What Lies Beneath Lake Iliamna?
Large, isolated lake harbors mystery, if no monster
Sightings prompt intrigue
By Matt Bille
Alaska is a land of countless lakes, many of them impressively large. The largest of all is Lake Iliamna, which science writer Ivan Sanderson described as not a lake at all but really an inland sea.
Some 80 miles long and with a surface area over a thousand square miles, Iliamna is approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island.* This makes it the second-largest fresh-water lake (after Lake Michigan) lying entirely within the United States. Iliamna has a mean depth of 144 feet and is over 900 feet deep in some areas. The lake is connected to Bristol Bay, 60 miles southwest, by the Kvichak River, through which such marine mammals as harbor seals and belugas can travel. Iliamna even has a resident population of harbor seals, along with a very successful sport-fishing industry.
The most intriguing thing about Lake Iliamna, however, is the possibility it houses huge unknown animals. These are totally unlike the oft-reported lake monsters from places like Loch Ness, which usually have small heads and long necks. Instead, the animals alleged to live in Iliamna look like -and perhaps are - gigantic fish. (It has been reported that the name Illiamna means black fish, or at least it once did. The author would appreciate hearing from anyone who knows for certain.)
*Note: A previous version of this article erroneously stated Iliamna is approximately the size of the state of Connecticut. Connecticut is 5,544 square miles in area; Rhode Island is 1,545 square miles. ASO regrets the error. Thanks to author Matt Bille for volunteering the correction. And shame on the us! We are personally slapping our chief copy editor and fact-checker right now for not catching this. (Ouch! Ouch!)