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Exploring American Monsters: Alaska

 

Alaska is big. At 663,300 square miles, it’s about the size of Germany, Poland, and France. To put its size into perspective, if Alaska were a sovereign nation, it would be the 18th largest country on the planet. This picturesque state is filled with scenic (if not cold) ocean views, thick forests, the highest mountains in the United States, 100,000 glaciers, and abundant wildlife, but with a population of 737,259 (about the size of Detroit, Michigan, half being in the Anchorage metropolitan area) the one thing it’s not filled with is people; just 1.2 per square mile. Alaska also has 6,640 miles of coastline, which is greater than all the other states combined. That’s a lot of open area for bear, moose, and killer whales, but it’s also a haven for monsters.

Living Mammoths

From the Pliocene Era (5 million years ago) to the early Holocene (11,700 B.C. until now), various species of mammoth lumbered across North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Although science agrees the species went extinct about 10,000 years ago, one pocket of woolly mammoth was still alive on Russia’s Wrangel Island until 1650 B.C. The pyramids at Giza were already 1,000 years old at that point. Chew on that for a while.

However, a smattering of reports claims the 11-feet tall, 6-tonne animals have lived into modern times. Footage in Russia shot by a Nazi photographer during WWII apparently shows a woolly mammoth walking through the snow. American Indians in Canada have stories of these tusked beasts living in the northern wilderness.  There’s also this case published in the 28 November 1896 edition of The Portland (Maine) Press of Col. C.F. Fowler who heard of woolly mammoths in Alaska.

According to the article, Fowler was in Alaska to purchase ancient mammoth ivory from the local Inuit Indians when he noticed blood and rotting flesh on the roots of some tusks. When Fowler asked an elder where the tribe got the tusks, the elder told him, “less than three months before a party of his young men had encountered a drove of monsters about fifty miles above where he was then encamped, and had succeeded in killing two,” Fowler wrote.

When Fowler spoke with the hunting party they described a creature from another age.

“Their ears were suddenly saluted by a chorus of loud, shrill, trumpet-like calls, and an enormous creature came crashing toward them through the thicket, the ground fairly trembling beneath its ponderous footfalls,” Fowler wrote. “They were armed with large caliber muskets and stood their ground, opening fire on the mammoth. A bullet must have penetrated the creature’s brain, for it staggered forward and fell dead.”

In the article Fowler also said Alfred P. Swineford, second governor of Alaska, claimed there were “large herds of these monsters” above Snake River and Alaska’s Seward Peninsula.

If these giants of the past are still live, Alaska would be the place. Nice weather for it.

Iliamna Lake, Alaska. Home to a camp, that looks suspiciously like Camp Crystal Lake from "Friday the 13th."

Iliamna Lake, Alaska. Home to a camp that looks suspiciously like Camp Crystal Lake from “Friday the 13th.”

Iliamna Lake Monster

In a sparsely populated area of southwest Alaska (the number of residents in the entire region was 109 in 2010) lies the 1,012 square mile Iliamna Lake, home to Chinook salmon, lake trout, northern pike, and Ilie, the Iliamna Lake Monster. The lake itself, 77 miles long, 22 miles wide, and 988 feet deep, is the largest lake in Alaska, and capable of hiding the 30-foot long, square-headed beast.

The monster, known as Gonakadet by the native Tlingit Indians, was viewed as a god having the body of an orca, and the head of a wolf, and was known to eat fishing boats. Early Russian explorers reportedly saw the creature at Iliamna Lake, and sightings have continued to this day. Modern reports come from explorers and biologists who have seen the 30-foot monster, sometimes described as aluminium coloured, other times as black with a white stripe. One report has an airplane snagging the beast with a tuna hook; the monster towed the plane around the lake before those aboard could release the cable.

Experts have claimed the Iliamna Lake Monster is everything from a white sturgeon, to a sleeper shark, to a beluga whale, all of which can reach a length of about 20 feet and have access to the lake, but the locals know better. Iliamna Lake is home to a monster.

Is this what swims beneath the waters around Kodiak Island?

Is this what swims beneath the waters around Kodiak Island?

Kodiak Dinosaur

Kodiak Island lies just 176 miles from Iliamna Lake, and is the scene of another sighting of a water monster. The shrimp boat Mylark, equipped with state-of-the-art sonar equipment, spotted something in the waters off Kodiak the people aboard could only describe as a dinosaur.

The boat coasted past the island in 1969 attempting to map the sea floor when the equipment detected an object swimming about 330 feet below the Mylark – the object was 200 feet long. The largest living sea creature, the blue whale, only reaches 100 feet in length, and doesn’t fit the description of what the crew of the Mylark saw that day – a creature with a long, thin neck topped with a small square head, two pairs of flippers, and a long, slender tail.

The crew thought they’d seen a dinosaur.

Ladies and gentlemen, the teratorn.

Giant birds

In 2002, scores of Alaskans told the Anchorage Daily News they’d seen gigantic birds overhead. Villagers from Togiak and Manokotak in southwestern Alaska reported seeing the bird, which was “much bigger than anything they have seen before.” Moses Coupchiak, 43, worked on his tractor when he saw the bird, and couldn’t believe it. “At first I thought it was one of those old-time Otter planes,” he said. “Instead of continuing toward me, it banked to the left, and that’s when I noticed it wasn’t a plane.”

A pilot and owner of Bristol Bay Air Service, John Bouker, were skeptical of the reports of giant birds until he saw one himself. While flying near Manokotak he looked out his window and, “there’s this big … bird,” he told the Daily News. “He’s really, really big. You wouldn’t want to have your children out.”

Raptor specialist Phil Schemf said there’s nothing the size of that bird alive anymore. “I’m certainly not aware of anything with a 14-foot wingspan that’s been alive for the last 100,000 years,” he said.

That we know of.

No wonder the Kooshdakhaa (were-otter) has kidnapped so many people over the centuries. It's adorable.

No wonder the Kooshdakhaa (were-otter) has kidnapped so many people over the centuries. It’s adorable.

Were-otter

The Kooshdakhaa, or “land otter people,” of southeastern Alaska have terrorized the Tlingit peoples for centuries. Like the Gonakadet wasn’t enough to worry about. The Kooshdakhaa are a race of people who can shape-shift into otters, but not before ensnaring humans in a web of cuteness (otters are adorable), and turning the humans into Kooshdakhaa themselves. Kooshdakhaa often assume the form of a human’s loved ones to ease the deception. Once a human becomes a Kooshdakhaa, his position in the afterlife is forfeit – the soul is trapped upon earth.

But the Kooshdakhaa are a finicky folk, prone to Kooshdakhaa transformation one minute, acts of kindness the next (such as rescuing drowning sailors), or simply shredding a victim’s flesh, and spilling his entrails. You know, just because.

The Tlingit kept dogs to protect against the Kooshdakhaa. Not only could the dogs identify a Kooshdakhaa (because of their nature, or the fact that Kooshdakhaa may be carrying pot is uncertain), but the Land Otter People are afraid of dogs. They’re also apparently afraid of copper, fire, and urine.

Yep, were-otters are afraid of urine.

Be safe out there, and keep a full bladder.

Next up: Arizona.

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Jason Offutt is paranormal investigator, an author of several paranormal books such as “What Lurks Beyond,” “Darkness Walks: Shadow People Among us,” “Haunted Missouri,” and “Paranormal Missouri” and a teacher of journalism at Northwest Missouri State University.
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