had instead
survived to the present day and in so doing had therefore undergone 25 million
years or more of continued evolution, which may conceivably have rendered their
bodies more flexible than those of their fossil antecedents.

Modern-day life restoration of Basilosaurus cetoides (© Dmitry
Bogdanov/Wikipedia –
CC BY 3.0 licence)

Archaeocetes
include the very elongate basilosaurids (aka zeuglodontines), such as the famously huge Basilosaurus, which officially died out
just under 34 million years ago. One species, B. cetoides, is believed to have reached a total length of almost
70 ft. Basilosaurids may have been able to undulate vertically, although the
current palaeontological consensus is that those known from the fossil record
were far less capable of such movements than had traditionally been believed
and depicted in early illustrations.

Judging
from their dentition, basilosaurids were carnivorous (as opposed to
planktonivorous, like certain very large present-day cetaceans). However, during
an limnological investigation of Lake Dakataua during October-November 1974
(whose findings were published in February 1980 by the scientific journal Freshwater Biology), PNG-based wildlife
biologists E.E. Ball and J. Glucksman discovered that its waters were very
alkaline, and that although it contained an abundance of invertebrates in its
upper levels, as well as amphibians, it did not contain any fishes. So if, in
view of its seemingly elongated body, the migo is indeed a basilosaurid
archaeocete, what does it feed upon?

Another restoration of Basilosaurus (© Tim Morris)

As Roy
disclosed, the answer is simple: namely, the abundance of waterfowl that settle
upon the lake’s surface, their presence there also having been confirmed by
Ball and Glucksman in their 1974 study. The need to remain near the surface in
order to seize these birds presumably explains why the migo is seen more often
(and filmed more easily!) than other supposed lake monsters, which seemingly
feed predominantly upon fishes and therefore do not break the water surface so frequently.

According
to the afore-mentioned Tokuharu Takabayashi, Lake Dakataua was visited in
October 1978 by Japanese cryptozoologist Toshikazu Saitoh, who learned from
natives in the nearby village of Blumuri that the lake monster was known to
them variously as the massali, masalai, and mussali (all three names
translating as ‘spirits’). It was first seen during the summer of 1971 by five
eyewitnesses, who said that it was about 30 ft long, and had a relatively small
head with long pointed jaws, like a crocodile’s, containing many sharp teeth;
plus a long neck, a burly but streamlined body, a slender crocodilian tail, and
two pairs of flippers (the front pair noticeably larger than the hind pair)
that resembled those of a marine turtle.

Hairy migo (aka mussali or massali) based upon 5
eyewitness accounts, 1971 (© Toshikazu Saitoh/CFZ – reproduced here on a
strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

The
image conjured forth when all of these morphological features are combined
actually recalls a mosasaur, as favoured by the Japanese team, rather than the basilosaurid identity favoured by Roy, especially as basilosaurids possessed
only vestigial, scarcely-visible external hind limbs, their tail was not
crocodilian, and their neck was not long. However, there is one further migo
feature still to be mentioned here, which throws all attempts at identifying
this mystery beast into total confusion. According to the five eyewitnesses
from summer 1971 noted above, the creature that they saw was covered in short black
hair!

Mosasaurs
were true lizards and were covered in scales, as verified by several
well-preserved fossil specimens. Even allowing for the effects of continued
evolution, it is exceedingly unlikely that a modern-day mosasaur lineage would
have evolved a hairy pelage. The same applies to a contemporary basilosaurid,
whose streamlined body’s hydrodynamic efficiency would surely be impeded by a
covering of hair.

As shown here, mosasaurs were scaly, not hairy (© Markus Bühler)

Returning
to the migo’s variety of local names, the usage of ‘massali’ and similar terms
in preference to ‘migo’ by the Blumuri villagers could be dismissed as mere
differences in dialect, were it not for the comments of yet another Japanese visitor
to Lake Dakataua – namely, the explorer/writer Atsuo Tanaka, who stayed at
Blumuri in September 1983. Confirming to Tokuharu Takabayashi that the
villagers’ names for the lake’s monster were ‘massali’ and also ‘rui’, he asserted
that ‘migo’ was actually the native name for a 3-ft-long species of monitor
lizard! He also claimed that many of the villagers did not believe that anyone
had seen a monster here, or even that it existed.

After
personally observing some 6-10-ft-long crocodiles in Lake Dakataua, Atsuo
Tanaka’s own opinion was that any ‘monster’ sightings that may have been made there
were of a dugong or a crocodile (perhaps even an unknown species of the latter
reptile, but more probably either the New Guinea crocodile Crocodylus novaeguineae or the larger saltwater aka Indopacific crocodile
C. porosus).

Incidentally,
a third identity proffered for the migo that just like a surviving mosasaur or
a living archaeocete invoked a prehistoric survivor but which attracted far
less public attention was inspired by a giant Mesozoic crocodilian related to
today’s alligators. Formerly called Phobosuchus
but nowadays known as Deinosuchus, it
is currently represented by four fossil species, and an undiscovered modern-day
descendant of this formidable reptile was suggested in relation to the migo by
mystery investigators Edward Young and Ronald Rosenblatt in a short Fortean Times magazine article (December
1994/October 1995) reviewing cryptozoological creatures reported from, and
recent mainstream zoological discoveries made in, New Guinea and its outlying
islands.

Known
from the fossil record to have existed 82-73 million years ago during the Upper
Cretaceous, Deinosuchus is believed
to have attained a truly monstrous total length of up to 40 ft (i.e. twice that
of today’s largest known crocodilians). Consequently, in terms of size it may
indeed match or come close to the lengths attributed to the migo.

Life restoration of Deinosuchus rugosus, known from fossils found in North Carolina (©
Andrey Atuchin/Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Yet as
with the mosasaur and, to a lesser extent, the archaeocete identities, the
likelihood is not great that a modern-day Deinosuchus
lineage exists not only undescribed by science but also unrepresented by any
fossilized remains that even partially bridge the gap of many millions of years
between itself and its most recent confirmed prehistoric precursors. In
addition, Deinosuchus fossils are
presently known only from North America, not from New Guinea or indeed anywhere
else in the world.

Returning
to Tanaka’s opinion that the migo sightings at Lake Dakataua may feature some
form of recognised modern-day crocodile, such a situation if correct would be
far from unprecedented – as revealed in Part 2 of this ShukerNature article (click here to access it), in which I explore in depth the fascinating crocodilian
conundrum at the very heart of this truly monstrous mystery. Don’t miss it!

Life restoration of Deinosuchus riograndensis, known from fossils found in Texas (© Sphenaphinae/Wikipedia
CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

 

 

Source: The Anomalist

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