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Have you ever jumped into a body of water, only to wonder what lurks in the fathomless depths below? Myths of sea and lake monsters have been omnipresent in folklore around the world for hundreds, if not thousands of years. And despite a lack of concrete evidence, legends surrounding these subaqueous creatures persist today. Here are 11 famous sea and lake monsters from around the world and the stories of their reported sightings.
Nessie (Loch Ness, Scotland)
When it comes to lake monsters, no creature is more famous than the Loch Ness Monster. Affectionately named “Nessie,” the Scottish creature’s sightings date back further than most realize. The first sighting of Nessie was reported by Saint Columba in 565 CE, although she wouldn’t become world-renowned until the 20th century. In 1933, a couple reported seeing a monster that resembled a dragon in the water. Since then, this small lake in Scotland has been put on the world map.
One recent sighting of Nessie occurred in September 2021, when a man accidentally captured an unidentified creature on his drone footage. Despite a 2018 survey that found only eels inhabiting the lake, Nessie’s rampant popularity has boosted northern Scotland’s overall economy. To search the water’s surface for Nessie, Urquhart Castle is an excellent viewing spot. Nearby, the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition will provide all the information you need on the local legend, in addition to the natural history of the region.
Lake Van Monster (Lake Van, Turkey)
The first sighting of the Lake Van Monster was in 1995, when a local official attested to seeing a spiked creature that resembled a dinosaur in the lake water. The report sparked national interest, almost to the point of obsession. In particular, Unal Kozak, a 26-year-old teaching assistant, became entirely preoccupied with the possibility of a monster living in the lake. Kozak, who wrote a book on the subject, claimed to have spotted the monster on three separate occasions and revealed it to be about 50 feet in length.
As the second-largest lake in the Middle East, Lake Van provides a lot of space for the mythical monster to roam, which has made it difficult to find. In 2017, divers searched the lake for signs of the mysterious creature. Although they didn’t find an aquatic dinosaur living beneath the surface, they did uncover something else — a preserved castle from the kingdom of Van that dates back to 9 BCE, and underwater gravestones from the Seljuk Empire in 11 CE.
Ogopogo (Okanagan Lake, Canada)
“Ogopogo” may not be as world-renowned as Nessie, but in British Columbia, the lake monster is practically a celebrity. Purported to live in Okanagan Lake, an 84-mile-long lake on the shore of Kelowna, Ogopogo has repeatedly been described as a green monster with the head of a snake. With 16% of British Columbians believing in its existence, the presence of Ogopogo is so integral to the city’s culture that it’s memorialized as a lakefront statue. Ogopogo is also the official mascot of the local hockey team.
In reality, the myth of the lake monster may have stemmed from a miscommunication between early settlers and the Okanagan First Nations, or Syilx people. The Syilx believed in a “sacred spirit of the lake” that resembled a horse with antlers, but the colonizers misconstrued the concept, and Ogopogo was born. For visitors who want to learn more about the Syilx and their beliefs behind the lake spirit, the Sncewips Heritage Museum teaches about their cultural practices and traditions.
Selma (Lake Seljord, Norway)
Formed during the last ice age, Lake Seljord is a glacial body of water known for its resident lake serpent, “Selma.” Lake Seljord’s mysterious creature has been spotted by locals since the 18th century. The monster is most often described as a giant snake, although documented reports of Selma’s upper half have variously described the head of a crocodile or a calf. Most of the accounts have been by fishermen, many of whom claimed that the frightening creature stretched between 30 and 45 feet in length.
The earliest sightings of Selma occurred in 1750 and remained consistent throughout the centuries, with documented accounts in the 1800s and 1900s. Although many underwater expeditions have searched the lake for Selma, none have found factual evidence of the monster’s existence. However, researchers believe there was something “unnatural” in the lake, with sonar readings recording the “sounds of an unknown mammal” — similar to those of a whale.
Lake Tianchi Monster (Lake Tianchi, China)
Located high in the mountains of Changbai Mountain Scenic Park, Tianchi Lake translates to “Heaven Lake.” At first glance, this alpine lake is heavenly indeed, with calm turquoise waters surrounded by staggering peaks. But some believe there is something dark lurking beneath the water’s crystal-clear surface. Since 1962, there have been reports of an unidentified creature living in the lake, with around 20 sightings of the mysterious lake monster to date.
Most recently, a national park employee spotted a black object in the middle of the lake and was able to capture it on film, believing it to be the monster. The man, who regularly documents the mountain weather on video, insists there is no way that the object was a boat, especially since access to the lake is heavily restricted. To search for the Lake Tianchi Monster, there are daily shuttle buses from the bus station in Fukang, and a viewing platform that provides ample views of the water.
Lake Tota Monster (Lake Tota, Colombia)
At seven miles in length, four miles wide, and 190 feet deep, Lake Tota is the largest lake in Colombia. Nestled in the mountains of Boyacá near the cities of Medellín and Bogotá, this body of water is also believed to be home to a centuries-old lake monster. Referred to as the Lake Tota Monster, the creature is also called “diablo ballena,” or devil whale, by the Indigenous Muisca people. According to the Muisca people, who have resided in this region since 600 BCE, the existence of the lake’s mythical creature is woven into Lake Tota’s origin story.
As the legend goes, an Indigenous priest created the lake while trying to exorcise an evil serpent spirit. However, since the 1600s, recorded sightings of the monster by colonizers have become more common, with conquistadors, physicians, explorers, and writers all claiming to have witnessed the terrifying creature. To look for yourself, Playa Blanca in the town of Aquitania is a lovely spot to search the water’s edge for signs of the monster.
Lariosauro "Larry" (Lake Como, Italy)
At an astounding 1,345 feet deep, Lake Como is one of the deepest lakes in Europe. With its seemingly bottomless depth, it’s impossible to know what lurks in the shadows, which is how the legend of “Lariosauro,” the local lake monster, came to be. Lariosauro, or “Larry” as he is often called, was first spotted by a fisherman in 1949. Eight years later, a deep-sea diver claimed to have seen a reptilian lake creature with the head of a crocodile. More recently, in 2003, a giant, eel-like creature was spotted near the city of Lecco by a group of fishermen, with reports claiming it was at least 30 feet long.
Strangely enough, there is proof of the one-time existence of a creature like Larry. In 1830, the fossil of a creature with a flipper and reptilian legs was found on the shore of Lake Como. For people wanting to learn more, the Natural History Museum in Lecco is dedicated to Larry — visitors can uncover information about the supposed lake monster that prowls the waters of Lake Como.
Mokele-Mbembe (Congo River Basin)
Mokele-Mbembe's name translates to “he who stops the flow of river” in the local Lingala language. Purported to live in the Congo River Basin, which covers 1.5 million square miles, Mokele-Mbembe is thought to be a water-dweller that is roughly the size of an elephant. With a long neck and substantial tail, the river monster has been classified by cryptozoologists as a sauropod, which means it would be similar to four-legged dinosaurs, such as the brachiosaurus.
In addition to countless stories from tribal members who have inhabited the region for centuries, one of the first documented sightings of Mokele-Mbembe was by a French missionary in 1776, who uncovered what he believed to be the animal’s clawed footprint. Despite more than 50 search expeditions in the region, no concrete evidence of the animal exists. Since some local tribes refer to the creature as a “ghost,” this mythical monster may not be as flesh-and-blood as the search teams would like to believe.
Inkanaymba (Howick Falls, South Africa)
In the Natal Midlands of South Africa, the underwater creature that allegedly resides beneath Howick Falls is known as Inkanaymba. Described as a serpent with the head of a horse and horns like a cow, Inkanaymba lives in the sacred lake below the falls. According to the Indigenous Zulu tribe, Inkanaymba is especially active in the summer, when the creature flies out of the falls and causes intense rainstorms. Zulu sangomas (traditional healers) are the only people who have the authority to approach the lake, as its waters are considered sacred and Inkanaymba is reportedly very dangerous.
With cave paintings that depict a creature suspiciously similar to Inkanaymba, the myth of this creature has been around for a long time. Despite being a character in Zulu folklore, the monster has also been seen by those outside the tribe, with multiple reports from the park’s game ranger and caretaker. Although no one is allowed down by the lake, there is a viewing platform to see Howick Falls from a safe distance.
Lagarfljót Wyrm (Lagarfljót Lake, Iceland)
Located in the town of Egilsstaðir, Lagarfljót Lake is a freshwater lake formed by glaciers. It’s also home to legend of a very old lake monster, known as the Lagarfljót Wyrm. Locals claim that the “worm” is a distant cousin of the Loch Ness Monster; its history dates back to 1345 CE, when the first sighting was recorded. Described as a 40-foot-long serpentine creature, the worm differs from other aquatic monsters as it can travel by both water and land.
Recorded sightings have described the worm swimming, lying on the beach, or slithering up a tree. In 2012, a video of the supposed monster made headlines in Iceland. Although it was a controversial decision, an Icelandic panel approved a vote to authenticate the video, which proved the existence of the worm once and for all. The lake is situated next to Iceland’s largest national forest, and visitors can hike the forest’s trails to see the lake or visit nearby waterfalls.
Chessie (Chesapeake Bay)
Located on the Eastern Seaboard, Chesapeake Bay covers 64,000 square miles and includes parts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington, D.C. Along the 11,684 miles of shoreline, there have been frequent sightings of “Chessie” — the region’s resident sea monster — since the 19th century. The first recorded sighting occurred in 1846, when a sea captain reported a strange creature beneath the surface at Virginia Beach. About a century later, in 1936, military pilots were flying over the bay when they saw something peculiar swimming below. And then in 1982, a husband and wife videotaped something strange undulating beneath the water.
The most recent Chessie sighting happened in 2014, when somebody reported a 20-foot-long serpentine creature slithering in the bay. Most accounts say that Chessie is a snake-like creature that swims with a side-to-side motion — a movement that differs from those of manatees, sharks, or other large sea animals that reside in the bay. Since many of Chessie's sightings have occurred around the mouths of rivers, visiting the Rappahannock, Potomac, or Patuxent rivers might be your best bet for spying the sea snake in person.