On a calm September day, a group of moose hunters sat in their skiff on Iliamna Lake on the Alaska Peninsula. The men noticed what looked like two big sunken logs beneath their boat but didn’t think much of it. They focused on scanning for moose and watching a family of swans floating nearby. Suddenly, one swan vanished underwater. In a matter of seconds the rest of the flock was dragged under. The hunters watched in horror and fascination as what they thought had been sunken logs fed on the birds. One was the length and the width of their 18-foot skiff and had eyes the circumference of soccer balls. The creatures looked like giant northern pike.
Bruce Wright, a marine ecologist and apex predator specialist, recorded this account. It’s just one of many stories of what people have dubbed “the Iliamna Lake monster.” Wright is “not a big fan of cryptobiology,” but as a scientist who has studied everything from bears to sharks, he finds the stories of the monsters fascinating. The lake interests Wright as much as any mysterious beasts it may hold.
“What’s so intriguing to me is the lake itself. Five to 8 million adult sockeye salmon come back Lake Iliamna each year,” Wright said.
At 77 miles long, up to 1000 feet deep and with an area of roughly 1,200 square miles, Iliamna Lake is the largest lake in Alaska and the third largest in the U.S. It’s the source of the Kvichak River Watershed, which is considered the most productive freshwater habitat for Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon.