Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Thursday, 19 March 2015

BOTHERSOME BEITHIRS AND OTHER FRESHWATER MYSTERY EELS?


Delightful depiction of Nessie as a giant eel (© Richard Pullen)

I have already discussed on ShukerNature the prospect that certain serpentiform sea monsters might be still-undiscovered giant marine eels – Dr Bernard Heuvelmans's 'super-eel' category of sea serpent (click here). Similarly, a number of freshwater mystery beasts reported from Britain and elsewhere in the world may also conceivably be unusually large eels - a thought-provoking possibility previously visited on ShukerNature in relation to reports from ancient times of supposed giant blue eels inhabiting India's Ganges River (click here), and now revisited in the following selection of additional eye-opening examples.


NEVER BOTH A BEITHIR

The Loch Ness monster (LNM) may well be Scotland's best known freshwater mystery beast, but it is not this country's only one. Far less familiar yet no less intriguing in its own way is the beithir. In 1994, a correspondent to the English magazine Athene published two fascinating articles containing various modern-day beithir sightings. During early 1975, he encountered a fisherman near Inverness who claimed that he and four others once sighted a beithir lying coiled in shallow water close to the edge of a deep gorge upstream of the Falls of Kilmorack. When it realised that it had been observed, however, it thrashed wildly about before finally swimming up the gorge near Beaufort Castle and disappearing. The fishermen estimated its length at around 10 ft.

Four months later, the Athene correspondent learnt of another sighting, this time offshore of Eilean Aigas, an island in the River Beauly, Highland. He was also informed by a keeper at Strathmore that during the 1930s his wife's parents had seen beithirs moving overland at Loch a' Mhuillidh, near Glen Strathfarrar and the mountain of Sgurr na Lapaich. After discussing these reports with various zoological colleagues, he considered that the beithir was probably an extra-large variety of eel – fishes that are well known for their ability to leave the water and move overland to forage when circumstances necessitate, and even to sustain themselves out of water for protracted periods.

The European eel, painting from 1837 (public domain)

Indeed, the Athene correspondent was informed by a Devon farmer that during the extremely harsh winter of 1947, his mother had been badly frightened to discover a number of eels alive and well in the farm's hayloft, where they had evidently been sheltering since the freezing over of the nearby river some time earlier. The rest of the family came to see this wonder, including the farmer himself (then still a boy), and his father confirmed that they were indeed eels, and not snakes (as his mother had initially assumed).


IS NESSIE A EUNUCH EEL?

The LNM (always assuming that it actually exists, of course!) has been labelled as many things by many people – a surviving plesiosaur, an unknown species of long-necked seal, and a wayward sturgeon being among the most popular identities proffered over the years. However, some eyewitnesses and zoological authorities – notably the late Dr Maurice Burton – have favoured a giant eel, possibly up to 30 ft long.

Under normal circumstances, the common or European eel Anguilla anguilla does not exceed 5 ft, and even the conger eel Conger conger (one of the world's largest eel species, rivalled only by certain moray eels) rarely exceeds 10 ft. However, ichthyological researchers have revealed that growth in eels is more rapid in confined bodies of water (such as a loch), in water that is not subjected to seasonal temperature changes (a condition met with in the deeper portions of a deep lake, like Loch Ness), and is not uniform (some specimens grow much faster than others belonging to the same species).

Collectively, therefore, these factors support the possibility that abnormally large eels do indeed exist in Loch Ness. Moreover, sightings of such fishes have been claimed by divers here. Also of significance is the fact that eels will sometimes swim on their side at or near the water surface, yielding the familiar humped profile described by Nessie eyewitnesses. And a 18-30-ft-long eel could certainly produce the sizeable wakes and other water disturbances often reported for this most famous – and infamous – of all aquatic monsters.

The conger eel (public domain)

Consequently, I would not be at all surprised if the presence of extra-large eels in Loch Ness is conclusively demonstrated one day. However, I cannot reconcile any kind of eel with the oft-reported vertical head-and-neck (aka 'periscope') category of LNM sightings, nor with the land LNM sightings that have described a clearly-visible four-limbed, long-necked, long-tailed animal.

Yet regardless of what creature these latter observations feature (assuming once again their validity), there is no reason why Loch Ness should not contain some extra-large eels too. After all, any loch that can boast a volume of roughly 1.8 cubic miles must surely have sufficient room for more than one type of monster!

In recent years, the giant eel identity for Nessie has been modified by some cryptozoological researchers to yield a creature as remarkable in itself as any bona fide monster – namely, a giant eunuch eel.  It has been suggested that Nessie may be a gigantic, sterile or eunuch specimen of the common eel – one that did not swim out to sea and spawn but instead stayed in the loch, grew exceptionally long (25-30 ft), lived to a much greater age than normal, and was rendered sterile by some currently-undetermined factor present in this and other deep, cold, northern lakes.

This is undeniably a fascinating, thought-provoking theory, but Dr Scott McNaught, Professor of Lake Biology at Central Michigan University, has stated that even if such eels did arise, they would tend to grow thicker rather than longer. Nevertheless, giant eels remain a distinct possibility in relation to some of the world’s more serpentiform lake monsters on record.


MONSTER EELS IN THE MASCARENES

The concept of giant freshwater eels is by no means limited to Britain. For example: a number of deep pools in the Mascarene island of Réunion, near Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, are supposedly inhabited by gigantic landlocked eels.

In a letter to The Field magazine, published on 10 February 1934, Courtenay Bennett recalled seeing during the 1890s when Consul at Réunion a dead specimen that had been caught in one such pool, the Mare à Poule d'Eaux, which is said to be very deep in places. It was so immense that "steaks as thick as a man's thighs were cut" from its flesh.

Mare à Poule d'Eaux (© http://www.chat-reunion.com)

According to native testimony, moreover, during the heavy winter rains the giant eels could apparently be seen circling along the sides of this lake, searching for a way out. Being so exposed, however, they were prime targets for local hunters, who would catch them using a harpoon and a rope hitched round a tree. Their flesh would then be sold for food in a neighbouring village.


EXTRA-LARGE EELS IN JAPAN?

Several of Japan's biggest lakes are associated with accounts of freshwater eels reputedly much larger than typical specimens on record from these localities. A concise coverage of such creatures appeared in a detailed article concerning Japanese giant mystery fishes that was written by Brent Swancer and posted on 30 April 2014 to the Mysterious Universe website (click here to access the full article) and reads as follows:

Various locations in Japan have had reports of huge eels far larger than any known native species.

Workers doing construction on a floodgate on the Edo river reported coming across enormous eels measuring 2 meters (6.6 feet) long. According to the account, four of the eels were spotted and some of the workers even attempted to capture one, as the eels appeared to be rather lethargic and slow moving. They were unsuccessful as they did not have the equipment to properly catch one. Upon returning to the scene later on with the tools they needed, they found that the mysterious giant eels were nowhere to be seen.

Another account comes from Lake Biwa, which is in Shiga Prefecture, and is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. In the 1980s, there were several reports of giant eels inhabiting the lake.

One such sighting was made by a large group of people aboard one of the lakes many pleasure boats. Startled ferry passengers reported seeing several very large eels swimming at the surface far from shore. The eels were described as being around 3 meters (around 10 feet) long, and a silvery blue color. The eels appeared to be leisurely gliding along beside the boat and were observed for around 15 minutes before moving off out of sight.

A fisherman on the same lake reported actually hooking and reeling in an eel that was reported to be around 8 feet in length. In this case, the eel was kept and eaten. Another fisherman on the lake reported seeing a similarly sized eel rooting through mud in shallow water near the shore.

Japan's Lake Biwa, as seen from Higashiamagoidake (public domain)

Interestingly, the giant blue eels of Lake Biwa readily recall comparably-described mystery beasts from India's Ganges River as reported by several early chroniclers (click here for my earlier-mentioned ShukerNature coverage of these latter cryptids).


GIANT EELS IN OHIO?

Although giant eels are a popular identity for water monsters, of both the marine and freshwater variety, because the size of eels is notoriously difficult to gauge accurately in the wild due to their sinuous movements and usual lack of background scale for precise length estimation this means that eyewitness reports of giant specimens are normally difficult to take seriously – which is why the following account is so significant. On 3 February 2015, Facebook friend Chris R. Richards from Covington, Washington State, USA, posted on the page of the Facebook group Cryptozoology the following hitherto-unpublished report of a huge freshwater eel that he and his father had personally witnessed during the 1990s:

I believe whole heartily in giant eels. I saw one as long as my canoe back in the later nineties. They could result in sea monster claims. Hocking River Ohio. Directly off the side of the canoe in clear water near upper part of river. At first thought it was a tree with algae in water, then saw the head and realized the "algae" was actually a frill. The animal was thicker than my arm. The head was at the front of the 15ft Coleman canoe and the tail end trailed behind my back seat. At the time this was amazing to both my father and I. Only later did I come to fully appreciate how amazing this sighting was. I got to see it the longest as we slowly passed it and I was in the back of the boat. [The eel was] 12 to 15 ft.

The frill was presumably the eel's long, low dorsal fin, which runs along almost the entire length of the body in freshwater anguillid (true) eels. What makes this report so exciting is that there is an unambiguous scale present in it – the known length of the canoe, alongside which the eel was aligned, thereby making its total length very easy to ascertain.

American eel (public domain)

The only such species recorded from Ohio is the common American eel Anguilla rostrata, which officially grows up to 4 ft long. Consequently, judging from the scale provided by the canoe, the eel seen by Chris and his father was 3-4 times longer than this species' official maximum size.

Assuming their report to be genuine (and I'm not aware of any reason to doubt it), there seems little option but to assume, therefore, that bona fide giant freshwater eels do indeed exist, at least in the Ohio waterways, which is a remarkable situation and clearly of notable cryptozoological interest.

Reconstruction of the possible appearance of the Ganges giant blue mystery eel (© Dr Karl Shuker)






8 comments:

  1. As I'm sure you are aware, all eels have no pelvic fins, so any four finned beast can be ruled out as an eel.

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  2. Indeed, but if you are alluding to Nessie here, there is no guarantee that even if it exists, all Nessie sightings are of the same single species. If the land sightings are genuine, these certainly cannot be explained as eels as they are apparently quadrupedal with delineated necks, but some aquatic Nessie sightings of apparent creatures not revealing any limbs may feature extra-large eels.

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  3. Regarding the word "beithir". Just to avoid confusion, it is frequently used in modern Gaelic to mean a bear, probably because of its similar sound. In fact, in Irish Gaelic, I have never heard it used to mean anything else. However, I suspect that it may have had the same meaning as in Scottish Gaelic originally. The Scotsman Forbes in his Gaelic Names of Beasts translates it as 'bear, any wild beast'.

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  4. There are some really interesting historical giant eel aacounts at this site:

    https://aforteantinthearchives.wordpress.com/category/monsters/

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  5. I find this interesting, as I link old (and newer) sightings of lindworms etc in Scandinavia with giant eels. This because of snakelike bodies, large eyes and dorsal long "mane". Even more interesting is that you mention eels on a hay loft in England. I have a simlar story from SE Sweden, where an eldery lady speaks of a large white snakelike being with a mane, found on the hay loft by her grandfather in 1925, then shot and buried. And there are other stories of large swimming “snakes” from a neighboring lake.

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  6. I was stationed in Guam during the late 80's/early 90's, at the Naval Magazine there, while enlisted in the Marine Corps. The Naval Magazine there sits in the most heavily-forested part of the island, and it is a protected game reserve, with the only "lake" on the island, Fena Lake (reservoir). I will swear that I have seen many eels exceeding 8 feet in length in the streams and small rivers that run through this area, as well as having seen quite a few eels of such length sliding down the spillway into the reservoir. If you could find other Marines who patrolled the jungle there, some will have seen such eels. Maybe some local poachers can also verify having seen eels of this length in this particular area, which is/was off-limits to locals, many of whom regularly came in over the hills to hunt deer and wild pig, set their shrimp and fish traps in the streams, etc.

    The "lake," Fena Reservoir, was rumored to be "bottomless," and it does drop straight off from the edges, deeper than a full spool of 6 lb. test line will take a weight. Some Navy divers went diving in that lake on their off day one day, and came out claiming that there were "eels down there big enough to swallow a man whole." I don't know about that, but it is a creepy place, day or night, and the Tilapia and bass that we pulled out of there were just enormous.

    There is at least one other possible cryptozoological animal in the jungle on that reserve. We called it "Bagget's Monster," after the Marine who first claimed to see it. Japanese soldiers lived in the jungle on that U.S. base until at least 1978! That's how thick the jungle is on that reserve, and it is just a fascinating, mysterious place.

    Head to Guam, get a pass and some escorts from the Navy, and you will see these 8' plus eels without a doubt, and if you are brave enough to don some scuba gear and check out Fena lake, you just might see one of those giant eels, that is rumored to feed on the water buffalo, deer, and pigs that drink from it's waters.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for posting this fascinating information here - the giant eels of Guam are certainly new to me.

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    2. My pleasure! I should have added that I've found 8' to be an easy reference, as well as a meter. The old M-16 A2 is a meter long, and 8 feet is the standard height of a wall in any home in the U.S. So, I typical judged non-human measurements using these references. I hope that you get to Guam, and verify this in person (the smaller eels, anyway).

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