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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Search for the Sea Serpent - Reviewing an Old and Hard-to-Find Documentary

Yesterday I got a VHS tape of Search for the Sea Serpent, an old documentary (1999) about the monster supposedly in Lake Seljord, in Norway. It was not mentioned on the show, but that creature is nicknamed "Selma." The description of the doc is:

"Prepare to be surprised on a venture to Norway in search of legendary sea serpents. For two hundred and fifty years residents living around the small Seljord Lake in Norway have reported sightings of a strange serpent-like creature. Explore the hidden depths of the lake with a group of investigators on a mission to find out what really lives in the waters below."
The lake monster on the Seljord coat of arms

The doc follows a team led by Jan-Ove Sundberg, who believed that the creature existed. You usually see him mentioned in books or things of the sort when the Seljord Serpent, as it was called in the show, is mentioned. He is joined by people from all over the world, many of whom are seriously interested in proving whether or not something is in the lake.
Jan-Ove
Sundberg

Sundberg has the team out on the lake 24 hours a day, some people working morning/afternoon shifts and others working the night shift. At first, everyone's spirits are high and they are excited to be searching for the serpent.  As the expedition continues their attitudes change.

Lots of news crews are at the lake interviewing Sundberg and the others. Part of this is recorded on the show, and you watch as a news reporter (who obviously doesn't think they will find anything) is asking Sundberg is he thinks they will capture a gigantic sea serpent in the lake. Sundberg responds saying that they are not trying to capture the creature and that they do not think it is several meters long.

Ulf Burman and Peter Caspersson saw the creature on August 7, 1998, and say it was 3 meters long and black in color.

Later you see Sundberg asking for money for gas from the whole expedition team, because apparently he didn't figure up how much money he needed for gas before they headed out. This happens twice and the rest of the team isn't too happy about it.

During the expedition, Sundberg sees something in the water and takes several photos of it, one of which you see in the documentary. He is certain that he saw and photographed the monster, though you can't really tell what the thing is in the photo. The rest of the team shares my skepticism about what it is, and one of them tries to talk to Sundberg about it, asking if it could have been wakes from two boats (which they had out at the time) hitting each other and making "humps" of a monster. This happens in other "monster" lakes as well. Sundberg won't hear any of it, though, repeatedly saying something along the lines of "we aren't going to have this conversation." Later, when he shows his photos to the group, the others don't think it shows a sea serpent, to which Sundberg says that yes, it is. And afterwards he says everyone is entitled to their opinion when he won't even begin to think that maybe it is not a monster.

This causes lots of tension in the group, and two of the members who were seriously interested in seeing if there was a creature in the lake or not, leave early. This is also after Sundberg asks for money again, and by this point the rest of the group thinks that is really what he is after.

One interesting part of the documentary is when two of the team members (the more skeptical, scientific guys, who were completely unlike Sundberg, which I liked) test an "exploding log theory" to see if a log, at the bottom of the lake, rotting and filled with gases could rise to the surface (which they do) and be mistaken for the back of an unknown creature. At another point some divers and a UAV search for mysterious tracks of something they were told was on the bottom of the lake, but find nothing.

On the last day of the expedition, Ulf Burman splits up from the rest of the team, and goes up the mountain on the road instead of going on a boat. While the rest of the team is on the lake, he spots something moving through the water, leaving a V-shaped wake. It is the most convincing (and really only) evidence captured during the expedition. There were several large sonar contacts, but when these were sent to be examined the came back saying they were large fish or a school of fish.

Ironically, after trying to find out what this doc was for years, I looked it up when I saw that news crews had covered the expedition, and, believe it or not, found some articles about it! This one was on Blather.net (Aug 28, 1998) written by Dave Walsh, one of the expedition members:

"It was after much deliberation that I finally found myself in Oslo's Fornebu Airport, on August 3rd 1998. I was there to meet the rest of the GUST (Global Underwater Search Team) gang who, like me, were off to Lake Seljordsvatnet, some 130km or so (as the crow flies) west of Oslo. Once there, we were supposed to investigate 250 years of lake monster reports.
"It turns out that quite a few members were hesitant about committing themselves to going - some of us had left it to the last moment to pay for our flights. One Swedish team member told me that he had even been accused by Jan-Ove Sundberg, the leader of the expedition, of being a spy for a Swedish UFO magazine. I almost got kicked off because he felt I came across as too skeptical [1] in a Sunday Business Post interview. Nevertheless, whether it was the taste of adventure, sheer devilment, or perhaps a genuine quest for The Serpent, ten of the twelve team members convened in the arrivals hall of the airport around 1640, and subsequently made for our transport.
"The expedition was to turn into one of the most hilarious farces I've ever had the pleasure to be implicated in, and more than a week after its apparent conclusion, the dust is still rising, rather than settling. I'm still writing up my notes, so this week's Blather will unfortunately be only able to synopsize some of the events that took place. A 52-minute Discovery Channel documentary on GUST is due in the autumn, and a BBC series on 'science mysteries' is to feature footage, and will be shown next spring.
"Lake Seljordsvatnet, as can be seen by the pictures, is something of a paradise - squeezed in by 1500m mountains, it's some 14km long, and a kilometer or so wide. According to the apparently official chart, it's 138m - there were reports of an area of 157m, and one day we found a depth 147m - if the echo sounder was truthful. Seljord - which has adopted The Serpent as its coat-of-arms - is an attractive scattered community of 3,000 or so, and has just one main drag of businesses in wooden buildings. The local council had put some effort into GUST, as a tourism campaign, and various technology companies sponsored our equipment. During the two weeks I spent in Seljord, we used two different Simrad echo sounders, a side-scan sonar, a GPS hooked into a Konmap moving map system, and a couple of remote-control submarines."

The rest can be seen at the site.

The expedition team consisted of the following people, pictured below - Davy Russell from the USA, Kurt Burchfield from the USA, Arne Thomassen from Norway, Dave Walsh from Ireland, Ulf Burman from Sweden, Jan-Ove Sundberg from Sweden, Eric Joye from Belgium, Peter Caspersson from Sweden, Magnus Backlund from Sweden, Peter Lakbar from Sweden, Vemund Bjore from Norway, and Jason Gibb from the UK.

(blather.net)
Overall, I thought this doc was pretty good. I'm pretty sure this was the first time I had seen the whole thing, though I remember seeing part of it (I think it was when some of the team members left) a long time ago when it would play on TV. Besides Sundberg believing everything he sees to be a sea serpent, it is quite good.

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