The Hunt for Lake Monsters

The Loch Ness Monster
The Loch Ness Monster.

Deep, dark lakes all over the world are homes to what may eyewitnesses report as plesiosaur-like creatures. Will we ever close in on them?

ON SEVERAL EXPEDITIONS, international teams of explorers have set out from the shore of a dark, deep lake in search of a monster. It's been spotted by hundreds of people since the 17th century, but has eluded capture and conclusive identification. Some believe it is a large animal from the era of the dinosaurs that has somehow survived the extinction that wiped out all of its contemporary behemoths.

Others think it is nothing more than an illusion - misidentified schools of fish or logs bobbing is the waves. Using state-of-the art sonar equipment, a fleet of sixteen boats will ply the cold waters of the lake hoping, at last, to prove the reality of the mysterious creature.

No, the lake is not Loch Ness in Scotland, and the monster is not "Nessie." The body of water is Great Lake at Ostersund in central Sweden, and the creature is known as Storsjöodjuret. There are many parallels in the stories of the two monsters, of course: they live in deep, largely unexplored lakes; eyewitnesses describe them as having horse-like heads atop serpentine necks. But these are certainly not the only lake monsters of legend in the world.

There are literally hundreds of lakes around the globe that, according to eyewitnesses, are homes to elusive sea serpents. They are routinely sighted, if fleetingly, by boaters, fisherman, and vacationers, and occasionally somebody comes up with a fuzzy, inconclusive photo.

But, like Bigfoot, no clear, indisputable photos, film, or video exist of the monsters - and no one has come even close to capturing one. There have been attempts to find the Loch Ness Monster using sonar, without success.

WHERE THEY ARE

Here is just a partial list of lake monsters seen in many parts of the world:

  • The Loch Ness Monster. Affectionately known as "Nessie," this is the most famous of all lake monsters. There are many websites devoted to Nessie, and one of the best places I've found to learn all about it is The Legend of Nessie. Its listing of sightings is exhaustive, and many of the best photo evidence can be found here.
  • The Altamaha-Ha. This creature lives in the Altamaha River near Darien, Georgia. It has been sighted numerous times, at least since the 1960s, by fisherman and other witnesses.
  • Champ. Lake Champlain in northeast New York State is the home of Champ. Most sightings describe a 15- to 25-foot creature with a "long sinuous neck" and a dark-colored body with one or more humps.
  • Lake Van Monster. In June of 1997, video was taken of some kind of creature in Lake Van in eastern Turkey. A brief story and QuickTime movies of the video footage can be seen at this CNN news story.
  • Memphré. Lake Memphrémagog, which straddles the U.S.-Canadian border about 70 miles east of Montreal, is the home of Memphré. The earliest sightings of this creature, which resemble those of Nessie, date back to 1847.
  • Nahuelito. Descriptions of this creature in Nahuel Huapi Lake in Argentina vary from that of a giant water snake with humps and fish-like fins to a swan with a snake's head. Witnesses estimate its length at anywhere between 15 to 150 feet.
  • Selma. Lake Seljordsvatnet in Norway is the site of eyewitness accounts of this whale-like creature since 1750.
  • Ogopogo. Native Americans called it N'haaitk, and it makes its home in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. Many accounts are related at Unpublished Stories of Ogopogo.

Next page: What are they, and why are they so elusive?

WHAT THEY ARE

No one knows for sure what these creatures are - or even that they really exist. Like UFOs, there are many sightings, but no definitive proof. And, like UFOs, many of those sightings are probably misidentified natural phenomena. Large logs, unusual wave patterns, and even other animals like otters have been mistaken for the monsters. And when it comes to photographic evidence, the parallels to the UFO phenomenon continue: there have been many hoaxes as well as many tantalizing examples that are not easily dismissed.

For cryptozoologists - researchers who study and hunt for such unknown, legendary, or supposedly extinct creatures - and others who believe the animals are real, the consensus seems to be that the Loch Ness Monster, and perhaps many of her cousins that fit the same description, is a plesiosaur. Plesiosaurs roamed the oceans of the world during the late Triassic period (about 213 million years ago) to the Cretaceous period, dying out when all other dinosaurs did about 65 million years ago. As far as science knows, none have survived. Yet it's certainly possible that some have.

WHY ARE THEY SO ELUSIVE?

For a creature like the Loch Ness Monster to have survived in the lake for so long, there obviously must be more than one. The animal cannot be a 65 million-year-old plesiosaur. There must be enough of them to breed in order to continue their lineage for all these millions of years. Scientists theorize that there would have to be between 20 and 100 or more animals to be able to survive.

And although most of the lakes in which the creatures are sighted are deep, with this many creatures, it's surprising that they are not seen more often.

Why aren't they? In an article for Strange Magazine called Rogue Nessie, Kurt Burchfiel speculates that the loch may actually only contain one or so animals - that they occasionally may enter the loch from the ocean as juveniles, feed, get too large to leave, and live out their lives there.

Another reason they elude detection is that they may simply be hiding. New Loch Ness Mystery describes how George Edwards of the Auxiliary Coast Guard discovered a huge underwater cavern in Loch Ness. Edwards suspects that the cavern could be part of a large network of caves where dozens of Nessies could live.

We may be closing in on these sea serpents. The proliferation of home video cameras increases the chances that conclusive photographic proof for one or more of these animals will appear. And with more explorations taking place using high-tech equipment, like this month's in Sweden, we may finally get the evidence for the reality of these great creatures.