Move over, Sasquatch: Some say there's a new monster in Canada, living in a small lake on Vancouver Island.
John Kirk, co-founder of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, says his organization began cataloguing sighting reports of an odd creature in Cameron Lake about five years ago, when two people reported seeing a long black animal in the water.
"Witnesses have been describing what looks like a dark creature in the lake," Kirk said, adding that British Columbia has more reputed lake monsters than anywhere else in the world.
Kirk, who researches mysterious and unknown creatures, believes that the creature may be found, and spent one day aboard a boat searching the lake, courtesy of the local tourism board. Using a fish finder, Kirk's team found what he believes was a giant object amid a school of fish about 60 feet below the surface. Because the sonar picked up the object over the course of several passes, Kirk believes the anomalous reading was not simply a tight school of fish, which would have eventually dispersed.
Yet sonar images provided by fish finders are inherently ambiguous and give very little information. Unfortunately, the promise of better evidence vanished in the cold lake when the investigative team lost its underwater camera. Maybe a fastener was not properly tightened, or perhaps the lake monster had it for lunch. Whatever the reason, the search had to be called off.
While Cammy is Canada's newest monster, the most famous mystery serpent in the area is Caddy, the serpentine sea monster said to reside in Cadboro Bay, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. As with all such unknown animals, there is little consensus on what they might be: perhaps a known fish, a decidedly un-extinct dinosaur-like plesiosaur, or eyewitnesses' mistaken perceptions.
While the media entertain wild conjecture about the Lake Cameron monster, Kirk remains grounded, suggesting it is probably a known creature such as a giant eel or a large sturgeon. "I'm not going to the extent to say there's anything exotic down there," he says.
Indeed, the recent vintage of the Lake Cameron monster sightings argues against the existence of a large, unknown creature living there. Why, for example, would the first report only date back to 2004? Did the creature (or creatures) suddenly migrate into the lake from somewhere else that year? Or are people simply misinterpreting ordinary fauna?
One woman took a photograph of something odd in the lake back in 2007, describing it as having "a serpent shape" — but also looking like "a large fish." Was it, after all, a large fish?
It seems likely that she was correct, and did in fact see something strange in the water. But there's an illogical leap in assuming that "something strange" is necessarily an unknown lake monster.
In May of this year a swimming deer or moose was videotaped at Vermont's Lake Champlain, sparking speculation about Champ, the monster said to live there. Just as unknown creatures on land become Bigfoot, and unidentified objects in the sky become UFOs, mysterious objects and animals in the water become lake monsters.
Kirk and his team plan a return to Lake Cameron next year, when the lake may reveal its secrets — if indeed it harbors any.
Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. His most recent book is Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures. His books, films, and other projects can be found on his website. His Bad Science column appears regularly on LiveScience.