Lake Monster Mysteries

Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell. Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World’s Most Elusive Creatures, with a foreword by Loren Coleman. The University Press of Kentucky, 2006.

As Radford is the managing editor of Skeptical Enquirer and Nickell is the chief investigating officer of CSICOP, cynics might feel that if by any chance they came out in favour of the actual existence of exotic lake monsters, cryptozoologists would be too busy dealing with the deluge of reports of flying pigs to take much notice. Thus it is no surprise to find that we can leave our reinforced umbrellas to the side for the moment, for they come to clearly sceptical conclusions.

They do this on the basis of actual research and interviews particularly in the case of the alleged monsters of Lakes Champlain and Okanagan. The authors argue that the reports from both these lakes do not add up any single creature, and that they often contradict one another. They therefore argue that it is unlikely that these reports are generated by any one thing, rather they are the product of a great many more or less mundane phenomena often misperceived.

They also undertake a detailed analysis of the best known Lake Champlain monster photograph, that taken by Sandra Mansi in 1977, and conclude that the object was probably a log. It has to be said, however, that they make much of their first hand interview with Mansi, which revealed new details. However these interviews took place in 2002, 25 years later, and the same strictures we apply to believers relying on decades old eyewitness testimony must apply here.

The authors are on stronger ground when arguing that these monsters are essentially cultural phenomena, whose meaning alters over time. Cryptozoologists frequently claim long pedigrees for the monsters sometimes, in the North American cases claiming Native American legends as evidence. However the authors show that these monsters are not flesh and blood animals at all, but cosmic animals, symbols of the powers of wild nature, such as the N’ha-a-itk of Lake Okanagan, whose tail swishing caused the storms and which had to be appeared by blood sacrifice These are euhemised into ‘wild animals’ by modern day naturalists, and now they are being turned into completely tamed Disneyfied cuddly toys by the local tourist industries.

If Lake Monsters are symbols of the wild nature, then it is not surprising that they have a protean quality, having no fixed shape or size, or that their image is called into being by such diverse entities as lines of otters, eels, sturgeons, boats, floating logs and so forth, for they represent in some sense everything mysterious about deep, dark waters. That they are seen in modern reservoirs where no flesh and blood creature could possibly get, hints that even what we have wrought with our own hands can go wild on us and become part of non human nature. Peter Rogerson

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