Tetrapod Zoology

It seems wrong not to talk, at least briefly, about the latest lake monster picture that’s doing the rounds. It’s a poor-quality mobile phone photo of a humped object, taken in England’s Lake Windermere by Tom Pickles while he was kayaking as part of a team-building exercise. Here it is… (or, rather, here is the uncropped image… read on)…

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Pickles described the object as “a giant dark brown snake with humps measuring three car lengths”, and regarded it as somewhat seal-like in skin texture but with a “completely abnormal” shape.

Apparently, it moved rapidly, with an undulating motion. Pickles wasn’t the only witness – it was also seen by his colleague Sarah Harrington. She described it as “like an enormous snake” (but, I think, only after a journalist asked her “Was it snake-like?”).

Since about 2006, Lake Windermere has produced about ten ‘lake monster’ sightings*: these have led to a sort of faux-tradition and the name Bownessie (after Bowness**, the town adjacent to the lake) has been invented for the supposed creature (the name ‘Winnie’ has been used as well). Virtually all of the ‘sightings’ have been of fairly mundane wakes and mystery waves encountered in the middle of the lake (one such image, by photographer Linden Adams, is shown below: no idea what it is). You can see most of these recounted on youtube: they’re variously indeterminate or possibly show diving birds. Witness Steve Burnip described a giant, eel-like animal with a distinct head. Burnip is a university lecturer, a fact always mentioned in media reports as we all know that university lecturers make better eyewitnesses than ordinary people. It’s always possible that he did see an eel, and in fact some sightings of this and other lake monsters could well be of large eels seen at the surface (without any obvious frame of reference, even an eel of a metre in length could look very large).

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* There are rumours of sightings that go back much further, but there always are. Rumours, I mean.

** By curious coincidence, a body of water called Bowness Lagoon in Canada is also associated with a monster: a catfish-like or eel-like water creature apparently seen in 1942 (Newton 2005).

As usual with lake monster photos, there isn’t much we can say about the new photo. You can’t tell what it is: the wakes show it’s really moving, but there’s no reason to think it’s an animal. If it is an animal, it’s something totally new to science: there are no known animals, living or dead, that have four, tightly bunched dorsal humps. The bunched-together look of the four humps indicates that any sort of undulating movement, as reported by one of witnesses, would be unlikely. It’s been said that there’s no obvious indication that the photo is a photoshop mock-up – I’m not really sure how you can determine this, but I don’t think we need to seriously consider the idea of digital trickery. If you think that the image is a fake, then the far more likely possibility is that it represents an object that was photographed in the lake. It has a sort of rubbery look, so an inflated device of some sort would be most likely. The photo shown at the top could actually be a slightly cropped version, and it seems to be the one that’s getting used most widely. Here’s what might be the original, slightly larger version…

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This larger version is interesting, because it includes something as far right: something we don’t see in the possibly cropped version…

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What is that dark blob? I have no idea. You can see it (at even larger size) on the Sun’s coverage of the story. Note that the far right edge of the picture has a different pixel quality than the rest of the image. I have no idea what this might mean and would welcome your thoughts.

What have people in the cryptozoological community said about the photo so far? The most commonly encountered opinion (in my experience, at least) has been that it’s a fake, most likely something constructed from tyres or inner tubes. I don’t like accusing people of outright fakery, but this is obviously more likely than the idea that a morphologically novel species of new, large animal awaits discovery in an English lake.

At Cryptomundo, Loren Coleman has asked questions about Pickles and Harrington. He’d like to learn more about them, I think because he’d like some idea of how trustworthy they might be. While googling for Bownessie I was amused to find that the Windermere Lake Cruises company has offered an award to anyone who can get a good Bownessie photograph for 2011. Apparently, they’re not too impressed with Pickles’s new photo and might not be paying up.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on lake monsters, see…

Ref – -

Newton, M. 2005. Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology. McFarland & Company, Jefferson (N. Carolina) and London.

Comments

  1. #1 Mokele
    February 22, 2011

    The immediate impression I got from the photo is that the object (or visible portion) is about a meter long, maybe 1.5, and I was very surprised upon reading the text to hear it being claimed as “enormous”. Something about the angle of the shot and and the size of the humps relative to the surface ripples alongside it just makes it look *small*.

    My guess is that it’s some sort of debris, possibly a plastic garbage bag with trapped air pockets, being towed behind a boat (the mysterious object on the right border being the tip of the stern).

  2. #2 Marcus Good
    February 22, 2011

    Twist ending: it’s a Bigfoot corpse, inflated and being dragged through the lake.

  3. #3 Stu of the Peak
    February 22, 2011

    Hmmm . . . I think the object on the right is the prow of a boat; looking on Google Earth there are a couple of candidates for the islands but in the middle of the lake around the large island there are moorings all around and I wonder if the photographer has caught a pleasure boat in frame.

    Using my pseudo-scientific methodology of having a had pike in Photoshop and fiddling with the curves and levels etc, I suspect the apparent difference in pixels is due to the camera quality, which isn’t great. Digital cameras (especially cheap ones) struggle with either low light conditions or on days when the light is diffuse i.e. foggy or very low blanket cloud days. The object has very little variation in the colour value when you dial back the dark values, whereas the boat prow does have more variation.

    Something’s not right about the angle of the object in relation to the wake though . . . or is it?

    To me, looks like one of Mackal’s hypothetical amphibians.*

    *Or not.

  4. #4 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
    February 22, 2011

    “What is this?” I suggest the stern of the boat producing the wake that people are calling an animal.

  5. #5 Pete Buchholz
    February 22, 2011

    I am not sure what the monster is, but the object at the right edge of the image looks to me like the bow of a boat. I’m finding it really difficult to judge size and distance in this image because the fog is obscuring those islands. Are those trees? Are they bushes? Why are the monster and the boat so uniformly black?

  6. #6 Andreas Johansson
    February 22, 2011

    Magnipedine ropenid, I believe.

    A pretty small one, judging by the trees (bushes?) on the islets.

  7. #7 Ed
    February 22, 2011

    I think it’s pretty clear that the object on the right is it’s mother’s nose.

    Also, I greatly enjoy misreading “Burnip” as “Bunyip”

  8. #8 Mark Carter
    February 22, 2011

    The angle of the camera relative to the object is odd. I’ve taken photos of big things (whales) from kayaks. As you sit so low and close to the water big things look close to the horizon in the photos. My guess is this thing its small. The dude said 3 car lengths? I’d say its not even 3 metres!
    There is something queer about the wake too but I can’t put my finger on it.

    The blob on the upper right could be the tip of a paddle(?). Or the photographer’s friend in a boat holding a tow line…

  9. #9 jwbjerk
    February 22, 2011

    Given that the photographer’s description sounds much more like a standard lake monster than the picture actually looks, i lean toward purposeful fake.

    The body is not undulating, nor does the wake look like it was caused by undulation. As Darren says, it doesn’t even look like it was built for vertical undulation, but i supposed it could undulate side to side

  10. #10 valagos
    February 22, 2011

    I really don’t think British bodies of water are a good place to search for ‘monsters’. Correct me if I’m wrong, but no relict species of large prehistoric freshwater animal could have survived through the ice age glaciers that very much remodeled the whole archipelago. Furthermore British lakes are relatively small and devoid of enough food to support large animals. If I were to look for aquatic ‘monsters’ the ocean is a far better place. Or some of the older, more massive lakes or rivers, like the Amazon and Nile river systems, or Lake Baikal. Come and think of it, are there any reported monsters from either of these places? (I know there’s that famous one in the Congo basin.)

  11. #11 Johnny Vector
    February 22, 2011

    Is there really only the one photo? That to me, is another big indicator that this is a hoax. Who sees a lake monster and takes one picture?

    I agree on the size. The wake scale makes it look like something about kayak-sized, moving at a leisurely lake kayak speed (a few knots).

    In light like that of course it’s quite easy to fool your eyes, and certainly the photo is detail-free, so it’s possible that it’s a case of the brain filling in missing details, but given the other questions, I have to go with deliberate fake.

  12. #12 Lassi Hippeläinen
    February 22, 2011

    As a kayakist since 1985 who takes ptotographs while paddling, I agree with #8. That object is probably some five metres from the kayak – or the picture hasn’t been taken from a kayak. Since phone cameras tend to have wide-angle lenses, the object is about a metre long.

    The thing on the right is too far above water to be a boat. The upper blade of a kayak paddle makes more sense.

  13. #13 Charles Paxton
    February 22, 2011

    Knowing Windermere quite well, I am almost at a loss as to know what known object could cause the apparent shape. I am not wholly convinced it is a wake as I observed quite a lot of wakes (on Windermere in fact) as potential pseudomonsters and it appears too black and a bit too humpy but that may be the camera quality. And it appears to have a wake itself. Assuming no photoshop (big if) one thought is it is weed etc dangling from the chain or waves caused by the chain of the Windermere ferry so the “what is it” could be the corner of the ferry. But this is dangerous speculation, show me the entire photo so I can scale what is seen.

    Contrary to what some sources say there is *no* tradition of monsters in Windermere (I lived there for 4 years and gave a lecture on aquatic monsters to the local fishing club and no one ever mentioned such things to me). The lake has also been studied intensively by the Freshwater Biological Association and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology for over 50 years with no evidence of such things appearing.

  14. #14 Tz'unun
    February 22, 2011

    Perpetrating a hoax could be an interesting team-building exercise.

  15. #15 Neil
    February 22, 2011

    I have to say as a photographer that it is odd there is only one photo. Even with a compact or mobile phone wou should have been able to fire off a few shots. Thats before you deal with the fact it looks like 4 tyres tied to bit of wood.

    Mind you I have been told something I photographed last week looks like a baby nessie ;)
    http://my.opera.com/Ukwildlife/blog/2011/02/18/phantom-midge-larva

  16. #16 valerio
    February 22, 2011

    @ Valagos
    Lake Baikal.

    In the 80s there were many sightings (totally unreliable) to “dinosaurs” in Baikal.

    In that lake was also caught one of the largest sturgeon ever.
    And there are more species of large animals, including several seals.
    Is relatively easy for impressionable people exchange an “big” animal in a “huge” beast.

  17. #17 Charles Paxton
    February 22, 2011

    OK, it appears my Windermere ferry theory is incorrect. I think I have worked out where the photo was taken (assuming it has not been reversed) from so unless they had a funny lens I don’t think they could get the ferry into the picture. But have a look at Google maps photo experts and let me know. I *think* the photo is taken from c. 54.355712Lat, -2.934937Lon looking WNW. So the land to the right of the picture is the southern tip of Belle Isle and the little island is the unnamed island at 54.35564 Lat ,
    -2.938762 Lon. Now if the photographer was further south with a lens that foreshortened the distance then could they include the chains of the Windermere ferry in the shot?

  18. #18 Darren Naish
    February 22, 2011

    Thanks Charles. I might ask Dick Raynor if he can have a look.

  19. #19 Kirk
    February 22, 2011

    It’s on the Internet, therefore it is real.

  20. #20 Andreas Johansson
    February 22, 2011

    @Kirk: So I shouldn’t’ve ignored all those widows/nephews/ex-secretaries of Mobutu? Drat.

  21. #21 heteromeles
    February 22, 2011

    So it’s not a Loch Ness-style soliton wave, or something kicked up by one? (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/loch-ness-monster-is-just-a-huge-wave-706979.html)

    I mean, long narrow lake, multi-humped monster “moving against the current,” hard to tell scale…I think I’ve heard this one before.

    Still, since it’s a dissipative structure, albeit a short-lived one (ref:Prigogyne), we could say that it exhibits some of the qualities of life. Perhaps this is a real-world example of a water elemental…

  22. #22 Gwen
    February 22, 2011

    Tires are what came to mind for me, too. Or maybe a string of floats all bunched together on a line. I also thought the dark angular thing on the right might be a boat towing the “monster”, except if that were the case you’d expect to see an additional, larger wake created by the boat, and there’s no sign of one. I’m tempted to think it’s something much closer to the camera, maybe an oar, the picture-taker’s fingertip, etc.

  23. #23 Dirty Dingus Magee
    February 22, 2011

    Looks like something I flushed.

  24. #24 BaruchYitchak
    February 22, 2011

    Agree w. poster 9. The straight wake shows it’s being dragged.

  25. #25 Chris M.
    February 23, 2011

    Oh, I do love a good internet monster photo, lovingly cropped to improve uncertainty after being harvested from the spaghetti trees of Italy.

  26. #26 David Marjanović
    February 23, 2011

    Twist ending: it’s a Bigfoot corpse, inflated and being dragged through the lake.

    Thread won.

    the spaghetti trees of Italy

    Switzerland!

  27. #27 mike sheridan
    February 23, 2011

    My first thought was a beaver with babies on its back.

  28. #28 Ian Kemmish
    February 23, 2011

    I don’t know about the photo, but I believe that neighbouring Coniston is known for being one of those lakes where you get a false wake several minutes after a boat has passed. They’re all steep-sided ribbon lakes in the middle of a now-overcrowded National Park, so that might explain a flurry of sightings by townies…..

  29. #29 Jeff C
    February 23, 2011

    Really? This photo is just a frame from the VIDEO that was shot. I saw the video the other day. The “creature” wasn’t undulating at all. In fact, it looked to me like four tires tied together and being dragged through the water.

  30. #30 Darren Naish
    February 23, 2011

    Jeff C: are you sure about this? Can you provide a link? So far, everything I’ve read has said that only one photo was taken (a point which, by itself, is mightily suspicious).

    On other aspects of the image, Ben Radford has said that it clearly wasn’t taken at kayak-level.

  31. #31 Rob Jase
    February 23, 2011

    Let’s see – the object appears fatter relatively then a snake, it has humps unlike a snake, undulates up & down unlike a snake.

    So what about it made the witnesses compare it to something it neither looks or behaves like?

  32. #32 Dick Raynor
    February 23, 2011

    The islands shown seem to fit almost perfectly with Hen Holme (left) and Lady Holme, as viewed in the photo shown at http://www.panoramio.com/photo/42691516

    The logical difficulty is that when sitting in a kayak, one’s eyes – and hence camera – are about 60cm / 2 feet above water level, and so anything higher than 2 feet above the surface is also above the horizon. While the horizon is not visible in this misty photo, I’ll bet that the waterline of those islands is below it. From that it seems likely that either the object stands only a few inches out of the water or that it was not taken from a kayak, or both.

    On this basis the item is not “as described” and I would ask for my money back :-)

  33. #33 Richard Freeman
    February 23, 2011

    As soon as i saw this snap i said it looked likesome sort of construct being pulled along.
    I’ve interviwed a number of witnesses to the Windermere animal and most describe an elongate, eel-like creature 20-30 feet long.
    The sightings go back a long way. I interviewed a witness from Manchester who saw the creature in 1959. He was about 18 at the time and one of a group of friends who were rowing down the lake. They saw a long, serpentine animal draw alngside their boat. They could not see the head or tail but only the mid section. The mid section alone was 15 feet long, measured against their boat. It was tubular in cross section and light green. They watched it for some time before it sunk out of sight in the water.He thought it may have been a huge eel

  34. #34 Monado, FCD
    February 24, 2011

    If I might chime in, the low wake in the foreground makes it look as if a small boat is gliding slowly by while someone in it hauls mightily on a submerged line pulling the fake monster. The dark “nose” on the right could be the tip of a boat or paddle.

  35. #35 valagos
    February 24, 2011

    @ Valerio,

    Thanks for pointing that out about Lake Baikal. Now that you mention it I recall vague memories of these rumors from very long ago. Although dinosaurs are a bit of a silly stretch, I still believe that it’s one of the best places out there where one could find new animal species awaiting classification. By the way, one just has to love the idea of seals in the Middle of a large continental mass.

  36. #36 Bob F
    February 24, 2011

    Has anyone checked these images for GPS information? If the location of the camera was captured, it would easily become possible to determine its angle of view based on those two little islands that appear in the frame.

  37. #37 farandfew
    February 24, 2011

    The bunched-together look of the four humps indicates that any sort of undulating movement, as reported by one of witnesses, would be unlikely.

    No, what’s obviously going on here is that the part of the creature showing above the water is a long rotating spiral with four loops showing. This makes the identity of the creature obvious: it’s a giant bacterium propelling itself with its flagellum.
    Or possibly they are very small islands.

  38. #38 Jenny Islander
    February 26, 2011

    If the shape in the picture was “undulating,” then my first impression is of a romp of river otters, well, romping. I’ve seen strange dark rolling shapes in the waters just off Kodiak that turned out to be sea otters doing much the same thing. Somehow they are able to do a long series of these acrobatic moves without obviously showing their heads, flippers, or tails. O to be that flexible (and waterproof)!

  39. #39 Joe Connell
    February 28, 2011

    Simples! Synchronised otter swimming.

  40. #40 In Vitro Infidelium
    March 1, 2011

    Four ‘half’ tyres strung together to form a ‘bumper, that’s fallen off a boat.

  41. #41 david
    March 1, 2011

    I have no expertise on this, but the ‘wake’ just looks odd to me. What strikes me is that it is quite a narrow V-shape. A wake is just a kind of wave, and like any other wave it spreads out with time. To get a narrow wake the object causing the wake must be moving quickly relative to the dispersal rate of the wave, which I guess in water is something like a metre per second. So either the object is moving at a fair lick – either swimming fast or being towed along quite vigorously – or it is not actually a wake at all, but some kind of splash, maybe from a rope or chain. Maybe a physicist could comment?

  42. #42 Dick Raynor
    March 1, 2011

    @#41 – David: I am just a ‘umble boatman but I have read that the vee-shaped waves left by many moving objects on water are in fact remakably consistent. The angle between the arms of the vee and the direction of travel is in most cases 19.5º, so the included angle between the arms is 39º.
    See http://www.ifm.zmaw.de/fileadmin/files/ers-sar/Sdata/oceanic/shipwakes/intro/index.html

    If that holds for this photo, the ratio between what you measure on the image and 39º is only due to the deviation of the camera from the vertical… a sine relationship perhaps? Please post your answer and I’ll compare it with mine.

  43. #43 Cale
    March 3, 2011

    Funny thing. I was sitting by the seaside once, watching the waves come in, when I saw something that looked like a giant aquatic snake chugging along close to shore. I stood up and gaped a little in shock, only to realize what I was really seeing-

    A family of ocean-going river otters (they definitely weren’t sea-otters) swimming in single file, with the leader keeping his head above water. Very cute. They came ashore a little ways up the beach and I just had to follow them. I think they were used to being ignored by people, because I was able to get very close to them before they suddenly noticed me and took to the water again. They were bobbing up and down with their necks almost vertical from the water (another very classic sea monster pose) and hissing at me, so I decided to let them get on with their business.

  44. #44 bioLarzen
    March 6, 2011

    Marcus Good,

    “Twist ending: it’s a Bigfoot corpse, inflated and being dragged through the lake.”

    … by Nessie :)

    bio

  45. #45 bioLarzen
    March 6, 2011

    Gwen,

    “I also thought the dark angular thing on the right might be a boat towing the “monster”, except if that were the case you’d expect to see an additional, larger wake created by the boat, and there’s no sign of one.”

    Unless the boat isn’t moving, and someone in it is pulling the “monster” on a rope. This way the boat doesn’t create a wake but the “monster” does…

    I’m not saying this is how it was, I just say it’s a possibility.

    bio

  46. #46 bioLarzen
    March 6, 2011

    Far from thinking for a moment it’s anything but a case of fake/hoax/mistaken identity, I have to argue with thos of you saying it’s suspicious that there’s only one photo. Just imagine the situation: you’re kayaking on the lake. Means your phone is very probably not in your hand. You see the “monster”. It probably takes about a second or two to realize there’s something really big there right in front of you. Another second or so to realize you should take a picture of it. Another half a second until you realize you actually CAN take a picture – your phone is with you and thereQ’s a camrea in it. Assuming you’re responsible enough not to have your phone unprotected and in a place where it can easily fall out of the kayak and into the lake – so probably stashed away in a pocket or a bag, possibly in a pouch – it probably takes a couple of seconds just to get it out and have it in your hand. Add then a couple of seconds – or at least one – to switch it in camrea mode. There you are, at least about 6-8 seconds after catching a first glimpse at the “monster” before you have a chance to take a pic. So, you have a chance to take a snapshot right before it submerges. Click – and it’s gone. You then could of course take another shot showing the wakes only – but that would be very cheap – everyone would say you simply threw a pebble in the water and shot a pic of the wakes…

    So, I would say, given the reported situation. the fact that there’s only one photo is still the least suspicious part of the story…

    bio

  47. #47 bioLarzen
    March 6, 2011

    farandfew,

    “it’s a giant bacterium propelling itself with its flagellum.
    Or possibly they are very small islands.”

    The Langerhans? :D

  48. #48 bioLarzen
    March 6, 2011

    Rob Jase,

    “Let’s see – the object appears fatter relatively then a snake, it has humps unlike a snake, undulates up & down unlike a snake.

    So what about it made the witnesses compare it to something it neither looks or behaves like?”

    A very logical point you made there. But… let’s not forget that the witnesses are not serpent experts, but everyday people. For us (I am an everyday Joe in this respect, I know nothing about snakes most people don’t), anything that looks like a garden hose is a “snake”. It could be slim or fat, undulate any direction, could have humps… If we had to describe it, almost certainly we would say “it looked like a snake” – even if to the expert’s eye it would probably not at all…

    So, although I don’t think we’re looking at any kind of unidentified animal here, I have to defend the witnesses again.

    bio

  49. #49 bioLarzen
    March 6, 2011

    Joe Connell,

    “Synchronised otter swimming.”

    That was my first thought, too, but then realized the otters don’t have team events, so it’s probably beavers.

    bio

  50. #50 RGS
    March 13, 2011

    Some monster! From the standpoint of a career zoologist and one-time submarine officer, here is my assessment. The wake is not typical of an object underway, as there is far too little disturbance immediately astern of said object. Animals and ships under power tend to generate a cavitating effect which draws water down along the midsagittal line of the wake, with parallel upward columns of disturbed water. The photographed wake shows no signs of either, which is typical of the wake produced by a standing object around which a current flows.

    Second, there is no advance wake in the photo. Again, something making way generates a wave at the bow as water around the vessel is pushed into water beyond. Even a slow-moving rowboat generates such a phenomenon, which is clearly lacking in the photo shown.

    Based on the available evidence, the “monster” would seem to be some sort of stationary debris (tree trunk, old tyre/s, intentional red herring) in a mild current.

  51. #51 Dick Raynor
    March 13, 2011

    RGS – thank you for keeping this thread alive. I find your first para slightly confusing; could you explain how the wake produced by a standing object past which a current flows differs from that produced when an object is being pulled on a line through still water?

    If you take a look at the photos linked in my post #32 you will see an indisputable match with the islets nr Bowness, and as far as I know there are no visible signs of currents in Windermere. In all the hundreds of images that I have looked at none show any anchored boats aligned with a current nor any mooring buoys leaving a wake.

  52. #52 John McKeown
    March 15, 2011

    This is footage I got on the way to the first Bownessie Hunt that included Linden Adams and Thomas Noblett who both have Bownessie experiences http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zbf4rF8Jpo

  53. #53 Dick Raynor
    March 18, 2011

    John,
    Doesn’t your video show birds, perhaps tufted ducks, diving?
    Like http://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/160462/tufted-duck-diving.html

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