Hot on the heels of lake monster sightings in Loch Ness and Lake Khanto in Siberia comes a report from Alaska of new sightings of an old monster – Illie. That’s the alleged aquatic cryptid rumored to live in Lake Iliamna in southwestern Alaska. Its tales go back to the native Tlingit people with sightings of 30-foot creatures with square heads that ram boats and they continue to the present. As evidence, the public radio station KDLG interviewed local resident Gary Neilson last week and he gave his own recent eyewitness report as well as those of children and adults who saw the same monsters.
“There was more than one, at least three. The first was the biggest, maybe double the size of a 32-foot gillnetter. The animal either blew like a whale, or spit water from his mouth or something. The smaller animals behind him did the same but not as dramatic. They were black or very dark gray. They surfaced like whales for maybe two to three seconds about a mile off-shore. I am at a total loss as to what they could be.”
Lake Iliamna is the perfect place for a monster. Measuring 77 miles long and 22 miles wide (124 by 35 km), it’s Alaska’s largest lake and the third largest located entirely in the U.S. (four of the larger Great Lakes are also in Canada). According to local folklore, the Tlingits named it after a mythical great blackfish living in the lake that allegedly bit holes in the bidarkas (Aleut kayaks) of bad natives.
The good news for bad natives is that Illie seems to have chased away the blackfish, replacing it with something worse. The Tlingits have tales of Gonakadet, a wolf-headed orca, while the Aleuts reported seeing the Jig-ik-ak monster fish that traveled in groups, attacked boats and killed the people in them.
That sounds more like what Gary Neilson and the recent witnesses observed. Unfortunately, no one in the village of about 100 people had a smartphone handy to take pictures. Reports in recent years describe the monster as being 10-30 feet long and more like a fish than a whale. That leads many to believe Illie is a white sturgeon which is indigenous to Alaska and can reach 20 feet long and weight 1500 pounds. Collisions with boats and even bite marks on propellers are explained by the white sturgeon’s armor plating scraping the boat or blades and the fish’s tendency to jump out of the water – an unusual trait for a bottom-feeder. That last tendency could explain why the Illie is rarely seen.
If it’s a white sturgeon. These fish are white or silvery, while many witnesses (including Gary Neilson) describe the monster as being black. Is that the result of lake shadows or is Illie something else? Another theory is that it’s a lost Pacific sleeper shark which can also reach nearly 20 feet in length. While there are plenty of seals for food, this is less likely since sleeper sharks prefer deeper waters and Lake Iliamna is only 144 feet (44 meters) at its deepest.
Is Illie a real monster? John Schandelmeier of Alaska Dispatch News points out that the current witnesses are natives and experienced fishermen, not the type of tourists that mistake logs for Loch Ness monsters.
Can someone please send them some smartphones or cameras?