Biologists think there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for what some are describing as Alaska's version of the Loch Ness monster. In the depths of Lake Iliamna is a beast so elusive that the Anchorage Daily News offered a $100,000 reward for evidence of it in 1979, according to the Huffington Post, and let's just say no one has claimed the winnings yet.
Even though no one has hard, physical proof -- aside from sightings of objects in the lake seen from pilots flying above and locals reportedly seeing it break the surface -- scientists have a guess as to what it could be and also believe this hypothesis could shed light as to what could be lurking in Lake Loch Ness. Bruce Wright with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association writes in the Alaska Dispatch he thinks it may be a sleeper shark:
Sleeper sharks can exceed 20 feet and weigh upwards of 4 tons. Sleeper sharks probably use rivers and lakes to find food, and there is an abundance of salmon and other fish in Loch Ness and Lake Iliamna.
Sightings are often consistent with descriptions of sleeper sharks in that the monsters' shape and colors usually match that of sleeper sharks. Salmon and lots of other prey species have been found in sleeper sharks' stomachs.
As much as we know about sleeper sharks, there are still plenty of unknowns:
- How long can sleeper sharks cope with freshwater? Can they spend months in rivers and lakes?
- Do they ever over-winter in freshwater?
- What is the timing of their movements in and out of freshwater?
Wright hopes to figure out some of these unknowns and plans to lead an expedition this year where he will attempt to capture and tag sleeper sharks in Lake Iliamna. If he is successful, he will employ the same system at Lake Loch Ness.
Discovery News considers the freshwater habitat for a traditionally saltwater shark an obstacle to Wright's theory. It also notes there are no known species of sleeper sharks that can live in freshwater for any length of time and doesn't believe the descriptions of Nessie or Illie are similar to that of a sleeper shark, given that Nessie has been described as looking more like an extinct dinosaur with a long neck.
Here's a YouTube video showing underwater video footage of a sleeper shark (via the Huffington Post):