What would you do if you heard a powerful screaming sound when you were out in the woods? That’s what happened to Gino Meekis when he was out hunting grouse 45 kilometres north of his home in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. He didn’t know what to make of the strange noise, as it didn’t sound like any animal he had heard before. His recording of the sound—and theories that it is the work of a sasquatch—has since gone viral.
When asked, the Ontario MNRF couldn’t be sure what it was either. “Our biologists say it could be a larger mammal—for example a wolf —but because of a considerable distance from the recorder there is no way to be certain,” ministry spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca.
To dig into the mystery a bit more, we talked to Tim Irvin, a wildlife ecologist who has worked in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park, and from coast to coast (to coast) in Canada. He is trained to recognize wildlife sounds for animal population studies and for his work as a guide, and we asked him to weigh in on the recording. “I think this is what makes the thing so intriguing—that the sound is really unusual,” he says. “It has been my job to go out and listen to and record animals, and in particular birds, and when you do that for a long time you get pretty good at knowing what things are. So when you hear something that you can’t identify it is surprising. But when I hear this it’s really not obvious.”
Unless you have training or have grown up spending time listening in the woods, discerning animal calls can be a challenge. “I’ve had people send me recordings of a barred owl and they think it’s wolves,” Irvin says. “It’s totally obvious to me it’s not wolves, it’s a barred owl. I’ve known people to mistake harbour seals at a haul out at night—there’s sort of a roaring sound—but they’re insisting they heard a cougar.”
Now we have the recorded evidence, and we have our investigator. So who are the suspects? “The closest approximation to me,” he says,“is it maybe sounds like some sort of distorted wolf call.”
Suspect 1: Okay, so could it be a wolf? “Well, I’ve never heard a wolf make a sound like that. It just doesn’t ring true of a wolf. Wolves have this sort of barky alarm, a sort of barky howl, an alarm call, that they make if they’re disturbed or something,” says Irvin. “It’s interesting too because he said it repeated over and over again. Wolves do a lot of communication vocally, as we all know through howls, they’re communicating, usually with distant pack members. Especially when it’s repetitive like that. But it’s hard to say. It just doesn’t sound like any wolf I’ve ever heard.” The kind of call that a wolf gives, specifically, if you get too close a den or a pack, or if’s concerned, he says, “is more like this.”If it’s just normal howling, if it’s concerned about you, about your presence, or proximity to the pack or the pups, or the den, that would be a warning cry from a wolf, more barking, or more obvious howl. Something that obviously sounds…wolf-y.”
Suspect 2: How about a bear? “When was the recording made? Early October, so yeah, with that timing, the bears would still be out. But I’ve definitely never ever heard a bear make a kind of sound like that before.” And as a guide in the Great Bear Rainforest, Irvin has spent an awful lot of time around bears. “You know, typically, bears are not very vocal. Cubs tend to be the most vocal, but it definitely doesn’t sound like a cub. Adults, when they get into skirmishes make sounds but the sounds a black bear makes when they’re in a skirmish with another black bear is really nothing like that at all.”
Suspect 3: What about moose? “The guy who recorded it suggested moose maybe but then he said no. And this is the thing,” says Irvin, who agrees it’s not a moose. “It sounds like he’s an experienced outdoorsman, he’s spent a lot of time out there and he’s also puzzled by it.”
Suspect 4: Not a bird? “It definitely doesn’t sound like a bird,” he says. “It sounds mammalian to me.” And Meekis also reported large footfalls in the woods, so we can probably scratch that.
Suspect 5: Well, could it be a sasquatch? Some people have raised that possibility. But that’s a question for a cryptozoologist, which Irvin is not.
In the absence of more evidence, this may remain an unsolved mystery. “It doesn’t sound like he’s willing to say what it is or isn’t either,” says Irvin. “Everybody online seems to have an opinion but he doesn’t. I’m kind of in his camp.”