It’s being called everything from a cross between an otter and a beaver, to a waterlogged muskrat, to a monster. Whatever it is, the strange-looking animal that washed ashore in a remote northern Ontario, Canada aboriginal community is seen by some as a bad omen.
The creature, with a furry body—but a bare, white face—a long snout, and a rat-like tail, was spotted by two nurses earlier this month floating near the shore of Big Trout Lake, some 200 kilometers (135 miles) south of Hudson Bay.
After their dog dragged the animal ashore, the nurses took pictures of it, which were posted a few days later on the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug community’s website.
“No one knows what it is but our ancestors used to call it the Ugly One,” the website says. “It is rarely seen but when seen, especially if it is dead, it’s a bad omen and something bad will happen, according to our elders and ancestors.”
Band councillor Darryl Sainnawap says the last time such an animal was seen in the community of 1,200 was about 60 years ago.
“One of our local community members said when he was young he saw this creature while he was with his grandfather. His grandfather at that time told him that this creature lives in swampy areas or creeks and that it feeds on beavers. He called it omajinaakos. In our language, that would translate to ‘something ugly’ or ‘the ugly one.’”
Other unusual creatures have been seen on Trout Lake, says Sainnawap, including mermaids and a huge water snake.
“There’s been sightings of large snakes, or a snake of some sort. Community members see it from time to time, and also I’ve heard of pilots seeing it while flying over the lake.”
He says that in one spot the lake is very deep. According to the community’s website, “There is a bottomless depth near one of the islands of Kitchenuhmaykoosib. Elders said that this is where large snakes and mermaids come up from.”
Since the photos of the dead creature were posted online, an Internet debate has been raging as to what exactly it might be.
Some suggest that it’s simply a bloated, partially decomposed muskrat or sea otter, while others believe it’s a nutria—a beaver-like animal imported to Louisianna from South America during the fur trade in the 1930s. One said that because the animal’s fur “runs backward, towards the face,” it is not a water dweller.
Others compared it to the Montauk monster, an unidentified animal that washed ashore in Montauk, New York, in July 2008.
It may never be known now. After the nurses showed the photos to some community members and realised it was not a common local animal, they returned to where they left it only to find it had disappeared.
“It could have been seagulls, crows, or dogs might have got to it,” says Sainnawap. “It could have been anything.”