The very names "sea serpent" and "lake monster" possess an aura of fantasy about them, suggesting that the odd animals referred to are outside reality. Yet there are thousands of reputable reports of the animals' existence, from Siberia to Scotland and wherever else the waters are deep. In the view of some authorities, including Dr. Frederic A. Lucas, for years the director of the American Museum of Natural History, "there's more sworn proof for the monster than a court of law would have to establish any ordinary case."
Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, who distinguishes nine different types of sea serpents, has documented the existence of squid that reach an overall length of 240 feet from tentacle to tentacle. Dr. Roy Mackal, mokele-mbembe hunter, suggests another kraken candidate may be a type of giant octopus, which he believes measures up to 200 feet. Some mystifying manifestations turn out to have simple if surprising explanations. Dr. Mackal has no hesitation in identifying the White River Monster of Arkansas on the basis of the many eyewitness descriptions:"The White River instance," writes Mackal,"is a straightforward example of a famous aquatic animal observed beyond its usual habitat or range and so unidentified by the observers not familiar with the type. The animal in question was a large male elephant seal"--a loner that had strayed up the Mississippi and into the White River.
Mackal has some other interesting suggestions, based on physical appearance and the possible persistence of some archaic forms. The large, vertically undulating type of sea serpent, he contends, may well be the zeuglodon, a primitive toothed whale long thought to be extinct. Dr. Mackal believes that a small population of zeuglodon may yet survive--living fossils no older than the ancient coelacanth, the crocodile, or the venerable giant tortoise of the Galapagos Islands. The monster of Okanagan Lake fits the description of the zeuglodon, as do the monster of Lake Champlain and the sea serpents of British Columbia.
When the Japanese scientists were through with the decomposing mass hauled in by the Zuiyo Maru, they reached a tentative agreement. It looks very like a plesiosaur," said one, and none of the others came up with a much better idea. Interestingly, the images of the Loch Ness Monster reveal a remarkable resemblance to a plesiosaur, a massive water reptile of the Mesozoic age, presumed to be extinct for at least 70 million years. Based on Dennis Meredith, a member of the 1976 Loch Ness expedition, "One particular type of plesiosaur, the elasmosaurus, is the best candidate of the lot." There's a stupefying quality about water creatures, be they plesiosaurs or zeuglodon or anything. On seeing one, some audiences are stunned into complete inaction. Petrified and revolted, they neglect to use the cameras in their hands or bungle the operation of focusing the lens. Even F. W. Holiday, a veteran monster enthusiast, feels that there's something very strange about Nessie and admits to feeling "a mixture of wonder, fear, and repulsion." And this monster, which some folks find "obscene," is affectionately called Nessie, like it was lovable and adorable. Many aquatic creatures have such reassuring nicknames: Champ of Lake Champlain; Ogopogo of Okanagan Lake; Igopogo of Lake Simcoe near Toronto; Manipogo of Lake Manitoba; Chessie, the Chesapeake Bay sea serpent; Slimy Slim or Sharlie of Payette Lake in Idaho; and Whitey, the White River Monster of Arkansas. One wonders if those pet names indicate a companionable atmosphere toward local attractions or an effort to decrease the incredible to something that doesn't boggle your mind-- to degree those terrors down to overgrown water Muppets with nursery-school titles.