Craig McCaa is enjoying the changes in Alaska’s Chena River, photographing the ice as it settles on the dark water. Then he spots something mysterious and snake-like moving beneath the surface, winding a lazy path between the snowy banks. Has a legendary sea monster escaped to the waterways of this northern city? Or is something altogether more prosaic at play?
On October 18, 2016, public affairs specialist McCaa, who works for Alaska’s Bureau of Land Management, was out walking in Fairbanks, a city in the Interior region of the state. McCaa liked to take photos of the changing landscape. And on this chilly October day, he wanted some pictures of the wintry Chena River.
Now as McCaa stopped on University Avenue Bridge, he noticed a strange sight in the water below. Indeed, for the following few minutes, he observed an unidentified object – which he estimated as being between 12 and 15 feet in length – undulating slowly in the current.
From the relative safety of the bridge, McCaa paused to take some video footage of the bizarre scene. “It’s a strange thing,” he told the Alaska Dispatch News. “I don’t know what I would have done if I had come by in a canoe or something.”
McCaa had every right to be apprehensive. The sheer size and serpentine appearance of the object call to mind the sea monsters that have always haunted the human imagination. Or so we can surely assume.
For as long as people have been in contact with the sea, legends have been told about the strange creatures thought to inhabit the depths. Yet alongside stories there have been alleged encounters, too. Throughout history, reports of menacing undersea beasts have come from locations as widely spread as Greenland, the Pacific, Canada and the Indian Ocean.
But while sea monsters were seemingly busy menacing the mariners of old, their lake-dwelling cousins were occupied with terrorizing the inland population. And one of the most famous examples of lake monsters comes, of course, from Loch Ness in northern Scotland.
Since its first appearance on written record in the year 565, when the monk Adomnán recounted it seemingly being spotted by Saint Columba, the Loch Ness monster has apparently been sighted thousands of times. Indeed, photographs exist of what some people claim must be the beast’s elongated neck and long, humped body.
The United States, meanwhile, has its own fair share of lake and sea-monster legends. At Lake Champlain, which sits astride the borders of Vermont, New York and Canada, Native American tribes have long told stories about a strange creature living in the lake. Furthermore, as recently as 2016 visitors claim to have seen the beast, which is affectionately dubbed Champ.
Similarly, in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia, Canada, Native American legends of a Natiaka, or lake monster, have morphed into modern-day sightings of a strange beast that locals have named Ogopogo. Out to sea, meanwhile, the coastal regions of Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida and California all have their own legends of creatures that live beneath the waves.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for such a popular legend, the sea monster occupies an important place in modern culture. In fact, it’s estimated that the Loch Ness Monster creates around $30 million in tourist revenue for Scotland every year. Furthermore, everything from baseball teams to blockbuster movies have made the most of the sea-monster legend.
For McCaa, such stories must have made him stop and think twice when he spotted that strange something swimming just below the surface of the Chena River. On October 26, 2016 – just in time for Halloween – Alaska’s Bureau of Land Management uploaded his video to its Facebook page.
By that evening, the video had been watched almost 21,000 times. And one week later, the figure had reached almost 700,000 views. But not everyone believes that McCaa’s video really shows a monster lurking in the heart of urban Alaska.
Hundreds of people have commented on the strange video, putting forward their own suggestions as to what it depicts. While some thought that the footage shows some inanimate object, such as a tangle of weeds or a branch, others were sure that a living, breathing animal was at large.
One of the most frequently suggested explanations was that it was a sturgeon that had grown unusually large – a theory that has also been put forward to explain sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. Other theories posited that it could be an eel, while more unlikely guesses such as a “giant arctic crocodile” and “zombie salmon” were also laid on the table.
Some have also argued that the footage looks fake and have pointed to its added camcorder-style effects as evidence of its inauthenticity. However, McCaa claims that the video is genuine and that it only contains minor effects.
At any rate, two days after the video was posted to social media, biologist Klaus Wuttig from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game came forward with an explanation that offers an alternative to the supposed presence of mysterious denizens of the deep. Somewhat disappointingly, he claims that the video in fact shows a piece of rope covered in ice.
“It looks like it’s swimming, but it’s actually stationary and just wading in the current,” he told the Alaska Dispatch News. “It looks like it’s swimming upstream, but it’s not organic.”
Such a prosaic explanation is, however, unlikely to deter fans of lake and sea monsters. Sure, historically everything from a swimming elephant to seismic gas have been put forward to explain such phenomena around the world. But there are many who believe that these creatures really are relics from a prehistoric age.
Interestingly, as well, it’s not even the first time that such a monster has been spotted in Alaska. In fact, throughout history, many people have reported seeing a large, unusual animal in the waters of Iliamna Lake. But is it merely an oversized fish or something altogether more bizarre? The truth about this creature, as well as McCaa’s monster and others sighted around the world, may never be known.