Member of The Crypto Crew:

Please Also Visit our Sister Blog, Frontiers of Anthropology:

And the new group for trying out fictional projects (Includes Cryptofiction Projects):

And Kyle Germann's Blog

And Jay's Blog, Bizarre Zoology

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

CFZ Blog Reprints on The Water Horse

Thursday, June 04, 2009
DALE DRINNON: Origins of the Water Horse

The Water horse is a mythical animal frequently equated with the Loch Ness monster and similar creratures (as the Kelpie, etc.) It turns out that "Water horse" (and less often its counterpart "Water cow") are common names for the elk (moose in America) in parts of Scandinavia and Russia. At the end of the Ice Age, moose (elk) were common in the British Isles, including Ireland (not to be confused with the "Irish elk") but they were driven to the periphreal areas as the forests retreated. They lingered in Scotland into Roman times, it seems from subfossil remains, and they have been introduced there artificially in more modern times.[Including in the 1800s and more recently, accoding to the Wikipedia]

The thing is, the use of the name "Water Horse (Cow/Bull)" to mean elk/moose is not even controversial. It would seem that "Kelpie" was originally a mythologized elk (with its more horrific undead bogie version, the Nukelavee) and confused with the maned sea serpent.

Records of several such reports are at at Loch Ness. A report on a February night in 1934 by Patricia Harvey and Jean MacDonald, who saw a four-footed beast 6 feet high at the shoulder and perhaps 8 to 10 feet long that moved swiftly on land. They saw this creature at close range (20 feet, no doubt an underestimate of the range) and the creature was dark in color but had a white spot on the throat. It emerged from the woods and headed for the water.[Mackal, The Monsters of Loch Ness] But there were also a whole series of such reports recalled as childhood memories when the "Monster" flap occurred in 1933, and these "Camel" reports merged into traditional Kelpie reports. These ranged in date from 1879 or 1880 to 1919 or 1920 and their descriptions all matched this description, with minor variations due to lapses in memory (larger or smaller, lighter or darker in colouration, etc.)

Introduced Scottish Moose: And, In 1932 Colonel Fordyce and his wife reported a shaggy-furred, long-legged, long-necked camel-like creature (shown above). It crossed a road to get to the loch. This bizarre account is little known but was discussed at length by Mike Dash (1991).

Very likely this was the authentic local "monster" tradition and the identification with Kelpies is quite strong: the deascription of the size and color, and especially the camel-shaped head and neck exactly match a description of a European moose/elk, without antlers (the elk that have antlers are the males and then only in season; the latest native-Scottish elk remains seem to indicate that they had stunted antlers)

In Search Of Lake Monsters , quoting Sir Walter Scott in 1810 on pages 132-133, says "If I could for a moment credit the universal tradition respecting almost every Scotch loch, lowland or
highland, I would positively state that the water-cow, always supposed to dwell there, was the hippopotamus..
A monster long reported to inhabit Cauldshields loch, a small sheet of water in the neighborhood, has of late been visible to sundry persons...a very cool-headed, sensible man....said the animal was more like a cow or horse"

This looks very like the continuing tradition of the Scottish water-horse or water cow (which is also connected to rumors of similar creatures supposedly in Canada, Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, Mongolia and far-Eastern Siberia) is based on unsuspected survivals of the European elk (moose)

Eberhart in Mysterious Creatures on the Water-Horse entry lists a conglomerate category with the distribution given as "Scotland, Wales and Ireland, France, Italy, Czech Republic, Scandinavia, and Siberia. Legends have also migrated to Canada" Some of the Native American Water Monsters are also supposedly hooved, and split hooves are a common feature (even when supposedly representing a horselike creature, such as the Kelpie)

"Water bull" is given a separate category, as are Mongolian "Water cattle" elsewhere. The extended lump-listing of Water monsters as Eberhardt's appendix includes the Mongolian Water-cattle as well as other Water-horses-or-cattle in Switzerland, Eastern Europe, European
Russia and Northern China (Manchuria)

Some rough estimates from Eberhart's appendix on water monsters in Mysterious Creatures are: Out of 884 lakes, rivers and streams with monsters drawn largely from sources like Bord and Bord and L. Coleman, At a rough estimate, 3/4 of these locations are in the Europe-Russia-Canada-and-USA area, something over 600.

At another approximate reference, half of these areas, something over 300, include reports of "Water-horses, Water-bulls or Water-cows", horse-headed animals with moderate lengths of neck, sometimes blunt or forked short horns (antlers) and sometimes large ears, and furry or hairy humps. These reported animals are usually about 10 feet long to twenty feet ( length estimate doubled) but can be estimated as up to 100 feet long (by including the wake) The locations including such reports include British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Wisconsin, Montana, Wahington state, the Great Lakes, and specific locations such as Lake Champlain, Lake Okanagon, and Flathead lake. This includes the series of "Horse's Head" reports in Quebec, of an animal averaging 10-20 feet long but said to travel overland between lakes. A Fair word-picture for a moose.

All of which is rather mind- boggling when you consider the magnitude of what this means in terms of eliminating nearly the entire water monster category. The remainder of locations are
largely ambiguous or indeterminate, with a sprinkling of various minor fishlike, reptillian or mammalian water monster reports.. It is an enormous mishmash of all sorts of different reports and includes tropical as well as temperate freshwater monsters, and several known hoaxes.

Water Horse reports do include the New England area, with creatures in Maine and Connecticut that emerge from the water and travel rapidly overland, leaving cloven hoofprint ("Clawmarks"). These include reports recorded by Loren Coleman. Similar reports are common
up to Newfoundland (where they are clearly identified as the same Gaelic Water-horses)[Coleman, Eberhart]

One clear 1933 report of the Loch Ness Monster on shore indicates that the creature had cloven hoofs, and the tracks attributed to Ogopogo are the exact size of moose tracks. [Mackal,Costello]

Reports like this are actually mostly in fringing areas where moose/elk are supposed to be locally extinct or poorly recognized by "civilized" people, and such reports are only more rarely made by local hunting natives that depend heavily upon moose in areas where they are common and the natives are very familiar with them. Reports are usually made by farmers or city people, with a recurring number of people out boating. For example, consider the Flathead Lake Monster from internet sources:

"A woman wrote me a letter from Canada with perhaps the most interesting sighting. In the early 1970s she took a group of five girls from her church to the lake. She was a teacher at Flathead High at the time. The group spotted a deer frantically swimming to shore. Behind the deer a large wake was moving in fast. The girls screamed for the deer to swim faster and maybe it did, as it made it to shore just before whatever was in pursuit could catch up. The large wake
then fizzled out and disappeared and the lake was calm. The woman and all five girls to this day swear by what they saw.

Another person wrote me an email saying he knows somebody who has a videotape of the monster. The keeper of the tape doesn't show it much in fear of coming off as crazy. But the e-mail writer said it is not the usual long-distance grainy footage that could easily pass as a
hoax. It was taken from a boat with the creature - whatever it was - swimming close by.

Other people, who don't know each other, told me similar accounts of seeing a serpent-like large creature snaking through the lake. They all admit it could have been a natural feature distorted by the conditions, by light or ripples, but they doubt it."

--It should be noticed that the large wake following the frantically swimming deer was probably generated by the deer (frantic only in wanting to get to shore)And MOST of these accounts seem to be only unidentifiable wakes or waves in the water. The exact same occurance of a "Monster" wake chasing a deer in the water comes from the Ogopogo lake, Lake Okanagon.

Flathead lake is definitely one location with moose-antlered "Water Horses" being reported regularly. [Sanderson Archives] The Flathead Lake monster is usually reported as twenty feet long,dark in color and sometimes with a single hump on its back. A characteristic sighting was in 1960 by the Ziegler family when they went to investigate unusual waves near the shore of the lake. Mr and Mrs. Ziegler saw something rubbing up against the pilings of the pier as a cow would rub up against a post to scratch itself. Mr Ziegler went back for his gun and Mrs. Ziegler
saw a "horrible" head about the size of a horse's "with about a foot of neck showing". She screamed and Mr. Ziegler returned in time to see it swim off at speed. [PURSUIT article on Flathead Lake Monster]

This has all the earmarks of a moose sighting--the shape and size of the head, short length of neck, the way it rubbed up against the pilings and the way it swam off. It all fits: NONE of this is typical of the Long-Necked category of sea-serpents as defined by Heuvelmans (the kicker is absolutely that it does NOT have a long neck) Mr. Ziegler denied that it was a sturgeon and rightly so.

The original popularization of this matter was from The Mystery Monsters, sequel to The Maybe Monsters, by Gardner Soule and originally printed 1965, using accounts drawn from the Flathead Courier: no outside source seems to have taken notice before Soule's book (which includes the Ziegler account and is mentioned as a source in later Lake Monster books) One odd fact is that Costello quotes the same Flathead Lake reports as Soule, without citing any sources:
possibly he had them as quoted through an intermediary he does not seem to have named. Ivan Sanderson certainly knew of Soule's books.

Sanderson wrote his chapter on Lake Monsters in More "Things" in 1966 (as a magazine article later reprinted in the book) and mentions the Flathead Lake monster but not the source: He vaguely alludes to the Ziegler description (not an exact quote) and says similar reports come from Waterton lakes and Lake Payette. And they do, but Waterton Lakes also has "Baby Monster" reports that have nothing to do with the other reports. They are in the right size range to be ordinary otters. Both of these other areas have the standard "Water Cows" with long wakes, some of them with the initial antler spikes reported as "Horns". Flathead Lake does have a native tradition of a Water Monster with a full set of Moose Antlers.

Coleman cribbed most of this material in a later article for Strange magazine, where I believe the original Sanderson article was published first. When I went through Sanderson's files circa 1974, I saw the originals for these reports and some others of the Moose type from such places as Maine. along with some Long-Neck, but Sanderson did not differentiate the two, nor yet some fairly obvious reports of large seals. Dinsdale mentions getting material from Sanderson, and what Dinsdale actually mentions is in the More"Things" chapter as well.

Many of the nearshore sea sightings of "Merhorses" also seem to be moose sightings, including some in Scandinavia and some "Cadborosaurs" off the Northwest coast area. This does not mean sightings with necks ten to thirty feet long, but horse or camelheaded creatures with only a few feet of neck, usually about a yard (or a meter) Many of these sightings are during the winter, it seems, which is ordinarily a low point in regular sea-serpent sightings. Almost always any reports of great length are due to prolonged wakes as in "Super-otter" sightings. The wakes in moose reports are generally from 25 to 100 feet long, which happens to be exactly the size given by Heuvelmans for the Merhorse . However, he specifies only the one-humped sighting type--but goes on to mention "vertical undulations" and that clearly refers to the wakes.

Sanderson also emphasizes "vertical undulations" in freshwater reports that clearly refer to wake. The "One-humped" configuration also refer to the male moose's shoulder hump in other easily identifiable cases. Clear instances of this are reported from Colorado and Lake Manitoba-Winnepeg-Winnepegosis, in which cases the head-neck region is never much more than four or five feet long.[PURSUIT,Costello In Search of Lake Monsters]

Map Indicating the Boreal Forest or Taiga Zone

Range Map For European Elk (Moose in America)

Lake Monster Map, Red-Circled locations havae what sound like Moose Reports.

In Monster Hunt, Tim Dinsdale quotes Ivan T Sanderson from a long letter to him about the "Northern Water Monsters" in the Taiga zone, but he included Loch Ness in the category as well, mentioning that such animals in European Russia (and Sweden) were called Water-cows. Sanderson went on to refer to the Taiga zone creatures as "Northern Lake Monsters" or NLMs
The Taiga is the zone of Northern Coniferous forests and is the main habitats of the moose and elk. Heuvelmans gives the distribution of freshwater monsters in the same area as defined by isotherms, but it comes down to the same thing, The Water Horse/Lake monster's home range is the moose's home range. Water Horse or Water Cow is one of the recognized names for the Elk in the Uralic family of languages and it might also be in the original Indo-European (cf Equs to Elk) [Private communication to group from a Russian member] AND it now seems as if the term "Norhern Lake Monster" is synonymous to "Water Horse" and thus to MOOSE.

Water monster reports actually sometimes come with reported Moose-antlers: one of the early ones in Lake Champlain has this feature, as do other simlar reports in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Furthermore, traditional images of Water Horses or Dragon Horeses are shown with antlers or other such structures on the head that correspond only to moose antlers in Scandinavia, Central Europe, Siberia and Northern China. And Water Horse images in Karelia are definitely identified by some Archaeologists as representing elks.[Group photo album reference: album also illustrates swimming moose with "string-of-buoys" wakes-See top illustration on this blog entry]

I would probably be just as happy to say "the European and Siberian elk is sometimes called the Water-Horse and such traditions as cryptids generally refer to such creatures but mythologized"

Coleman, L. A Field Guide to Water Monsters
Coleman, L. . Cryptozoology A to Z
Eberhart, George M. 2002. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. 2 volumes. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Heuvelmans, B. In The Wake of The Sea-Serpents
Heuvelmans, B. 1986. Annotated checklist of apparently unknown animals with which cryptozoology is concerned. Cryptozoology 5: 1-26.
Mackal, RP. The Loch Ness Monster
Mackal, RP. Searching for Hidden Animals
Dinsdale Tim, Monster Hunt
Costello Peter, In Search of Lake Monsters
Sanderson, Ivan T. More "Things"
Sanderson Ivan T. Investigating the Unexplained
Sanderson, Ivan T Archives [The author had inspected these before they were dispersed]

Wikipedia and Other Internet sources on moose information

Saturday, June 06, 2009
DALE DRINNON: Perhaps the earliest Lake Champlain sighting...
It took a little searching through the archives to turn this up. It was incidentally the first report of any type I had heard about as coming from Lake Champlain.

In July 1937 some fishermen including Gene McGabe, Coots Gordon and Pat Harvey, reported a Champ near Whitehall New York. They saw it while fishing from a pier. They reported it as having a noticeable red mane, very large eyes and large drooping ears-and moose antlers. They estimated it as 50 feet long, and undoubtedly that includes at least part of the wake in the estimate.

The source is from a Syracuse NY newspaper dated July 22, 1937: The Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library had it as part of a compilation article at second hand, in their clippings file under "Sea serpents" at the Central branch as of the 1970s. That was far back enough that other items in the same file included announcements from the Loch Ness Phenomenon Investigations Bureau. And my reaction upon first seeing it was "You have GOT to be kidding!"

{The blog was posted by Jon Downes and I later corrected the title by specifying this was the first Lake Champlain report which I actually heard, not the first one on record)

Sunday, January 24, 2010
DALE DRINNON: I saw the moose today Oh Boy

[Continuing from earlier discussion] What I started out to quote is on pages 289-290 of Wilkins Secrets of Old South America, about Ogopogo. The pertinent part runs:

'In August 1933, the Great Okanagan monster got into the headlines of newspapers far away in Ottawa and Toronto, and even old London, England. The Indians believed he had died because he had not been seen for a long time. Then, lo, one morning, he suddenly appeared all a-foaming and a-blowing in the waters of Lake Okanagan! These waters are very deep. He was said to have the head of a sheep and body of prodigious size and girth.
The Indians further said he appeared but once a year, and when he does he signalizes his appearance with a noise like the explosions of the engines of a motor launch
[i.e, he appears at such a time as the winter ice is breaking up, that is what the noise comes from-DD] The stories import that the monster is a unique specimen of a fresh-water saurian of the sea-serpent type; for he is said to have a snout of canine appearance [a sheep's head is not canine and in this instance we are actually talking about the same sighting where Ogopogo was said to have a sheep's head five lines earlier-DD] and very large head appendages like the flapping ears of an African elephant.

These people said they saw the monster, and that they guessed he was more than 30 feet long [from the wake-DD]. They further said he rose to the surface close to the shore, nodded his flappers, and then submerged. He rose again, and then was no more seen.
A white hunter was told by the Indians that the monster was called "Ogopo"[!] and had been the theme of numerous stories told round the camp fire and in the wigwams."

[I think the usual term is 'Lodges' up there, more substantial and better-insulated structures than the term 'wigwams' evokes-DD]

Caddy=Moose and Ogopogo=Moose. The first version came from Cryptomundo, the second is mine. Depiction of either creature CAN include Moose antlers.

This paints a pretty vivid picture of Ogopogo rising to the surface amid much foaming and snorting, seeing people on shore, wiggling his ears, submerging, and then swimming off, submerged and unseen. And it is obviously a moose from those ears. Funny thing; big flapping ears were accepted as a normal and even identifying characteristic of the type all across Canada and as far as Lake Champlain in the 1930s.

I hate to belabour the point but it seems to be something most writers on the subject tend to overlook.

Roy Mackal in Searching for Hidden Animals (1980), Chapter XI, "Canadian Lake Monsters", gives this identikit description for Ogopogos on page 231:

'The animals look most like a log, elongated, serpentine, no thickened body centrally, about 12 meters (40 feet) long, although a range of smaller sizes have been reported and a few larger, up to say 20 meters (70 feet). The head tapers toward the snout and is somewhat flattened top to bottom. Comparison is most often made to the head of a horse, sheep, [snake] or alligator. Eyes are definitely reported large enough to be clearly noted [on the sides of the head and directed laterally-DD] Very occasionally a pair of protruberances referred to as "ears" or "horns" have been noted. Nostrils have not been noted as such [they have, on the cow-like or horse-like heads-DD] but "blowing" has been observed, although rarely [Less than 1% of the reports, about as common as references to long necks-DD]

The skin is described as dark green or green-black to brown to black and dark brown. Occasionally the color is given as gray to blue-black or even a golden brown. Most often the skin is smooth with no scales, although part of the body must possess a few plates, scales or similar structures compared to the lateral scutes of a sturgeon. Most of the back is smooth although a portion [along the spine] is saw-toothed, ragged-edged or serrated. Sparse hair or hair-like structures are reported around the head, and in a few cases a mane or comblike structure has been observed at the back of the neck. [Reports also speak of a forked tail, which Mackal assumes to be horizontal like a whale's rather than vertical like a fish's for no specific reason in particular-DD]...'

Mackal goes on to claim the description fits 'one and only one known creature, either living or in the fossil record,' and then gives the revelation that the description can only be a zueglodon like Basilosaurus.

THAT would be an unfounded and mistaken statement. The descriptions not only describe something else, they describe more than one thing, and things that are otherwise known locally. First off, the horse, camel, cow or sheep-headed creature described as having ears, horns and a mane, and a beard below the neck, which Mackal does not mention, is obviously a swimming moose, and the multiple humps that are seen are merely waves in its wake. Furthermore, it also LEAVES MOOSE TRACKS; the circular tracks 6 inches long seen entering and leaving the water's edge are moose tracks; moose tracks are commonly six inches long. The other irregular tracks 18 inches long by 12 inches wide are probably composite tracks made by fishing bears.

Now as to the main body of reports, it must be admitted that one main type of creature seems represented after ruling out mistaken observations of otters and beavers (which smack the water with their tails and cause the 'Spouting') is the log-like thing, probably a fish-predator as Mackal says from its behaviour, but only showing part of its back above the surface.

That would be the 'log' effect, 30 to 40 feet long and a yard wide, although there are other observations guessing this above or below the average. This is the creature that is ordinarily greyish or greenish-brown in colour, darker colours being due to shadows and the 'Golden' colour due to bright sunlight.

This creature has a jagged profile to its back and it has (specifically stated by Mackal) the scutes along its sides characteristic of the sturgeons. It is a big sturgeon something like the white sturgeons but estimated as being larger than the record at 20 feet (20 feet is the official record, smaller records are commonly quoted any more but they don't get so large generally any more due to over-fishing) So I am willing to call that an urecognised species of sturgeon allied to the white sturgeons and the Huso or white sturgeons (belugas) of Russia. As Mackal indicates, the same sort of creatures are spotted in other Canadian lakes, but I would estimate the proportion of moose to big fish sightings increases going eastward until the Manipogo bunch are characteristically moose sightings with some likely sturgeons, and eastward of Hudson's Bay, none of the reports seem to be the same obvious sturgeon types any more. At the more easterly locations, more of the reports seem to be possible giant otters and beavers. The 'Manatee' carcass reported at Lake Okanagan might be one of the giant beavers, though, if only for the hairy body and the paddle-shaped tail.

Authentic Ogopogo Petroglyph.

Below, Ogopogo goes after a seagull, one of the only "Long Necked" reports from this location.

White Sturgeon are known to be great leapers.

Scale showing record-sized sturgeon with a man.


  1. There are no wild moose in Scotland and have not been for thousands of years. So why suggest they accounted for 1930s sightings at Loch Ness?

    If there were elk roaming Scottish forests for centuries, I am sure at least one would have been shot or captured by our zealous game hunters.

  2. There have been reintroduced moose (elk) in Scotland at several different times including in the 1800s. They were introduced to be hunted and in fact they were hunted all along.

    As to the question of "Why should they be considered a candidate?" the answer is brutally direct: Because the descriptions match

    The important fact is this: Water Horsases are not Plesiosaurs and they never were. Water-Horses are legendary creatures that look like horses but go into the water Descriptions of the Loch Ness Monster which look like Plesiosaurs are not and never should have been confused with Water-Horses.

    Now up until the Loch Ness Monster hit the news in the 1930s, the only reports locally were Water-horses, save only for the odd reports such as made by Alfred Cruikshank. There were several reports of creatures seen on the shore and going on land, either coming out of or going into the water. These animals looked like horses or camels generally, stood about six feet tall at the shoulder were hairy and shaggy, had a hump on the back, long legs and occasionally even specifically cloven hooves.

    Basically there is no other candidate that comes so close to matching that description. And I must emphasize again, This has nothing at all to do with such reports as Arthur Grant's, which describe a Plesiosaur-shaped creature at Loch Ness

    The problem is in assuming all reports being called "the Loch Ness Monster" refer to the same thing. They obviously do not. This is a problem which plagues ALL Cryptozoology, in all categories of reports.

  3. Granted, but how many elk and how close to Loch Ness? I would speculate these very few Elk were kept on the landowner's estate and not allowed to escape.

    Agreed that water horses were never seen as plesiosaurs. The locals matched them to known animals of their time and they were seen right up to 1933.

    Your theory is not that much different to ideas that people mistake common deer for Nessie. How significantly different is the Elk, especially when one is far more likely to see a deer swimming across the loch?

    One area the descriptions do not match is that the creature submerges and stays submerged. Elk do not submerged (or deer).

    The Fordyce creature is unusual but frankly looks nothing like an elk (big head v small head). Other land sightings describe a creature nothing like an elk or deer. Pre-1933 land sightings also do not have the "expect a monster" mentality of witnesses but still they were startled by the unusual and frightening appearance of the creature. Elk or deer would not evoke such a response.

  4. Re: Glasgow Boy
    Owing to a technical error by Blogger, this conversation must be moved foreward to a separate sequel blog-posting. Your exceptions to the theory are however not very large and in fact you are completely ignoring the global nature of the situation (Far-Eastern Siberian reports, for example; or Ogopogo leaving moose tracks, for example, as it has done on several occasions)


This blog does NOT allow anonymous comments. All comments are moderated to filter out abusive and vulgar language and any posts indulging in abusive and insulting language shall be deleted without any further discussion.