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  Columnist: William B Stoecker

Image credit: Timothy O'Donnell

The dragon in the loch

Posted on Friday, 20 August, 2010 | 11 comments
Columnist: William B Stoecker

[!gad]People have always believed in and often reported seeing strange creatures unknown to zoologists. Today, such unknown animals, like the Yeti or Sasquatch are called “cryptids,” meaning simply that they are hidden or little understood, if they exist at all. Although new types of animals and plants are discovered all the time, usually the animals are insects or other small creatures, but sometimes, as with the discovery of a new species of ungulate in northern Vietnam a few years ago, they are quite large. And new species are discovered fairly regularly in the oceans, which average about three miles in depth and cover very roughly three quarters of our planet. Even large and previously unknown varieties of shark and squid are found from time to time. And then of course there are so called sea serpents, like the famous New England sea serpent of the nineteenth century, seen by dozens of supposedly reputable witnesses. The sea serpents as reported sometimes resemble giant eels or actual snakes; others reportedly resemble presumably extinct marine reptiles, most notably the long-necked varieties of plesiosaurs. Yet the sea serpents are often reported as having a row of humps on their backs and/or moving primarily in an up and down pattern. Fish (including eels) and reptiles move primarily from side to side and have limited vertical flexibility. Some writers and researchers have suggested that the sea serpents might be unknown types of whales, since some prehistoric whales had long, slender bodies, and whales, being mammals, are vertically flexible. Some have even wondered if some reports might not be a new kind of pinniped (seals, sea lions, and walrus are all pinnipeds) or even some kind of giant penguin. The problem with this is that mammals and birds are air breathing and must therefore spend most of their time at or near the surface, making it hard for them to escape capture and identification. And pinnipeds and penguins must come ashore to bear their young and lay their eggs.

The vast, deep oceans are one thing, but freshwater lakes, of limited depth and size are another, especially when they are far from the sea. It is only natural for people to look down into the dark and mysterious waters of a deep lake and imagine that some dreadful creature might live there, but how could similar creatures exist in a great many lakes not connected to one another and only remotely connected to the sea, often via narrow and shallow rivers? Yet they are reported by hundreds of witnesses in a score of lakes around the world, and there are even intriguing (though inconclusive) still pictures, films, and videos. We shall briefly examine four of these lakes.

The most famous is Loch Ness, located in Scotland’s Great Glen, which is a 400 million year old strike-slip fault. A number of monster-haunted lakes are in such faults, and this may be significant, for paranormal events and UFOs and mysterious lights seem to cluster in such areas. The infamous occultist, Aleister Crowley, at one time lived beside Loch Ness, which is some twenty miles long and at least 755 feet deep; some researchers have claimed that, in a few spots, it is over 900 feet deep. Stained by peat, the waters are dark and mysterious even near the surface, and visibility is limited. Supposedly, St. Columba, in 565 A.D., saved a man from being killed by a monster in the Loch. Also, legends of lake monsters called “kelpies” were common in Scotland before modern times; the monsters could supposedly come ashore and change into horses…and many descriptions of both dragons and modern sea serpents and lake monsters depict them with horse-shaped heads. Possibly the earliest modern sighting was in August, 1933, when a Londoner named George Spicer claimed to have seen a monster on land, crossing the new road alongside the loch and then entering the water. The year 1933 has a possible occult significance which I have discussed elsewhere, but the main reason for the sighting may simply have been the existence of the new road, giving more people easier access to the loch. The famous “surgeon’s photograph” was made in 1934, but Christian Sparling, the man primarily responsible for it, later admitted that it had been a hoax. Several other witnesses reported seeing the creature on land in the nineteen thirties. In December of 1954 researchers tracked on sonar something moving for half a mile at a depth of about 480 feet. There were more photographs, always inconclusive, and Tim Dinsdale’s film in 1960, which seemed to show something swimming in the loch…but what? Multiple 20 foot long sonar targets were tracked in 1968, ascending and descending from the lake bottom. Other researchers tracked a 20 foot sonar target in 1969, and, that same year, Vickers Limited sent down a submersible that picked up a sonar target. In 1970 Roy Mackal used hydrophones that picked up strange noises in the loch, somewhat resembling the echo location sounds made by whales. Operation Deepscan in 1987 picked up a sonar target 600 feet down.

Lake Champlain in New York, Vermont, and Quebec is part of the Great Appalachian Valley, which is a southern extension of the St. Lawrence fault…which, incredibly, is the west end of Scotland’s Great Glen fault, broken and separated tens of millions of years ago by plate tectonics, when North America split off from Europe and drifted west. The lake is some 110 miles long and 12 miles wide at its widest part, and about 400 feet deep at one point in the long, narrow channel running the length of the lake. Due to seasonal temperature changes, the lake produces deep seiche waves. There are plenty of lake trout and Atlantic salmon in the lake, perhaps enough to feed a community of large creatures, if they exist, if they are physical and biological in nature, and if they are carnivorous. Interestingly, most researchers seem to assume that lake monsters are predators…but suppose that they are plankton or plant eaters? There have been some 300 reported sightings of “Champ,” varying widely in description. The local Iroquois and Abenaki Indians believed a monster called Tatostok lived in the depths of Lake Champlain, but perhaps the first modern report was by Sheriff Nathan H. Mooney who, in 1883 claimed that he saw a 25-30 foot long serpent. In 1977 a woman named Sandra Mansi photographed something that looked like a plesiosaur in shallow water near shore, but, conceivably, the object could just be a log with a twisted branch. In 2003 the Fauna Communications Research Institute claimed to have picked up sounds somewhat resembling those made by whales (remember that much the same thing was reported from Loch Ness). In 2005 Dick Affolter and Pete Bodette videotaped something swimming just below the surface, but the video is available on the net, and it looks like a fairly large fish, perhaps a large salmon or a medium to small sturgeon.

In Montana, on the Flathead Indian Reservation, is Flathead Lake, about 30 by 16 miles in extent and up to 370 feet deep. The lake is in the southern portion of the Rocky Mountain Trench, which is (you guessed it) a strike-slip fault. The monster is usually reported as 20-40 feet long, and dark brown or blue-black in color, serpentine, and possessing humps along its back. It was reportedly seen in 1889 by James Kerr, captain of the steamboat U.S. Grant, and his passengers. There have been numerous reports since then; on at least one occasion witnesses reported seeing two creatures together, one much smaller than the other. A 1993 video shows a shape just under the surface, perhaps 12 feet or so in length. As usual, the evidence, while intriguing, is inconclusive, and there are known to be sturgeons in the lake. On the one hand they could presumably be the prey of monsters, but on the other hand these extremely large fish might themselves be the origin of at least some of the reports.

In British Columbia, well to the west of the Rockies but east of the Coast Ranges, is Lake Okanagan. This lake is some 84 miles long and up to three miles wide, and supposedly 1200 feet deep in places. There have long been reports of a monster (or monsters) living in the lake, called Ogopogo or Naitaka. In 1968 a man named Art Folden filmed a dark object in shallow water near shore. As is the case with all of the films, videos, sightings, and sonar contacts in all the monster-haunted lakes, this evidence is intriguing but inconclusive.

And this is a problem. On the one hand, the sheer mass of the reports, especially the many sonar contacts in Loch Ness, seems to argue for the reality of these creatures. Yet the evidence is always inconclusive. People lie; people misidentify fish and logs and long waves on the surface; photographs are inconclusive; and sonar can give false returns. And if the creatures are real, and if they are actual, physical animals, there has to be a breeding population with at least some genetic diversity in each and every one of these lakes. But if there are a great many creatures in each location, how have they avoided capture or at least clear and unequivocal photographic or video proof this long? And how could large animals have reached all of these isolated lakes? And, if they are animals, what are they? The idea that they are a remnant population of plesiosaurs is absurd. Plesiosaurs and other marine reptiles (they were not dinosaurs) lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, and no fossils of any of them have ever been found anywhere above the 65 million year old KT boundary (the date of the asteroid impact which may have finished off the dinosaurs). They were marine reptiles, not known to live in fresh water, and they lived in warm, tropical seas…not icy cold lakes. And they were air breathers. Perhaps some fairly common water animal, even an invertebrate, sometimes grows vastly larger than normal, morphing into a monster…this, although highly improbable, would at least do away with the problem of sustaining a breeding population of large creatures. For those of us who have become convinced that intelligent design, not Darwinism, explains evolution it seems at least remotely possible that, for mysterious reasons, the Supreme Being sometimes modifies existing life forms to create new species that fail to survive beyond a generation or so, and keeps doing it over and over, modifying, say, eels to create a new but short-lived species. But there is another possibility.

Most of the lake monsters and sea serpents resemble ancient accounts of dragons. No one has ever satisfactorily explained why dragon myths, often depicting very similar creatures, are found all over the world. European dragons included fire drakes which could fly and breathe fire and cold drakes which lived in the water, sometimes even in wells. The dragons were portrayed as huge reptilian creatures with long necks and tails, and long horns or ears (or both), and, in many cases, bat wings, and, often, dorsal spines. Their heads were often depicted as horse-shaped. The European dragons were often malevolent, and sometimes lived in caves. Interestingly, in the ancient Anglo Saxon poem Beowulf, the dragon, seen at night, resembles a UFO. Chinese dragons were similar, but had no wings (although they could fly), and had antlers rather than horns, and were seen as mostly benevolent creatures who had something to do with rainstorms. Dragons in general were regarded as intelligent beings, and were said to hoard and guard treasure. On the Ishtar Gate of Babylon (modern Iraq) is a painting of a dragon with horns, long legs, and no wings. In Mesoamerica Quetzalcoatl/Kukulkan is sometimes described as a man, and at other times as a winged and feathered serpent resembling a dragon. Could it be that ancient and medieval dragon myths and modern accounts of lake monsters are describing the same thing? Are the lake monsters/dragons actually paranormal entities who either lack physical bodies or create temporary bodies of air or water or whatever else is available? Are they perhaps identical with the “rods” videotaped by Jose Escamilla and others? Are at least some UFO reports actually caused by these creatures? Perhaps, as British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane suggested, reality is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.

William B Stoecker

Article Copyright© William B Stoecker - reproduced with permission.

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