These buildings are from the Northwest Coast cultural area and these examples are Kwakiutl. The Thunderbirds are perched on top of whale skeletons and in fact the design of the whale's ribs do look like men with outstretched arms and are about that scale (but sideways). It is easy to see how any number of people could have remembered such photos and mis-remembered them with the proper visual clues and the proper verbal nudging to get the image "Right"
|Thunderbird and whale design as marketed for T-shirts and the like|
Below is an idea of minee as to how this design got firmly entrenched into the Native mind: Thunderbirds would not actually be carrying off whales and flying with them, but they very well could be found feasting on carcasses of whales that had gotten themselves beached. And since thunderbird reports commonly say they have a wingspan of 20-30 feet (taking the paintings on the sides of the buildings to be about lifesized), their wingspan is as great as the whole length of many of the smaller whales.
|Thunderbird=Giant Teratorn Scavenging Beached Whale Carcass|
(Reconstruction-Not an actual photo but for demonstration purposes only)
The older discussion on the Thunderbird photo is HERE:
And the most recent comment added on that discussion was:
BTW, I have heard that the site Cryptomundo has dismissed this candidate photo as "Merely another photoshopped photo found on the internet." It isn't: it came from the period before photoshopping and the basic photop is legitimately from the 1890s. It is a pasted-up montage and there was a fad for them in the early part of the 20th century, the 19teens and twenties. They were very commonly made into souvenir novelty postcards and that is EXACTLY what I think the reproduced photo is and what "the Thunderbird photo" actually WAS.