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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Updates on Northern Lake Monsters

Some new articles on the Lake Monsters of Lake Iliamna, Alaska, and Flathead Lake, Montana-Idaho border, both of which seem to be basically large sturgeons

Flathead Lake "Nessie" UPDATE

Saturday, May 19, 2012
Montana's Flathead Lake Monster ReportedClick - Montana Nessie

After a prolonged absence of Flathead Nessie sightings, the lake’s elusive monster may be out there after all. That’s what Pam Moriarty, her daughter Laura Barthrop and Justin Lagemann are wondering after the trio viewed a strange object swimming against the current about 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 12.

From the picture windows in Pam cliff top home on the northwest end of Finley Point, they watched for about five minutes as it swam northeasterly away from shore toward the main part of the lake. They were so surprised that Pam briefly forgot her camera was nearby. She rushed to retrieve it and managed to snap a picture, but it was too far away to identify.

Lagemann estimated the object was about 40 or 50 yards off shore when they first noticed it. They watched through binoculars and afterward he sketched how it appeared to him. He thought the critter was at least 25 feet long. The head was not showing as it moved away, but it had a “whale-like tail” and “spiked dorsal fins.”

Lagemann had lived in Florida and had seen many types of unusual aquatic animals – manta rays, alligators, crocodiles and more. He couldn’t tell what this was though. - leaderadvertiser

-A sturgeon could well be described as having a row of spiked scutes sticking up along the back and a fishlike tail. Calling it a whale-like tail would be a mistake, but not a mistake that most witnesses would know any better about.

White Sturgeon illustration, note overall sharklike appearance. Original article was drawing attention to the scutes along the spine and highlighting them in blue.Recently some authors have been wondering if the Lake Iliamna creature could not actually BE a shark, as in this widely-circulated news article reprinted below.

Scientist wonders if Nessie-like monster in Alaska lake is a sleeper shark

While most sighting descriptions are intriguing, in Lake Iliamna the "monsters" have reportedly been seen in the shallow waters near shore. But hard data is a necessity. Late this summer, I plan to lead a field expedition hoping to capture sleeper sharks in Lake Iliamna, attaching satellite tags to track their movements.
How exactly? Years ago when working in Prince William Sound, we spent the night in one of the bays on board our research vessel. One evening I tossed some fish scraps into a crab pot and lowered the pot to the bottom along with an underwater camera. Several fish visited --black cod, a skate and a sleeper shark.
I plan to try the same technique in Lake Iliamna to catch a shark on video. In addition, I will set some baited circle hooks to catch a shark for photographing, tagging and release.
The third technique I'm investigating is to use a camera device that is baited, dropped to the bottom and takes photos when approached. It later returns to the surface for collection by the scientists.
A subsequent expedition is planned for late summer 2013 to Lock Ness to repeat the exercise on Nessie.

Harbingers of Climate Change

Sleeper sharks are proving themselves very adaptable, so much so that they may become the Arctic's dominant large predator. Global warming is reducing Arctic Ocean ice and critical refuge habitat for ice seals and polar bears. Without ice to haul out on, seals and polar bears may be exposed to predation by these large sharks. In the waters near Tromsø, Norway, Greenland sharks were suspected of killing large numbers of harbor seals. In the stomach of a Greenland shark captured in the North Sea, researchers found the jawbone of a young polar bear. Harbor seals have been reported in stomachs of Pacific sleeper sharks.
In fact, nearly every marine species in the Arctic has been found in the stomachs of these sharks, which makes sleepers a unique predator. Scientists who examined a dozen Greenland sharks from Iceland found that six sharks contained remnants of marine mammals, accounting for a quarter of the total mass of stomach contents and, perhaps, a majority of the energy ingested based on the energy content of marine-mammal blubber.
Greenland sharks have been caught in large numbers in eastern Canada and western Greenland. One researcher estimated that 50,000 individual sharks were caught per year in the Baffin Bay region in the 1940s.From my research, I would offer one precaution: Don't underestimate the predatory skills of sleeper sharks.
No doubt, sleeper sharks can be easy to underestimate. Fishermen and scientists have described them as sluggish and distinctly unpredatory-like over the years -- based, in part, on how they appear when brought to the surface on a long line or in a trawl. But sleeper sharks have been detected attacking live and active prey such as Pacific halibut and salmon. One sleeper shark captured on an International Pacific Halibut Commission research charter contained six whole adult chum salmon. Each weighed more than 4 pounds and were so fresh and bright they could have been cooked for dinner. Fresh whale tissue is also common in sleeper shark stomachs.
Understanding the role of Greenland and Pacific sleeper sharks on marine ecosystems is critical for managing northern oceans. If they turn out to be the culprits described as monsters in Loch Ness and Lake Iliamna, their somewhat ho-hum reputation based, in part, on their uninspiring name may be due for an update.

--And the answer is, why are sleeper sharks even considered as candidates when their freshwater tolerance is in question and that seems to be a pivotal point in such cases? Why are we to eliminate sturgeons as candidates in favour of the sharks when the sturgeons are at least as good as candidates? Sturgeons grow every bit as large as the figures quoted for the sleeper sharks in the article, are known to live in freshwater for long periods, inhabit the approximate geographical region in question and are known to have a sharklike overall configuration, including the fins (see the illustration added at start of this article) Indeed, the only reason researchers are thinking in terms of sharks at all is because some researchers, such as Loren Coleman in A Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents [etc, 2003] seem to be genuinely unaware of what a sturgeon even looks like.

Lake Iliamna Monster, Alaska

The Iliamna Lake Monster, or commonly referred to by locals as Illie, is a cryptid whose legend has haunted the Alaskan fishing village of Iliamna. The native’s tales describe a large beast that roams the waters. The monster has many reported sightings along with a few reported causes of death under the its belt. Over the years, it has gained enough attention to lure the Animal Planet show “River Monsters” in attempt to find out what may lie beneath the waters. The monster is a reported 10–30 feet in length with a blunt-snouted [and allegedly armoured] head that is used to place blunt force unto things such as small boats. Although there is no physical evidence to conclude the monster's existence, many reports beg to differ.

Stories of the lake monster have been around since the indigenous Aleut people lived on the lake and fished as a source of food. The monster was not brought to the public eye until the 40’s, when pilots started to report seeing large fish from their planes while flying overhead.[1] This sparked interest in others as pilots and fishermen began to wonder what the creatures were. Many more sightings were reported as people began to fly low over the lake for the purpose of seeing these monster fish. Consistent reports of large, dull, aluminum-colored fish were coming in by the late 50’s. Soon, enough attention was brought to the subject that in 1979 the Anchorage Daily News offered a sum of $100,000 to anyone who could provide conclusive evidence proving the fish’s existence.[2] The evidence is yet to be provided, as sightings have slowed in recent years.


1942: Babe Alyesworth and Bill Hammersley reported seeing a large, dull, aluminum-colored fish from their plane. This encouraged others to come forth with sightings and more information[3]..
1963: Biologist reported seeing a 25–30 foot fish from overhead; it did not come up for air[4]..
1977: A pilot, while flying over Pedro Bay, spots a 12–14 foot fish on the surface as it dove down, revealing vertical tail[5]..
1987: Resident Verna Kolyaha reported seeing a large black fish with white stripe down its fin.
1988: Several locals report the same sighting from water and land, a large black fish with a fin swimming near the surface[6]..
These are just a few of the sightings that have occurred since the outbreak in the 40’s and 50’s. Most of the sightings in recent times take place near Pedro Bay and the fishing village of Iliamna, like the events of 1977 and 1988. With the lack of recent sightings, many have begun to disprove of the monster's existence although TV networks such as the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet have managed to feature the monster on episodes of popular series.

What it might be

Many theories have been proposed to explain what might lie beneath the waters of Lake Iliamna. Ogopogo is a cryptid very similar to that of the Loch Ness Monster which supposedly resides in the waters of Lake Okanogan in British Columbia. Some disagree with this theory based upon reports of what the monster looks like due to Ogopogo’s serpent-like features. Another theory that has gained attention due to the increasingly popular Animal Planet show “River Monsters” biologist Jeremy Wade determined that the monster may be no monster at all, but a white sturgeon which is indigenous to areas of Alaska.[7] The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission says, “White sturgeon are the largest freshwater fish in North America and can weigh over 1,500 pounds, be 20 feet in length, and live for over 100 years.”[8] The sturgeon, being a bottom dwelling fish, would explain why sightings are rare. Additionally, catching them is considered a tough sport by many fishermen. Both of these ideas validate the theory. Although the white sturgeon is found in Alaska and much of the Pacific Northwest, there is no evidence of the white sturgeon residing in Lake Iliamna. Some see this as disproving Jeremy Wade’s theory.[On the other hand, sturgeon have been reported caught at Lake Okanagon and Flathead lake, two locations where the Sturgeon identity for the Lake Monsters has also been strongly insisted upon. The Sturgeon are ofen living on the bottom and easily overlooked, even large ones-DD]

Other Crypids

Large bodies of water, especially lakes, have always attracted attention due to their mystery. Throughout history, there have been countless stories and reports of monsters lurking in the depths of the lakes and seas. Ogopogo, as discussed earlier, is a legend whose tales predate that of the popular Loch Ness Monster. Bigfoot and the Yeti are two of the popular names for a hairy, ape-like beast. Legends of crypids span across the world. New discoveries of species are made all the time and people continue to wonder what else may be yet undiscovered.


  1. ^ "Iliamna Lake Monster". Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  2. ^ "Monster Lurks beneath the Waters of Lake Iliamna". Anchorage Daily News. 14 April 1989.
  3. ^ "Iliamna Lake Monster". Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  4. ^ "Iliamna Lake Monster". Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  5. ^ "Iliamna Lake Monster". Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  6. ^ "Iliamna Lake Monster". Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  7. ^ Campbell, Mike. "Animal planet's 'River Monsters' Visits Iliamna Lake". Anchorage Daily News.
  8. ^ "White Sturgeon". Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
Lake Iliamna is also home to a large colony of Freshwater seals, cause for comment in another article currently in circulation.

Lake monster not the only mystery in Alaska's Lake Iliamna

Add this question to the many mysteries of Iliamna Lake: Where the heck do its unique, freshwater harbor seals go when the lake and rivers freeze shut?
Dave Withrow, a federal research biologist who has flown numerous aerial surveys to count them, has spotted close to 300 of the seals in late summer.
In deep winter when there are no openings in the ice, he's counted as many as 73. During other such times, he's found none. Locals from nearby villages say the seals live there year-round, and based on what he's seen, he believes them.
Which begs the question: "How can 280 seals just disappear?"
Maybe the seals have a hidden cave where they winter, he once joked with colleagues. Then an elder told him just such an underground cave existed, providing freshwater access for the seals year-round, a legend that gets a mention in a recent article by a state Fish and Game biologist.
"We were just totally joking, but to hear an elder say that was like, 'Really? I don't believe it,'" Withrow said.
Welcome to Alaska's deepest and most massive lake, some 200 miles southwest of Anchorage across Cook Inlet.
The seals, hunted by Alaska Native villagers from communities like Kokhanok on the lake's southern shores, are fatter than seagoing harbor seals, and have thicker fur. The hunting was first documented by a Russian explorer in 1819, according to the article.
The animals are just one of two such harbor-seal populations in the world, and Withrow hopes to determine if they're a genetically distinct stock. But they're just one of the lake's mysteries. There's also the strange white beast that's said to occasionally ripple the surface, a la the Loch Ness Monster.

[Dave Withrow seems not to be aware that seals commonly live under the ice all winter long and make do by creating breathing holes in the ice. Polar Bears and Northern Natives commonly hunt the seals by waiting at the breathing holes when the ice is thick-DD]

An Alaska scientist thinks the "Iliamna Lake Monster," as some locals call it, might be sleeper sharks that spend much of their time dwelling on the bottom of the lake, occasionally rising to the surface to feed.
Bruce Wright, the scientist who led the Exxon Valdez restoration effort for the federal government, hopes to catch a sleeper shark this summer after capturing them on video with a waterproof camera lowered in a cage.
But, in a lake covering 1,600 square miles and 1,000 feet deep, he has to narrow down the search. To learn where the sharks might lurk, he's trying to figure out what they eat. Maybe they feast on huge runs of red salmon that surge 75 miles up the Kvichak River after leaving Bristol Bay. Maybe they chomp on the seals, ripping out their midsections with a form of night vision that senses electromagnetic fields when animals move.
Legend also has it that the bottom reaches of the lake are filled with saltwater where the sharks can dwell year-round, and that maybe there's some sort of connection to Cook Inlet. It sounds like something out of McElligot's Pool in the Dr. Seuss classic of the same name. Anything's possible in McElligot's Pool, and who knows, maybe it's the same for Iliamna Lake. At any rate, Wright plans to check out the saltwater theory, too, lowering a meter that can detect salinity.
Withrow isn't convinced of the sleeper shark theory, though he admits he can't disprove it either
He's conducted about six aerial surveys per year since 2007, and he's never seen a sleeper shark from the air in the lake. Growing more than 20 feet long, they'd be visible in the lake's clear water. But that doesn't mean they're not there. Maybe they don't bother with the seals because there's enough fish to keep them full.
Withrow believes it's more likely the baffling creature is a sturgeon, a prehistoric fish with a long snout. They grow several feet long and are known for swimming up rivers and into lakes, a feat that in the shallow Kvichak River would be tough for a sleeper shark.
Or, maybe the sturgeon, or some other beast, has been there since the last Ice Age, waiting to be discovered, he said.
The sturgeon concept jibes with what Chad Anelon of Iliamna, a village on the lake's north shore, has always heard. He's never seen the lake monster, but he's talked with others who have.
They say "it looks like a sturgeon," he said. [Emphasis added-DD]
As for the lake's seals, Withrow expects to study them in greater detail soon. He works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but it's been a long process getting permits from the agency even to collect bits of samples from Native hunters, who enjoy an exemption for hunting those seals and other animals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. When those permits come through, as they soon should, Withrow also hopes to radio-tag the seals to track their routes. Then he just might learn their winter whereabouts.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)


  1. Actually, Greenland sharks (which are closely related to sleeper sharks) HAVE been found in freshwater, so the theory isn't totally baseless. Like of said before, there are a couple reports from the 80s which sound like sharks to me. It really depends on the sighting I guess; it's quite possible you could have both sturgeon and the occasional stray shark.

  2. Unfortunately in this case there was a previously-established theory that worked perfectly well. Scroll down and you shall see where one of the locals says that the Monster looks exactly like a big sturgeon. In this case, there was no necessity for an alternative theory to account for any of the sightings, which are rare enough anyway, and in trying to make the shark theory fit, the scientist has to assume deep holes in the bottom of the lake leading to the sea, underlying saline layers, etc, none of which have been proven. In short I see no necessity for invoking the shark theory without some additional and pretty explicit evidence. Nothing in the reports so far can be said to indicate a shark which could NOT indicate the sturgeon equally well. Besides which you do have allegations of sturgeonlike traits for the Lake Iliamna creature, such as the large scales or scutes, which cannot possibly refer to a shark. It is possible there could be the occasional stray shark. It is possible that you could have the occasional lost Orca also. But there is no observational evidence for saying that conclusion is warranted

  3. 4 tons for a 20 foot Greenland or sleeper shark seems very excessive. I'd estimate 1 tone would be nearer the mark.

  4. I imagine that is a projected estimate going by the square-cube law. A really big sturgeon could be 2-3 tons going by old records, but the heavier weight records seem to be females loaded with a lot of caviar


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