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▶ Ogopogo

Lake Okanagan, a remnant of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago and the reported home of a large yet identified marine animal known by the locals as Ogopogo. The lake its self is seventy nine miles long, two and a half miles wide and over 1000 feet deep in some places, more than enough room to house a large aquatic creature. As early as the 1700’s the Okanagan Indians told of large beast dwelling in the lake, they called it N’ha-a-itk which means “snake of the water.” The natives of the lake where so afraid of the creature that they would sacrifice small animals into the lack before traveling across it by canoe in hopes that it would appease N’ha-a-itk and thus not attack there canoes. Modern sightings of Ogopogo date back to the 1860’s as English settlers first began to settle the land.

In 1890, Captain Thomas Shorts was at the wheel of this steam boat when he saw a finned creature about sixteen feet long, with a head like a ram, swimming in the water. Upon turning the boat in the direction of the creature it disappeared below the surface, Captain Shorts is met with ridicule and disbelief upon reporting the sighting. Soon, other reports followed, at least 2 or 3 a year and have increased so much so that today the local population firmly believes in the existence of Ogopogo. The Creatures name can be traced back to 1926 when W.H. Brimblecombe sang a song he composed about a monster that was based on an original British non sense song featuring a half earwig half snail named Ogopogo, the original song goes:

I’m looking for the Ogopogo. The funny little Ogopogo.
His mother was an earwig, his father was a snail.
I’m going to put a little bit of salt on his tail.
I want to find the Ogopogo while he’s playing on his banjo

The song became a favorite in Britain, crossed the Atlantic, and finally arrived in the town of Kelowna, British Columbia, on the shores of Okanagan Lake. At a luncheon with his Rotarian Club, Brimblecombe sang his song for the members but gave it a distinctly local twist. “At the time,” he wrote, “there was considerable talk about the mysterious creature in Okanagan Lake, and the possibilities of making a little fun were recognized.” This new song goes:

I’m looking for the Ogopogo.
The bunny-hugging Ogopogo.
His mother was a mutton, his father was a whale.
I’m going to put a little bit of salt on his tail.
I’m looking for the Ogopogo.

The reference to mutton was an allusion to the statement of several eyewitnesses that the “mysterious creature” had a head like a sheep. Everyone who attended the luncheon loved the song and news quickly leaked to the press. The day after the luncheon, the Vancouver Daily Province, declared Ogopogo to be the official name of the “Famous Okanagan Sea Serpent,” and the name stuck. That same year proved to be a busy year for Ogopogo, throughout the summer and into the fall reported sightings of the creature became more common. In November Ogopogo was spotted by no less than 60 people attending a baptism on the lake.

In 1914, on the banks of Rattlesnake Island, a group of Indians stumbled upon a carcass which some researchers believe was that of a juvenile Ogopogo. The carcass was estimated to be between 5 and 6 feet in length and weighted upwards of 400 pounds. The epidermis of the creature was described as being bluish grey in color and had a tail fin as well as 4 distinct flippers. The natives brought the corpse to local naturalist who lived near by who, after studying the corpse, came to the conclusion that the carcass was that of a rogue manatee, however, neither the natives or the naturalist where able to explain how a manatee might have come to live, much less die, on the shores of Okanagan.

In July 1949, a group of people on a party boat saw what they claimed to be Ogopogo at a distance of about 100 feet. The creature was partially submerged with its head under water; it had a forked horizontal tail, characteristic of whales but moved in an undulating motion much like a snake. The portion of the body that was exposed measured an estimated 30 feet in length with smooth dark skin as is common with most sightings of its kind. When the movie camera became popular and more affordable to the general public it seemed only a matter of time before the creature was caught on film and in 1968 it would appear that is exactly what happened. A saw mill worker named Art Folden from Case, British Columbia, using his 8 mm movie camera, captured what is believed by some to be the first motion picture evidence of Ogopogo. Mr. Folden was originally reluctant to make the film public for fear of ridicule, however he showed it over and over again to family and friends for almost two years before his brother in law convinced him to turn it over for investigation, unfortunately by that time the film was not in very good shape and difficult to make out.

According to Mr. Folden, he and his wife where driving home from a day on the lake when he noticed something odd in the water near the shore. Jokingly he told his wife that it was Ogopogo, but when she looked she thought that it was just a bunch of ducks. It was fairly late in the afternoon but Folden decided to stop and film the object anyway. Since he was almost out of film he would stop shooting when the object would go under water and begin shooting again as it came to the surface. The film shows a large dark object disappearing and reappearing in a sequence of moves that indicated it was moving out to deeper water. Using the pine trees on the shore which where approximately 25 feet tall, the dark mass in Folden’s footage was estimated to be roughly 65 feet in length and 3 feet in diameter. Skeptics blew off the film saying that the object looked like a large wake, theorizing that a passing boat stirred the water enough to send the wake shoreward. Closer examination of the footage partially dispelled the wake theory, what could have been a mistaken wake could also have been mistaken for the tip of fin from a gigantic creature moving just below the surface of the water.

By the mid 1970’s Ogopogo was an excepted fact, although determining its species was still a debatable topic. A reported encounter with the creature in 1974 offered more details as to the appearance of the creature, however managed to shed more mystery than light on the creature. A teenage girl swimming in the lake reported a huge heavy object bump against her leg; upon reaching the safety of her raft she looked back to see what had bumped her. What she reportedly saw was a hump or coil of a strange animal that measured 8 feet above long and stood about 4 feet above the water moving in a forward motion. Five to ten feet behind the exposed hump and about 8 feet below the surface she could see the tail of the creature. She described it as being forked and horizontal like a whale, and about 4 feet wide. As the hump of the creature submerged the tail rose to the surface until the tip extended above the water about a foot. The young girl went on to describe the creature as a “very dull dark grey color” and moved in an undulating motion. She also pointed out that the creature appeared to have no neck, and that its head seemed to join the body much like a fishes. She said, “This thing looked more like a whale than a fish, but I have never seen a whale that skinny and snaky-looking before.”

In 1980, ten years after Folden’s film was taken, a group of vacationers thought that they sighting Ogopogo. One of the men, Larry Thal, had a home movie camera and managed to capture some intriguing footage of the creature. “Larry’s film showed how the animal swims and the massive waves that it creates,” said Arlene Gaal, a researcher and author who has been investigating Ogopogo since 1968 and who has records on file of more than 200 sightings, including the Folden film. “It actually showed that it has some form of appendage that seems to pop up every now and then. But the interesting thing is that the animal Art Folden shot and the animal Larry Thal shot are basically the same size. They are very large creatures. In Larry’s film we’re seeing a creature at least forty to sixty feet from head to tail.”

In 1989, on July 18th 78 year old Clem Chaplin was showing his son Ken an inlet where he thought he had seen Ogopogo. After staking out the area with his video camera he filmed a strange creature which appeared hairless, greenish in color and was spotted, it was about 15 feet in length. Chaplin’s film caused immediate sensation, Time Magazine and several other American news papers covered the amazing story. However, closer examination by wildlife experts sparked a controversy which still rages on today. Robert Lincoln, a regional wildlife biologist, reviewed the film and declared that the film was not a hoax; however he also did not believe it was an unknown creature. Robert Lincoln believed that the animal on the video tape was nothing more than a beaver, Ogopogo could exist else where in Okanagan Lake, he stated, but in his opinion, this was a video of a beaver.

Chaplin was quite upset with the analysis of Mr. Lincoln, he estimated that he was 75 to 100 feet away from the creature and its features where definitely snake like, not beaver like. Chaplin said the creature he video taped had no fur or hair, and when it brought its tail up out of the water both he and his father where stunned into silence. His father was then quoted as saying, “You know if that tail were to hit a man, it would probably kill him.” Ken stated that how could a creature with a tail strong enough to kill a man possibly be a beaver, he further pointed out that the largest recorded beaver in the Interior was four and a half feet long. He just didn’t see how he and his father could have been very impressed from a distance of 75-100 feet away. After careful study, he also noticed that a beaver, when slapping its tail, has the head either level to the water or it’s already starting to go down. In his video, the head is arching up while the tail comes down. He believes he filmed Ogopogo and not a beaver. “For those who want to call it a beaver, I’ll say no way,” said Arlene Gaal. “An otter? I can’t buy it, either. A miniature Ogopogo…in all probability.”

It is possible that there are several creatures of varying size living with in the lake, all belonging to the same unknown zoological family. Researchers agree that for an animal to exist there must be a sizable breeding population. It is also possible that there are several creatures of varying size belonging to different zoological families living in the lake; this would explain some of the different eye witness testimonials. While experts may disagree on the Chaplin footage, there remains no adequate explanation for the large object seen surfacing in Art Folden’s film or the object which clearly turns up a large wake in Larry Thal’s footage. Add to these films the hundreds of other sightings reported over the years and you have something of a mystery living in Lake Okanagan.

Since the lake is connected to the Pacific Ocean by the Columbia River, there is speculation as water levels rose due to the melting ice from the last Ice Age; the creatures swam up the river and into the lake to feed on the lush vegetation in the newly formed valley. As the water receded the creatures became trapped in the lake evolving over the millennia to fresh water living. Researchers to this day are trying to figure out what Ogopogo might be; the majority of reports claim the creature to be serpentine, elongated to about forty to sixty feet in length. The skin has been described as dark green to green-black with other colors ranging from gray, blue-black, and brown, to brown-black. All sightings claim the skin is smooth and appears to be free of scales, hair, or fur, with the possible exception of the head which might exhibit sparse hairs or a mane directly at the back of the neck, which may link the creature to the English water horse, Kelpie. There are some who suggest that Ogopogo may be a plesiosaur, a long necked water reptile of the Mesozoic era, presumed extinct for more than 70 million years. Some Researchers believe that Ogopogo, because of its large vertically undulating motion and descriptions of a whale like tail, could be a Zeuglodon, a primitive tooth whale thought to have died out over 25 million years ago.

So what is Ogopogo and does it really exist, eye witness reports all describe a creature bearing no resemblance to any known species. The few photographic images we have are all too fuzzy to clearly make out and to easily dismissed as a hoax. It would seem that modern science will first need a body or live specimen to determine the true nature of the creature. However this two may prove impossible as the Canadian government is taking no chances of Ogopogo being harmed. It has declared the creature an endangered species and hunting it is against the law. The people who live on Lake Okanagan need no further proof and have constructed a life-sized model of the creature, which is the center piece of the area’s annual festival called, “Ogopogo Days,” For them, Ogopogo is alive and well.

The Evidence
To date no physical evidence of Ogopogo exists, however several videos and photographs show something large and unknown dwelling in the lake.

The Sightings
In 1890, Captain Thomas Shorts was at the wheel of this steam boat when he saw a finned creature about sixteen feet long, with a head like a ram, swimming in the water.

In 1914, a group of Indians bring what is no considered to be the carcass of a juvenile Ogopogo to a local naturalist.

In 1949, an entire party boat full of people claim to see an Ogopogo at a distance of about 100 feet.

In 1968, Art Folden films the first motion picture evidence of what he believes is an Ogopogo

In 1974, a teenage girl reports being bumped by a large Ogopogo while swimming in the lake.

In 1980, Larry Thal films what many consider to be an Ogopogo.

In 1989, on July 18th Ken Chaplin films what he believes to be an Ogopogo.

The Stats – (Where applicable)

• Classification: Lake Monster
• Size: Adults range from 40 to 60 feet in length
• Weight: Unknown
• Diet: Unknown
• Location: Lake Okanagan, Canada
• Movement: Swimming
• Environment: Lake Dweller