Are There Freshwater Whales In Lake Superior

Are There Freshwater Whales in Lake Superior?

Though scientists have yet to uncover evidence of a freshwater whale in Lake Superior, reports of sightings suggest it’s possible such a mammal exists.

The Great Lakes are home to many fish species, but none make up the mystery mammal of Lake Superior. Fish surveys conducted around the lake, detect species such as whitefish, trout, northern pike, walleye and suckers, but nothing quite like the whale.

Though experts believe the species to be over two hundred years extinct, stories and sightings of the long gone beast continue to surface.

Local fishermen, for example, attribute their heavy catches in certain areas to an immense whale or monster lurking beneath the waves. Other freshwater sightseers have claimed to have seen a large, mammal-shaped object break above the water’s surface as they paddle their canoes down the lake’s shimmering streams.

According to legends, the creature was originally believed to be an esox, a sea serpent-like fish endemic to Lake Superior. Local tribes, such as the Anishinaabe, also known as the Ojibwe, believed the lake was inhabited by powerful, dangerous creatures, like the Nibiinaabek and Mishibizhiw.

The Zhaawano, or “thunderbird” of the Ojibwa tribes, was a giant, giant bird with a wingspan that could span the horizon. But local stories often blended their descriptions of birds with those of whales and other large creatures. Fish tales of the creature continued for centuries, and today, locals fear the deep depths of Lake Superior as if there were still something alive beneath the surface.

So could there be some truth to all of these rumors? Some experts believe there could be a large mammal swimming deep in the lakes. With that said, there have been no confirmed recorded sightings of the creature, and tourists are warned
against spending too much time speculating while out on the lake.

Still, just like Nessy in Scotland, many locals are still waiting for their own version of the Loch Ness monster.

The History of Freshwater Whale Sightings

The first reported sighting of a Freshwater whale in any of the Great Lakes was reported in 1808. Thefur trader, Peter Dougherty reported that he saw a creature, “about the size of a whale” rise out of the lake near Door County, Wisconsin.

Over the next century, more and more reports of sightings of the mysterious creature came from the Great Lakes region. The most famous account occurred in 1900, when two fishermen described an extended encounter with a “strange creature” in Lake Superior.

The following year, two separate accounts were documented by two different groups of witnesses, describing a lake monster in the lake.

Though these reports were exciting, no physical evidence of the creature was ever taken. Over the years, reports of the monster have been met with skepticism and disdain.

Today, the search continues, but despite modern technology, the mystery remains unsolved.

Potential Explanations

Because of the evidence left in historical records, some scientists believe the Freshwater Whale may have been an actual animal. It could have been a subspecies of the Beluga Whale or Narwhal, which are both well-known creatures living in the Arctic oceans.

There is also a possibility that the creature is not a whale, but a large fish species. Megalodon, a species of prehistoric shark, is one theory debated by modern scientists. Megalodon could potentially have survived in the cold waters of the Great Lakes, as some fish species live in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Logically, if the creature is in fact a fish species, it could be a large sturgeon. Sturgeon fish migrate to the shallow waters near shores of the lake, thus explaining why some people may have seen the creature in shallow waters.

Nevertheless, the true answer is still unknown. Our understanding of the ecosystem of the Great Lakes has grown over the last centuries, yet the mystery of the Freshwater Whale remains.

Modern Sightings

The mystery of the Freshwater Whale continues to be discussed today. There are still reports of sightings of the creature popping up from time to time, but with no real evidence, it’s hard to confirm the creature’s existence.

It’s possible that the sightings are just misinterpretations of normal inhabitants of the lake, such as sturgeon or whitefish. The fact that these creatures migrate making them more likely to be seen by people.

This being said, it is still possible that the Freshwater Whale could be out there. Much of Lake Superior’s bottom remains unexplored, and many of its depths are deep, dark and largely unknown. Who knows what mysteries may be gliding through its depths?

Exploration Efforts

Organizations, like Lake Superior Magazine and the Great Lakes Aquarium, have been working to uncover the mystery of the monster, sponsoring various exploration and search efforts.

The Academy of Marine Sciences, for example, is currently conducting a study on the ecological history of Lake Superior. The researchers on board of the research vessel J.L. Scott are mapping the lake’s bottom for the first time in history, in an effort to uncover anything living in its depths.

Though the hunt for the Freshwater Whale continues, it remains to be seen if the mysterious creature will ever be found. For now, we must await the findings of science, to determine the truth behind the rumors.

What We Know

Though the answer to the mystery of the Freshwater Whale remains unknown, we can surmise some facts:

  • The creature was first spotted in 1808.
  • Throughout the 19th century, sightings of the creature were frequently reported in the Great Lakes region.
  • It is possible that the creature could be a whale, fish, or other large mammal species.
  • Some believe the creature is a subspecies of the Beluga Whale or Narwhal.
  • Others think the creature could be a large fish species, such as the Megalodon shark.
  • The creature remains elusive, but exploration and research efforts continue.


Though many people continue to tell tales of the monster of Lake Superior, there is still no real evidence the creature exists. There is no lack of speculation and curiosity surrounding the mysterious creature, and though search efforts continue, the truth of the Freshwater Whale remains uncertain.

Todd Hashimoto is a nature writer and enthusiast. He has a special interest in ecotourism, particularly for lakes around the world. He has traveled extensively for his research, visiting some of the most renowned bodies of water on every continent. His writing covers topics like lake ecology and conservation as well as interesting historical and cultural facts about famous lakes. He is passionate about bringing attention to the beauty and importance of these natural wonders in hopes of promoting their protection.

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