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Bear Tracks Spur Bigfoot 911 Call

A Pennsylvania man called 911 to report a Bigfoot sighting. But what the police found would be a matter of dispute and controversy. Continue reading →

Last week police in Altoona, Penn., got a 911 call from a man claiming he had proof of Bigfoot. Here's a partial transcript of the police recording:

Person 1: "[an individual] called 911 advising that he contacted the Game Commission to call him back; wants a police officer to come to his residence. Apparently he has proof there of Bigfoot."

Officer: "Bigfoot, right?"

Person 1: "That's affirmative, he has evidence, uh ... proving Bigfoot. He would like a police officer to come there."

Officer: "Apparently there's a large amount of smoke in that area..."

Smoke or no, a police officer was dispatched to the man's residence. What he found there would become a matter of dispute and speculation over the next few days. Bigfoot enthusiasts heard about the incident and various rumors soon circulated, including that a hunter had shot and killed a Bigfoot, and that the presence of a dead unknown manlike creature in Somerset County had been "confirmed" - by who or what is not clear.

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Whatever was going on attracted the attention of somebody important, because a helicopter was reportedly seen hovering over the witness's home. Was it the news media? Federal agents assigned to retrieve the Bigfoot and silence witnesses? A false-flag operation initiated by the Obama administration to take away the rights of law-abiding hunters and gun owners?

The Bear Facts Sharon Hill of the Doubtful News blog followed the story, explaining to Discovery News, "It was typical of Bigfoot rumors - bits and pieces but no real sources. Speculation then went crazy within hours thanks to the Bigfoot online community. This is absolutely the worst way to get information."

Hill credits Eric Altman, director of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society, who helped get to the bottom of this bizarre story through follow-up and research.

"The current Bigfoot scene is awash with hype, rumors, backstabbing, hoaxing and rampant unprofessional behavior," Hill said. "You have to look for the few who are interested in answering the question: What, if anything, happened here?"

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So what did happen? Police investigated and concluded that in the end, there was no hunter, no shooting, no Bigfoot (alive or dead), and no Bigfoot tracks - only tracks of a mother bear and her cub that a man was so sure was from a Bigfoot that he needed to call 911 to report it.

According to Cody Combs of wearecentralpa.com, a man named John Winesickle showed responding police officer "picture after picture of alleged footprints caused by what he said is Bigfoot. Winesickle took the investigating officer on a path in the woods he regularly walks and showed the officer the tracks, but according to the police report, the investigator concluded the tracks belonged to a bear."

It's not the first time that bear tracks (and even bear paws) have been mistaken for Bigfoot. As psychologists know, our experiences and perceptions are guided by our expectations, so if you're looking for Bigfoot tracks you'll probably find them, even if they're not there.

Image: Ray Pfortner/iStockphoto

1. The Empty Fossil Record When two Georgia men declared they were storing the body of Bigfoot in a freezer -- and that they had its DNA -- more than a few skeptics cried foul. Is the legend of Bigfoot (a.k.a. Sasquatch) little more than a stubborn myth? For the dirt on the doubters, Discovery News contacted Benjamin Radford, managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, who was more than happy to rattle off the top 10 reasons Bigfoot is bogus. First on his list: the fossil record. Why, he asked, would a legacy of large mammals reported to exist throughout North America (and beyond) simply disappear from the same soil that has preserved everything from the dinosaur bones pictured here, to woolly mammoths, to tiny marine crustaceans? "There's no fossil record of anything fitting the description" of Bigfoot, said Radford. "There's simply nothing there."

2. Forget Fossils, Where Are the Bodies? Putting aside paleontology, Radford points out that today, if Bigfoot exists, it must disappear when it dies. "There's no hard evidence in the form of bones. There are no hair samples, there are no live or dead specimens," he said. Bigfoot believers argue that the soil in areas where the creatures live -- such as the region surrounding Bellingham, Wash., seen here -- is acidic and quickly breaks down the bones. Nonsense, says Radford: "There's nothing to that, because Bigfoot has been reported in every state but Hawaii."

3. Where Do Bigfoot Babies Come From? Even for mammals that are relatively rare in global terms, such as the chimpanzee, it takes a decent population size to maintain a species. "If Bigfoot is a zoological reality," said Radford, "there has to be a breeding population." For that population to be big enough to account for even a fraction of the sightings, there would need to be tens of thousands of the creatures in North America alone. "Think about that for a second. Tens of thousands of Bigfoot, living, breathing, doing what they do. Where are they? Why don't they get hit by a car?" asked Bradford. "The numbers just simply don't add up."

4. Your Lying Eyes The majority of "evidence" for Bigfoot, says Radford, consists of eyewitness accounts. Yet as psychologists and schooled juries know, such accounts are famously inaccurate. What's more, says Radford, "the problem is, that's not evidence, it's an anecdote....It's interesting and you shouldn't dismiss it out of hand, but it's not evidence."

5. The Ever-Mysterious Blobsquatch This black-and-white image was taken in 1977 by a man named Frank White, near Bellingham, Wash. "I'd call it a North American ape," White told reporters at the time. "You can call it a Sasquatch or anything you like." Radford calls it a Blobsquatch. Aside from eyewitness reports, blurry images like this are what most Bigfoot believers rely on. But it's no proof, said Radford: "These photos show something that is probably alive, it's probably dark, it's not a cat, it's not a camel. It could be a Bigfoot, or it could be a deer or it could be a guy in a suit." "Ultimately," he concludes, "it's a two-dimensional image. It's pixels."

6. Doctor Who? For Radford and other skeptics, the only acceptable standard of proof is the scientific one. Why, when there are countless researchers probing the far corners of every continent, is there no rigorous, documented, peer-reviewed evidence for Bigfoot? Only one answer makes sense, says Radford: Bigfoot isn't real. Attendees of the Texas Bigfoot Conference, pictured here, might disagree. The annual event draws hundreds of people -- including Bigfoot enthusiasts, amateur researchers, historians, and tourists -- but few if any academic scientists.

7. The Case of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Speaking of science, Bigfoot believers sometimes complain that funding for Sasquatch Studies is hard to find. But scientists are notoriously good note-takers, Radford points out, even about subjects they aren't directly studying. Consider this league of biologists scouting for the elusive ivory-billed woodbecker in Arkansas' White River National Wildlife Refuge, an area where Bigfoot sightings have been made. "There was a huge, hardcore investigation. They were well-equipped, well-funded and made a sustained search," noted Radford. "What I found interesting was, what didn't they find? They didn't find Bigfoot."

8. This Katydid Couldn't Hide Dozens of new species, previously unknown to science, are discovered each year. But for the most part, they are tiny: microorganisms and insects such as the newly discovered katydid pictured here. Could Bigfoot really hide in such a peopled world? "The last large animal to be found was probably the giant panda, and that was 100 years ago," said Radford. "There has not been a single new creature that doesn't fit the recognized taxonomy discovered in the last century, there just simply hasn't."

9. If It Walks Like a Hoax ... This ruddy strand, about 70 micrometers in diameter, could be taken as a hair. But it isn't -- it's a carpet fiber. A similar thread was once claimed to have fallen from Bigfoot's back. Later, it was shown to be synthetic Dynel fiber, said Radford. An alleged vial of Bigfoot blood once turned out to be transmission fluid, and many Bigfoot sightings, in the end, are admitted fakes. "There is no category of Bigfoot evidence that doesn't have a string of hoaxes attached to it," said Radford. "If you're studying a subject in which virtually all the evidence either comes down to being inconclusive or a hoax, something's wrong."

10. The Case of the Missing Footprint This picture shows Al Hodgson, a volunteer guide at California's Willow Creek-China Flat Musuem, holding up a plaster cast believed by some to be a Bigfoot imprint. Authentic or not, footprints and other physical artifacts are meaningless scientifically, says Radford, when there is no standard to measure them by. "Some of the footprints have three toes, some have four toes, and some of course have five," he noted. "Even if I'm certain a certain track wasn't made by anything else, how do I know it's Bigfoot? You can't." The same goes for DNA. Scientists make a positive identification by comparing an unknown sample to a known one. There is no such standard for Bigfoot, says Radford. Even an educated guess about the giant footprint pictured here or a Blobsquatch gone wild is, at best, a shot in the dark. Benjamin Radford is the co-author of "Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures."