Probably the most famous Argentine cryptid, Nahuelito, sometimes called "El Manto," is the name of an unknown Nessie-like animal. It allegedly inhabits Nahuel Huapi Lake, between the provinces of Río Negro and Neuquén in central Argentina. Nahuel Huapi lake is the seventh-largest in Argentina with a surface area of 530 km2 and a maximum depth of 1,522 ft, although not all the lake has been surveyed, so deeper points may exist. It’s so large in fact, that despite not being near the ocean, it has various seabirds normally restricted to the coast, like the kelp gull and the blue-eyed cormorant. Nahuel Huapi Lake is also notable for being a popular tourist location.
Nahuelito’s appearance is consistent with Huevelmans’s longneck-type or Coleman’s waterhorse-type. They are usually described as being 20 to 30 feet long, with a large seal-like body, humped back, and a flexible swan-like neck. Interestingly, the Nahuelito is said to have a triangular, snake-like head.
Although there is Indigenous folklore of creatures resembling Nahuelito inhabiting Nahuel Huapi Lake, the first modern Nahuelito report was featured in the Toronto Globe in 1922, but the sighting took place in 1910. The article explained that a man named George Garrett was sailing in an inlet called “Coytrue” when he saw an object rise six feet out of the water. It was 15 to 20 feet long. The article didn’t elaborate on the animal’s appearance, but the headline describes it as a plesiosaur. Some have pointed out that there is no inlet in Nahuel Huapi lake called Coytrue, but it’s probably a typo of Coihue, an inlet on the south of the lake.
A couple of months after this article was written, Texan explorer Martin Sheffield featured a sighting in a letter to the director of the Buenos Aires Zoo, Dr. Clamente Onelli. In his letter, he described seeing the head and neck of a strange creature in the middle of Nahuel Huapi Lake. He described it as having a long, flexible neck and a tiny head. At first, he thought it may have been some kind of colossal long-necked bird like a swan or crane, but upon closer inspection, he noticed that it had smooth, featherless skin and no beak. He then noticed the ripples in the water giving him an idea of the animal’s body, which he thought was reminiscent of a crocodile’s.
After this report, it became very popular in the media, with a tango song named after it, called El Plesiosauro, based on its similar appearance to the prehistoric reptile, and even had a brand of cigarettes named after it, but strangely, there were no sightings of the animal until the mid-1970s. It has often been said that the Argentine navy followed a large, unidentified object in the lake in 1960, citing an article in Newsweek magazine, but they cite no sources and there are no other records of this event, so it was almost certainly made up.
In mid-February of 1976, a man named Aquiles Lamfre booked into the Parque Hotel, off Nahuel Huapi lake. He looked out his window and saw a large animal with a dark coloured back and a long, snake-like head thrashing around in the calm water. He then watched it submerge. In late 1976, Coca and Vincent Trussle claimed to have spotted a nahuelito. In the fall of 1977, Hilda Rumboll claimed to have seen something large crossing the lake and leaving a noticeable wake. She and her husband looked at it through their binoculars and saw what appeared to be a swan-like neck.
In October of 1986, Stella Maris López claimed to have seen a Nahuelito. She said it had a long neck and a triangular snake-like head and saw two humps trailing behind it. In December of 1986, engineer Guillermo Varzi and his daughter were returning in his boat from a picnic when they saw a submarine-sized animal with multiple, black dorsal fins on its back. Varzi’s daughter took a photo of the animal and has become the most famous Nahuelito photo (above).
In 1989, a group of tourists saw a 60-foot long creature swimming just underneath the surface of their boat. One of the tourists, Jorge Brodo photographed it. On new years day of 1994, Jessica Campbell and Paula Jacarbe saw a Nahuelito just offshore from the beach they were on. They said it was as big as a whale and had multiple humps and two flippers, but they never saw its head. They were so close to it that they heard it breathing.
Sometime in 2000, Christian Muller saw what he thought was a boat on the water off Nahuel Huapi Lake during a cloudy, windless day, but the object was too far away to tell. He noticed it was black, which was unusual, as no boats at the local nautical club were that colour, and you don’t typically see that colour on leisure boats either. Just as he was wondering what it was, it quickly dove under the surface.
In April of 2006, someone anonymously sent three photos allegedly of a Nahuelito up close to the El Cordillerano newspaper, but they’re generally thought to fake. In November of 2007, Rosalba Painefil saw a creature, unlike any animal she had ever seen at the mouth of the Ñirihuau river in Nahuel Huapi Lake. In April of 2008, two different nahuelitos were seen surfacing near Bariloche, the largest settlement off the coast of Nahuel Huapi Lake. Their backs were described as dark coloured and shiny.
From the 2010s to the present, many sightings have been reported, most recently in late January of 2020, when what appears to be some kind of serpentine black creature was filmed, causing waves by undulating in an up-and-down motion on the lake (below).