On December 19, I threw a link into the leftovers from SciAm blogs regarding a legend of a lake octopus. The piece got picked up by Yahoo News and has appeared on several mystery news sites (I wish I had a name for this types of sites just to make things easier in reference). So I thought it deserved its own post. I found out a bit more about it. And guess what? It’s still false – which is what usually happens when you look into these stories a bit more.
As the rate of unexplained drowning deaths has reportedly crept up in Oklahoma’s placid lakes, some observers have turned to an unusual explanation: a freshwater octopus.
The legend of a killer cephalopod lurking in the murky waters of the state’s Lake Thunderbird, Lake Tenkiller or Lake Oolagah has been surfacing for at least the past several years. Animal Planet’s Lost Tapes even aired an investigation of this crypto-creature. This beast (or beasts), dubbed the “Oklahoma Octopus,” reportedly drags swimmers down with its many strong arms.
How could a sea creature have found its way to lakes in the Heartland?
As this piece, written by an author who studied cephalopods, notes, there are many problems with this story. The first problem is: Is there a mystery at all? The piece and other sources cite many water accidents, unexplained drownings. Five people drowned in Lake Thunderbird on the July 4th holiday weekend in 2009. While there were questions about one of the drownings (the police did not think alcohol was involved), the others had potential causes – low blood sugar, exhaustion, a jet ski accident. Since the bodies were recovered, there is no basis to say that a preditor is involved. Lake Thunderbird is also a man made reservoir created between between 1962 and 1965.
A repeat occurred in 2012 as five more people drowned in various other waterways. They all appeared to be accidental and the bodies were recovered.
A 2013 accident occurred near a boat ramp on Lake Thunderbird. Body recovered.
There had been a few that have been “unexplained”. According to this site whose author looked at statistical records from the OK Department of Health:
A 17-year-old male was swimming with his family at a lake. They could not find him as they were leaving and thought he left with friends. When he did not come home, they called the local police. He was found in 12-14 feet of water. In 2007, a young boy swam far out into the lake and then he claimed something was pulling him under. A rescue attempt was tried but the boy disappeared under thewater and never resurfaced.
That’s to be expected – not all of these accidents will be solved. Drownings happen. I don’t see any need to invoke a baseless mystery creature attacking swimmers to explain a few unexplained water deaths. We probably don’t even have to invoke a monster fish although that would be more plausible than octopus. If anyone dumped an octopus in the lake, it would not “adapt” to freshwater on the fly. It would die.
So, the myth is groundless. There is no foundation. But let’s bring on the speculation machine – Damn Animal Planet. Their Lost Tapes episode (this series was more fiction than fact), bolstered the idea of the octopus without any basis. There are no documented sightings. There is mention of a Native American legend that a mystery creature inhabits the lake – a demon the size of a horse with long tentacles and leathery, reddish-brown skin. I have found no citation for this and it doesn’t matter anyway. There is little validity to reaching back into the past and retrofiting spiritual stories to real animals as evidence that the thing is real.
So, this myth is BUSTED.
I still love cephalopods but they live in aquariums and oceans, not lakes.
Addition (26-Dec-2013): One juvenile non-fiction book repeats this story. There are no citations that I can see and it’s possible they just parrot the uncited story. This is an example of shoddy scholarship that goes on in cryptozoology – where legends without foundation are passed on as “fact”.