Locals witness strange creatures in Iliamna

Tales of lake monsters have circulated among people living on the shores of Iliamna, Alaska’s largest lake, for generations, and some residents advise not to get on the water in a red boat or wearing red clothing. During his life on the lake, Gary Nielsen has seen numerous cryptic creatures, including rock-colored animals he guesses may be freshwater rays, and monsters with tree-like appendages. Most often, he is alone or with his family when he spots these creatures, but in June 2017, Nielsen was part of a sighting that raised some eyebrows, because numerous residents of Kokhanok, a village on the lake’s south shore, all spotted the same puzzling disturbance in the water.

Three animals—one Nielsen estimates was at least 70 feet long—surfaced like whales, but blew water from the sides of their mouths instead of from a blowhole. The creatures surfaced twice, had no visible dorsal fins, and haven’t been seen since. Nielsen, who had binoculars, says he couldn’t identify what they were. “I honestly had no idea what it might be as opposed to some freshwater whale or a huge, huge shark,” he says.

There may be strange creatures under the 1,000-square-miles of water in Lake Iliamna. (Courtesy of Bob Bird)

Bob Bird, a resident of Soldotna, flew out to Kokhanok to investigate for his KSRM radio show. He says each witness he talked to had the same story. “What I discovered is that Gary Nielsen is very credible,” Bird says. “He’s a commercial fisherman and is a Native who’s lived on that lake for, I suppose, all his life.”

Nielsen acknowledges there will always be people who doubt the stories. “We saw what we saw,” he says. “Nothing’s going to change that.”

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Alexander Deedy is the assistant editor and digital content manager for Alaska magazine.

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