Almost 9 miles long, 2.5 miles wide, and up to 260 ft deep in one particular section, Lake Labynkyr in far-eastern Russia's Yakutia (Sakha) Republic is not only a large but also a very remote body of icy-cold freshwater. It is not frequently visited by outsiders, but those hardy local hunters that have braved its location's inhospitable climate have sometimes returned home with stories of formidable aquatic monsters inhabiting its chilly depths - stories that date back as far as the 19th Century but which have received increasing public and scientific attention since the 1950s.
Some tell of a dark-grey beast with an enormous mouth that has allegedly devoured their dogs when they have leapt into the lake to retrieve shot ducks. Others speak of a black, long-necked, snorting creature with a snake-like head that preys upon geese and reindeer. In my book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), I noted that according to Anatoly Pankov, a chronicler of mysterious happenings in this part of the world, sometime during the 1950s one such creature supposedly raised its neck above the lake's surface in full view of a team of geologists and lunged upwards to snare a flying bird between its jaws while also being watched by a number of astonished reindeer hunters.
In 1962, Dr Sergei Klumov suggested that an unknown species of amphibian may exist here - a possibility also contemplated by Soviet geologist Dr Viktor Tverdokhlebov, who visited Lake Labynkyr during Russia's Stalinist era. A relict reptile was an alternative candidate proffered by Tverdokhlebov, but he was unable to put either option to the test, as he did not report any sightings of monsters there. Nor did any team members from a Russian expedition that visited in 1963, or an Estonian team in 1964. Yet the legend of mystery beasts lurking beneath its water surface continues.
Modern reconstruction of Mastodonsaurus - a very big and notably large-mouthed amphibian from the Middle Triassic Period (public domain)
Thanks to the intriguing findings of a team that visited this mysterious lake last month, however, the true nature of its supposed monsters may be very different from the accounts and theories noted above, but no less interesting either.
The team in question was composed of divers from the Russian Geographic Society and the Diving Sport Federation of Russia. Their mission had three separate goals – to collect samples for formal scrutiny and analysis by scientists investigating the long-suspected possibility that an underwater link exists between Lake Labynkyr and the equally mysterious Lake Vorota, almost 20 miles away; to break the world record for the deepest under-ice dive; and to look out for Labynkyr's fabled monsters. By the end of their visit, the team had accomplished both of their first two goals, and had also obtained some thought-provoking findings of great relevance to their third.
As documented by the Siberian Times on 21 April 2014, team member Lyudmila Emeliyanova, an Associate Professor of Biogeography, revealed that during a previous visit here (in 2009):
"It was our fourth or fifth day at the lake when our echo sounding device registered a huge object in the water under our boat.
"The object was very dense, of homogeneous structure, surely not a fish nor a shoal of fish, and it was above the bottom. I was very surprised but not scared and not shocked, after all we did not see this animal, we only registered a strange object in the water. But I can clearly say - at the moment, as a scientist, I cannot offer you any explanation of what this object might be."
And that was not all - further sonar readings of this same kind were subsequently recorded by her equipment:
"I can't say we literally found and touched something unusual there but we did register with our echo sounding device several seriously big underwater objects, bigger than a fish, bigger than even a group of fish."
In contrast, the largest life forms detected in the lake during this latest visit, and which were photographed by team member Alexander Gubin, were fishes up to 4 ft long that the team referred to as dogfishes – which is something of a mystery in itself.
Two photographs of 'dogfishes' encountered during the Russian team's visit to Lake Labynkyr in March 2014 (© Alexander Gubin/Siberian Times)
For whereas the term 'dogfish' is normally applied to various relatives of sharks, I was readily able to identify the fishes in Gubin's photographs as being something totally different.
Namely, a cod-related freshwater species known as the burbot Lota lota. So, could 'dogfish' be a colloquial name used in Russia for the burbot?
(Top) A burbot (© Achim R Schloeffel/Wikipedia); (Bottom) One of the Russian team's 'dogfishes' (© Alexander Gubin/Siberian Times)
Carnivorous by nature, this very distinctive species – the world's only freshwater gadiform - is known to attain a total length of up to 4 ft. However, larger specimens may conceivably exist in this large but little-disturbed lake.
Untroubled by any large-scale threat of predation by other animals or persecution by humans, and encouraged to attain an exceptionally large size by the lake's chilling temperature in the same way that fishes and invertebrates famously do in the freezing waters off Antarctica, perhaps undiscovered mega-burbots are the real monsters of Labynkyr.
For more information on Russian lake monsters, check out my book Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2010).