What better way to spend a long, dark Alaska winter night than by telling stories?
Storytelling is woven into the culture of Alaska, thanks in large part to the rich traditions created by Alaska’s Native peoples. For many generations, Alaska Natives have passed stories down through generations. Some tell origin stories about how certain aspects of the world came to be. Others act as lessons that reinforce a tribe’s cultural values.
All have contributed to a considerable pantheon of mythical creatures that you might encounter in Alaska. Whether you’re wandering the shoreline, paddling a lake, walking down a dock, strolling in the woods—all those classic outdoor activities Alaska is known for—you might encounter one of these creatures.
Best to be prepared…
“Illie,” Alaska’s Loch Ness Monster
Lake Iliamna is the largest in Alaska, one that’s well known for its trout and salmon fishing. But people also know Lake Iliamna as the home of “Illie,” the giant creature who lives in the lake’s depths.
Those who have encountered Illie report seeing a huge aquatic creature with shark-like features that’s maybe 25-30 feet long, maybe 50-60 feet. Sightings of Illie in 2017 suggested that she also might resemble some kind of whale. The Anchorage Daily News once offered $100,000 for proof of the creature’s existence, but no one was able to capture anything definitive enough to claim the reward.
For now, Illie remains a myth—until proven otherwise.
The Qalupalik, Snatcher of Children Who Wander Without Permission
The Qalupalik is a half-woman, half-aquatic creature from Inuit stories who maintains her long life by stealing children who wander near the shoreline without their parents’ permission. She is commonly depicted as wearing a traditional Inuit amautik, a parka with a pouch on the back that allows a woman to carry her baby during the early years of life. When a child wanders alone toward the shore, the Qalupalik is known to snatch them up and put them in her amautik to spirit them away underwater. Children who disobey their parents are particularly susceptible to being taken by the Qalupalik.
Enjoy this telling of the Qalupalik story, brought to life with whimsical stop-motion animation:
Alaska’s Version of Bigfoot: The Bushman or Tornit
What wilderness area would be complete without its version of a larger-than-life, hairy, half-human creature who roams the area, stealing food, uprooting trees, and causing mysterious disappearances?
In some areas of North America, this creature is called Bigfoot. In others, Sasquatch. In Alaska, you might hear tales of the Hairy Man or the Alaska Bushman.
The Inuit believe that these creatures descended from a people called the Tornit. They used to live in relative harmony with the Inuit, until a Tornit damaged an Inuit’s prized canoe. That Inuit retaliated by killing the Tornit, which caused the rest of the Tornit population to flee in fear. Today, Tornit are rarely seen, but they’re blamed for all kinds of havoc that occurs in the wilderness, including crushed traps, missing hunters, and other unexplained events. If you’re wandering in Alaska’s wilderness and you smell a particularly foul odor, beware. A Tornit may be nearby.
The Amikuk, Deadly by Land or Sea
The Amikuk comes to us from the Yup’ik people, who tell tales of a shapeshifting creature that preys on hunters in kayaks, as well as hunters on land, since it has the ability to swim through the earth as easily as water.
Perhaps the most fascinating story about the Amikuk, though, centers around the idea that an Amikuk is able to shift into human shape and pull a sled. However, in this form, it’s only able to walk in a straight line. If you’re being pursued by an Amikuk, your best bet is to sit right in the creature’s intended path. The Amikuk will then offer you increasingly incredible gifts to move out of its way. Your best bet is to wait it out until the Amikuk offers you incredible wealth—or your heart’s desire.
The Kushtaka, Not Your Garden-Variety Sea Otter
The Tlingit share stories of the Kushtaka, shapeshifters who often appear in the form of an otter—or some kind of half-human, half-otter-like creature. In some tellings, the Kushtaka is a helpful guide who provides food and guidance. In other, darker versions, Kushtaka appear as friendly otters to lure people to their deaths. They’ve been known to make human sounds—like a baby crying—to trick people into following them into dangerous situations.
Keep an ear out for the creature’s distinctive three-note whistle. That’s your best hint that a Kushtaka is present—even if it looks like a cute little otter.
The Adlet, Half-Human, Half-Dog
The Adlet come to us from Inuit stories, which tell the tale of a race with the upper body of a human and the lower body of a dog. As the story goes, the Adlet was created when an Inuit woman mated with a dog, siring five dogs and five Adlet. As one version of the myth goes, the woman refused all of her suitors to marry her dog-husband. In the end, both she and her dog-husband perish, suggesting peril to those who choose unconventional marriage.
Similar stories of a half-human, half-dog race have been found in other parts of the world, including Greenland, British Columbia, and Siberia.
Ircenrraat, the “Little People” of Alaska
Ireland has its leprechauns. Hawaii has its Menehune. The Yup’ik have the Ircenrraat, a race of miniature human-like creatures with extraordinary powers. Stories suggest they live in a different dimension than ours but can move in and out of our world easily. Despite their extraordinary powers, Ircenrraat share some similarities with humans. They’re often spotted hunting and gathering, for example. They also have a reputation as excellent craftsmen.
Some say the Ircenrraat love making mischief, like leading people astray in the wilderness. Others say the Ircenrraat are good luck. Still others tell tales about kidnappings by Ircenrraat, in which victims are spirited away to underground lairs. Those who journey to the realm of the Ircenrraat report that a day in their world is like a year in our time.
Keep your eyes out these mythical creatures while you’re in Alaska—and your ears out, since the Ircenrraat have been known to sing while they work.
The Tizheruk, to Keep You on Your Toes Near the Water
Piers and docks can be dangerous—especially with the Tizheruk around.
This creature from Inuit mythology is described as a giant sea serpent with a long tail that ends in a huge flipper. As the story goes, the Tizheruk can snatch someone from a dock without making a single sound. All the more reason to be careful when you’re strolling down the dock in Alaska!
Kats, the Half-Man, Half-Bear
Stories of the Kats come from the Tlingit people, whose stories tell of creatures that came from the mating of a hunter named Kaats and a shape-shifting she-bear.
The unfortunate man doesn’t fare well in this tale. He was killed by the Kats, the half-bear children he created. In some tellings, Kaats’ death is directly due to the fact that he juggled two wives: one she-bear and one human. Some versions also attribute the constant rain in the Alaska panhandle to the tears of Kaats’ she-bear wife, who is still mourning his death.
The Keelut, an Evil Spirit on Earth
Those traveling alone in Alaska should keep their eyes out for the Keelut, which often takes the form of a hairless dog. In fact, the only hair that this creature has is on its feet, which allows it to mask its tracks. Inuit stories of the Keelut are almost always frightening ones, since the Keelut is rumored to be a malevolent spirit.
Some scholars have drawn parallels between the Inuit stories of the Keelut and the European black dog myths, in which travelers are quite literally hounded by a malevolent black dog. The Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, falls neatly into that tradition. So if you find yourself bedeviled by a wild dog in Alaska, you can comfort yourself with the fact that you’re part of a longstanding global tradition.
Sdonalyasna, the People-Stealers
The Sdonalyasna, mythical residents of the Kenai Peninsula, take human form. However, they’re easily distinguished by their fur covering and their long nose, which can reach up to a foot in length.
In Dena’ina stories, Sdonalyasna use bird and animal songs to lure their victims close. Then, they snatch them up, and spirit them away. However, the birdsong of the Sdonalyasna are often imperfect—and that’s your only warning that the people-stealers are close. These creatures are only active in the summer months, but they’ve reportedly spirited away plenty of unsuspecting victims. It’s best to stay alert.
Bonus: Alaska’s Bermuda Triangle
Even though this one doesn’t technically fall under the banner of “mythical creatures,” the Alaskan Triangle does have its place in Alaska mythology.
In between Utqiagvik, Anchorage, and Juneau, you’ll find a stretch of wilderness that’s been the site of several mysterious disappearances. In fact, the Travel Channel alleges that people go missing in the area at twice the U.S. national average—four out of every 1000 individuals. As a result, some people compare the area to the Bermuda Triangle, another famous site riddled with apocryphal stories of disappearances.
Two of the most famous disappearances within the Alaskan Triangle include:
- The vanishing of a C-54 Skymaster military aircraft, carrying eight crewmembers and 36 passengers, and
- The disappearance of an aircraft carrying the 1972 U.S. House Majority Leader, Hale Boggs.
No trace of either craft was ever found.
Some blame swirling energy vortexes for this area’s strange occurrences. Others point out the ttriangle’s sheer size and remoteness, which makes search and recovery difficult, if not impossible. Still others point to shifting glaciers to explain the disappearance of entire aircraft.
Whatever the cause, Alaska’s remote areas offer plenty of dangers, both natural and supernatural.
Steeping Yourself in Alaska Lore
You’ll encounter plenty of interesting tales in Alaska: myths, legends, and stories from Alaska’s Native peoples; classic hunting and fishing stories that often exaggerate either the danger or the size of the kill; and some “only in Alaska,” I-can’t-believe-this-is-real-life scenarios.
Our advice? Soak it up. It’s all part of the rich fabric of living in the Last Frontier.
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