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So is there a Loch Ness Monster in Siberia?

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18 September 2012


Is this the Siberian Nessie...? 

Known as 'Russia's Loch Ness Monster', the accounts of the creature in Yakutia predate the Scottish claims yet in many ways are similar.

Intriguingly, too, there are theories that Labynkyr - which has unusual cracks on its 60 to 80 metre deep floor  - is connected by underwater channels to another lake, Vorota, where monster sightings have also been recorded, including by respected Soviet geologist Viktor Tverdokhlebov, an academician not given to hyperbole. 

Associate Professor of Biogeography Lyudmila Emeliyanova revealed to The Siberian Times that on her own scientific mission to Labynkyr she recorded 'several seriously big underwater objects' with sonar readings.  

She is not the only researcher to have done so.   

'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,' she said.

'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.'

Siberian lake monster

Lyudmila Emelyanova, Moscow State University Associate Professor of Biogeography working with echo sounding device during her expedition to Labynkur lake in Yakutia. Picture: Andrei Emelyanov 

The readings were repeated and she became convinced there was more than one large living object in the pure waters.

'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. 

'This is why I fully support the idea of a new trip there and extra research.

'I would love to take part in another visit to this lake. I know how to organise it and know enough good local people who can help on the spot. It is a hard trip I must say but it is definitely worth doing it again. This mysterious and very deep lake still has some secret to tell us.'

Freshwater Labynkyr, some 5,000 km east of Moscow, is mysterious for another reason, too. It is only around 60 kilometres from the settlement of Oymyakon - the coldest inhabited place on Earth - yet, astonishingly, the lake does not freeze over completely in winter, in contrast to virtually all lakes in the region. The ice that does form, unusually, can be too thin to walk on.  It is not uncommon to driver cars on lakes in Yakutia in winter: but not Labynkyr.

One unproven theory is that Labynkyr, where much of the rock is volcanic, is warmed slightly from below by a fissure in the Earth's crust. 

Dr Emeliyanova, from the Biogeography Department of the Geographical Faculty of Moscow State University, is struck by historical accounts of monsters in Labynkyr and Vorota and believes they are credible.

They date from the late 19th century, while accounts of the Loch Ness monster are usually held to have emerged in the 1930s. 

Labynkyr lake, Yakutia

Labynkyr lake, Yakutia. Picture: Andrei Emelyanov 

On the basis of 'sightings' there has been speculation that Labynkyr and Vorota might be inhabited by a school of ichthyosaurs, prehistoric marine reptiles resembling dolphins or sharks, or plesiosaurs, a popular theory concerning 'Nessie' in Scotland which is often depicted with a long neck.

Another version has speculated that relic killer whales could have become marooned in Labynkyr. Some accounts even suggest the 'creature' makes a hideous primeval cry as it attacks its prey.

'Personally, I do believe that when the information about something strange circulates among local people for so many years, it just can't be groundless, it means something is there,' she said. 'I know the local people very well - they are ingenuous but they do not lie,' she said previously. 

Now she adds: 'I have been on a dozen expeditions to this region and I can say I know the character of local people quite well. They are emotional - but are not intended to show their emotions and they are very true and honest by nature, often more honest than is necessary. This is why I am not ready to reject all these stories.'

For her another factor is how the stories of monsters in Yakutia relate solely to these two lakes out of more than 800,000 across this giant region. 

'There are many lakes in Yakutia and around the Indigirka River, hundreds of them, big and small, their shores are more or less populated, but all the talk is about Labynkyr and Vorota lakes, and it has gone on for many dozens of years. It makes us think about it. And these stories about the local monster are older than those about the Loch Ness monster.'

Labynkyr lake, Yakutia

Lyudmila Emeliyanova during her trip to Labynkyr lake

Lyudmila Emelyanova, Moscow State University Associate Professor of Biogeography with her team on way to Labynkur lake in Yakutia. Pictures: Andrei Emelyanov

Even so, she insisted of her 2002 trip: 'I did not go there to chase the lake monster: as a biogeographer I was interested mainly in that very territory, I wanted to visit and study it. 

'But, of course, I was curious to see the place which has so many legends and stories. I did not suppose we could really find something there simply because we did not plan to spend there enough time. Our stop by the lake was just for 12 days.

'As a scientist I know this is not enough to locate and study some unknown creature. I can put it like this, however. I believe there is a mystery in this lake because there is no smoke without fire.

'I am sure that numerous legends which exist and circulate for many years just can't be groundless. I read many different legends but the account below is what I heard with my own ears.

'Several fishermen who visit this lake from time to time say they experienced the following when fishing from a boat in this lake: during quiet, and not windy, weather when there were no disturbances in the lake, some strange waves coming from under the water suddenly heavily shook their boats.

'It was as if a big body was moving under the water and producing waves which reached the surface and shook the vessel.'

She explained: 'These stories shook me up, for instance, about a boat which was lifted by something or somebody. Two fishermen were fishing in the middle of the lake in late Autumn, they were in a 10 metre long boat when suddenly the bow began to rise as if somebody was pushing it from under the water. 

'It was a heavy boat, only a huge and strong animal can do such a thing. The fishermen were stuck by fear. They did not see anything, no head, no jaws. Soon the boat went down.'

Another account of an entirely separate trip to the lake in August 2006 - where researchers used a Humminbird Piranha MAX 215 Portable fish-finder - produced results echoing her findings. Images are available from this trip - some are shown here - but the identities of those who took part are hidden. 

'The conditions were ideal - clear cold fresh water, no big waves, stone bottom without plants there, no engine on the boat, soft and slow moving - all this means there were almost no problems for the scanning,' claimed one of those present.

'Often the device showed the long chain of big fish some 4 meters above the bottom of the lake, when the depth was about 30-45 meters.

'The further we went away from the shore, the deeper the lake was, at one moment there was no fish registered for a long period long, the screen was dead. But all of a sudden it blew up with signals about a huge shoal of fish, just like a cloud.

'Let me say a word about local fish - all kinds of fish here are predators, the bottom of the lake is 'dead', stones with sand, very cold near the bottom, no plants. Fish-predators just cannot swim all together making such a huge shoal, anybody familiar with Zoology will understand what I mean. 

'This is why it meant nothing else but the huge swimming object with some air inside. 

'We went twice above the object, it was at the depth of 30 metres (where the floor was 50 metres below). The upper 'fish' was at a depth of 25 metres, the lower 'fish' at 32 metres. It suggests the object was seven metres wide. What was it? We can't say. 

Labynkyr lake

Labynkyr lake

Labynkyr lake

Echo sounding device data of the underwater object in lake Labynkyr, with travelers drawing in red what they imagined the creature could have looked like. Pictures:

'I switched off the 'Fish ID' and we watched just pure scanning.....soon we registered a 'shadow' some 15-17 meters under our boat, it was about 6.5 meters long. It was pretty clear, it was not a fish and not a tree. There cannot be fish that big, and a log would have been registered in a different way. How can it swim under the water?

'The most active 'shadows' or 'bodies' were registered in certain parts of the lake when the depth was 42 to 60 metres.'

'The next shadow; the width of the object is about 70 cm, and although the screen shows its silhouette differently to how we imagined, my mind vividly paints a picture of a beast, swimming across the echo device scanning ray. 

'Another object was 'caught' at the depth of 20 meters. It was definitely a live creature - look at the density! - but of a smaller size, like 2.5 meters. 

Perhaps another giant fish. Or a baby of our monster?'

Pictures here show the some of the images seen on the scanning device, including sketches (drawn on the screen in red) to show how the 'monster' might look. 

On another amateur trip to explore the lake, in 2000, Russian traveler Vladimir wrote: 'There was a signal from our echo sounding device, something was moving around our net with fish, something very big, seven to ten meters, it is hard to say because we did not know the speed of the object.

'And our nerves are not made of iron, there were two of us in the rubber boat, far away from the shore... we did not want to find it out, just got away from there...

'There were interesting trails on the water as if something big enough is swimming not very deep and playing in the water... There is a strange island there. It is in the middle of the lake and lots of broken nests of the sea gulls. The gulls were just crushed alive when they were asleep and did not have a chance to fly away. Some birds were eaten, some just left there... Who did it?

'In my humble opinion... there are four or five big animals in this lake, not more. If people do not rush there, maybe they will survive.'

In the 1960s, there are accounts of 'a monster with a long neck coming up out of the lake making an eerie sound'. Some versions say it was lizard-like. 

In Soviet times and before, the lake was almost inaccessible. Today that is changing. Travel companies in Yakutsk, capital of Yakutia or the Sakha Republic, are already offering private trips to visit the lake, enabling people to carry out their own monster hunts. 

This perhaps gives an added urgency to Dr Emeliyanova's plans to reach the lake and explore it in a fully scientific way: yet funds, so far not found, are needed to support this venture. 

Lyudmila Emeliyanova

Lyudmila Emelyanova, Moscow State University Associate Professor of Biogeography. Picture: The Siberian Times

She emphasised: 'Apart from the legends about this monster, this lake is quite mysterious itself, for instance distances are hard to measure there.

'Probably it is diffraction of light but still - I mean when you are sailing in a boat and you clearly see the shore is quite far away, in a minute you all over a sudden get there and hit the ground.... One shore is just drift sands. One of the islands on the lake sometimes is not visible, like a mirage in the desert, it comes and goes. 

'There is an amazing fact, too, that this lake is never totally frozen, not  what you would expect as it is not far from the Pole of Cold.

'But this is the fact, the lake is never fully covered by ice. If it had been fully covered, we could have closed this story about the monster forever. It could not survive. 

'The question is - why it is not completely frozen? Probably because of its depth, I can suppose, too, it is somehow warmed from the bottom but it is not really my part of science and would like to give you the opinion of some colleague here rather then my suggestion. I met scientist in Yakutsk who told me they registered the depth of 80 meters in Labynkyr lake.'

There is also 'an absence of plants there... it is another mystery.

'There are 13 fish species in the lake.  Of course they eat one another but not all of them, some would need plants for food, yet these appear to be absent.'

While she has conducted no research on it, she said that 'some scientists believe that this lake is connected with other lakes on the same plateau, at least with Lake Vorota, via some underground tunnel system'.

Accounts of strange creatures in the lake - often called the 'Labynkyr Devil' - have been passed down from generation to generation. 

One one version the monster is of dark grey colour with a huge mouth and 'distance between its eyes is just as the size of raft made of ten logs'. The legend says that this animal is aggressive, it can attack people and animals, it can leave the water and go on the shore.

A more recent 'sighting' involved a party of geologists some of whom went fishing on the lake. 'Suddenly those in the boat started screaming - apparently they saw a huge head of some creature. Others, who were waiting for them on shore, started shooting, and scared the creature away'.

Echo sounding device data of the underwater object in lake Labynkyr, with travelers drawing in red what they imagined the creature could have looked like

Echo sounding device data of the underwater object in lake Labynkyr, with travelers drawing in red what they imagined the creature could have looked like. Picture: 

Some years ago Itogi magazine analysed the sightings and concluded: 'Comparing the stories we can say that it is 9-10 metres long, 1.2-1.5 metres wide, its jaw is huge, up to one-third the size of its body, looking like a huge beak with lots of teeth, and there is a sort of bone-made horn on the top of the animal. The creature was met either in Labynkyr or in Vorota lake - locals believe these lakes are connected to each other with the help of  underground passages.'

Grasping for mundane theories to explain what the creature might be - if not a leftover from the Jurassic Age that somehow defied both extinction and the Ice Age - some have suggested an abnormally huge and well-fed pike.

Yury Gerasimov, head of the Ichthyology Department of the Institute of Biology of Freshwater of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is dubious. 'I have never come across such a big pike and I highly doubt they can exist. 

'If we trust the stories about this 'Devil', there must be about 1.5 metres between its eyes. It means the length of its body must be about 7-8 metres.

'Pike do not live so long in order to reach such a big size. There are two factors that help fish to grow - nutrition and comfortable water temperatures. Even if nutrition is perfect there, surely the temperatures are not that high. So in my opinion the view about a huge pike is a fantastic one.'

Another Russian traveller Sergei Karpukhin, a former geologist who once spent 35 days alone at Labynkyr, questions two basic premises of the monster theory. If these monsters were to survive down the ages, there must be sufficient of them to reproduce. There would also need to be connections to other lakes, something he disputes. 

'A little pack of them, like male/female plus several cubs is not enough,' he said.  'To survive this population must have such a number of animals that the lake would be swarming with them. 

'Or at least there should be such number of them, that they would not go unnoticed - given the description of them being quite big, and the lake is not that large. 

'I even think that there will need to be more creatures in the neighbouring lakes which the Labynkyr ones can be in contact with. Only then they can survive. 

'Now the Labynkyr Devil defenders would, I know, refer to Lake Vorota, some 20 km away from Labynkyr. This is where Tverdokhlybov saw that mysterious creature. Here the legend has some extra bits to it, that allegedly the lakes are connected with some underground canals. I will argue this from a position of a geologist: it is possible to have two connected lakes. BUT, when the lakes of karstic origin. There must be some carbonaceous stones,  which can be dissolved by water. 

'But there aren't any. The stones there are all volcanic.'

geologist Victor Tverdokhlyobov

Soviet geologist Viktor Tverdokhlebov 

Accounts began reaching the outside world after nine geologists led by Viktor Tverdokhlebov, of the East Siberian branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, were involved in an expedition to this remote corner of the then USSR in the summer of 1953, a few months after the death of Stalin.  As they rode on horseback, their guide was the elderly Varfolomey Vinokurov, a local man.

It took eight years his diary account to be published in a Soviet magazine and this referred to his own sighting in Lake Vorota - a name which literally 'Gates' (an unusual name for a lake, perhaps signifying Gates of the Devil?) while also including historical accounts he heard from locals. 

'30 May. We left Tomtor village, went 70 kilometres up the Kuidusun Valley, turned left and got to the large Sordonnokhskoe plateau. Ahead of us there is Lake Labynkyr where there is storage with food and equipment. 

'There are many legends about this Lake Labynkyr. In the evenings sitting by the fire our old guide told us that a 'devil' lived in this lake. He is so big that the distance between his eyes, as Varfolomey said, 'is wider than a fisherman's raft made of ten logs'.

'I heard about this 'devil' before and many times. In Ust-Ner, I heard that the devil ate a dog. The dog swam to bring the shot duck to the hunter, then huge jaws raised from the water and the dog just disappeared in a moment.

'One of the Tomtor villagers told me that one day he found a huge bone on the shore of Lake Labynkyr. It was like the devil's jaw - if you put it vertically, you could ride on a horse through it like under an arch. He said this jaw bone remained near the fishermen house on the shore.

'I heard legends how a whole caravan perished going under the ice of Labynkyr. It was spoken that people saw a big horn stuck out of the ice. People gathered around it on ice and tried to take it out but suddenly the ice broke and many people and reindeer died'.

'5 June: Early in the morning we got to the shore of Lake Labynkyr and reached the storage. Comfortable tents with wooden beds and floor and table awaited us.

'7 June: We are having a rest. Lake Labynkyr is a square, 15 km long and 3 km wide. I found the ruined fisherman's house on the shore, carefully explored the house and all around it but did not find any 'jaw bone'.

He did not witness anything untoward in Labynkyr but went on with his expedition.

28 July: Now we stopped at the shore of Lake Vorota. Mikhail made a raft and went to measure the depth. It is 60 meters as in Labynkyr. But the lake itself is much smaller.

30 July: This is what happened today. It was sunny friendly morning, Boris Bashkatov and I went on a walking trip around Lake Vorota.  We had to climb rocks on the way - about 11 am the way became dangerous and we decided to go down a bit, closer to the water. Looking at the water from the rock, I clearly saw a terrace under the water with a huge white spot on it. But when I looked at the terrace again a minute later there was no white spot there. 'Maybe sunshine is joking with me', I thought. But suddenly Boris shouted 'Look! What is there, in the middle?'  We stopped. Some 300-400 meters away on the water there was clearly seen some white object, shining under the sunlight. 'A barrel', said Boris, 'made of tin.' 'Maybe a horse got into the lake,' I said. 

Truly, the object was swimming, and fast enough. It was something alive, some animal. It was making an arch - first along the lake, then right towards us. As it was getting closer, a strange coldness like a stupor was growing inside me. Above the water there was big dark grey body, the white colour has gone. On this dark grey background there were clearly visible two symmetrical light spots looking like eyes and there was just stick in the body - maybe a fin? Or a harpoon of an unlucky fisherman?

'We saw just a part of the animal but we could guess its much bigger, massive body was under the water. We could guess this looking how the monster was moving - raising from the water, it threw its body forward then fully went under the water. At this time the waves were going away from its head, waves originating under the water. 'Flapping its mouth, catching fish', I guessed.

The animal was obviously swimming towards us and the waves made by the animal reached our legs. We looked at each other and immediately began to climb up the rock. What if 'it' goes out of the water? We witnessed a predator, no doubt, one of the strongest predators in this world: such indomitable, merciless and some sensible fierceness was in every his movement, in all its looks.

'The animal stopped some 100 meters away from the shore. Suddenly it began to beat against the water, waves went all ways, we could not understand what was going on. Maybe it lasted just a minute and then the animal was gone, dived. It was only then when I thought about a camera.

'We stood for another 10-20 minutes, it was quiet. We went further.

'There was no doubt, we saw the 'devil' - the legendary monster of this area. The Yakut fisherman was right, the animal had dark grey skin and the distance between its eyes was surely not less than a raft of 10 logs. But he saw it in Labynkyr and we saw it in Vorota lake. They are 20 km away from each other - and they are not connected.

'I recalled that white spot under the water. Obviously, the animal was hunting at that underwater terrace and we scared it when shouted going down the rocks.'

There is, now, the possibility that the waters of the two lakes are connected by a subterranean channel. For Tverdokhlebov, the sighting reminded him of the killer whales he had seen in the Sea of Okhotsk. 

'At first I thought it that this animal is an unknown offspring of extinct animals who inhabited this area ages ago. But this feeling of fierceness was so familiar to me - where could I see it?'

In 1945 he had a clone encounter with such a creature when swimming. 

'We turned around and some 30 metres away in the water we saw a huge dark grey body with two light spots and a fin above them. The animal was looking at us as if it was choosing who to start with.'

He also heard more accounts from locals of 'monsters' in lakes on this plateau, which some geologists say maybe of very recent formation. An old fisherman told how he took his net out of Lake Yastrebiny and complaining it was torn, he nodded his head and blamed some animal. 

'I did not pay attention then, thinking it was just a big pike,' he wrote.

'I recalled the stories of the workers who saw holes in the ice of Lake Labynkyr and one day they saw some grey body through the hole which disappeared later. Maybe all these stories are not that fantastic, and they are just a chain of real events?

'But if we imagine it is a killer whale, how could it get here? The Sea of Okhotsk is some 300 km away, and the plateau is 1 km above  sea level. How would the sea animal survive in fresh water? How did it get here? Is it alone here or is there a whole family? What do they eat? How did they survive the Ice Age?

'What is obvious to me - the existence of this mysterious animal is closely connected with the mystery of the plateau, how and when it appeared.'

His suggestion of a killer whale led to some ridicule for his account. Cryptozoologist Valeriy Nikolayev scoffed: 'What killer whale? How on earth would it get there, miles from sea?!'

'A group of such creatures stranded, perhaps, when this plateau was cut off from the sea that has gone on reproducing in these remote parts? No, it's impossible!'

lake Labynkyr

lake Labynkyr

Labynkyr lake, Yakutia. Pictures: Andrei Emelyanov 

In a book 'Trip to the Cold Pole', author Gennady Borodulin recounts another tale from Labynkyr in the 1920s.

'An Evenk family of nomads followed their reindeer and reached the shore of Lake Labynkyr. They decided to stay overnight on the shore. A five year old child went to the bank of a  stream which led into the lake while adults were busy. Suddenly the adults heard the boy screaming. 

'The father and grandfather rushed to the bank. They stopped on the edge of water and saw the child being carried away by an unknown animal to the centre of the lake. It was a dark creature, with a mouth looking like bird's beak. It held the child and moved away with quick rushes, then it dived leaving huge waves and dragged the child under the water.

'The granddad swore to revenge the 'devil. He took a sack made of animal skin, stuffed it with reindeer fur, rags, dry grass and pine trees needles, put a smouldering piece of wood inside. He attached the sack to a huge stone on shore with a rope and then threw the sack far into the waters of the lake. 

'At night there was noise and splashes and terrible screams of the 'devil'.  In the morning the waves brought the huge dead animal, about seven meters long with a huge jaw, almost one third size of the body, and relatively small legs and fins. 

'The old man cut the animal's stomach, took out the body of his grandson, and buried him on the bank of the stream. Since then this stream is called 'The Stream of a Child'.

'It is hard to say what happened to the remains of the animal but this jaw was put like an arch on the shore.'

Could it have really happened? Only a fully fledged scientific mission can hope to answer whether the Labynkyr Monster is myth or reality. 

Comments (17)

19th century? A mere youngster. The first Loch Ness Monster story dates not from the 1930s, but from an account of the sixth century Saint Columba, written in the ninth century:
Barney, UK
22/09/2012 05:35
lets suppose,there is a creature living there,let it live and leave it there,
its a miracle that's its still alive in these cruel times,soon there will be no more animals left alive,if we keep on doing what we are doing now ( seals,bears,elephants,whales,sharks,and many other animals are already almost extinct ),what does it have to take for us to realize this ?
Traets Louis, Belgium-Antwerpen
20/09/2012 12:38

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