A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Nessie and Us

Why we still love lake monsters

By Michael Mountain

I can never pass up a story about the Loch Ness monster … or her cousins around the world.

It’s not quite the same with Bigfoot and the Yeti. I do want to be sure no one ever captures them and puts them in a zoo, or worse, but they don’t have quite the same mystical sense about them.

Lake monsters, on the other hand, touch the soul. These elusive creatures inhabit the mists and mysteries that float across our lakes and our imaginations. They’re close by, but just out of reach. They come from eons past, are seen for a moment today, and then are gone again tomorrow. We can go to where they’ve been sighted, and maybe even catch a glimpse of something that might be them, but they’re always just out of reach – as they should be.


Mists over Lake Windermere. Photo by MonkeykingZX

The latest such glimpse is of a relative newcomer: Bow-Nessie. Bowness is a tourist village on the shore of England’s Lake Windermere. It’s rainy and foggy up there in the Lake District, and two visitors, kayaking on the lake one recent misty morning, say they saw the creature known as Bow-Nessie. Skeptics take issue with the photo, saying it appears to be taken from 9 feet above the water. Nine feet up in a kayak?

But believers won’t be denied the idea that Nessie’s cousin is hanging out in their own lake. And neither will the local tourist board.

As a relative newcomer, Bow-Nessie doesn’t have a lot of mythology yet. Her cousins around the world, however, are steeped in ancient tales.


Cave Rock, perhaps home to Tessie. Photo by Abel Jones

Cryptozoologists, who study reports of unknown animals, say that an interesting fact about Nessie and her cousins is that they mostly inhabit lakes that are at roughly the same latitude.

For example, thousands of miles away in Lake Tahoe, California, but at roughly the same latitude as Nessie and Bow-Nessie, there are half a dozen sightings of Tessie each year.

Jacques Cousteau, the French oceanographer, explored Lake Tahoe in the 1970s, after which he announced that the world was not ready for what he had encountered in its depths, more than 1,600 feet down – quite deep enough for a mythical creature who likes to guard her privacy.

An outcropping on one of the shores of the lake, known as Cave Rock, is also described as the Lady of the Lake because of the face that can sometimes be seen on its profile when the sun is in the right place. Cave Rock was sacred to the Washoe people, who spoke of a creature who inhabited the water around the rock. That area has been somewhat trashed by tourists, and Cave Rock is now officially closed to climbers. Still, people continue to claim to have seen Tessie in the water near the rock.


Lake Brosno, Siberia. Photo by Anaida Jilavyan

Across the Pacific, in Siberia, Lake Brosno is home to Brosnya, or the Brosno Dragon, whose sightings date back to the 13th Century.

Brosnya’s dragon-like nature is different from Nessie and Tessie. She’s more of a fire breather, boiling up from the depths and rocking the normally placid surface. Her physical form is thought by scientists to be made up of hydrogen sulphide gas bubbling up from below. But she may also be embodied in a small volcano that erupts from time to time, spewing water and vapors from the deep.

Local people continue to be grateful to Brosnya for having scared away the Tatar-Mongol army 800 years ago. They tell of a time when enemy intruders arrived at the lake and stopped to refresh themselves, only to be sent fleeing by a huge roaring creature who erupted from the lake and quickly dispatched them all home.

But Brosnya isn’t just an ancient legend. During World War II, she was credited with devouring a German plane.


Perhaps the head of Selma as she streaks across Lake Seljordsvatnet. Photo from GUST

A thousand miles to the west of Brosnya, across an often-frozen continent, we come to Norway and the beauty of Lake Seljordsvatnet, home to Selma.

The first report we still have of a Selma sighting is from 1750, when Gunleik Bo was sailing across the lake with a rowing boat in tow. The terrified man arrived at the shore, stammering that he’d been attacked by a “sea horse … so persistent that it overturned my boat.”

In 1920, Eivind Fjodstuft, who had gone out on the rocky shore to catch some fish on a calm day, said he saw a strange animal coming out of the lake and onto the rocks. She was about 30 feet long, all black, and with a head like that of a crocodile. When she saw him, she “slid down back into the water,” turning her head from side to side as if scouting and listening.

A group known as the Global Underwater Search Team (GUST) has been researching Selma for several years, and while many of the photos sent to them by other Selma searchers turn out to be tree trunks, the GUST team did capture some interesting audio from their underwater microphones.


Loch Ness guards the secrets of the queen of lake monsters

There are many more lake creatures, but our last stop for now takes us across the North Sea from Norway to Scotland and to the prima donna of lake denizens, the true Lady of the Lakes: the Loch Ness Monster.

The earliest known report of Nessie dates back 1,500 years to the story of Saint Columba saving a swimmer from a supposedly ravenous monster. Today, however, her image is much improved – more the benign, if always elusive guardian of the secrets of her lake.

Nessie was back in the news just a few weeks ago, with the announcement from retired police detective Simon Dinsdale that he will be devoting his future years to finding her. Dinsdale, who says he’s glimpsed Nessie twice, is following in the footsteps of his father, Tim, who captured the most famous footage ever of something he claimed to be Nessie. Specialists from Britain’s Royal Air Force analyzed the film and concluded it was not a boat or a submarine.

Lake monsters never fail to captivate. In a poll in Britain, a few years ago, Nessie ranked number one among the nation’s favorite mysterious quests, beating out both the search for Atlantis and the quest for the Holy Grail.

Nessie and her kind have always part of our cultural landscape. Clearly we need them. And perhaps, for their own survival in an ever more technological world these wondrous creatures need us, too, to keep their stories alive, and maybe – just maybe – their physical existence, too.

May they continue to enchant us … and to remain just out of our reach.