Alaskan Lake Monster Busy Again

New sightings of the Iliamna Lake Monster have occurred recently reminding folks of the massive beast rumored to lurk in the depths of the lake. John Schandelmeier, reporting for the Alaska Dispatch News, wrote a piece on June 28th in which he discussed old sightings as well as new ones. A couple of highlights:

On June 19, some kids spotted an unrecognized creature the size of a large whale offshore near the town. A day or so later, others in Kakhonak also saw the creature. A village resident, Gary Nielson, gave Dillingham radio station KDLG the following account:

“There was more than one, at least three. The first was the biggest, maybe double the size of a 32-foot gillnetter. The animal either blew like a whale, or spit water from his mouth or something. The smaller animals behind him did the same but not as dramatic. They were black or very dark gray. They surfaced like whales for maybe two to three seconds about a mile off-shore. I am at a total loss as to what they could be.”

There have been many sightings of a lake monster over the decades. This one stands out in that there were at least six adults and a number of children present. Two adults had binoculars. All agree as to what they saw.

I devoted a section to Illie, the monster of Lake Iliamna in my book People are Seeing Something.

The following is an excerpt from my book:

“Illie” Sightings

As mysterious and wondrous as Lake Iliamna is, with its majestic landscapes, diversity of wildlife and natural resources, maybe the greatest wonder of all is Illie, the Lake Iliamna Monster. Illie is described by witnesses as being a very long, slender fish, up to 30 feet in length. The massive fish is often said to have a body that is “aluminum-colored.”15

As stated earlier, Illie gained fame when pilots started noticing enormous fish from the air during the 1940s. Babe Alsworth was one such pilot. Alsworth saw something in Lake Iliamna while flying over it in 1942. According to Alsworth, he spotted several animals in a shallow part of the lake. Each animal was over 10 feet in length, with fish-like tails, and they were dull, aluminum colored.

Larry Rost also saw something in the lake matching Alsworth’s description in 1945. Rost was flying at a low altitude when he had his sighting. However, Rost estimated the length of the fish that he saw to be over 20 feet.16

Alaska Magazine ran an article in 1988 of an alleged sighting. An unnamed state wildlife biologist claimed to have seen a 25-30 foot creature when flying over the lake in 1963. He watched the animal for ten minutes and said that it never came up for air. In other media reports, a geologist claimed to see four fish measuring 10 feet in length while flying over the lake in 1960.17

In 1977, air taxi pilot, Tim LaPorte, saw something in the water similar to descriptions of Illie. LaPorte and his passengers saw something dark gray or brown that had an estimated length of 12-14 feet. At first, the creature was lying still, but as the plane approached it splashed and dove straight down into the water.

LaPorte had another encounter with Illie in 1968, although, on this occasion, he did not actually see the creature. LaPorte was a passenger on a plane in which two passengers saw something typical of most Illie reports. LaPorte was unable to get a glimpse of the animal from where he was sitting.18

Some notable attempts to capture, or at least find Illie, were made in the 1950s and 1960s. Tom Slick, a cryptozoology enthusiast, hired Babe Alsworth to perform an aerial search of the lake. Unfortunately, the search did not yield any results.19

An expedition was launched in 1966 to search for the creatures, but again, nothing was found. Interest in the creature(s) was so great, that by 1979 the Anchorage Daily News offered a $100,000 reward for anyone who could provide tangible evidence of the creature. Nothing was found, and the reward did not have to be paid out.20

In 1988, a mass sighting occurred near the village of Pedro Bay. Three people in a boat and several others on shore saw a creature similar in nature to typical Illie descriptions. However, witnesses described the animal as being black in color rather than the “dull aluminum” color common to so many other reports.

Today, the aforementioned Pedro Bay and the village of Iliamna are where most sightings occur.21 However, sightings have decreased considerably since the giant fish burst onto the scene in the 1940s.

Theories on the Identity of the Creature

Not surprisingly, when a cryptid is described as a large fish, the sturgeon tops the list of candidates to explain the identity of the creature. Sturgeons match Illie descriptions in many ways and the prehistoric fish is often mistaken for monsters in other lakes. Sturgeons have long life spans and are capable of growing to enormous sizes. With their armor-like scales and dull color, a sturgeon can appear to have the “aluminum color” so often reported with Illie.

There is another theory gaining traction that may be able to explain Illie and perhaps even many other lake monsters. Biologist Bruce Wright, who is a senior scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, believes that the mysterious, little-known sleeper shark is responsible for many lake monster sightings.22 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.23 According to Wright, the Pacific sleeper shark can weigh as much as four tons.24

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.25

Little is known about the mysterious sleeper shark, many people have never even heard of them. The sleeper shark prefers deep water and scavenges along the bottom. They are found in small groups and being scavengers, they rarely hunt. The deep-water, bottom feeding shark has little interaction with humans, and are rarely seen by people.26 The rarity of encounters with humans make them mysterious and very hard to observe—it is difficult to gain an understanding of their behavior….

Notes

  1. Speigel, “Alaska Lake Monster May Be Giant Sleeper Shark, Biologist Claims.”
  2. Matt Bille. “What Lies Beneath Lake Iliamna?” Alaska Science Outreach. October 24, 2004. Accessed March 8, 2015. http://www.alaskascienceoutreach.com/index.php/features/sis_parttwo/what_lies_beneath_lake_iliamna.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Speigel, “Alaska Lake Monster May Be Giant Sleeper Shark, Biologist Claims.”
  6. Ibid.
  7. Bille, “What Lies Beneath Lake Iliamna?”
  8. Speigel, “Alaska Lake Monster May Be Giant Sleeper Shark, Biologist Claims.”
  9. “Pacific Sleeper Sharks, Somniosus Pacificus.” MarineBio.org. Accessed March 8, 2015. http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=382.
  10. Bruce Wright. “Scientist Wonders If Nessie-like Monster in Alaska Lake Is a Sleeper Shark.” Alaska Dispatch News. May 3, 2012. Accessed March 8, 2015. http://www.adn.com/article/scientist-wonders-if-nessie-monster-alaska-lake-sleeper-shark.
  11. Wright, “Scientist Wonders If Nessie-like Monster in Alaska Lake Is a Sleeper Shark.”
  12. “Pacific Sleeper Shark Facts & Stats.” SharkSider. Accessed March 8, 2015. http://www.sharksider.com/pacific-sleeper-shark/.

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