Confession: As a former Floridian I am immediately wary of any large body of water. After all, alligators might as well be our state animal since they run rampant all year long. Add crocodiles, sharks of all shapes and sizes, deadly water snakes and more to the list...maybe you can understand why I'm hesitant to just dive in.

That being said, last night my significant other and I were planning some trips to the lake when I brought up my, in this case, irrational fear. I'm convinced that somehow, some way, there's an alligator in there. I know, I know. It gets too cold. They've never been spotted in Lake Michigan. There's plenty of evidence supporting the fact that alligators don't live in Lake Michigan. And yet...

Naturally, my first course of action after that conversation was to immediately turn to Google to find out what potentially dangerous creatures could be lurking in the lake. This is what I found:

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1. Piranhas

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Starting off strong with this one. PIRANHAS?? Those are way worse than my imaginary alligator. While there's been no official report of an actual piranha being caught in Lake Michigan, they have been found in smaller lakes around Michigan. At least according to the lifestyle blog Livn Fresh. Upon doing more research, it turns out that a few years ago 'piranha type fish' were caught near Detroit. Complete with 'human-like' teeth. Yikes! Read more about that here.

2. Bull Sharks

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Again, reports on this one are fuzzy to say the least. Rumor has it that a Bull Shark was once caught in Lake Michigan in the 1950's but that's about all the information we have. And I know what you're thinking...how could a Bull Shark survive outside of fresh water? But, as an experienced Floridian, let me tell you a lack of salt water does not slow these creatures down. They are incredibly adaptable. We spotted them in our rivers on numerous occasions. The major thing keeping species like the Bull Shark away? Most likely the temperature. So, if Lake Michigan gets warm...be on the lookout.

3. Snakeheads 

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This species of fish is more a threat to the ecosystem than us humans. While only a single Snakehead fish has been caught in the Great Lakes (Chicago, 2004) experts predict that, through man made routes like sewers, Snakeheads have the potential to set up shop in Lake Michigan. They do have similar features to other, non-threatening fish. However, if you happen to find an actual Snakehead you're encouraged to remove it from that body of water instead of throwing it back. Michigan State University compiled a plethora of information surrounding the Snakehead fish. Read more here.

Side note: if you're looking for some evidence of something lurking in Lake Michigan check out this video from 2019:

Say WHAAT? Should I add giant eels to the list?? Read more about this incident here.

The real danger of Lake Michigan...

Besides those few, random occurrences of potential dangerous species being found in Lake Michigan, I'm happy (and relieved) that there aren't more. However, that's not to say that you have nothing to worry about while visiting the lake.

While digging through the potentially dangerous animals (still not 100% convinced that there aren't alligators hiding somewhere) I, instead, found a much more startling statistic. The lives that Lake Michigan has claimed due to its heavy currents.

Like sharks and alligators, rip currents or rip tides are something I'm very familiar with as a former Floridian. I, however, did not anticipate having to prepare for them while visiting a lake. Chalk it up to my ignorance but I assumed it wouldn't be an issue. Thetravel.com has actually named Lake Michigan one of the most dangerous lakes in the country due to the number of people who have drowned, in part, due to these rip currents. They claim that nearly 300,000 lives have been lost to the lake. They, however, failed to give a time period for that statistic.

The best thing you can do is prepare. The 9th Coast Guard District has some great tips:

  1. Look for the signs. Differences in water color, water motion, a break in the incoming wave pattern or a line of foam can all be signs of a rip current
  2. Stay calm and don't fight the current. You will not win. Instead, swim at an angle away from the current and towards the shore.
  3. If you think you won't be able to make it back to shore, signal for help and try to float on the surface or calmly tread water. Most rip currents end further off shore.

Find more useful tips here.

In the meantime, if you happen to be visiting Lake Michigan and spot a pale woman eyeing a distant log suspiciously...just know that's me STILL looking for alligators.

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