While "Nessie" - the Loch Ness Monster - is considered their poster child, might there be other
creatures that inhabit lakes, seas and waterways all over the world? Some say the evidence points
overwhelmingly to the affirmative, while others maintain there is a startling absence of hard evidence
proving their existence. The scientific community places a premium on believable, tangible evidence and
will unfailingly dispute any claim falling well short of that criteria. For instance, in cases of cyptids - where
are the bodies? After all, if these things live, then they must die. Lacking any ceremonial burials by their
own species, surely some trace evidence would have turned up by now. How can tales of these watery
beasts still thrive despite all indications to the contrary?
Yet reports of these creatures DO still persist and there are literally thousands around the globe who
lay claim to witnessing them. Some even possess what they claim is photographic evidence that
corroborates the anecdotal type. Is it possible these giant reptiles still exist as they did millions of years
ago beneath our waters and have somehow eluded all efforts so far to find them? If no creature can live
until the ripe old age of 10,000, can it be there are multiple denizens of the same species alive under the
waters of these ancient lakes?
Let's attempt to separate fact from fiction and present both sides of the argument in hopes of drawing
our own conclusions.
HERE THERE BE MONSTERS
The sea monster in myth and legend has existed for hundreds of centuries. In many cases it is an
expression of our fear, curiosity and unawareness of what exists in the uncharted regions of the sea.
The ancient Lenox Globe (seen pictured below), now residing at the New York Public Library depicts the
known world in 1503-1507 is known to have inscribed on it the words, "here there be dragons" ('hic sunt
dracones") on the eastern coast of Asia (Kimodos?) as a cautionary notice that one should venture no
farther beyond the reaches of man's nautical capabilities.
It was a bold, yet convenient reasoning. Monsters could explain ocean storms, lightning strikes,
hurricanes or any weather anomalies not yet understood by our ancestors. An attack by a sea monster
was also the explanation of choice for any ships that ran aground, were damaged, or sunk by unseen
and unknown rock formations.
The Coelacanth (above), a heavy-bodied, many-finned fish with a three-lobed tail that was thought
extinct until it was caught in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. Since then two types of coelacanth have
been caught in five other countries: Comoros, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique,
according to African Coelacanth Ecosystem Program.
While the first reference to Nessie goes all the way back to the 6th century, the first modern sighting
of what was thought to be a living dinosaur was in the Scottish Highlands in 1933 by Mr. & Mrs. George
Spicer. They described the creature as having a large body (about 4 feet) high and 25 feet long, with a
long, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant's trunk and as long as the ten- to twelve-foot width of
Over the course of the summer, dozens of witnesses described a creature with a "snake-like head",
"long neck" and "humps sticking out of the water" swimming in the waters of Loch Ness. The sightings
were taken so seriously that Scottish officials announced that they were forbidding anyone from shooting
or trapping the serpent. It was about this time that photographs of "Nessie" began to turn up. Many were
quite dubious to say the least until April of 1943.
THE SURGEON’S PHOTO
On April 21, 1943 the London Daily Mail published a photograph supposedly taken by Dr. Robert
Kenneth Wilson, a London gynecologist, of what appeared to be the Loch's most famous inhabitant
coming up for a quick look around. For over 60 years, most people pointed to this as definitive proof that
such a creature in fact did exist. However in 1992 a man named Christian Spurling made a startling
confession. According to Spurling, the photo was a hoax concocted by his step-father, Marmaduke
Wetherell, who was a big-game hunter contracted by the Daily Mail to find evidence of the monster.
When he failed to do so, the paper fired him. He extracted his revenge by creating a "serpent" out of a
toy submarine, placing a model of a head over the conning tower.
The model was then launched in the loch and the photo was snapped. By Spurling's account,
Wetherell persuaded Dr. Wilson to take credit for the shot. Perhaps fearing ridicule, Wilson never
admitted to his part in the hoax. Despite this revelation, there are many Nessie believers, many of them
respected scientists and journalists, who argue the admission is sour grapes and that it is no reason to
discount other reports of the existence of the creature.
THE BURDEN OF PROOF…OR, HOW TO FIND A
Since the time Nessie became such a phenomenon, many other reports of similar creatures, totaling
in the hundreds, have surfaced around the world. Among the more famous (or infamous) are: "Champ"
the serpent said to inhabit Lake Champlain on the Vermont and New York borders. The Ogopogo in
Lake Okonogan, British Columbia, Canada. Nahuelito in the resort town of Bariloche, Argentina. The
Lake Storsjon Monster in Sweden and Morag in Loch Morar in the U.K.
What to make of these accounts? Has the anecdotal evidence handed down from generation to
generation been repeated enough to become the truth? Is science, with its rigid standards regarding the
burden of proof, doing enough to quantify the existence or non-existence of these creatures? Among the
witnesses to these events are very credible people who at least believe they have seen something in the
water. If they do not have the means (or good fortune) to provide a body, does that rule out the
possibility or even probability they have witnessed something unusual and spectacular? Some in the
scientific community have taken on the task of proving/disproving their existence. In the 60s, many
groups used sonar as the method of choice to determine whether Nessie truly existed. This replaced the
more mundane visual outposts scattered around the lake. The results, while probably lacking the type of
post-investigation scrutiny presently associated with reported findings, spurred public interest. Large,
moving objects were located by the sonar rising and then descending into the depths of the waters.
While compelling enough, the true identity of the cause remains a mystery. By the late 60s, small,
manned submarines were brought in as well as sensitive recording devices that bore some interesting,
yet ultimately unproven results.
The first truly scientific expedition to locate the Loch Ness Monster took place in the 1970s when a
group of Americans from the Academy of Applied Science, led by Robert Rines, used sonar technology
and a submersible camera to take some highly unusual photographs, the most controversial of which is
the famous "flipper shot" (below) taken in 1974. As it turns out, this photo was actually over - enhanced
which made what was actually air bubbles seem to be an actual appendage.
THE STRANGE CASE OF THE OGOPOGO
If Nessie is a bit reticent about appearing in public, then by comparison the Ogopogo by the many
photographs taken of it, seems to be ready for People Magazine. The resident of Lake Okanagan in
British Columbia has reportedly been sighted, photographed and even videotaped hundreds of times by
chance visitors or curious onlookers. In some cases, multiple serpents have seen seen on the lake.
The origin of the Ogopogo traces back to Native Indian tales of a fearsome lake serpent. The creature,
in fact was first known as "Naitaka" which translates to anything from "water demon" to "sacred creature
of the water". In Indian legend, the Naitaka would demand a toll to insure safe passage around its home
near Rattlesnake Island, located in the lake. The toll came in the form of live animals, which would be
dropped into the water as a sacrifice to the great Naitaka. A plaque that commemorates the existence of
the Ogopogo is located on Lake Okanagan. It reads:
"Before the unimaginative, practical white man came, the fearsome lake monster N'ha·a·itk was well
known to the primitive, superstitious Indians. His home was believed to be a cave at Squally Point, and
small animals were carried in the canoes to appease the serpent. Ogopogo is still seen each year - but
now by white men."
If the plesiosaur is a suspect in the Loch Ness mystery, then what of Ogopogo? Two scientists who
have spent over 20 years researching Ogopogo and compiling witness descriptions, Paul LeBlond and
Ed Blousefield, think it is Cadborosaurus Willsi, so-named because eyewitness accounts describe it
similar to a creature found in the belly of a whale back in 1937 (photos below) and that has been sighted
over the years in Cadboro Bay in Victoria, B.C.
LeBlond and Bousefield are also noteworthy for their disdain for those in the scientific community
that refuse to acknowledge the veracity of eyewitness accounts or the probability that these types of
aquatic animals may indeed exist. Bousefield feels that as the creature migrated up the rivers to Lake
Okonagan, following the salmon food source, it became land-locked as dams were erected and lake
properties developed, effectively sealing the animal off from more open waters.
Over the years, there has been one thing that has separated claims of the existence of the Ogopogo
from other similar monsters of the deep.
Videotape. There are two that stand out from the others:
1968 - The Folden Film, a video taken by sawmill worker Arthur Folden of Chase, B.C. depicting
what appears to a large creature in shallow water breaking to the surface. It was shot from the side of a
hill overlooking the loch. Generally thought to be the classic Ogopogo video. Folden was reluctant to
show anyone the video, fearing ridicule, but was coerced into finally releasing it to investigators about
two years after it was taken. Skeptics point out that the object on the film closely resembles what looks
like a large water wake, perhaps caused by a passing motorboat. It is known that the resulting waves of
such a disturbance may take as long as 5 minutes to reach shore.
1992 - Paul DeMara Film - Three different pieces of footage are shot on a HI8 camera. The first
features what appears to be numerous "creatures" swimming side-by-side across the lake. As a
powerboat pulling a water-skier comes along, the objects seem to go under. It appears the boat has a
near-hit with one of the objects. The second part shows what appears to be a head and neck, then three
humps. The third shows a large object moving in the water. Video analysis shows this could be what is
called a "phantom wave". It is also puzzling to many (including myself) that the driver of the boat and
the water-skier don't seem to react in any panic upon seeing the "creature".
The Canadian government certainly takes the Ogopogo seriously. Fearing the volume of gawkers and
tourists looking for the creature, they declared it an endangered species off-limits to hunting or trapping.
His mother was an earwig
His father was a whale
A little bit of head
And hardly any tail
And Ogopogo was his name
THE (PHOTOGRAPHER) LADY AND THE ‘CHAMP’
In a body of water shared by Vermont, New York and Canada called Lake Champlain, there is
rumored to be a creature living there affectionately known as "Champ". In fact, to date there have been
over 300 sightings of the animal and some really interesting photographic evidence to boot. It has been
speculated that this reptile, like its cousin Nessie, is in fact a plesiosaur. In fact, sightings of Champ pre-
date those of Nessie by 50 years. There is however, based on recordings taken below the surface of
Lake Champlain, another theory that the animal in Lake Champlain may be a new species of freshwater
dolphin or whale based on a series of distinguishable "clicks" that were heard. Or perhaps a giant lake
sturgeon whose type have been reported to grow up to 10 feet long (or better).
Like other lake monsters, Champ has become something of a cottage industry unto itself and a
source of pride for residents of the surrounding areas. Port Henry, New York for example holds a
"Champ Day" festival each August and Vermont's baseball entry in the New York-Penn League is known
as the Vermont Lake Monsters. Like many of the others it is also on an endangered species list to
protect it from poachers, hunters or trappers. One wonders how one would go about about trapping a
60-70 foot serpent, but we'll leave that to the experts like the famed huckster P.T. Barnum, who offered
$50,000 to anyone who could produce Champ for his road show.
Another similarity of note is the Native American influence on the legend. It is said that the Iroquois
and the Abenaki tribes spoke of such a creature in the lake and the Abenakis called it "Tatoskok".
The most compelling photo of Champ was taken back in 1977 by a woman named Sandra Mansi. In
the photo, what appears to be a head attached to a long neck is sticking out of the water (below).
While the photograph has puzzled some in the scientific community and been authenticated as a
"unknown" by some like George Zug of the Smithsonian Institute’s Department of Vertebrate Zoology,
others claim it very well may be a rolling tree or log which was forced to the lake's surface by gases
created by means of organic decay. There has also been a theory floated that states in sum total that
Champ is actually being seen because of a window in time ("time slips") that are allowing us to see into
the lake's past.
Oh, well now there you go. Case solved.
Ruining all the fun as usual is Joe Nickell of the Skeptical Inquirer who wrote after investigating the
lake, "For example, otters, swimming in a line, can mimic a single long, serpentine creature moving in an
undulating fashion. Other Champ suspects include wind slicks, boat wakes, driftwood, long-necked
birds, and many other possibilities. A contributing factor is 'expectant attention,' the tendency of people
who, expecting to see something, are misled by anything resembling [what they are looking for]."
Joe says nothing about the expectations of seeing nothing and getting exactly that.
Are the sightings of these creatures continuous proof of the various species of life out there that
remain unknown or is it merely a manifestation of human nature that wants to believe there is something
out there greater than ourselves?
Whatever may lurk beneath the surface of lakes around the world, there will always be those who will
work tirelessly to prove the existence of creatures from another time and those who will work just as long
and hard to dispel any notions of such claims. Believers will point to creatures like the Coelacanth and
the Megamouth Shark to prove that it is possible for a species to evade discovery for generations at a
time. Conversely, skeptics and non-believers will always cite the overwhelming lack of physical evidence
to support those claims.
The burden of proof may lay squarely on the witness to back up the story, but on the other hand, how
does one prove such things not only don't, but also can't exist in the modern world? While debate over
the existence of these elusive creatures is certain to continue for generations to come, the legends will
continue to grow and be passed down just as they did in ancient texts and from the indigenous peoples
of these lands.
And as they did before us, we will continue to be suspicious of the unknown but still determined in
our desire to pursue the truth.
LAKE MONSTER MYTHS AND LEGENDS
BY KEN DE COSTA