By Eric Niiler
The latest entry in the lake monster sweepstakes is making a bid for glory — but skeptics say the so-called “Bownessie” of England’s Lake Windermere could be a hoax.
Tom Pickles and Sara Harrington, work colleagues who were kayaking at the lake as part of a team-building exercise, snapped this photo of the possible sea creature with a mobile phone.
It appears to show a multi-humped black object moving through the water from left to right. Pickles described the object as “a giant dark brown snake with humps measuring three car lengths,” and said it had seal-like skin texture but with a “completely abnormal” shape.
Harrington was quoted as saying she was “completely petrified” by the encounter. Lake Windermere is in the British lake district, just a few hours drive from the infamous Loch Ness. While the photo has made the rounds of the Internet, professional “cryptozoologists” — that is, people who study animals that haven’t been identified by science — say they have their doubts.
..”I’m always cautious of photographs,” said Loren Coleman, director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, and author of “Cryptozoology: A to Z.”
“If you look at this photograph, its pretty distinct with these humps. We have seen this kind of thing before, sometimes it’s garbage bags tied together and sometimes it’s anonymous creatures.”
Coleman should know. He spent several weeks on a Loch Ness expedition in 1999 and has researched how sightings of lake monsters seem to persist in the so-called “monster latitudes” of water bodies that include Lake Champlain, between New York and Vermont; Lake Okanagan in British Columbia; Loch Ness in Scotland; and Lake Brosno in Russia. Coleman says they are all deepwater lakes in remote areas, surrounded (until recently) by forests.
Visitors to these lakes who report strange sightings are often unfamiliar with local wildlife, Coleman said. So the wake of an otter, snake or drifting log becomes a strange sea animal.
Paleontologist Alton Dooley digs up the fossils of prehistoric whales, sharks and sea creatures that lived 14 million years ago. “I’d love to see a sea monster,” Dooley said from his office at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. “But I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think it’s very easy to see things you don’t understand.”
Dooley remembered the time that he and his grandmother saw a strange “freakish” creature cross the road in front of their truck one night in rural southern Virginia. They both swore it was a monster of some sort. The next week, the animal made a similar appearance, but under different lighting, Dooley realized it was a deer caught in his headlights.
While the case of the “Bownessie” (named for Bowness, the local town in England) may not hold up to scrutiny, Coleman believes there are far too many sightings of strange creatures to discount all of them.
He points to scientific discoveries of new species of beaked whales, giant squid, monitor lizards and other large animals that were the subject of legends until very recently.
“We all like a mystery,” he said.