North America's Lake Monsters

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The author, looking for “Nessie” at Loch Ness.

The Internet has been buzzing about a recent photograph allegedly depicting a monster surfacing in a British lake. As Eric Niiler of Discovery News noted, “The latest entry in the lake monster sweepstakes is making a bid for glory [is the] ‘Bownessie’ of Lake Windermere, England….Tom Pickles and Sara Harrington, work colleagues who were kayaking at the lake as part of a team-building exercise, snapped this photo of the possible sea creature with a mobile phone. It appears to show a multi-humped black object moving through the water from left to right.”

When the news broke, many people were surprised. Not just that a dark, multi-humped monster had supposedly been photographed on a lake, but that it wasn’t at Loch Ness.

Most people know about Nessie, the denizen in Ness, one of Scotland’s many lakes (or “lochs”). Reports of something odd in Loch Ness only date back to the 1930s, and a famous 1934 photo of a silhouetted, serpentine head and neck helped propel Nessie into international stardom (unfortunately the photo was later revealed to be a hoax).

The lake has been searched for nearly 80 years using everything including cameras, divers, sonar, submarines, and dolphins, yet no real evidence has been found.

“If you’re interested in lake monsters, you needn’t go all the way to Europe,” Daniel Loxton told Discovery News.

Loxton, editor of Junior Skeptic magazine and co-author of an upcoming book on lake monsters, says that “every human culture has stories of water monsters, and besides, Europeans brought their own monsters with them to North America. European-style monsters manifested early in tributaries of the St. Lawrence river, and then along the coast of Maine. They were reported in lakes Erie and Ontario. Today, monsters are said to haunt dozens of other lakes across Canada and the United States.”

Here’s a sample:

Crescent Lake is a picturesque body of water in northeastern Newfoundland near the small town of Robert’s Arm. Robert’s Arm is gorgeous, with walking trails snaking over lush green hills and around the placid lake. The lake, deep and cold, is allegedly home to a lake monster known as Cressie. As you enter the town, a life-size(?) model of Cressie greets visitors.

Quebec’s Lake Memphremagog, which extends down into north-central Vermont, is said to be home to a lake monster, Memphre, with reports supposedly dating as far back as 1816.

In British Columbia’s Lake Okanagan, there supposedly exists the Ogopogo monster. It is said to be dark, up to 70 feet long, and have a series of humps. It is the world’s second most famous creature after Nessie, and like many lake monsters, native Indians are said to have described the beast in their legends and myths.

America has its share of reputed aquatic beasts as well, including Lake Tahoe‘s Tessie. But the best known lives in Lake Champlain, which forms the border between Vermont and New York. “Champ,” as the creature is called, has allegedly been seen by hundreds of witnesses and is anywhere between 10 and 187 feet long, has one or more humps, and is gray, black, dark green, or other colors.

The small town of Port Henry, New York, is the self-proclaimed “Home of Champ” and has a large wooden board that records monster sightings. The best evidence for Champ — in fact, for any lake monster — was a 1977 photo taken by Sandra Mansi showing what appeared to be a dark head and hump in the lake. Later investigation showed that the object was almost certainly a floating log that looked serpentine from a certain angle.

All these monsters have at least one thing in common: a lack of good scientific evidence.

The Lake Windermere “Bownessie” photo seems likely to be a hoax; in fact Loren Coleman, Director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, has his suspicions: “The evidence brought forth is only as trustworthy as the people bringing it to us. What do we know about Tom Pickles and Sarah Harrington, who saw the creature during their company’s team building exercise? How is this all tied to a fundraising effort they were in the midst of conducting and desired to obtain publicity for? I’m not saying they are not to be taken seriously, but UK investigators should do some background checks.”

Coleman notes that previous lake monster photos have many explanations. “Some are unexplained. Some are fakes and hoaxes. Some are garbage bags. Some are otters. Some are humans. Some are other known animals.”

With the caveat that “unexplained” does not mean “unexplainable,” whatever the images of “monsters” in Windermere and other lakes truly are, they are probably accounted for on this list.