Real or Hoax? British Lake Monster Photographed

A recent photograph of a strange, multi-humped dark object in the British lake of Windermere is being touted as a lake monster. According toThe Daily Telegraph, "The photograph, which shows an object ... breaching the surface of the lake, is said to be the best evidence yet of what some claim is a monster lurking beneath the depths. It was taken on a camera phone by Tom Pickles, 24, while kayaking on the lake as part of a team-building exercise."

Pickles claimed that he and a companion saw the bizarre beast (estimated at the length of three cars) about 1,000 feet (300 meters) out on the lake. No one else saw it.

The humps, he said, had skin like a seal and moved through the water in a rippling motion: "It was petrifying and we paddled back to the shore straight away. At first I thought it was a dog and then saw it was much bigger," The Telegraph reported.

So what might this intriguing mystery beast be? Lake Windermere is quite a distance from Scotland's Loch Ness, though it's about as close to a lake monster that England has. Could this photo finally be good proof?

Having analyzed numerous mysterious photographs (for example of UFOs and of the 2009 Borneo river monster), I note a few things that should give us pause before believing it. For one thing, one important claim about the photo, that it was "taken... while kayaking on the lake," is not true.

We know this because the angle is all wrong. The photo was not taken on the lake (a few feet above the water level) but instead significantlyabove it, as we can tell from the presumed horizon line, which can be roughly judged by the trees in the background. (In fact, the camera even appears to be higher than the trees.) If the photograph were taken on the lake while kayaking, as Pickles claimed, the horizon line should be much higher in the photo.

This does not, by itself, prove a hoax, but it does raise legitimate suspicions. If that part of the story is false, what other parts of the story might be wrong? It's also suspicious that there seems to be only one photograph of the beast, despite the fact that Pickles claims to have seen it for nearly half a minute. Most cameras and camera phones could probably have snapped half a dozen or more photos during that time — or even recorded a video of it.

While an unknown monster living in the lake is not impossible, it seems far more likely that the image is a prank. Experts who examined the photo declared that the file size was too small to rule out a photographic hoax. Of course it's possible that the photograph is completely genuine and un-retouched — and that the object is merely a series of automobile tires tied together. Only if the photographer's story is completely true is it a genuine mystery.

Most supposed "lake monster" photos have been proven hoaxes or pictures of real (but non-monstrous) objects like known animals and floating logs. It seems we have another for the pile.

Benjamin Radford is co-author of Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures, and co-host of the MonsterTalk podcast. His book Tracking the Chupacabra will be out in March.

Benjamin Radford
Live Science Contributor
Benjamin Radford is the Bad Science columnist for Live Science. He covers pseudoscience, psychology, urban legends and the science behind "unexplained" or mysterious phenomenon. Ben has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in psychology. He is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and has written, edited or contributed to more than 20 books, including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries," "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore" and “Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits,” out in fall 2017. His website is