MADEIRA BEACH — If you believe retiree Russ Sittloh, the canals around Crystal Island have their own version of the infamous Loch Ness Monster.
After four sightings of the mysterious creature, he is so convinced that something's out there that he has dubbed it Normandy Nessie.
Sittloh and his wife, Betty, say they've seen the creature from their Normandy Road waterfront home once in the spring, again in September and twice this month.
Nessie doesn't have a regular routine, Sittloh says, but usually swims by in midafternoon.
The couple used to watch dolphins frolic in their canal, but since Nessie arrived the dolphins have been a no-show.
"At first, I was puzzled. I couldn't figure out what it was. Then in September I thought it might be a python or some big snake. But then this month, I saw a caudal fin. He looks like he is over 30 feet long and about 15 inches in diameter. We are talking about a big beast out there," Sittloh said.
When he told friends and neighbors about the first two sightings, he was met with skepticism and even laughter.
So he decided to prove his discovery. He spent $370 on a surveillance camera to monitor the canal from his window. He kept watch and downloaded both video and still pictures to his computer and then posted them on the Internet.
He even sent a letter to a local newspaper.
"At the risk of having everyone think I have lost it, gone bonkers or whatever, I must share this visual sighting with everyone," he wrote.
He worries that the creature "could pose a real danger to people and small animals," and particularly to those who swim or kayak in the canal.
Sittloh says his most recent sighting was about a week ago. The creature was in the middle of a school of baitfish, did a double roll and came back toward Sittloh with a "mouthful of fish."
Now Sittloh's Nessie sightings have gone viral on the Web.
Depending on how you structure your search, Google returns between 449 and 8,000 Web pages that reference "Normandy Nessie."
Chatter on Web sites and blogs speculate on what Nessie could be. Guesses range from a large manatee to a Cretaceous-era mosasaur, a serpentine marine reptile that could reach nearly 60 feet long. Fortunately, it is extinct.
As for Sittloh's first guess — a large python or snake — pythons can swim and have been reported in the Everglades. Presumably they are former pets turned loose by their owners.
A state-sanctioned hunting program reported capturing and killing 37 pythons this month. Officials estimate that 30,000 Burmese pythons live in the Everglades.
In July, an 8-foot pet Burmese python escaped from its terrarium and strangled a 2-year-old girl.
"I don't know if we have a mutated species here or what," Sittloh said. "Whatever he is, my God, is he big. He is some kind of big."
Sittloh said he has warned his neighbors and called the city, but did not report the creature to the Sheriff's Office.
"From the video, it appears most likely it is a manatee," said Carli Segelson, media relations coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said no one else in Madeira Beach has reported seeing Nessie.
"It sounds like there is something out there, but we don't know what it is," she said.