This month’s cryptid brings us up to the coasts of Alaska. There lurks Bigfoot’s semi-aquatic cousin, known as the Kushtaka (or Kooshdakhaa) – which translates from the Tlingit language to mean “land otter man.” These creatures are prominent features in indigenous folklore along the coast of Alaska – the Tlingit People, Ts’msyen People, and the Yup’ik People all have similar stories of such a creature. Could this lend validation to its existence? Let’s explore.
According to legends, the Kushtaka are a species of large, hairy humanoid figures that have otter-like facial features in most depictions. Basically, imagine a Bigfoot-Otter mashup and you’ve got the basic idea. Kushtaka also have the ability to shape-shift, though how extensive that ability varies from story to story. In some variations of the legend, Kushtaka can only shift between its Bigfoot-Otter form and a human form. In other variations, it is able to shift freely between many forms. Some more sensational claims describe it as being more like a demon that a flesh-and-bone cryptid. It has a distinctive call that is described as a high-low-high whistling pattern.
There are a few different variations in the legend of the Kushtaka. First, the Tlingit people believed the creature to be evil – or if not evil, then at least cruel. From what I’ve read, the Tlingit lore regarding the Kushtaka revolves around them playing tricks and luring sailors and small children to their cold, watery graves. They are apparently able to make sounds that resemble crying babies or screaming women to lure their prey into the ocean, where they then kill them and use their claws to rip and tear them apart.
Other tales of the Kushtaka describe them as being helpful and rescuing those that have wandered too close to the water and gotten lost. In these tales, the Kustaka conjure images of the lost person’s family (though with otter-ish features). These images calm the lost person down, and then the Kushtaka turns the lost person into one. This process is never really described, but it allows the individual to survive the harsh climate.
As with any good cryptid tale that stems from extensive lore, we know a great deal about how to (supposedly) ward them off and protect yourself. According to many sources, the Kushtaka are afraid of dogs, and a dog’s bark will make the Kushtaka transform back into its main Otter-like form. Dog bones can also be used to defend against the Kushtaka. The same can be said for copper. Some stories also claim that the Kushtaka shy away from fire and (gag) urine
While there are not many longform, detailed accounts of encounters with Kushtaka specifically, there are tons of “monster tales” along Alaska’s coastline. In fact, Thomas Bay has been home to so many of these monster tales that it acquired a second name: Devil’s Country. Again, these encounters do not specifically mention the Kushtaka lore, but the creatures in Devil’s country are described as being about 4 feet tall, not looking humanoid, and having claws. These encounters began in the year 1900 with Harry Colp. Colp and three prospectors allegedly encountered unknown creatures at a crescent-moon shaped lake. In 1925, a fur trapper in the area noticed his dog had gone missing. He went into the wilderness to search for it, and was never heard from again.
There are also several purported sightings of the Kushtaka that began with the witness thinking they were looking at a regular ol’ river otter frolicking in the water. And then the otter stands up on its hind legs and acknowledges the person. Of course, these encounters are all proliferated through the internet and are impossible to verify. This is also the type of encounter that makes me wonder if people are just seeing river otters from far off and thinking that they’re monsters. Then again, what do I know?