15 Interesting Facts About Lake Tanganyika

One of the most fascinating lakes in the world can be found in the east of Africa.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Lake Tanganyika!

1. It’s one of the African Great Lakes

Lake Tanganyika is one of the magnificent African Great Lakes which are located in the east of the continent. Apart from this lake, they also include the world-famous Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile River, and Lake Malawi, the 8th largest freshwater lake in the world.

This collection of lakes has about 31,000 cubic kilometers of water (7400 cubic miles) which is the largest volume of water of any collection of lakes in the world. This includes the North American Great Lakes, as well as Lake Baikal in Russia, which is by far the biggest lake in the world.

Lake Tanganyika from Space
The lake seen from space / ESA / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/igo/deed.en

2. It’s considered to be a rift lake and is located relatively high

The African Great Lakes were formed in and around the East African Rift, a continental rift that was formed between 22 and 25 million years ago, which was the start of the Miocene period.

This particular lake is located in the western part of the Albertine Rift and is bounded by mountainous walls to the east. Because of this, the surface elevation of Lake Tanganyika is relatively high as it’s located at a height of 773 meters (2,536 feet) above sea level.

Some of the most amazing mountains and volcanoes are located within the East African Rift, including Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Kenya.

Lake Tanganyika mountains
The lake and mountains / Andreas31 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

3. It’s located within the borders of 4 different countries

Lake Tanganyika covers a total area of 32,900 square kilometers (12,700 square miles) and is located within the borders of 4 different countries, including:

  • Burundi
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Tanzania
  • Zambia

The majority of the lake is located in the DRC (40% of the western part) and Tanzania (46% of the eastern part). Only the northeastern tip of the lake is located in Burundi and the southwestern tip of the lake is located in Zambia.

Facts about Lake Tanganyika
Lake from space / MONUSCO / Abel Kavanagh / Wiki Commons

4. It’s one of the biggest lakes on the planet

Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake on the planet with a maximum length of 673 kilometers (418 miles). It also has a maximum width of 72 kilometers (45 miles) and its width averages about 50 kilometers (31 miles).

It’s the second-largest lake in Africa by surface area after Lake Victoria and the largest rift lake. On a world-scale, it’s the 5th largest freshwater lake (not including the Caspian Sea) after Lake Superior, Lake Victoria, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan.

But that’s not all!

The lake has an average depth of 570 meters (1,870 feet) and with a maximum depth of 1,470 meters (4,820 feet), it’s the second-deepest lake in the world after Lake Baikal!

Lake Tanganyika fun facts
The great lake / Dave Proffer / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

5. The lake has multiple inlets but just one major outlet

One of the most fascinating facts about Lake Tanganyika is that it has multiple inlets, but only 1 outlet. Some major inlets include the Ruzizi River which connects it with Lake Kivu further north. The second-largest river in Tanzania, the Malagarasi River, flows into the lake from the east.

The only outflow of the lake is the Lukuga River, a river that releases the water of the lake into the Congo River and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

6. The lake probably didn’t have any outlet at all in the past

One of the most remarkable facts about Lake Tanganyika is that the rivers don’t play a major role in the outflow and inflow of water into the lake.

The rivers only account for 10% of this process because after all, the residence time of the water in the lake is 5,500 years! Most of the incoming water is from direct rainfall and the outgoing water is from evaporation in the tropical African sun.

Because of the lake’s location, it’s assumed that the lake didn’t have any outlet at all in the past. because of the high level of evaporation, it’s also assumed that the lake’s surface area might have been as much as 300 meters (980 feet) lower than it is today!

Shore of the lake
Shore of the lake / Fabulousfabs / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

7. The 3 basins of the lake each have a different age

Another one of those interesting facts about Lake Tanganyika is that it’s the second-oldest lake in the world as well! It consists of 3 basins that developed at different times in history:

  • The central basin – 9 to 12 million years ago.
  • The northern basin – 7 to 8 million years ago.
  • The southern basin – 2 to 4 million years ago.

8. The water of the lake is quite warm, even at great depths

The water’s temperature at the surface of the lake is around 24 °C (75 °F) and can reach up to 28–29 °C (82–84 °F) in the southern parts of the lake in August. What’s remarkable is that temperature at depths greater than 400 meters (1,300 feet) remains fairly consistent at a temperature anywhere between 23.1–23.4 °C (73.6–74.1 °F).

Ever since the early 19th century, the water’s temperature has been rising and this has accelerated because of global warming, starting in the 1950s.

Lake tanganyika water
The lake’s water / Avaadhesh / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

9. It’s the home of Gustave, a fearsome man-eating crocodile

One of the most infamous animals on the planet lives in and around Lake Tanganyika. His name is Gustave and he’s a Nile crocodile that is believed to have been born around 1955 and which has an estimated weight of over 900 kilos (2,000 lbs) and is over 5.5 meters (18 feet) long!

What makes Gustave such a fearsome predator is that he is believed to have eaten up to 300 people! Even though he’s accused of eating hundreds of people, the number is hard to verify.

In 2019, it was stated that Gustave had been killed, but this claim has not been verified yet and he might as well still be preying on unsuspected people living along the northern shores of the lake!

Nile Crocodile
Nile Crocodile / Bernard Gagnon / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

10. Over 250 species of cichlid fish live in the lake

Almost all of the 250 species of cichlid fish that live in the lake are endemic, and even though this isn’t the largest number of cichlids in the African lakes, they are the most morphologically and genetically diverse. The reason is because of the lake’s great age which has allowed for the species to develop.

There are also 80 different types of fish species in the lake and about 60% of those are endemic to the lake as well.

Fish in the lake
Cichlid fish in the lake / Pixabay

11. The snails in the lake have developed special features

The lake is home to 83 different freshwater snail species of which 65 are endemic, as well as 11 bivalve species of which 8 are endemic. Over 200 crustaceans live in the lake of which about 100 are endemic.

One of the most fascinating facts about Lake Tanganyika is that the endemic freshwater snails have developed special features that make them look very similar to their marine counterparts. This had led to the speculation that they might be related to marine snails, even though this has been proven not to be the case.

These features include thickened and remarkably sculpted shells, normally only found in marine snails. The reason is believed to be both the lake’s age which has given them time to evolve and the diverse range of predators such as snail-eating fish and crabs.

Shells in lake Tanganyika
The remarkable shells / H. Zell / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

12. Millions of people in the area depend on the lake’s fisheries

Because of the wide variety of fish living in the lake, large fisheries have been established. It’s one of the main industries in the area which provides food for about 10 million people living along the lake’s shores.

Apart from that, thousands of people are employed in the fishing industry and hundreds of fisheries are operational today, despite the fact that the fish population has decreased tremendously since the 1950s.

Regardless, the lake still produces about 200,000 tons of fish annually!

Fishing in the lake
Fishing boat / Francesca Ansaloni / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

13. The first European to reach the lake was partially blind

The first Europeans to see Lake Tanganyika were British explorers Richard Burton and John Speke who were looking for the source of the Nile River in 1858.

Speke eventually pushed forward and discovered Lake Victoria without Burton who fell ill, an event that would result in a bitter feud among the two explorers.

Speke wasn’t able to see the lake properly because he fell ill as well and became partially blind. He attempted to cross the lake with a small canoe to try and find a larger vessel to explore the lake but had to abort his journey when a beetle crawled into his ear and he became partially deaf as well after trying to remove it with a knife.

John Hanning Speke
John Hanning Speke / Wiki Commons

14. There are only 2 ferries to carry passengers and cargo

Transportation from one side to the other is a bit better these days, but it’s still risky business. There used to be 3 ferries that transport people and cargo along the eastern shore of the lake but this has been reduced to just 2 after the “MV Mutambala” sank.

This ferry capsized on December 12, 2014, and 120 people lost their lives during this tragic event.

MV Mwongozo
MV Mwongozo / Michael Branz / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.0

15. One of the ferries on the lake was used during World War I

The other 2 remaining ferries are named the “MV Liemba,” which travels between Kigoma and Mpulungu, and “MV Mwongozo” between Kigoma and Bujumbura.

The “MV Liemba” was named after the name given to the lake by famous British explorer David Livingstone, but that’s not the only reason why it’s so remarkable.

This ship was originally called “Graf Goetzen” and was one of the 3 vessels built by the Germans in 1913 to take control over the lake during World War I. When this didn’t work out as planned, the ship was deliberately sunk to the bottom of the lake.

It wasn’t until the year 1927 that the British Royal Navy pulled it up from the bottom of the lake, restored it, and put it back in service.

One of the most astounding facts about Lake Tanganyika is that the MV Liemba is the only remaining ship of the German Imperial Navy (1871-1919) still sailing anywhere in the world today!

MV Liemba
The MV Liemba / Emi454 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en