The big question: Is Ogopogo a sturgeon?

Posted by: John Kirk on July 11th, 2006

It’s summer again here in the sunny province of British Columbia and all is quiet on the cryptid front so far. There have been rumours of a couple of Ogopogo sightings this year, but we have not been able to track down any witnesses who might want to allow us to interview them. Ogopogo is Canada’s most famous lake cryptid and in these columns I  hope to help Cryptomundo readers come to an understanding of an animal that is very real and not just the stuff of legend. I am kicking off a series of articles on our mystery denizen by dealing with an issue and question that is frequently asked.

When talking about Ogopogo with many people, one question that I am always asked is: Couldn’t Ogopogo be a sturgeon?

I would have to say that it is very unlikely as there are no recorded sightings or capture of sturgeon in Okanagan Lake. Years ago I remember talking to Chris Gibson who was PR manager for radio station CKIQ and he told me that there were sturgeon in the lake. I asked Chris how he knew that and he said there just were. I don’t know if our conversation was the catalyst of this, but CKIQ and Harv’s Outdoor Sports in Kelowna, B.C. sponsored the “Okey Dokey Lake Monster Derby” aimed at proving there were sturgeon in the lake.

CKIQ and Harv’s put up a cool $10,000 in cash for anyone who could prove that Ogopogo was a sturgeon. I fail to see how anyone could have picked up the cash as how do ‘prove’ that a sturgeon and Ogopogo are the same things. There is just no reasonable methodology for doing this, so I guess from the way the competition was worded nobody could have won the prize.

However, that did not stop people from attempting to fish for sturgeon in Okanagan Lake. I heard of people going out on boats with huge block and tackle in a bid to win the prize money, but despite a fair bit of activity, the $10,000 went unclaimed because not one person was able to pull a sturgeon out of the depths of the lake.

I have frequently gone through the catalogue of sightings of Ogopogo over the years and have found only one sighting that remotely fits the physical attributes of a sturgeon. All other sightings are of an animal far removed from the Acipenser transmontanus which is the dominant sturgeon species in British Columbia.

Both Arlene Gaal, the noted Ogopogo researcher, and the late Jim Clark, co-founder of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, wrote to the Federal Department of Fisheries to ascertain whether sturgeon are a constituent member of the piscid population of Okanagan Lake. The Department sent back a list of fish to both Arlene and Jim and conspicuous by its absence is the sturgeon.

Some will turn to me and say that my assertion that sturgeon most likely do not exist in Okanagan Lake can’t be right, because they point to the testimony of the divers who helped with the building of the Okanagan Lake floating bridge which was built in the mid-1950’s. The urban myth here is that the divers saw giant sturgeon at the bottom of the lake which scared them. However, I have researched this using materials supplies by a variety of sources and it is pretty clear that the divers did not specifically describe sturgeon, but very large dark shapes in the water that were unidentifiable and there fore spooked them. Somewhere along the way people inserted sturgeon for unidentifiable animals and that is how the sturgeon myth in Okanagan Lake arose.

I am perfectly happy to be proved wrong about there being sturgeon in Okanagan Lake, but the way things are now, there is no proof whatsoever that sturgeon are currently present or have been in the recent past.

I guess the question people should be asking me is: What do you think Ogopogo is? My answer is I don’t know, but I do want to find out and that is why I spend so much time up at Okanagan Lake. I also spend a lot of time at Okanagan Lake because some of the most pleasing wineries in the world surround the lake and I am very partial to some of their vintages.

Naturally a few too many vintages will result in the imbiber all too easily seeing Ogopogo!!!

John Kirk About John Kirk
One of the founders of the BCSCC, John Kirk has enjoyed a varied and exciting career path. Both a print and broadcast journalist, John Kirk has in recent years been at the forefront of much of the BCSCC’s expeditions, investigations and publishing. John has been particularly interested in the phenomenon of unknown aquatic cryptids around the world and is the author of In the Domain of the Lake Monsters (Key Porter Books, 1998). In addition to his interest in freshwater cryptids, John has been keenly interested in investigating the possible existence of sasquatch and other bipedal hominids of the world, and in particular, the Yeren of China. John is also chairman of the Crypto Safari organization, which specializes in sending teams of investigators to remote parts of the world to search for animals as yet unidentified by science. John travelled with a Crypto Safari team to Cameroon and northern Republic of Congo to interview witnesses among the Baka pygmies and Bantu bushmen who have sighted a large unknown animal that bears more than a superficial resemblance to a dinosaur. Since 1996, John Kirk has been editor and publisher of the BCSCC Quarterly which is the flagship publication of the BCSCC. In demand at conferences, seminars, lectures and on television and radio programs, John has spoken all over North America and has appeared in programs on NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, TLC, Discovery, CBC, CTV and the BBC. In his personal life John spends much time studying the histories of Scottish Clans and is himself the president of the Clan Kirk Society. John is also an avid soccer enthusiast and player.

22 Responses to “The big question: Is Ogopogo a sturgeon?”

  1. stonelk responds:

    I doubt Ogopogo is a sturgeon but I wouldn’t mind fishing the Okanagan for sturgeon. I like to use tiger shrimp sprinkled with garlic salt and marinated in sunlight for bait.

  2. shumway10973 responds:

    I don’t remember, are there fresh water (strictly) versions of sturgeon? Most of the areas in the U.S. that people catch sturgeon are in large rivers not too far from the entrance to the ocean where the water may be slightly salty. Of course the first story I read about Ogopogo was when the man was heading out to an (the) island (not familiar with specific layout) he just purchased (back in the 1800’s) and had 2 horses tied to the rear of the boat swimming. Something pulled both horses down at the same time. He had to cut the ropes to stay afloat. Yeah, that sounds like one hell of a big sturgeon to me.

  3. Jeremy_Wells responds:

    maybe it’s just me, but your bait sounds pretty darn tasty to me…except for that “marinated in sunlight” bit… I once tried to fish with chicken livers that had been forgotten to “marinate in the sunlight” over a weekend, and we ended up chumming with them instead because they were too slimy to stay on the hook… of course, we were trying to catch the “legendary giant catfish” of the Ohio River, and not sturgeon…

    Interesting though, we have those same legends where I grew up of “giant fish” from divers working on bridges like the Jesse Stuart bridge across the Greenup Dam on the Ohio River…

    Anyone know how common a legend this is?

    I know I’ve seen catfish taken out of the river in excess of five feet long, which I always took as some proof of those “urban legends”

  4. Forever_Elusive responds:

    I don’t honestly think that Ogopogo can be explained by a simple sturgeon methodology. That excuse is way too common, and way too overrated. It gets old really. I think it is just another northern-latitudinal lake monster like that of champ and nessie.

  5. MattBille responds:

    My impression of the Ogopogo films/videos I’ve seen is that some, including Folden’s, could theoretically be sturgeon. (In an odd parallel to Loch Ness, I consider Folden’s film more impressive than any of the subsequent films or videos, and I’d make the same case for Dinsdale’s Nessie film.)

    I’ve not undertaken the kind of detailed analysis Loren, Arlene, and others have of the Ogopogo data, but it does seem as a starting point that a species caught in other Canadian waterways is more likely than a species never caught anywhere. A lot of this comes down to whether the more impressive signting reports could contain a degree of error great enough to allow for the sturgeon solution.

    It is interesting to contrast the Ogopogo problem to the one in Lake Iliamna. In the latter case, there is still no hard evidence of sturgeon in the lake, but most of the sightings match reasonably well to a sturgeon identity, and the biologists I’ve queried don’t discount the possibility of sturgeon in the lake. (There is one known A. transmontanus catch from Bristol Bay, connected to Iliamna by the Kvichak River, and one fisher-person who claimed a good look at the Iliamna animal specifically identified it as a sturgeon, albeit a huge one.)

    As a final note, the many people who fished for sturgeon in Okanagan did not catch any sturgeon, but they did not catch anything else, either. Presumably, they were fishing deep, as sturgeon are bottom-feeders. It’s an interesting data point implying that, if there is an unknown species in Okanagan, it doesn’t habitually feed deep.

    Matt Bille

  6. stonelk responds:

    I once read a book about Columbia River sturgeon. Don’t rmember the title but it had a story about a man who tied a grappeling hook to a rope baited it with a whole chicken, whith the hopes of catching a sturgeon. He tied the rope to his mule wich he ended up lost to the depths of the Columbia. A old friend of mine who is now gone told me he had seen a sturgeon that he figured was over twenty feet long. It was near Bateman island where the Yakima River Runs into the Columbia. I think most of the big river sturgeon are gone now but the fish is known to be long lived and may exist land locked in some lakes. Closer to my home there is a lake on Snowplow Mountain that has a sturgeon living in it. One of the locals let it go there years ago. Several of my friends have caught and released it and I have seen it myself.

  7. acilletam responds:

    Yes, there are strictly fresh water versions of sturgeon such as the Lake. They are in the Great Lakes and cannot reach an ocean.

  8. Freelancer responds:

    I think it is very unlikely that all Ogopogo sightings are of the same thing. Just like some Bigfoot sightings are probably bears, some are probably men in monkey suits, & some are undoubtedly real. I remember seeing a piece of film on Unsolved Mysteries that the person who filmed it said was a group of small Ogopogo swimming in a single line. It looked to me to be the boney ridges on the back of a sturgeon. While it may be very unlikely that there are sturgeon in the lake, it can’t be ruled out 100%.

    My nephew & I went fishing in a very small farm pond a few years ago that, as far as we knew, only had bluegill in it. After awhile, my nephew hooked something that was obviously bigger than any bluegill. When he landed it, it was a catfish about 17″ long. When we showed it to the owner of the pond, he didn’t seem to believe my nephew caught it out of the pond.

  9. crypto_randz responds:

    Enough with this sturgeon controversy i have studied on my own about lake monsters they are real.Remember these donosaurs which i think they are were trapped during the ice age and they were well preserved.A MORSARUS is a strong candidate or elamasarus.JOHN KIRK has seen it with his own eyes.I believe him. This is a debatable topic.

  10. Scrabbydoo responds:

    There are Legends of large fish scaring diver almost everywhere. In my area the legend is that there are giant catfish that sit at the entrance to Kentucky Dam and that they scared divers. The divers swore that they were large enough to swallow a human!

    Needless to say there really are LARGE fish in the Mississippi River here where I live. I once had an aligator gar swim next to my boat that was about 6.5 to 7 feet long. I figured it’s length since it was longer than the 6 foot long boat I was in. Bull Sharks will even acclimte to fresh water at the Mississippi River Delta and then swim up as far as Cairo Ill. Huge catfish are caught in the river also. Tho none large enough to swallow a man. LOL So you almost never know what fish you may get while fishing the river!

  11. Chrissy responds:

    Yes, Lake Sturgeon can grow in excess of 20 feet. My Grandpa had a picture of one. They were building a bridge in front of a dam near Sudbury, Ontario. The men were swimming to the bottom of the dam and hooking logs so they could be hauled out of the water to prevent damage to the bridge later on. My grandfather said he saw something bigger than he was, and it scared him so much that he would not go back down. One of the other men pulled out a 20 foot Sturgeon. They happened to hook it. The fish jolted to swim away knocking the man who hooked it pretty hard. Luckily, they were using some kind of equipment to pull out the logs. I don’t know if it was a tractor or what. But they got it out, and took a picture. My grandmother (who had the picture) passed away when i was 13. So, i have no idea where my grandpa’s picture is today but if i ever get my hands on it, I’ll email it to the website.

  12. crypto_randz responds:

    SCRABBYDOO I agree with what you mentioned about giant catfishes jan sunberg mentioned about the possibility that there enormous catfishes in lakes and rivers that are large enough to swallow a human. There are many studies going on as of today that scienctists are conducting about large fish.

  13. cryptolover responds:

    My field is in Fish and I can tell you about this in many cases sturgeon are the answer, in some cases they are not. There is many varieties of sturgeon from near around the world. Giants like the beluga reported to 30 feet with stories of 40 foot plus monsters. Giant atlantic sturgeon and white sturgeon and lake sturgeon are the most common mistaken for a lake monster. They often go on the surface much more then what is expected. When you see a 10 foot huge back going across the surface most will exagerate and it will end up being 15 or 20 feet. Other species like Giant alligator Gar and many more are responsible for many a lake monster tale. Also some species like atlantic can go up rivers and get locked in smaller lakes and live for ages and keep growing. However, some monster films and eyewitness accounts do not remotely match a sturgeon. Lake monsters are many things the least likely a Giant Lizard from the stone age, although some films show animals way larger then sturgeon could ever be, so I do not know.

  14. crypto_randz responds:

    First of all take a look how this thing moves, sturgeons move very slowly this thing in LAKE OKANAGAN moves swiftly and smoothly also this thing leaves enormous waves. Its a MOSAURUS. Face the fact most but all lake monsters could be survivors from the dino era. There are hidden caves in alot of the lakes also lakes are cold and gloomy.

  15. greenteaaddict responds:

    I agree with crypto_randz. The swimming patterns of sturgeons is far diferent from the alleged swimming patterns of ogopogo.

    I live in B.C., and have been to Lake Okanagen a few times. Once I believe that I saw ogopogo, and after some reserch, I found that it does resemble a mosaurus. But I have talked with some experts at the Vancouver Aquaririum, and they believe it to be a type of sturgeon.

  16. chas responds:

    Ogopogo is not a sturgeon, it is many sturgeons. Lake Okanagan and many of the surrounding lakes have sturgeon in them.

    A well-known mating ritual of a sturgeon is that the males will dart in and out of the water as a display to the females. It looks something like swimming dolphins, only the sturgeons don’t come very far out of the water. Obviously, if you had several male sturgeons doing this at the same time, if would appear like a large animal was in the water with many humps.

    Ogopogo sightings are often in the same area of tha lake – that would be where the sturgeons mate.

    Sorry guys, no lake monster in Lake Okanagan.

  17. CryptoInformant responds:

    Yes, a Mosasaur is a possibility, albeit a remote one. I’m still saying an evolved Basilosaurus, and not a Sturgeon. As for the dark shapes at the bottom, it could be an ambush tactic often used to capture amphibious rhino-like Arsinotheres.

    P.S. S.C.C.Z. is coming along nicely, and, after I get funds from my eventual video game company, (plan ahead!) I plan to start the South Carolina CryptoZoo, and stock the first few exhibits with common excuses for lake monsters, including, hopefully, Giant Catfish, Giant Sturgeons, and Giant Alligator Gar, all monsters in their own right. That, however, will be a while, as I am the only scientist in my 8th Grade class.

    (whew, that’s better)

    P.S. Has anyone played the Nintendo Gamecube game Animal Crossing? On the Nintendo Wii version they had better include some of the above fish for the fishing part of the game!

  18. Notsobigfoot responds:

    Hi all. I live in TN and have heard similar stories both about the dams around here and from a friend who is from Los Vegas. The whole large shape near the bottom of a damn thing is pretty common id say.

    On the sturgeon topic, there is a small, hardly noticible picture in the chattanooga aquarium of a sturgeon that was pulled out of the mississipi (sp) river. Its an old b&w photo showing a sturgeon laid out next to a boat and a man standing next to the boat. Just from eyeballing it i would say the fish is around 20 feet long…..very interesting.

    On the mosaurous / bailasaurous theory, i dont deny that that would fit most of the descriptions better than any canidate, but what throws me off is that both of those creatures were esentially very primitive whales and therefore were not nearly as intelligent as modern whales.
    Now, where i am going with this is that modern whales are some of the most intelligent animals on this earth and yet they cannot avoid detection, photography and whaling into extinction. I feel that bigfoot could avoid such things due to its near human intellect, but i am sceptical that any kind of whale/aquatic reptile would have such a mind.
    Just my two cents……i want it to be a baily tho………

  19. Notsobigfoot responds:

    ugh forgive all the bad spelling, i worked late last night. sorry

  20. doyleonly responds:

    I’ll keep my eyes open when I’m down there (diving) for whatever lurks in the depths.

  21. doyleonly responds:

    When im down there (diving) i’ll see what i can see.

  22. CryptidHuntr responds:

    some sightings could’ve been a sturgeon but i highly doubt that Ogopogo is a sturgeon

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