Late Wednesday night, multiple individuals reported sighting a strange creature akin to Scottish folklore’s “Loch Ness Monster” in Lake Mendota between 11 p.m. and midnight, the Madison Police Department reported.
At 11:12 p.m., MPD received a call about a “dark, serpentine creature” emitting “strange and melancholy” noises off the western shore of Lake Mendota, about 250 feet from Picnic point.
The call, put in by a couple who said they were “going on a hike, yeah a hike, no we definitely weren’t getting high in the woods,” also estimated the creature to be at least eight meters long and described it swimming around in erratic patterns before disappearing into the swelling waves.
Immediately upon receiving the call, MPD said they dispatched animal control to the area and sent a report to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The second call, received by MPD at 11:22 p.m., described an eerily similar creature, with leathery dark skin and a long neck. The second call estimated the creature as at least 10 meters in length.
“Yeah, bro, it was making these weird f**king noises and flopping around in the lake outside our house,” president of the Sigma Theta Delta fraternity Brad Jacobson, who put in the second call, said. “I was like ‘get the pledges out there and see if they can catch it.’”
The first call reported the creature disappearing at 11:14, and the second call reported the creature appearing at about 11:17, suggesting the creature swam the distance between Picnic point and the STD house — about 2.19 miles — in three minutes. That’s nearly 20 meters per second, or 40 miles per hour.
William Shnart is a professor in the department of integrative biology at the University of Wisconsin specializing in adaptive marine morphology.
“The fastest shark in the world is the Shortfin Mako Shark,” Shnart said. “The Mako can swim 30 miles per hour, and has been estimated to possibly go as fast as 47 mph. But it’s small, and evolutionarily adapted to be hydrodynamic. I don’t think a creature like you’re describing could possibly go that fast.”
Shnart said “there’s no such thing as a Loch Ness monster,” and guessed that what the callers spotted were a duo of threatened Great Lakes River Walruses, likely trafficked into Lake Mendota through the exotic pet trade.
“It’s such a shame. River Walruses are majestic creatures, and their populations have been in decline for years. I’m going to partner with the limnology department to see if we can find the ones that might be in Lake Mendota,” Shnart said. “In the meantime, I implore everyone to call their local representatives and sign petitions advocating for the federal government to list the River Walrus under the Endangered Species Act.”
Howard Butts is a graduate student in the Celtic Studies department at UW whose thesis focuses on folklore legends surrounding the Loch Ness Monster between 1931 and 1937.
“Could there be a Loch Ness Monster in Lake Mendota? Absolutely,” Butts said. “That’s the thing about Nessie — she’s a creature habituated to lakes, or ‘lochs’ as they’re known in Scottish. She could live in this lake.”
When asked how it could possibly have gotten into Lake Mendota, Butts said the Loch Ness Monster “has her ways.” Butts also said the speeds calculated by the Herald line up.
“The Loch Ness Monster is very fast. So 40 miles per hour is, like, a leisurely stroll for Nessie,” Butts said. “I think the DNR should really take this seriously. It’s important to develop a relationship with your Loch Ness Monster, because it’s actually a very intellectual creature. If it feels threatened or cornered in its environment, it may lash out.”
UPDATE: Thursday, 10:54 a.m.
Thursday morning, the Wisconsin DNR reported two fatalities after a team went out to track the creature. According to the incident report, the creature overturned their boat, and while one DNR employee died due to hypothermia complications, another was “ripped in half.”
“Okay, so maybe it’s not a River Walrus,” Shnart said. “This is why we do research.”
MPD and the Wisconsin DNR will continue to look into this issue. MPD encourages anyone who spots the creature to call their tip line. The Badger Herald will continue to report on this story as it develops.