Solving the Alaskan Loch Ness Monster Puzzle

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Alaskan Lochness

Sea serpent, “Cadborosaurus willsi”

Fairbanks has a fascinating history. It started out as a small trading post. The 1900s gold rush to the Chena river turned this former trading post, less than 200 miles from the Arctic circle, into a boomtown. It’s been known as the Golden Heart city ever since and dedicated to unearthing more treasures of the region is one venerated institution, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Research Center.

At the Alaska Fairbanks Research Center, visitors can find an array of tools used by geologists exploring the area, including a seismometer employed to measure earthquakes, a special oven capable of melting solid rock, and a drill designed to penetrate glaciers.

International Arctic Research Center

The International Arctic Research Center

Of the items – with the strangest story to tell- relates not to the earth itself but to a creature that was thought to live upon it. It resembles a very long canoe. It’s yellow. Black wiring and tubing are found across the middle of the object. It has the letters UAF painted on its surface. This object is linked to a bizarre beast that baffled scientists and monster hunters alike. This item became an important tool after a strange sighting took the nation by storm.

Fall 2016; Fairbanks Alaska: Craig McCaa is an avid nature photographer who often posts his pictures on social media. He would take photos of wildlife throughout different seasons of the year. He had a passion for sharing this natural landscape with the rest of the world. On October 18th, he’s on a tributary of the Yukon named the Chena River taking photos of the colorful fall foliage. As he sets up, he notices something strange in the water. As Craig zoomed in with his camera, he saw what looked like long, irregular pieces of ice attached to something moving back and forth in the water. It seemed to be alive.

McCaa watches as what appears to be a 12 – 15-foot long creature slithers downstream. But with most of its body underwater, he can’t tell what it is. He had lived in Fairbanks for 22 years, and this was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Later, he shows the footage to his friends at the Alaskan Bureau of Land Management, but no one has any idea of what it is either. He becomes convinced that he has filmed some kind of previously unidentified beast. Perhaps he thought that he had found a new kind of sea creature.

Hoping someone can help him identify it, McCaa posts the video online. Before long, the footage becomes an internet sensation. It went viral. Very quickly, it was liked and shared by hundreds of thousands of viewers. Many people were chiming in to tell their thoughts on what the mysterious object could be. One theory is that the creature is some kind of outsized salmon. Some say that it’s a shark that got lost and accidental swam up the Yukon and into the Chena River, while others claim that it’s a giant water serpent. The theories surrounding the mysterious creature went rampant, and the press called this creature the ‘Alaskan Loch Ness Monster.’

Determined to solve the puzzle, officials with the Bureau of Land Management deployed a robotic boat – the same one on display at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks – to scan the river. The craft is equipped with state-of-the-art cameras, sonar, and environmental sensors. But even this sophisticated device finds no trace of the alleged ‘sea monster.’ So what is the truth behind this elusive beast?

Robotic Boat

As public interest in the monster reaches a fever pitch, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game takes up the case. His name is Klaus Wuttig. As a biologist, Wuttig would routinely work with fish and animal life. He analyzed the currents and studied every single frame in McCaa’s video. Wuttig notices that the supposed sea monster doesn’t move like any known aquatic creature. This leads him to suggest a new theory: that the ‘Alaskan Loch Ness Monster’ is no monster at all. It was merely a piece of rope!

Boaters were known to lose anchors and pieces ropes throughout the year. Wuttig concluded that ice attached itself to the rope allowing it to float to the surface of the river. The current created an illusion that a snake was slithering back and forth in the river. Wuttig shares his thoughts with a local newspaper, and when people read the story, most consider the case closed, but some continue to draw their conclusions. Many people come to the belief that it was some kind of monster. It remained an internet sensation for months beyond.

Today, the robotic boat on display at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Research Center recalls the search for the Alaskan Loch Ness monster. It’s a reminder of the shallow degree that had everyone seeing a creature from the deep.