Thoughts on Nessie

Over the last few weeks, there has been a number of news articles about the Loch Ness Monster in United Kingdom media outlets. A few days ago, the Scottish Sun reported that 2016 has had seven confirmed Nessie sightings—the most since 2000 when eleven reports were logged. In November, Nessie made headlines after an unusual disturbance on the loch was photographed.

All of the Nessie news has made me ponder the identity of the creature—if such a creature exists, and I believe that it probably does. Theories abound: Nessie is a plesiosaur; it is a Wels catfish; Nessie is some sort of large eel-like  monster; maybe an elephant, seals, otters—you name it, and it has probably been used to explain the Loch Ness Monster. One theory, though, really intrigues me—perhaps Nessie is a Greenland Shark.

If you are familiar with Animal Planet’s River Monsters, you may remember the episode when Jeremy Wade investigated the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. He theorized that a Greenland Shark might be behind the legends. This is a reasonable theory. Pacific Sleeper Sharks, a close relative of the Greenland Shark, are thought by some to be behind monster sightings in Alaska’s Lake Iliamna. The following is an excerpt from my first book:

There is another theory gaining traction that may be able to explain Illie and perhaps even other lake monsters. Biologist Bruce Wright, who is a senior scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, believes that the sleeper shark is responsible for many lake monster sightings. Wright believes that the sleeper shark matches descriptions of Illie in many ways, such as its size and coloring. Male sleeper sharks average about 14 and a half feet in length, and sharks measuring up to 23 feet long are not uncommon. According to Wright, the Pacific sleeper shark can weigh as much as four tons.

There are documented reports of Greenland sharks, a type of sleeper shark that lives in the cold waters around Iceland and Greenland, which have recently been found in the St. Lawrence Seaway. This proves that there are sharks that are able to survive in a cold, freshwater environment. According to Wright’s hypothesis, Greenland sharks could be responsible for monster sightings in Scotland’s Loch Ness. Wright believes that sleeper sharks move into lakes and rivers in search of food. Lake Iliamna and Loch Ness are both rich in salmon and other fish, making them prime feeding grounds for sleeper sharks.

Little is known about sleeper sharks. They prefer deep water, and scavenge along the bottom. They are found in small groups, and as scavengers, they rarely hunt. The deep-water, bottom feeding shark has little interaction with humans, and are rarely seen by people.26 The rare encounters with humans make them very mysterious and hard to observe.

According to Bruce Wright, not knowing a lot about the sleeper sharks and their behavior leaves questions when trying to determine if they are responsible for the Lake Iliamna Monster reports. Questions such as:

How long can they live in freshwater?

Are there instances of them spending entire winters in freshwater?

How long can they spend in rivers and lakes?

Additionally, Wright could like to have more information on the timing of the movement of sleeper sharks in and out of freshwater.

If legends are true, some of Wright’s questions about sleeper sharks and their ability to live in freshwater may not need to be answered in Lake Iliamna. Legend holds that the bottom depths of Lake Iliamna are filled with saltwater. If this is true, the bottom-dwelling sharks would find these pockets of saltwater to be quite hospitable. Further, there is speculation that perhaps a connection exists to Cook Inlet.

Another question Wright has about the behavior of sleeper sharks is whether or not they break the surface of the water. In many eyewitness reports, Illie is seen breaking the surface. In an interview with the Huffington Post Wright said, “What confuses me is this breaking the surface. I don’t know if sleeper sharks do that.”

Wright’s question about sleeper sharks breaking the surface may have been answered. In an article that Wright authored for the Alaska Dispatch News, Wright tells the readers of a video posted on YouTube of a sleeper shark rolling and thrashing in shallow water. Chris Babcock saw the shark in the shallow, brackish waters of King Cove Lagoon and was able to record its unusual movements. The incredible video can be viewed by following the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24QCOegc

 

I have long theorized that lake monsters could have exceptionally long life spans. This, in my mind, would eliminate the need for large colonies to sustain the population. You can imagine how elated I was when I read this story claiming that Greenland Sharks may reach ages of 400 years.

In many areas, especially where there is access to the ocean (or in a lake that was cut off from the sea), I think Greenland Sharks could explain the water monster phenomenon. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution—I strongly believe there are uncategorized creatures still unknown to science—but the mysterious shark fits numerous lake monster accounts in many ways.

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