Sasquatch believers face stigma, but press on

You can doubt the science, but there's no doubt that people who claim to have seen a Sasquatch feel stigmatized.

Olympic Peninsula resident Rich Germeau, who was an officer with the La Push Police Department for 14 years, said he doesn't blame folks for finding the stories bizarre. His goal is to prove that the creatures are real, he said.

"I was in my patrol car on my way to the office in July 2000, and one stepped in front of me," Germeau said. "I had to put on my brakes. It was kind of a big eye-opener for me. I watched the stories on TV and I thought there was no possible way that could exist."

Germeau kept silent about his sighting until 2008, when a friend convinced him to form the Olympic Project, a Washington group aimed at finding proof of the creatures.

And over the years, as they got samples of saliva and hair, they sent them to Texas, where researcher Melba Ketchum has led a five-year study to verify and sequence Sasquatch DNA.

Ketchum's group, the Sasquatch Genome Project, released some of its findings and videos Oct. 1.

"Most of those came from northern Washington state, but they're from all over," Ketchum said. "We also had one from Oregon."

Germeau said the Olympic Project has gathered information and stories of sightings all over the state, including a few dozen in Clark County.

"There are tons of sightings down there," he said. "They're everywhere. Every county in Washington has some."

Ketchum's group said that it was able to sequence 20 whole and 10 partial mitochondrial genomes and three whole nuclear genomes from the samples. And through those, it determined a genetic code from an unknown species that it claims is Bigfoot.

Ketchum said her group found that unknown component in the nuclear genomes, which trace ancestry back through the fathers.

But her findings have been met with much skepticism in the scientific community.

After looking at data from the study on the group's website, Steve Wagner, an associate professor in the biological sciences department at Central Washington University, said the project doesn't provide enough information to verify its claims.

The DNA study "is incomplete and doesn't use standard methods for analyzing genetic relationships based on phylogeny or hybridization," Wagner said.

Ketchum said she submitted her full findings to the peer-reviewed scientific journal "Nature" but was rejected. She ended up essentially self-publishing it in the "DeNovo Journal of Science," which has only one paper available, hers, for sale for $30.

Self-publishing is considered a big no-no among most scientists.


Partially human?

Ketchum, for her part, insists that her findings are real.

She believes the creatures popped up as a branch on the human tree about 13,000 years ago, and that the species appears to have DNA that is partially human and partially something unknown, she said.

"Those mitochondrial DNA types didn't exist until that late in history," Ketchum said. "This is all documented. It's a serious study, with serious technology, and we spent close to half a million dollars on it."

Ketchum is president and director of DNA Diagnostics, Inc, a forensic genetic lab where most of the research was done.


Or opossum?

Eric Berger, a science columnist with the Houston Chronicle, wrote in a column that he had his own genetics scientist analyze Ketchum's samples with different results.

"In short, I had the DNA material tested by a credible Texas scientist and it showed no evidence of a new species," he wrote in a July 5, 2013, column.

"Alas, I met my geneticist friend this past week and I asked about the Bigfoot DNA. It was, he told me, a mix of opossum and other species. No find of the century," he continued.

Scientists may take issue with it, but Germeau of the Olympic Project says he thinks Ketchum's work is right on the mark.

He said he's found footprints, saliva and hair, and also evidence from a family group of four individuals from across Washington that he sent to Ketchum.


'Never more scared'

True or not, it's very clear that Germeau firmly believes in what he is saying.

Germeau also saw the creatures in 2011, he said, when he was checking on a video system in Mason County.

"It was a habituation site we had abandoned," Germeau said.

"I was there setting up a camera and I got snuck up on. It was a diversion. I don't know what they were planning but I've never been more scared in my life."

He said he saw two creatures that day but managed to get away from them. From his research, he says the ones in the Pacific Northwest average around 11 feet tall and weigh up to 1,500 pounds.

With all the sightings, he said it's a mystery why no bodies of the creatures have been found.

"There's a lot more to this story," Germeau said. "These things are highly intelligent. Their goals are not to be detected and not to let themselves be found or seen."


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