I think spooky season came early this year, my brother, because I want to spend this episode talking about cryptids too! Most importantly, I want to discuss my favorite creatures of cryptozoological fame, LAKE MONSTERS.
Just like my obsession with UFOs and bigfoot, my lifelong love affair with lake monsters began in the library. During many of our random classes in the school library, I’d sneak off to the old books about scary stuff. It felt wrong and exciting to read what passed for “horror” books at the time (scary stories to tell in the dark, obvi), but what interested me most was the stuff that included REAL PHOTOS and SCIENCE about mythological creatures that totally, actually, existed.
I remember the small, hardcover book, the shiny sleeve long abandoned, about the Loch Ness Monster. I checked it out and kept it in my backpack. Long past the due date. It felt like a secret. It was something I’d unveil to friends when we had “SSR” (sustained silent reading–why is school so fucking weird). We’d look at the photos together and get super fired up. It was astonishing to me that Nessie was for sure alive in the depths of Loch Ness, and the adults around the world were more concerned with bullshit.
Into middle school, as I realized I was more of a nerd than anything else, my friends and I started what we called “The Discussion Group,” which met on Wednesdays to discuss cryptozoology shit. I’m not kidding. We did this. We sat in a circle, all the books about the loch ness monster, bigfoot, and UFOS, and just talk about it. We had hours-long conversations about these things. We modeled the perfect type of student engagement, we just weren’t in the classroom. None of my classes talked about Nessie.
We continued to meet after school at the public library on Wednesdays, all the way into our eighth grade year. However, the topics were soon replaced by boring-ass middle school politics. We stopped checking out books on our favorite cryptids. We stopped going into the library at all and instead sat outside on the benches, pretending we understood what girls liked.
By high school, my important pursuit of the truth around lake monsters disappeared. I was forced to spend all of my time playing sports and engaging in social affairs. Once again, none of my extracurriculars even MENTIONED lake monsters. Not a reference to the famous photo of the Lake Champlain monster, Champ. Nobody cared that the surgeon’s photo of Nessie was a fake. People talked about college and other dumb stuff.
The ultimate betrayal of my cryptozoological origins occurred in my first year of undergrad. I took a very interesting course with an anthropology professor about myths and hoaxes. We studied what makes something real (science and evidence) vs. a myth (pure anecdote passed down). I chose to write my final research paper on the myth of bigfoot. I roasted my old self who once believed fully in bigfoot, and I lumped that belief in with lake monsters. I don’t know what headspace I was in when I wrote it, but clearly I wasn’t interested in how sixth grade me would have taken it. It was all about real vs. fake. Myth vs. reality.
I understand the necessity for establishing clear distinctions between the two. OBVIOUSLY. We need to know some objective truths for the material world to function. We need accurate health, climate, and political information, which very few of us receive. However, there’s another world, the world of stories and myths, that we are too quick to cast off when we become QUOTE “educated” in the ways of academia and science. I ask, what is the harm in cryptozoological belief? Why do the stories and sightings of lake monsters exist even though we’ve demonstrated that many of them are hoaxes or misidentifications? Let’s talk about this lifelong obsession of mine that I’ve relegated to a back-corner of my brain.
Part TWO: We’ve been talking about water monsters forever
Sea monsters make a bunch of sense. Think about the first people who ever looked out upon the ocean and imagined the horrifying creatures it held.
WELL, those creatures DID and DO exist. If you ventured out into the ocean thousands of years ago, you were likely to see whales, sharks, possibly giant squid, octopuses, manatees and dugongs, saltwater crocodiles, and a number of otherworldly creatures. It only makes sense that early humans talked about monstrous creatures in the deep–they were REAL.
It makes sense that two of the most famous obstacles in Homer’s The Odyssey are Scylla and Charybdis, sea monsters that inhabit two sides of an ocean crossing that Odysseus must pass. The ancient Greeks knew that the sea held terrifying wonders.
Seafaring civilizations around the world have recognized monsters of the sea, but interestingly, the monsters of our lakes are everywhere in folklore as well. It makes sense to me. Water is water, and the deeper the water, the greater possibility of horrors lurking beneath the surface. Though Nessie, Champ, and Ogopogo get lots of credit, legends of lake monsters are on every continent and nearly every culture.
A kelpie, or water kelpie (Scottish Gaelic: Each-Uisge), is a shape-shifting spirit inhabiting lochs in Scottish folklore. It is usually described as a black horse-like creature, able to adopt human form. Almost every sizeable body of water in Scotland has an associated kelpie story, but the most extensively reported is that of Loch Ness.
Lukwata (Luganda for 'sea serpent', the nominal form of kukwata, lit. 'to seize') is a legendary water-dwelling creature in Baganda folklore, said to be found in Lake Victoria of Uganda. It has been described as 20–30 feet long, with dark smooth skin and a rounded head, and known to attack fishermen and boats
the Mokele-mbembe (also written as "Mokèlé-mbèmbé", /mowkəl-mbɛmb/[dubious – discuss]), Lingala for "one who stops the flow of rivers", is a water-dwelling entity that supposedly lives in the Congo River Basin, sometimes described as a living creature, sometimes as a spirit. Those that heard or that allegedly saw the entity describe it as a large quadrupedal herbivore with a smooth skin, a long neck and a single tooth, sometimes said to be a horn. The Mokele-mbembe is especially weird, because the stories of it drew “new earth creationists” to Central Africa to try and find the creature as a means of disputing the theory of evolution. Fucking people.
You can find resources about dozens of lake monsters in indigenous American folklore. Some of them are considered evil, while others require tribute for good luck. They take many forms. There is Aglebemu (ah-gluh-beh-moo), the giant frog of Penobscot legend, heent-sabb-eet, a horned serpent of Arapaho legend, and kih-chee ott-hoo-suss of the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy nations, which is your typical serpentine lake monster who eats people.
Part 3: Lake Monsters are on the ballot! (This title is meaningless, but I just wanted to say that). The title of this part SHOULD BE “Some famous Lake Monsters”
We know that lake monster legends have existed for thousands of years. They make up important components of culture and traditions. In the modern world, our fascination with legend gives way to the phenomenon of sightings and documentation. Lake monsters don’t only exist as legends, but as elements of the tangible world. In conjunction with the ascent of “SCIENCE” as the dominant means of thinking in the world, these legends gave way to speculation and inquiry.
HOW could lake monsters be real, and in what specific conditions?
What kind of species might they be?
Of the thousands of potential lake monsters, which claims should we take most seriously?
How do we authenticate sightings and photos?
We gotta address the plesiosaur in the room, Nessie. The Loch Ness Monster. The most famous lake monster in the world. Nessie is THE legendary legend, and the monster that got me so invested in Cryptozoology as a kid.
Loch Ness is a large lake in the Scottish highlands. It’s fed by the river Ness, and is the largest lake by volume in the British Isles, and the second deepest in Scotland at 755 feet. Loch Ness contains more water than all of the lakes in England and Wales combined. It's a big LAKE.
The first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness Monster is from 565, when Irish monk St. Columba was confronted by the beast and he did a sign of the cross and said some shit and the beast backed off. Sounds legit, right?
Since then, there have been dozens of high-profile sightings and many more others. Most famous among them in the Surgeon’s photograph, a proven hoax, that depicted a shadowy plesiosaur-type creature emerging from the water. You’ve seen the close up image, but if you see the entire photo, it’s pretty clear that the thing is small and in water too shallow for an animal purported to be so huge.
When I was a Nessie True Believer, I was armed with facts, most notably that the preponderance of sightings coupled with the depth and size of the loch couldn’t be based on nothing. My THEORY as an 11-year old was that there were multiple monsters who had descended from a group of plesiosaurs that were sequestered in the Loch after they found their way from the sea. I was a little scientist.
Since the period of photos and obvious hoaxes from the 1930s-1970s, there have been attempts to find Nessie through Apple Maps and Google Street View. Neither yielded definitive evidence, but they don’t seem to be that invested in the damn thing. These billionaires should do something interesting for once and SONAR the entire Loch.
Robert Rines: Possibly the dopest Nessie believer and researcher was Robert Rines, an MIT grad, inventor, attorney, composer, and SONAR pioneer. Rines had a Nessie hunt sponsored by the New York Times, and at one point he wanted to equip trained dolphins with cameras and lights to swim around the Loch in search of Nessie. This didn’t happen because one of the dolphins died and obviously it sounds like a wacky idea, but Rines was a goddamn genius and he thought it through. By the time Rines died at age 87, he had concluded that the monster existed at one time, but probably was dead now.
There was an attempt to scan the entire Loch in 1987 when Nessie hunter and marine biologist Adrian Shine led ‘Operation Deepscan’ – at the time, the most extensive search of Loch Ness ever conducted. Over the course of two days, a flotilla of 24 boats equipped with echo sounders carried out a full-length sonar sweep of the loch. They didn’t record any compelling evidence. “On three occasions, contact was made with objects in deep water that couldn’t be identified, nor relocated when investigated later.”
HOWEVER–in October 2020, sonar images the "most compelling" and startling evidence of the existence of a Loch Ness Monster after an unusual recording more than 500ft below its cold surface. But now another contact with a large creature just above the 607ft loch bottom.”
The image was captured by Ronald Mackenzie of Cruise Loch Ness. The sonar manufacturers have now told Mr Mackenzie that the contact is a single, animate object, estimated to be between 15ft to 20ft long.
No one can verify what it is, but it would be odd for many of the loch’s fish to be swimming that deep or for them to be that fucking huge. SOme suspect it’s a seal, but I’m skeptical of that. A 20 foot seal? Fuck you! Pretty much, we might be seeing nessie with these sonar images. What the fuck!
Lots of theories of what Nessie could be if not a plesiosaur-type dinosaur. The most common theories include giant catfish, sturgeons, seals, and huge eels.
Nessie is an institution. People devote their entire lives to the creature, and the economy of those who live around and near the loch is inextricably tied to Nessie’s mystery.
According to lochnesssightings.com, the OFFICIAL record of Nessie sightings, there have been 1,142 sightings of nessie. This is quite possibly the greatest website ever made. It has the aesthetics of a really dope 2004 site, and sightings are categorized by year. It also has an “essential facts” page, a “scientific evidence” page, a “hoaxes” page, and a “lake monsters worldwide” page. I know we have our own website called fatguyjackedguypodcast.com, so after you go there and become a patron, go to lochnesssightings.com.
For my brother, the Lariosauro Monster, aka Larry in Lake Como, Italy: At an astounding 1,345 feet deep, Lake Como is one of the deepest lakes in Europe. With its seemingly bottomless depth, it’s impossible to know what lurks in the shadows, which is how the legend of “Lariosauro,” the local lake monster, came to be. Lariosauro, or “Larry” as he is often called, was first spotted by a fisherman in 1949. Eight years later, a deep-sea diver claimed to have seen a reptilian lake creature with the head of a crocodile. More recently, in 2003, a giant, eel-like creature was spotted near the city of Lecco by a group of fishermen, with reports claiming it was at least 30 feet long. Strangely enough, there is proof of the one-time existence of a creature like Larry. In 1830, the fossil of a creature with a flipper and reptilian legs was found on the shore of Lake Como
Lake Tota Monster (Colombia): The earliest reference in modern history was made by the conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. He described the monster as "A fish with a black head like an ox and larger than a whale" (Lucas Fernández de Piedrahita, 1676) and Antonio de Alcedo, 1788)). The monster was also defined as "a monstrous fish", "a black monster", and even as "the Dragon" and as a "divine animal archetype" (2012).
When referring to a sighting, an additional citation brings certainty to the matter:
"Quesada says that in his time, trusted persons and the Indians affirmed that it was the devil; and for the year six hundred and fifty-two , when I was at the place, Doña Andrea Vargas, lady of the country, spoke about having seen it.
There have been many references to the Lake Tota monster throughout history, and its origins come from the indigenous Muisca peoples whose early writing described it as a black dragon.
Champ: this is America’s quintessential lake monster. Lake Champlain is huge, which is always good for lake monster myths, though it isn’t as deep or mysterious as Loch Ness. Tons of people have lake houses on Lake Champlain, and it occupies Vermont, New York, and Canada. What I’m trying to say is that lake Champlain isn’t as SPOOKY. The Mansi photo from 1977 is the most famous photo of Champ, although most investigators have determined that the photo is most likely a decomposing tree trunk, the photo is one of those amazing pieces of “evidence” that inspires hope for the existence of lake monsters. There have been many sightings of Champ, and even videos that claim to show Champ. Unfortunately, most of these videos are hoaxes or videos of other animals. Lake Champlain is not as deep as Loch Ness, and Champ is less well-known than Nessie. He is, however, the American Nessie, and we love him for that.
Ogopogo: In British Columbia, Ogopogo is the native monster to Lake Okanagan According to Radford, the Ogopogo is "more closely tied to native myths than is any other lake monster." Several First Nations peoples regarded the Ogopogo, which they called the Naitaka, as "an evil supernatural entity with great power and ill intent." The word has various translations, such as "water-demon", "water god", or "sacred creature of the water". In native lore, Naitaka demanded a live sacrifice for safe crossing of the lake. For hundreds of years, First Nations would sacrifice small animals before entering the water. Like Nessie and Champ, Ogopogo has been sighted many times and some blurry photographs exist. Ogopogo is described as a giant snake or a plesiosaur, obviously. One interesting photo of Ogopogo was taken in 2008 by this dude Sean Viloria, and it appears to show a reddish/white long-necked object rising from the lake. It’s too blurry to reveal anything, but it’s the best we’ve got with fuckin Ogopogo. Lots of experts think that people are seeing otters or maybe sturgeon, but there aren’t any sturgeon in Lake Okanagan.
PART FOUR: Hoaxes and our obsession with “proof”
There have been several famous Lake Monster hoaxes over the years, mostly following the Nessie popularity explosion of the 1930s. If you search now, totally reputable publications like the New York Post and The Daily Mail still keep up with Nessie sightings and treat each one as the real deal. Honestly, I kind of appreciate this, because why the fuck not? Sure, it might not demonstrate “journalistic integrity,” but it is FUN.
British surgeon Colonel Robert Wilson claimed he took the photograph early in the morning on April 19, 1934, while driving along the northern shore of Loch Ness. He said he noticed something moving in the water and stopped his car to take a photo. For decades this photo was considered to be the best evidence of the existence of a sea monster in the Loch. But Wilson himself refused to have his name associated with it. Therefore it came to be known simply as "The Surgeon's Photo."
Loch Ness Muppet: May 21, 1977: Anthony 'Doc' Shiels claimed that he took this picture while camping beside Urquhart Castle. Its startling clarity (it's probably the clearest picture of Nessie ever taken) has made it popular with the public. But it's hard to find any expert willing to take it seriously, simply because the creature depicted in it looks so obviously fake. (And it's odd that there are no ripples in the water around the neck.) Skeptics refer to Shiels's monster as "The Loch Ness Muppet." The fact that Shiels was a showman, "wizard," and psychic entertainer who was developing a side business as a professional monster hunter didn't help his credibility. Shiels himself commented that while he definitely took photos of lake monsters, he didn't believe in them.
Flipper Photo: August 7, 1972: An expedition to find Nessie led by Dr. Robert Rines of the Academy of Applied Science struck gold when its underwater camera took a picture of what appeared to be the flipper of a large aquatic animal resembling a plesiosaur. However, the relatively clear image of a flipper shown to the public was not quite what the camera had initially recorded. The initial image was far less distinct. (It basically looked like a shot of a bunch of bubbles or sediment in the water.) The dude touched up the flipper photo.
Other Lake Monster photos have been revealed as hoaxes. This is something people do for fun now, though in the past you could get serious notoriety with a solid hoax photo. People could sell photos and shit.
I don’t know where I fall on the spectrum anymore. I am obsessed with proof as much as the next guy, but I want lake monsters to exist. I want the stories and sightings to be true.
I don’t want to extinguish wonder anymore! Hoaxes suck, but they also allow us to imagine a world where ancient monsters live peacefully in the terrifying depths.