SkepticblogSkepticblog logo banner

top navigation:

A Blobsquatch for Amelia

by Brian Dunning, Aug 23 2012

The past week or so has seen yet another wave of terrible, terrible reporting in the science media about the Amelia Earhart non-story. We’ve had it a lot this year, ever since TIGHAR — the organization of crank Earhart researcher Ric Gillespie — obtained financing to repeat the Earhart treasure hunt he’s done so many times before for a Discovery Communications TV crew. Gillespie’s completely implausible belief is that Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan did not crash where history tells us they did in 1937 (off of Howland island), but instead went to Nikumaroro island 650km away where they lived as castaways.

(I’m not going to repeat the details of how we know what we know, and why we can be assured that TIGHAR’s conjecture is bunk, because I’ve already done so in other writings. See the complete Skeptoid episode here, and a follow up blog post here, for the supporting background of my fundamental assumption for this article.)

Predictably, the expedition found nothing. This must have been a huge disappointment for a lot of people, since it got so much attention, even garnering encouraging comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and noted ocean explorer Bob Ballard. The unfortunate part is that if any of the parties who paid the reported $2.2 million cost of Gillespie’s expedition had done even a minimum amount of due diligence, they’d have discovered the same thing I stated in my Skeptoid podcast episode:

TIGHAR’s is a fringe theory supported by poor evidence and that has almost no serious support from mainstream historians or archaeologists.

TIGHAR’s Earhart blobsquatch

So now TIGHAR has released a frame of the underwater video they took of the sea floor off Nikumaroro. It is a sobering, pitiful image. The picture shows nothing remotely identifiable. It’s probably just rocks, coral, shells, or who knows what. Yet TIGHAR has placed yellow arrows on the image pointing to… well, to nothing, really; though they authoritatively state that it shows manmade objects. This is the type of image that we call a “blobsquatch”. That word comes from the evidence presented by delusional Bigfoot hunters who post photographs that show nothing clear at all, but that they interpret as Bigfoot.

Note that I could have dropped on two or three more yellow arrows, completely at random, and you’d have not been able to tell which were mine and which were TIGHAR’s. In fact, suppose I told you that two of the five existing arrows in the picture are mine — would you be able to guess which? (They’re not; they’re all TIGHAR’s.)

A typical blobsquatch image

I am not surprised that TIGHAR released this image. TIGHAR’s whole history of Earhart research has shown that they are disdainful of what constitutes good evidence. What surprises me is how widely TIGHAR’s image was published by the mainstream media, including by numerous science reporters who should know better. Examples include these articles by Discovery News, Yahoo News, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Reuters, and CNN.

My point here is not to say what did or didn’t happen to Amelia Earhart. It is to chastise the reporters who have promoted this story with no fact checking, and most especially those who published this terrible image with a headline parroting the ludicrous assertion that it may show debris from Earhart’s airplane. There’s no realistic chance that Earhart’s plane is within 500 kilometers of Nikumaroro, as these reporters would have learned if they’d done even minimal information gathering.

When I’ve discussed this before, I’ve received the criticism that it’s always appropriate to ask questions and explore and learn and experiment and to follow up all the possibilities. That’s only true to a point. When we do consider an alternate angle, we give it a fair shake and see what evidence it produces. TIGHAR’s has produced no credible evidence over several decades of such shaking. That this embarrassing picture is the best that came from this expedition should tell us that it’s time to move on. It does not warrant continued reporting, TV documentaries, and an ongoing assault on the historical knowledge of an unsuspecting public.

TIGHAR is not trying to find out what happened to Amelia Earhart. They are trying to justify their own conjecture about it. Those are two very different processes, and reporters should know better.

25 Responses to “A Blobsquatch for Amelia”

  1. Joel says:

    I can confidently state that they need to learn to use the white balance on their camera, but that’s about all there is to discover in that photo.

  2. TexasSkeptic says:

    Red Filter for underwater… or make corrections in photoshop/after effects.

  3. h.a.c.van asten says:

    Since years serious researchers have repeatedly warned for the TIGHAR Earhart project being fraudulent , they are not interested in finding anaything at Nikumaroro , they are interested in the balance between cost and donations : the revenue after each “expedition” to be cashed by the inner circle . A growing number of internet sites considers mr.Gillespie to be a fraud , but journalists are evidently , in their course , again and again only interested in the yearly TIGHAR concoction hype , to illuminate their average quality news by something seemingly important , and by this policy attracting additional readers and listeners for their publicity agreements .

  4. d brown says:

    Yes’ its about as likely as not. If its true will they ever find anything after all the years in the sea? I don’t see how. It was known she was made by her husbands PR and in over her head. If she knew more about radio she would likely have been tracked.

  5. Douglas Westfall says:

    I know Ric and admire his efforts. He’s a believer — he truly believes Earhart was there. That’s why he’s such a good leader — and has such a following. I would be happy if Ric did find the Electra there. I just don’t believe that’s going to happen.

    But they didn’t find anything. She’s not there — the plane’s not there.

    Amelia’s Lockheed Electra was within 75 miles of her target Howland Island when her radio cut out. The US then sent nine ships, 66 aircraft, and well over 3,000 sailors and airmen. They covered well over 250,000 sq. miles of open sea and every island within a 650 mile radius of Howland.

    US CGC Itasca Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts 30, was on watch that morning and said: “In the early morning, signals came in pretty good. I actually did go outside and stand right out the radio shack and thought I would hear a motor any second. Her voice was loud and clear; sounded frantic on her last transmission. Then it cut off.”

    You Search for what you want to keep; you Hunt for what you want to catch.

    Taken from, The Hunt For Amelia Earhart
    Douglas Westfall, historic publisher,

    • Thanks for posting. Wonderful to hear from someone who knows Gillespie personally. As I said, it pains me to disagree with a fellow historical aviation buff.

  6. Max says:

    Blobfoot sounds better than blobsquatch, IMO.

  7. Max says:

    “What surprises me is how widely TIGHAR’s image was published by the mainstream media, including by numerous science reporters who should know better. Examples include these articles by Discovery News, Yahoo News, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Reuters, and CNN.”

    The Reuters and Yahoo News articles don’t show the image. Yahoo News is notorious for not showing images discussed in their articles.

  8. Gary LaPook says:

    I have been a naysayer for ten years and have posted more than 2,000 times on the TIGHAR forum in that time arguing against the Nikumaroro theory. I am a flight navigator and an airline pilot and I have ferried planes as small as a Cessna 172 across the Atlantic using celestial navigation (like Noonan)so from my perspective there was no way that Earhart and Noonan would have made a decision to abandon searching for Howland island which, by their navigation, was the closest dry land (and it had an airport and lots of other good stuff) and fly 400 miles to the south south-east to TIGHAR’s island. This would have meant abandoning a standard search pattern that had a high level of assurance of finding Howland if the search had been continued and, instead, head off across the ocean with their fingers crossed that they might bump into one of the islands in the Phoenix chain, islands that were very widely separated, a choice with a very low level of assurance of a successful outcome.

    I have put up a website with contemporary flight navigation manuals and charts at:

    take a look.


    • h.a.c.van asten says:

      Good re-computations on the fuel reserves after NR 16020 was close to Howland exist , showing that the fuel run out point of time was close to 2014 GMT , after the crew reported to suffer low fuel at 1912 GMT . The remaining gas would bring them less than 200 miles southwards from their last estimated position . What sense would it have to set for such course , confusing future rescue parties excepted ?

      • Not only that, how could they have set such a course? When they did not arrive at Howland, they realized their position was incorrect. So what course do you set from (unknown point) to Gardner?

        Or do you fly the planned search pattern, knowing that you’re within range of Howland?

      • h,a,c,van asten says:

        A search pattern (Fixed Square) could not be flown due to the low fuel reserves ; if it had been executed the island would have been found most probably . From the Howland region it was possible to set course for any other coordinates , with large deviation from a course to another island to be found with good luck . The on board fuel store (45 USG) after 1912 GMT however , was insufficient to reach any other land point than Howland itself , or nearby Baker Isl.

  9. Max says:

    When the Mars rover, Curiosity, beamed back its first photos of Mars, people noticed a blob that disappeared in photos taken 45 minutes later. Turns out it wasn’t just image compression or dust on the lens, but a huge impact cloud from the crash of the sky crane.

    • Student says:

      I can’t really, no, nothing I recognise as obviously debris. Your point being?

      • Max says:

        My point being that airplane debris is not necessarily easy for non-experts to see in a photo, and that 9/11 truthers make a big deal out of photos where the debris isn’t obvious.

      • Student says:

        True, but for comparison, there’s nothing at all recognisable in the blue blob spectacular, and, not only that, they’ve got arrows pointing at what seem almost certainly rocks, and, they haven’t collected and presented any of their supposed wreckage. Whereas in the image you gave, I can clearly see destroyed trees, and trash of some kind, and the wreckage was examined by the experts and reported on. Single images aren’t really helpful for proving anything, whether that be that there is no wreckage, or that there is- a detailed analysis of said wreckage is.

  10. Glen says:

    How about “Sasplotch”?

  11. MadScientist says:

    Ah, “we haven’t seen anything yet but we’re confident – we just need more money”. It sounds like most science grant applications; the only thing you can be sure of is that a group will always need more money.

  12. paul w says:

    I cannot believe I’m the only one who can see Bigfoot in the picture!

    He/she is there! Look closely, it’s hiding in the coral just above, and to the left, of the numbers!

    I mean, it’s OBVIOUS!

  13. HD says:

    In trying to strengthen their case with “Amelia’s freckle cream jar”, Gillespie and followers try to convince the public that Kiribati women of the 1930s would never have used modern cosmetics.

    There is strong and clear evidence to show Kiribati women were in fact using cosmetics- and probably freckle cream- as early as the 1920s to bleach their skin- contrary to what the Tighars want the public to know.,261.msg20297.html#msg20297

  14. WILSON says:

    I am reasonably sure that there is a Mermaid sitting on a giant Oyster on the left, and a 30 foot underwater snake on the right guarding Amelia’s intact Lockheed, which is just out of the picture.

    The photo is amazing and has made me dizzy. I must log off and lie down now. After a short rest, I intend to mail Ric G. another check for $ 50,000 so that his string of successes can continue.

  15. WILSON says:

    Starting back from a short jaunt out to Niku in the Chris Craft. Used the latest underwater dive gear purchased on line from a certain historic aircraft recovery store along with the “U-Learn It DVD”. The wife did a great job on her first deep, deep, deep dive, even after the descent/ascent rope drifted away because I forgot to secure it.. Her cell phone shots confirm it’s a 5 foot 2 inch blond Mermaid on the left, and a 32 foot, 4 inch blue/green sea snake on the right of the original picture. The Lockheed is in great shape…. despite two tow line breaks, we still have it under tow. Estimate 9 days ETA-Honolulu at 4 knots. Shuttling Coast Guard C-130’s circling us continually. For all intents and purposes, you may close the Blog.