Bigfoot and lake monsters, beware: There’s a price on your heads. Binocular manufacturer Bushnell, along with "Field & Stream" magazine, have teamed up to offer $1 million to anyone who can "provide an unaltered photograph/video, verified and substantiated by a panel of scientific experts [including a zoologist and biologist], the evidence required to prove a Sasquatch/Bigfoot/Yeti exists." The contest started a few days ago and ends Dec. 15, but before heading out to claim your million, note that the rules' fine print states that they are not liable for any injury incurred during a Bigfoot attack. A good quality Bigfoot image would make history; most photos are of such consistently poor quality that within the Bigfoot research community there's even a name for a typical blurry "Bigfoot" image: blobsquatch. This is, of course, a marketing promotion and not a genuine search for Bigfoot. There's no way to authenticate a Bigfoot photograph by itself; the image is simply a two-dimensional pattern of pixels. To truly prove a Bigfoot exists, you'd need corroborating hard evidence like a body, teeth, or bones. Bigfoot isn't the only monster whose proof of existence commands cash. Larry Nielson, a boat owner from Lake City, Minnesota, is offering a reward for their local lake monster. Pepie, the mysterious beast said to lurk in Lake Pepin, was supposedly seen on April 28, 1871, and only rarely since then. According to Nielson, you don't actually have to capture the beast: "The Lake City Tourism Bureau has announced a $50,000 reward for undisputable evidence that proves the existence of the real live creature living in Lake Pepin. The proof should include photographics (sic) and/or samples of skin or fins that can studied for a DNA analysis." Savvy marketers have been using monsters in promotions for over a century. In 1873, the great American showman P.T. Barnum offered a $50,000 reward for Champ, the monster supposedly living in Vermont's Lake Champlain. He planned to exhibit the creature in New York, but even that fortune wasn't enough to snare the creature, and in 1887, Barnum offered $20,000 for the monster, dead or alive. He still had no takers. More recently, Bigfoot has been used to promote everything from pizza to monster trucks to beef jerky. And virtually every town near a lake with a reputed monster has profited economically from increased tourism. People have been searching for these mysterious creatures for years. Why is conclusive proof still elusive? There are only two alternative explanations: the monsters' non-existence or the searchers' incompetence. It's possible that the animals simply don't exist, and the "evidence" is either hoaxed or the result of honest mistakes. Or, if these monsters do exist, the searchers apparently aren't good enough at their task and can't find the huge animals despite decades of effort and employing high-tech equipment. Perhaps putting a price on Bigfoot's head will finally solve the mystery. But if history is any guide, it will just turn up more blobsquatches.
Benjamin Radford has researched and written about mysterious creatures for over a decade. His latest book, co-authored with Joe Nickell, is "Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures." This and other books can be found on his Web site.