Professor Mark McMenamin is a maverick paleontologist and critic of neo-Darwinism, who is known for very interesting but controversial hypotheses like Hypersea (McMenamin & Schulte McMenamin 1993, 1994, Zimmer 1995), The Garden of Ediacara (McMenamin 1986, 1998), Paleotorus (McMenamin 2009), and the Triassic Kraken (McMenamin & Schulte McMenamin 2011, 2013, McMenamin 2023). The latter hypothesis has met with particularly scornful skepticism from his peers (Simpson 2011, Switek 2011, Than 2011, DNews 2013, Pappas 2013, Viegas 2016, HourDark 2020), and of course from the usual suspects, i.e., activists of the Darwinian thought police like P. Z. Myers (2011) and Donald Prothero (2011, 2013). It has even been called a “dangerous speculation” (Dresow 2022).
An Admittedly Bold Hypothesis
McMenamin’s kraken hypothesis has never been published in a peer-reviewed journal but was only proposed in two congress abstracts (McMenamin & Schulte McMenamin 2011, 2013), a magazine article (McMenamin 2012), and a book chapter (McMenamin 2016). It was also covered by numerous sensationalist press releases and media reports (Bryner 2011, Flatow 2011, GSA 2011, Herald Sun 2011, IB Times 2011, Leach 2011, Praetorius 2011, Wang 2011). The admittedly bold hypothesis claims that a gigantic 100-foot Triassic cephalopod killed large ichthyosaurs and arranged their bones in a self-portrait-like pattern. The main evidence is a curious biserial pattern of ichthyosaur vertebrae at the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada, which mimics the pattern of suckers on a cephalopod tentacle. Meanwhile, a second locality with this pattern was discovered in Switzerland (Sander et al. 2022). Just this year, McMenamin described a large cephalopod beak from the same Triassic layers in Nevada, which could directly confirm the actual existence of the postulated “kraken” (McMenamin 2023, also see Pappas 2013).
Nevertheless, instead of a reasonable and fair scientific debate, McMenamin’s hypothesis has been ridiculed by other scientists and science journalists. Of course, this was totally unrelated (irony warning) to the fact that McMenamin is an outspoken critic of neo-Darwinism and has dared to write a positive review for an ID documentary based on Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt at Amazon (McMenamin 2010), just a year before the publication of his kraken hypothesis. He was even accused by vicious activists in the skeptic movement (Prothero 2013) of being a “creationist” himself, even though a fair reading of his review clearly shows that he is not. Others were not beneath abusing McMenamin with the insulting nick name McMinimal (Simpson 2011).
An Inconvenient Thinker
To be clear: There are some good scientific arguments against McMenamin’s interpretation (e.g., the fact that basal fossil coleoids from the Mesozoic all had uniserial suckers; see Anonymous 2020, Greenfield 2021), and his kraken hypothesis may very well be wrong. However, the way he and his hypothesis were treated by the scientific community is far from impartial. It is clearly driven by the desire to marginalize and ostracize an inconvenient thinker — who made the big mistake of showing sympathy for the ID movement — as a foolish crackpot who should be ignored. McMenamin is lucky to have a tenured position as college professor, because his opponents would not shy away from destroying his career as they tried or successfully did with other dissidents who think outside the box. I can tell you a thing or two about that myself. So much for objective science and academic freedom.
- Anonymous 2020. Triassic kraken. Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology. https://cryptidarchives.fandom.com/wiki/Triassic_kraken
- Bryner J 2011. Lair of Ancient ‘Kraken’ Sea Monster Possibly Discovered. LiveScience October 10, 2011. https://www.livescience.com/16470-kraken-sea-monster-lair-discovered.html (reposted by Fox and CBS News).
- DNews 2013. Kraken Theory Resurfaces With New ‘Evidence’. Seeker October 31, 2013. https://www.seeker.com/kraken-theory-resurfaces-with-new-evidence-1768015463.html
- Dresow M 2022. Release the Kraken? Well-Controlled and Dangerous Speculation in Geohistory. PhilSci Archive July 13, 2022. http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/20881
- Flatow I 2011. Seeing a Cephalopod in Ancient Bones. NPR October 14, 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-18. https://www.npr.org/2011/10/14/141356526/seeing-a-cephalopod-in-ancient-bones/
- Greenfield T 2021. The Triassic kraken revisited. Incertae Sedis July 3, 2021. https://incertaesedisblog.wordpress.com/2021/07/03/the-triassic-kraken-revisited/
- GSA 2011. Giant ‘kraken’ lair discovered: Cunning sea monster that preyed on ichthyosaurs. ScienceDaily October 10, 2011. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111010075530.htm (GSA Release 11:65. https://web.archive.org/web/20111012145340/http://www.geosociety.org/news/pr/11-65.htm)
- IB Times 2011. Mythical Kraken-Like Sea Monster Might be Real: Researcher”. International Business Times. International Business Times October 12, 2011. https://www.ibtimes.com/mythical-kraken-sea-monster-might-be-real-researcher-322853
- Herald Sun 2011. Psycho kraken made portraits from bones of prehistoric whale victims. Maybe. Herald Sun October 12, 2011. https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/world/pyscho-kraken-made-portraits-from-giant-octopus-bones-maybe/story-e6frf7lx-1226164706064
- HourDark 2020. The Triassic Kraken: A nonsensical hypothesis. Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/Naturewasmetal/comments/iewqw2/the_triassic_kraken_a_nonsensical_hypothesis/
- Leach A 2011. Gigantic KRAKEN fingered in prehistoric murder mystery. The Register October 12, 2011. https://www.theregister.com/2011/10/12/kraken_killer/
- McMenamin M 1986. The Garden of Ediacara. Palaios 1(2), 178–182. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/3514512
- McMenamin MAS 1998. The Garden of Ediacara: Discovering the Earliest Complex Life. Columbia University Press: New York (NY), xii+295 pp.
- McMenamin MAS 2009. Paleotorus: The Laws of Morphogenetic Evolution. Meanma Press: South Hadley (MA), 104 pp. https://www.academia.edu/1590809/Paleotorus_The_Laws_of_Morphogenetic_Evolution
- McMenamin MAS 2010. Trilobites Meet Theology. Amazon Review April 16, 2010. https://www.amazon.com/review/R27448EAEQVGDK/
- McMenamin MAS 2012. Evidence for a Triassic Kraken: Unusual arrangement of bones at Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada. 21st Century Science and Technology 24(4), 55–58. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236000127
- McMenamin MAS 2016. Deep Bones. Chapter 9, pp. 131–158 in: Dynamic Paleontology: Using quantification and other tools to decipher the history of life. Springer: Cham (CH), xii+251 pp. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-22777-1_9
- McMenamin MAS 2023. A Late Triassic Nuculanoid Clam (Bivalvia: Nuculanoidea) and Associated Mollusks: Implications for Luning Formation (Nevada, USA) Paleobathymetry. Geosciences 13(3): 80. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/geosciences13030080
- McMenamin MAS & Schulte McMenamin DL 1993. Hypersea and the land ecosystem. Biosystems 31(2-3), 145–153. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0303-2647(93)90043-C
- McMenamin MAS & Schulte McMenamin D 1994. Hypersea: Life on the Land. Columbia University Press: New York (NY), xvi+343 pp.
- McMenamin MAS & Schulte McMenamin D 2011. Triassic Kraken: The Berlin Ichthyosaur Death Assemblage Interpreted as a Giant Cephalopod Midden. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 43(5), 310. https://web.archive.org/web/20111013171815/https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2011AM/finalprogram/abstract_197227.htm
- McMenamin MAS & Schulte McMenamin D 2013. The Kraken’s back: New evidence regarding possible cephalopod arrangement of ichthyosaur skeletons. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 45(7), 900. https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2013AM/webprogram/Paper232163.html (Powerpoint: https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2013AM/webprogram/Handout/Paper232163/KrakensBackGSA1.pptx)
- Myers PZ 2011. Traces of a Triassic kraken? Pharyngula October 10, 2011. https://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/10/10/traces-of-a-triassic-kraken
- Pappas S 2013. Kraken Rises: New Fossil Evidence Revives Sea Monster Debate. LiveScience October 31, 2013. https://www.livescience.com/40856-kraken-rises-with-new-fossil-evidence.html
- Praetorius D 2011. Giant ‘Kraken’ Lair Discovered: Sea Monster May Have Preyed On Ichthyosaurs (VIDEO). HuffPost October 10, 2011. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/giant-kraken-lair-south-dakota_n_1003515
- Prothero D 2011. Octopus’ garden in the shale? Skepticblog November 2, 2011. https://www.skepticblog.org/2011/11/02/kraken-and-crackpots/
- Prothero D 2013. Krakens and Crackpots—Again. Skepticblog 6 November 2013. https://www.skepticblog.org/2013/11/06/krakens-and-crackpots-again/
- Sander PM, Pérez de Villar PR, Furrer H & Wintrich T 2022. Giant Late Triassic ichthyosaurs from the Kössen Formation of the Swiss Alps and their paleobiological implications. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 41(6): e2046017. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2021.2046017
- Simpson S 2011. Smokin’ Kraken?. Discovery News October 11, 2011. https://web.archive.org/web/20111012004754/http://news.discovery.com/earth/smokin-kraken-111011.html
- Switek B 2011. The Giant, Prehistoric Squid That Ate Common Sense. Wired October 10, 2011. https://www.wired.com/2011/10/the-giant-prehistoric-squid-that-ate-common-sense/
- Than K 2011. Kraken Sea Monster Account “Bizarre and Miraculous”. National Geographic Daily News October 11, 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-12. https://web.archive.org/web/20111012163622/news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/10/111011-kraken-sea-monster-ichthyosaurs-science/
- Viegas J 2016. Did Giant Octopus ‘Kraken’ Kill an Ichthyosaur? Seeker July 15, 2016. https://www.seeker.com/did-giant-octopus-kraken-kill-an-ichthyosaurs-1924169944.html
- Wang B 2011. Lair of a Giant 30 meter long Triassic Kraken (giant octopus) Discovered. nextBig Future October 10, 2011. https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2011/10/giant-triassic-kraken-lair-discovered.html
- Zimmer C 1995. Hypersea Invasion. Discover Magazine October 1, 1995. https://web.archive.org/web/20080829133329/https://www.discovermagazine.com/1995/oct/hyperseainvasion571