‘Alaska lake monster’ may be a sleeper shark, biologist says

A biologist says he believes a mysterious creature spotted in Alaska's Lake Iliamna may in fact be nothing more spectacular than a large sleeper shark.

Writing in the Alaska Dispatch, biologist Bruce Wright says he thinks the same kind of shark may be behind Scotland's famous Loch Ness Monster as well.

Pacific sleeper sharks, also known as Greenland sharks, are commonly seen in the waters around Alaska and have been known to grow up to 14 feet in length. If a sleeper shark has managed to survive in Lake Iliamna, Wright says it would have an abundance of fish to feed on and no natural predators.

"Certainly the size and the shape and the color seems to match a lot of the descriptions," Wright told AOL. However, he also acknowledges that sleeper sharks do not commonly rise to the surface of bodies of water. And most important, it is not known if a sleeper shark could survive for extended periods of time in fresh water, like the bull shark.

Wright says the sleeper sharks have "proven themselves to be very adaptable" and may become the Arctic's top predator due to the effects of global climate change. The sleeper sharks traditionally live in the icy cold depths of the Arctic but have recently been seen by fisherman in warmer waters, including the St. Lawrence River near Quebec's Baie-Comeau. One news report claims the sharks are "Canada's crocodiles" and have allegedly attacked caribou near the mouth of the river. Last year, a conservation group began seeking funds to install webcams in the St. Lawrence that would monitor and help preserve the sleeper sharks residing there.

But let's return to the giant fish supposedly lurking in Lake Iliamna. Nicknamed "Illie," the mysterious creature in Lake Iliamna has confounded local residents and explorers for years. In 1979, the Anchorage Daily News offered $100,000 to anyone who could provide evidence of Illie's existence. Needless to say, the paper did not end up having to distribute the money.

Wright says he plans to lead an expedition to Iliamna this summer to search for any possible sleeper sharks living there. He said that if he finds sleeper sharks there, he might then try to prove the same theory in Loch Ness.

"You study these things for 30 years and you're bound to figure out something," he said.

This clip from Jonathan Bird's "Blue World" shows a Greenland shark in the wild:

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