In July 2008, the corpse of an unidentified animal washed ashore in Montauk, New York. Intense debate followed regarding the exact species of the creature, with some speculating it was a mutant from a nearby animal research facility. There is now general consensus amongst experts as to what the creature was, but speculation online remains.
On 23rd July 2008, Montauk resident Jenna Hewitt told a local paper that she and three friends had discovered a strange creature 10 days earlier on Ditch Plains beach. She said that the group had been looking for a spot to sit on the popular surfing beach, close to Montauk’s business district, when they stumbled across the body of a peculiar-looking animal. The element of the story that saw the case elevated from local news piece to global attention was the photograph of the unidentified animal that she supplied along with her account (pictured in the header of this article).
Hewitt herself jokingly speculated that the animal had originated on Plum Island, a federal research facility used to study foreign animal diseases located on the northeast coast of Long Island. The subsequent newspaper article also speculated that the creature could be some kind of mutant that had originated on Plum Island. However, the original article also cited local specialist Larry Penny, the East Hampton Natural Resources Director, who identified it as a raccoon that was missing its upper jaw. Experts since have generally come to the same conclusion, but that didn’t stop huge amounts of speculation.
Further accounts from local people emerged, including rumours that the carcass had been clandestinely removed. Hewitt late stated that ‘a guy took it and put it in the woods in his backyard’ but refused to further elaborate. Following Hewitt being interviewed for a local public-access show, the story was carried by media including Jezebel and Gawker, with the photo being widely circulated. It was during this period that the animal was given its now well-known moniker: the Montauk Monster.
Initially, some media reported that the montauk monster was in fact a turtle without its shell (which is biologically impossible), a dog or a rodent. The theory that it was a science experiment from Plum Island also remained popular, particularly as media began reporting, accurately, that during the Cold War Plum Island had been used to test secret biological weapons. William Wise, the director of Stony Brook University’s Living Marine Resources Institute, believed that the creature was a fake, or failing that a diseased dog or coyote. He discounted several other species, including a raccoon as he felt the legs appeared too long in proportion to the body.
Ultimately, paleontologist Darren Naish and popular biologist and presenter Jeff Corwin both identified the animal as a raccoon, believing that its odd appearance was simply a bi-product of decomposition and having spent a period of time in the water. Other experts have since largely agreed with this identification, seemingly solving the mystery of the Montauk Monster.