Nov 05, 2016 I Micah Hanks

Alaska’s Loch Ness Monster: The Mystery Beast That Wasn’t

A recent strange video captured in Alaska has had many scratching their heads recently, with some suggesting that the footage is evidence of a "monster" in one of the region's rivers. 

An Alaska Bureau of Land Management worker was examining ice in Alaska’s Chena River on Wednesday when he  managed to capture something very unusual on film.

At first, the “object” appears to be a small series of ice floes moving across the water. However, as the camera focuses, zooming in on the moving object, the undulating motion of what resembles a creature swimming just below the surface of the water becomes apparent:

I first became aware of this unusual video when a listener sent it along to me, asking my opinion about what the apparent object in question may have been. Admittedly, at first glance (and despite the icy appearance), the object’s apparent movement does give one the distinct impression that there is something large moving along beneath the surface; it takes little for the imagination to feast upon the idea of some eldritch, scaly thing oozing along through the icy river water, encrusted with the frozen stuff of eons.

All evocations of Lovecraft aside though, let’s take a look at what’s really going on here.

The video initially reminded me of the footage linked here, as featured in an ABC News report from 2012, which features a similar, seemingly undulating something as it moves through the water.

Dubbed "Iceland's Loch Ness Monster", the alleged creature, known locally as the Lagarfljóts Worm, has long been a feature of the regional Icelandic folklore. Once the video emerged, it naturally led to very divided opinions on what, precisely, the object could have been; although the undulation certainly resembled that of a large, serpentine object passing through the water, the lack of any significant locomotion suggested that whatever appeared in the video was inanimate. A subsequent report in August 2014, led by Iceland's Truth Commission, judged the video to be genuine, whatever it was that it showed, and further suggested that there was "no reason to doubt" the creature's existence.

The earliest reports of the creature date back to the 1300s, although there are many that have claimed to see the alleged "worm" in recent times too, with numerous sightings spanning the decades. Helgi Hallgrímsson, an Icelandic biologist, suggests that debris carried from nearby mountainsides and glaciers can collect and become tangled over time, occasionally moved along by currents in the lake to produce the "undulating" motion seen in the video above. Others have suggested that a manmade object, akin to a length of fishing net, might achieve a very similar affect.

Iceland 570x293
Iceland's alleged "worm".

An interesting proposition, before we get back to the more recent Alaskan footage, would be that if Hallgrímsson's theory is correct, this might indeed explain why there are centuries of sightings of a "monster" in the lake. In ancient times, such natural phenomenon, when viewed from a distance (and with no ability to capture recordings, as we do today) could easily have fostered belief in some great creature that would appear in the lake at certain times of the year.

This might not be cause for suggesting that all legendary monsters could be explained in this manner, but it would at least be an intelligent proposition to consider that some could be accounted for in this way.

Of the Alaskan footage, we can say that the presumed "creature" is indeed something similar to the Icelandic phenomenon, though other, more compelling explanations that include "a giant sturgeon" have been offered. The latter would indeed seem more compelling (without going the extra step of calling it a "mystery monster") than the actual explanation though: a length of rope attached to a pier with patches of frazil ice stuck to it.

Frazil ice forms on water, and has a loose, slushy composition. Under the right kind of colder temperatures, which occur mostly at night, the icy patches can become attached to objects--in this case a rope--which then was able to float to the surface of the river.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Tanana River Management Biologist Klaus Wuttig was quoted by saying, "It looks like it's swimming but it's actually stationary and just wading in the current," noting that the video looked impressive, but was in reality "not that exciting."

The floating frazile ice was unable to drift away because the rope it had collected around was still attached to the pier, which appeared to "undulate" as the river waters moved by it.

Of course, there are versions of the video that are beginning to appear on various sites and YouTube accounts that explicitly refer to the video as "evidence" of the Loch Ness Monster, referencing the famous reclusive beast of the Scottish Highlands. Curious though, is the matter of how Nessie might have managed to escape the landlocked lake in Scotland, and swim her way upstream into Alaska's Chena River.

For now, the notion of Alaska having its own river monster will have to sleep with the fishes.

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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