Friday, July 27, 2012

A Lake Monster Revealed

Reports of lake monsters come from all over the world. Loch Ness in Scotland is particularly famous for the elusive creature christened "Nessie" in the media, but in fact most deep freshwater lakes produce stories of strange and inexplicable sightings. Skeptics usually do their best to separate out fraudulent reports made by people seeking media attention and then assign the rest to cases of mistaken identity or my personal favorite, "mass hysteria." This latter explanation has always made me chuckle because (A) mass hysteria can't be quantified or measured, (B) its mechanism is not understood, and (C) it gets used as a catch-all for reports that appear to be honest but could not possibly be a case of mistaken identity. In other words, there's really not much difference in scientific terms between stating that an event was caused by mass hysteria versus some sort of supernatural effect. Neither stands up to the formal scientific method.

Here's something that does. Take a look at this photograph, which is genuine and has not been digitally altered. What you are seeing is a picture of the largest white sturgeon ever caught, measured at 12 feet 4 inches long and estimated to weigh approximately 1100 pounds. It was caught in British Columbia's Fraser River, which is known for its a thriving sturgeon population. Now I suppose that makes it a river monster rather than a lake monster, but various sturgeon species inhabit freshwater lakes all over the world. They're not dinosaurs, but they're quite ancient as fish go, dating back to the Triassic period 200 million years ago in the fossil record. In addition to growing extremely large sturgeons also have very long lifespans. The white sturgeon in the photograph is estimated to be around a hundred years old based on its size.

This is a fish can explain a lot of lake monster sightings without recourse to nonsense explanations like the aforementioned "hysteria." Note that the sturgeon's back is humped, and it has both a dorsal fin and a tailfin that poke above the water when it swims close to the surface. Sturgeons will do that on occasion, but as bottom feeders like catfish they usually stay far underwater, so sightings of surface swimming are uncommon - just like lake monster sightings. Full sonar sweeps of Loch Ness have not turned up any definitive evidence of large fish or other animals, but sturgeons are bottom feeders. A sturgeon resting on a ledge or the floor of the lake probably would not have registered. In fact, one account I read when I was younger was from a diver who claimed to have run into something that "looked like a giant frog" resting on an underwater ledge in the murky water of the loch. I can easily see how the head of a sturgeon this size could look like that, especially from the angle of this second photograph.

So why do I bring all this up? I mean, besides the indisputable fact that a twelve foot sturgeon is cool. For all that skeptics will tell you that there are a lot of people out there seeking media attention connected with monster sightings, the reality is a lot less forgiving. Most of the time people who report sighting are considered frauds, cranks, or "hysteria" sufferers. And yet, here's an amazing creature that might very well resemble what a lot of those folks are seeing. It's not a cryptid, not a monster, but an unusual-looking fish - a really big one. To my way of thinking this is an interesting metaphor for magick, since it gets treated much the same way. As science represents the study of the entire material world, it is an inescapable conclusion that if magical phenomena can indeed influence the physical world they must be physical themselves, at least to the degree that they overlap into the material realm. Someday I hope to see the tools for measuring those influences developed, so we can put to rest the "hysteria" explanation once and for all.

Incidentally, the sturgeon was released after being photographed so it's still roaming the Fraser River, and given how long sturgeons live probably will be for some time. Like many ancient fish they also grow throughout their lives, so this monster sturgeon will only get bigger as the years go on.
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M.C. said...

Not for nothing but if I'm relaxing at a lake and see that sumbitch pop out of the water, I'd be calling it a monster too. Spawn of Cthulhu looking thing!

Scott Stenwick said...

Definitely! In fact, biologists believe that white sturgeons grow to around 20' long (!) meaning that this one is still not fully grown.

Imagine what a 20' white sturgeon would look like to any reasonable observer if it happened to break the surface of a lake or river. You'd get dismissed as a crank in two seconds flat, even if your story was 100% true.