Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, is a recreational dream. People spend their summers boating, fishing, and swimming in its crystal clear waters. If you were to stand on the shore and look out over the water, it might feel like you’re standing in front of an endless ocean.
Despite its natural beauty, it is shrouded in mystery and death. What is the real reason behind its reputation, and what lives at the bottom of Lake Superior?
What is Lake Superior?
Bordered by Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, Lake Superior is the largest body of water in the Great Lakes chain. It is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the third largest by volume. It also holds 10% of the world’s surface freshwater. Lake Superior has an average depth of 483 feet and a maximum depth of 1,333 feet. To better understand just how enormous the lake is, you could fit the entire state of South Carolina inside it.
French explorers first discovered the lake in the 17th century, but the British took control of the region in the 1760s after their defeat in the French-Indian War. The British named it “superior” because it was superior in magnitude to the rest of the lakes on the continent. However, the history of this lake didn’t begin in 1700, but in 5,000 BC, over 10,000 years ago. Pictographs on Canada’s eastern and western shores confirm that the Shield-Archaic peoples inhabited the area.
Fast forward to modern times, Lake Superior is a huge tourist attraction where many go for a plethora of outdoor activities. If you were to go on vacation in the area, you might hear about the local folklore surrounding this giant lake. What secrets do its waters hold, and are they true?
Legends of Lake Superior
The Sleeping Giant
Ontario’s Superior country offers views of “The Sleeping Giant,” a large rock formation that resembles the body of a giant sleeping peacefully. According to Ojibwe legend, the giant is Nanabijou, the spirit of deep water. The spirit protected a precious silver mine called Silver Islet and rewarded the tribe with a secret location.
However, Nanabijou told them that a curse would turn him to stone if they ever shared the secret with the white men. An outsider infiltrated the Ojibwe tribe and eventually told the settlers, who perished in a shipwreck on their way to the secret island. Nanabijou turned to stone and now guards the silver mine. You can see this great formation from Thunder Bay in Ontario.
Lake Superior and the islands around it contain many haunting ghost stories. One such story involves a two-person crew and a tugboat in the 1800s. This crew set out in the rough water of Lake Superior when their small boat caught on fire. They were unable to put the flames out and, sadly, drowned. The islanders found part of the wreckage and turned it into a shelter. Today, people claim to see the spirits of these men, as well as other islanders from long ago. The community of Sand Island was a happy place where children played; when the wind was quiet, you could still hear their faint laughter.
These stories are just two of many ancient legends and ghost sightings in the area. Head over to Lake Superior and see if you can hear or see anything strange.
Is the Lake Dangerous?
Between Grand Marais, Michigan, and Whitefish Point lies the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes.” It is the most dangerous area in Lake Superior for ships. It is unknown how many ships have sunk in these waters, but people have found at least 350.
Lake Superior is known for harsh, unforgiving weather, ravaging storms, and frigid temperatures. The most common cause of death on the lake is drowning. Many people take boats onto the water, thinking they will experience a nice, relaxing day, just to get caught in a 30-foot wave that capsizes their vessel.
An estimated 10,000 people have died at the hands of Lake Superior. It’s hard to give an exact number due to the lake’s environment. The saying goes, “Superior, they said, never gives up her dead.” Warmer water causes bodies to float to the top, but the bottom of this lake stays around 36°, stifling bacteria growth, allowing human remains to sink and never resurface. Besides human bodies and ship wreckage, what else can you find at the bottom of Lake Superior?
What Lives at the Bottom of Lake Superior?
Round goby, crayfish, shrimp, and other invertebrates live at the bottom of Lake Superior. Some plants like algae and seaweed also grow at these depths. There are over 200 fish species in the lake, but most live in shallower water. Many lake animals can’t survive in temperatures as cold as 36° and thrive in surface temperatures around 63°. Some bottom-dwelling creatures are native to the lake, while others are invasive species wreaking havoc on the fragile environment.
At the bottom of shallow waters, you can find snails, worms, clams, mayflies, and caddisflies. But the bottom of the cold lake is home to different creatures such as opossum shrimp, deepwater scud, copepods, and deepwater sculpins. These small fish and crustaceans are native to the deep freshwater of Lake Superior.
In the 1980s, zebra mussels and spiny water fleas invaded the lake. These creatures threaten the food web for native species, and the zebra mussel is a particular nuisance for its ability to clog pipes and wreak havoc on boats.
One of the most destructive, non-native species to invade the Great Lakes region is the sea lamprey, the “vampire of the Great Lakes.” It is a parasitic fish with a round mouth filled with sharp teeth that suctions its prey and drains its body fluids. While not very dangerous to humans, they kill hundreds of thousands of trout yearly.
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