Tuesday, August 26, 2014

That's No Sturgeon

Lagarfljótsormurinn is the Nessie of Iceland. According to folklore, the creature is giant serpent that inhabits Lake Lagarfljót. For awhile now I've been pushing the idea that many of the mythological lake monsters around the world might in fact be very large sturgeons. The sturgeon is a great candidate in many ways - it can grow to a length of more than 20 feet, live for over a hundred years, and is prehistoric and pretty darn weird looking.

An alleged video of Lagarfljótsormurinn has recently been verified by a commission of experts first assembled in 2012, and whatever is in the video could not possibly be a sturgeon. The body is far too long and snakelike. Sturgeons have a large head that tapers back to a tail, and an arched back that can easily be mistaken for a hump, as in most of pictures of Nessie that haven't been debunked. But this one is clearly of something else.

The commission was given the task of determining whether a video of the alleged monster shot by Hjörtur E. Kjerúlf, which went viral, was authentic and whether he was entitled to a prize of ISK 500,000 (USD 4,300, EUR 3,300). “I was told about the commission’s conclusion and I’d like to say that I’m extremely pleased to confirm that the majority of the commission was right,” Hjörtur told austurfrett.is.

While concluding that Hjörtur’s video was authentic, the commission determined that a photo shot by Sigurður Aðalsteinsson, who had also made claim to the prize money, did not show the actual serpent. Hjörtur shot the footage through his kitchen window at farm Hrafnkelsstaðir in Fljótsdalur early one morning in February 2012.

The video was originally posted on the website of national broadcaster RÚV and, after Iceland Review reported on it, reposted multiple times. The video has now been watched approximately 8 million times and has prompted film crews from abroad to come to the lake in search of the serpent.

Back in 2012 a skeptic who examined the video concluded that it was probably of a misidentified inanimate object. But after examining the footage the commission has reached the conclusion that it does in fact depict some sort of creature. So what could it be? A snake would have to surface often enough that it would be spotted all the time, especially now that monster hunters are prowling the lake, so that leaves some sort of fish.

The biggest species of fish that looks anything like what's in the video is the conger eel, which is native to the North Atlantic, including the waters around Iceland. It can grow up to ten feet long, and with the zoom the scale is difficult to see in the video. The problem there is that the conger eel is a saltwater fish that could not live in a freshwater lake, and freshwater species aren't anywhere near as large.

Now the object in the video does look like it's swimming like a real animal would. It's possible that this is an optical illusion being created by something caught in the current, but if so it's a darn good one, and it's also possible that this could be some unknown species of fish. As far as I know there's no reason a freshwater eel couldn't grow as large or larger than a conger, but so far no such fish has ever been discovered.

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