The Lake Okanagan Monster (Ogopogo)

Ogopogo, Canada's foremost lake monster, purportedly makes its home in Lake Okanagan (a.k.a. Okanagan Lake) [1] a pristine body of fresh water located in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley.

Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the region’s aboriginal peoples referred to the lake’s largest denizen with names such as N’ha-a-tik (lake demon) or Na-ha-ha-itk (snake in the lake) and when crossing open water in bad weather carried a small animal to placate the monster which they considered malevolent.

It was the Europeans who, perhaps taking the cryptid [2] a little less seriously, called it Ogopogo, the name taken from a somewhat irreverent parody of an early twentieth century English music hall song:

            I'm looking for the Ogopogo.
            The bunny-hugging Ogopogo.
            His mother was a mutton, his father was a whale.
            I'm going to put a little bit of salt on his tail.
            I'm looking for the Ogopogo.

Following the ditty and the notoriety it engendered sightings of the alleged monster quickly increased:

In 1926 a sighting by over a hundred witnesses took place at Okanogan Mission Beach

In 1949 a group partying on a boat claim to have seen a partially submerged Ogopogo close up and personal. The monster purportedly had a tail similar to that of a whale but moved with the undulating motion of a snake.

In 1968 a saw mill worker caught what he thought to be the creature on 8mm film, unfortunately the film was not of the best quality and the object considered by some to be the fin of a gigantic creature moving just below the surface was thought by others to be nothing more than a boat’s wake.

In 1980 a second film, taken by a group of vacationers, showed huge waves perhaps caused by a submerged creature a possible fin occasionally visible.

In 1989 Ernie Giroux, a hunting guide, claimed that he and his wife obseved a strange creature emerge from the lake near where they were standing.

So is the creature real?

Karl Shuker a British cryptozoologist has suggested it might be some kind of primitive serpentine whale such as Basilosaurus (“King Lizard”) a genus of cetacean from the Late Eocene, a position also taken by fellow cryptozoologist Roy P. Mackal, who after initially believing Ogopogo to be similar to the Loch Ness Monster later changed his mind.

Or is it myth/illusion?

A partialy submerged tree trunk, log or misidentified animal (deer, otter, beaver).

A large fish possibly a lake sturgeon (a prehistoric leftover from the Cretaceous) which can live for a 150 years, grow as much as 9 feet (3 meters) in length and weigh over 300 pounds (140 kilograms).  

The formation of a subsurface (standing) wave called a seiche which can throw debris from the bottom of a lake to the surface. Seiches are know to occur in Lake Okanagan, Lake Champlain and Loch Ness.

Perhaps the questions are irrelevant:

Whether real, myth or illusion the monster has both captured the world’s imagination and left its mark on the culture and economy of British Columbia. (It was announced at one point [perhaps with an eye on the tourist trade] that a new ferry, being built to carry people across the Okanagan, would be equipped with a special “monster repelling device.”) It has inspired movies, television series and documentaries. A Canadian stamp and hockey uniform bear its likeness and objects from canoes to boats bear its name.

Since 1989 Ogopogo has enjoyed protected wildlife status. It is illegal to harm the creature in any way.

[1] Lake Okanagan is 84 miles (135 km) long, with a maximum width of 3.1 miles (5 km) and a maximum depth of 761 feet (232 meters). By comparison Lake Champlain, purported home of Champ/Champy the Lake Champlain Monster, is 125 miles (201 km) long, with a maximum width of 14 miles (23 km) and a maximum depth of 400 feet (122 meters) while Loch Ness is 22.6 miles (36.3 km) long, with a maximum width of 1.7 miles (2.7 km) and a maximum depth of 744.6 feet (226.96 meters).

[2] The word “cryptid” was devised by Manitoban John E. Wall and first used in the International Society of Cryptozoology Newsletter, Summer 1983. It basically refers to creatures that are hypothetical, presumed extinct or for which there is insufficient proof to establish their existence with absolute certainty.

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