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.
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.
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.
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.
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.