I just watched something last night that has me completely confused.
Okay, starting from the tippy-top…
I watch River Monsters on the Discovery Channel. I’m addicted to it. I do find the premise a bit campy, however. I wish that they could do away with it and just go out and catch awesome, huge fish all over the world and film Jeremy Wade doing it. I don’t understand why they always have to tie the search for the fish to danger to humans, and try to find past attacks before they can try and catch the thing, because it forces them to come to strange conclusions just to find an excuse to tie certain fish back to their premise.
The episode on Lake Iliamna and his conclusion that it is white sturgeon that are the source of the reported human disappearances really made me shake my head, and you could tell that Mr. Wade was sort of uncomfortable making the association, but really had to in order to justify it being on “River Monsters.” If they could just do away with the “monster-as-danger” as being a prerequisite and just focus on “monster as monster” (ie, large, or odd) or “monster as legend”, they’d lose that campy feel and get back to the meat-and-potatoes of the show, which is the chronicles of a well-spoken, multi-lingual, very intelligent biologist traveling the globe in search of strange and rare freshwater fish species, often shrouded in mystery and legend, and perhaps sometimes dangerous to humans.
The Lake Iliamna monster is, in my opinion, almost certainly a misidentified white sturgeon.
As you can see from my post and pictures earlier, they really are monsters (and the one that I caught, at 9 feet long and 400 pounds, is less than half the size of the largest ever recorded!). So I do not disagree with Mr. Wade’s determination that what people saw on Lake Iliamna was a sturgeon. The ludicrous part was his trying to make a white sturgeon into something dangerous, which they are not. They are about as harmful as a puppy dog – no teeth, not aggressive or predatory at all, and more or less just kind of, well, there. His uncomfortable conclusion (made, in my opinion, in order to justify having this awesome and odd fish on the show so that it satisfied the "dangerous to humans" pre-requisite) was that maybe a sturgeon breeched and knocked over the canoe, and that the men inside the canoe vanished because they drowned. The problem with this is that there are places on Earth where sturgeon are far more plentiful and around people more often, and we just don’t have that kind of problem with them. I’ve never heard of such a thing happening. Besides, why do you need a river monster to explain the disappearances of some men paddling about on a very large and frigid subarctic lake in a bark canoe? Couldn’t there be much more likely explanations than a sturgeon breech?
Like, for instance, the fact that it is fucking cold?
So the show and I have a sort of bipolar relationship – I absolutely love watching him trot the globe catching really cool and really nasty freshwater critters. I love the biology and the angling aspect of it, but I get a little turned off by the “danger” aspect of it quite often; more often than not because it quite obviously is silly and forced.
But last night, I’m left sort of shaking my head about what the hell just happened. Jeremy Wade decided that he was going to look into Loch Ness, which is something for which I’ve been waiting on for quite some time. It started out pretty well – he interviewed locals who had claimed to have seen the beast; he dove into the lake to survey what life he could see; he even fished the lake a bit. The conclusion that he came to was that the Loch did not have the biomass in it to support a large creature, and that therefore, the creature in question must’ve come in from the sea. This is a sound conclusion based on his assessment of the loch – one which many scientists agree with.
The first suggestion was that it was possible that a sturgeon had blundered up the River Ness from the ocean, and that, like Lake Iliamna, that was what people were seeing. Jeremy canoed down the River Ness to survey the river conditions, and found rapid sections that he determined were too shallow and fast for a sturgeon to successfully get through.
This was the first time that he went off the rails in this show, but it wouldn’t be even close to the last. The reason that I say that he went off the rails here is due to the fact that I’ve seen sturgeon in rivers with lots of shallow, fast rapids. In fact, some of the most successful sturgeon populations we have around these parts are in fast, shallow rivers. So I reject his assessment that a sturgeon could not make its way into the Loch. In fact, if there is a population of sturgeon living in the ocean at the mouth of the River Ness, I’d be greatly surprised if they haven’t, on occasion, swam up into the Loch in search of food. And so, I come to the conclusion, once again, that many monster sightings are actually mis-identified sturgeon. This is especially true in that sturgeon are not a known denizen of the loch, and so folks wouldn’t be expecting to see them.
Jeremy Wade, however, rejected this premise. So he continued to look for likely culprits, and found that river and lake monsters were generally associated with Viking lore, and that in many places like Scotland, where Vikings once were, there are river monster legends. So he went to Iceland to investigate some lake monster sightings there. While there, he learned about a sub-arctic shark that might have an appearance similar to the sightings that he’d heard about. So he went fishing for Greenland Sharks in Norway. When he caught one, he suggested that the Greenland Shark might be the culprit for the Loch Ness sightings.
This is where I went dudeomgwtf???
A quick listing of all the things totally fucked up about this concept:
1. Greenland Sharks do not have the ability to osmo-regulate, meaning that, like most salt-water fish, they cannot live in fresh water. Some sharks do, in fact, have this ability. The most famous and well-known is the bull shark. Jeremy made this point in the show, while not mentioning that the Greenland Shark does not have this ability, failing at logic forever in the process (a species of shark has this ability, therefore the Greenland Shark, which does not, can live in freshwater???). Loch Ness is fresh water. Greenland Sharks would hyper-hydrate in a fresh water lake and die within hours from electrolyte imbalance. As a quick aside, sturgeon do have this osmo-regulation ability, and move from salt to fresh water commonly.
2. Greenland sharks are much, much bigger than the local Atlantic sturgeon that would be found in the waters of Scotland. They are also very slow and lethargic, whereas sturgeon are not. If, as per Jeremy’s conclusion, a sturgeon could not navigate the rapids of the River Ness, how does he presume that a Greenland Shark could? Also, add to that the fact that sturgeon are renowned athletes – prized for their speed and fighting ability on hook and line. Greenland Sharks, however, have a blistering, maximum balls-out speed of less than 2 miles per hour. So if the rapid is too shallow and too fast for a sturgeon that can swim at speeds 8 times faster than that, and is half the size of a Greenland Shark, how, exactly, do you come the conclusion that a Greenland Shark could navigate the rapid when a sturgeon could not?
3. Greenland Sharks live in the ocean depths. The one that Jeremy caught was in over 2,000 feet of water. To get into the River Ness, Greenland Sharks would need to come up to the surface – something that they very rarely do.
I’m sort of shaking my head at this episode of what is otherwise a really great show. I truly don’t understand how the hell you can come to the conclusion that a salt-water shark came up a freshwater river, into a lake, and does so often enough that it’s been seen hundreds of times in the last 100 years.