The Loch Ness Monster is a cryptid that reputedly inhabits Loch Ness, a lake in the Scottish Highlands.
It is similar to other supposed lake monsters in Scotland and elsewhere, though its description varies from one account to the next, with most describing it as large. Popular interest and belief in the creature’s existence has varied since it was first brought to the world’s attention in 1933. Evidence of its existence is anecdotal, with minimal and much-disputed photographic material and sonar readings.
The most common speculation among believers is that the creature represents a line of long-surviving plesiosaurs. Much of the scientific community regards the Loch Ness Monster as a modern-day myth, and explains sightings as including misidentifications of more mundane objects, outright hoaxes, and wishful thinking. Despite this, it remains one of the most famous examples of cryptozoology.
The creature has been affectionately referred to by the nickname Nessie (Scottish Gaelic: Niseag) since the 1940s.
The term “monster” was reportedly applied for the first time to the creature on 2 May 1933 by Alex Campbell, the water bailiff for Loch Ness and a part-time journalist, in a report in The Inverness Courier. On 4 August 1933, the Courier published as a full news item the assertion of a London man, George Spicer, that a few weeks earlier while motoring around the Loch, he and his wife had seen “the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life”, trundling across the road toward the Loch carrying “an animal” in its mouth. Other letters began appearing in the Courier, often anonymously, with claims of land or water sightings, either by the writer or by family or acquaintances, or stories they remembered being told. These stories soon reached the national (and later the international) press, which described a “monster fish”, “sea serpent”, or “dragon”, eventually settling on “Loch Ness Monster”.
On 6 December 1933, the first purported photograph of the monster, taken by Hugh Gray, was published in the Daily Express, and shortly afterwards the creature received official notice when the Secretary of State for Scotland ordered the police to prevent any attacks on it. In 1934, interest was further sparked by what is known as The Surgeon’s Photograph. In the same year R. T. Gould published a book, the first of many that describe the author’s personal investigation and collected record of additional reports predating 1933. Other authors have claimed that sightings of the monster go as far back as the 6th century (see below).
Saint Columba (565)
The earliest report of a monster associated with the vicinity of Loch Ness appears in the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán, written in the 7th century. According to Adomnán, writing about a century after the events he described, the Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he came across the locals burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man had been swimming in the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” that had mauled him and dragged him under. They tried to rescue him in a boat, but could only drag up his corpse. Hearing this, Columba stunned the Picts by sending his follower Luigne moccu Min to swim across the river. The beast came after him, but Columba made the sign of the Cross and commanded: “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.” The beast immediately halted as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and fled in terror, and both Columba’s men and the pagan Picts praised God for the miracle. The oldest manuscript relating to this story was put online in 2012.
Believers in the Loch Ness Monster often point to this story, set in the River Ness rather than the loch itself, as evidence for the creature’s existence as early as the 6th century. However, sceptics question the narrative’s reliability, noting that water-beast stories were extremely common in medieval saints’ Lives; as such, Adomnán’s tale is likely to be a recycling of a common motif attached to a local landmark. According to the sceptics, Adomnán’s story may be independent of the modern Loch Ness Monster legend entirely, only becoming attached to it in retrospect by believers seeking to bolster their claims. In an article for Cryptozoology, A. C. Thomas notes that even if there were some truth to the story, it could be explained rationally as an encounter with a walrus or similar creature that had swum up the river. R. Binns acknowledges that this account is the most serious of various alleged early sightings of the monster, but argues that all other claims of monster sightings prior to 1933 are highly dubious and do not prove that there was a tradition of the monster before this date.
D. Mackenzie (c. 1871–72)
Sightings of the Loch Ness Monster pre-1933 were rare, but some did occur. One such sighting occurred in October 1871 or 1872, by a Dr D. Mackenzie of Balnain. He described seeing an object that looked much like a log or upturned boat “wriggling and churning up the water”. The object moved slowly at first, then disappeared off at a faster speed. Mackenzie sent his story in a letter to Rupert Gould in 1934, shortly after popular interest in the monster skyrocketed.
Modern interest in the monster was sparked by a sighting on 22 July 1933, when George Spicer and his wife saw “a most extraordinary form of animal” cross the road in front of their car. They described the creature as having a large body (about 4 feet (1.2 m) high and 25 feet (7.6 m) long), and a long, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant’s trunk and as long as the 10–12-foot (3–4 m) width of the road; the neck had undulations in it. They saw no limbs, possibly because of a dip in the road obscuring the animal’s lower portion. It lurched across the road towards the loch 20 yards (20 m) away, leaving only a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake.
In August 1933 a motorcyclist named Arthur Grant claimed to have nearly hit the creature while approaching Abriachan on the north-eastern shore, at about 1 a.m. on a moonlit night. Grant claimed that he saw a small head attached to a long neck, and that the creature saw him and crossed the road back into the loch. A veterinary student, he described it as a hybrid between a seal and a plesiosaur. Grant said he dismounted and followed it to the loch, but only saw ripples. Some believe this story was intended as a humorous explanation of a motorcycle accident.
Sightings of the monster increased after a road was built along the loch in early 1933, bringing both workmen and tourists to the formerly isolated area. Sporadic land sightings continued until 1963, when poor quality film of the creature was shot in the loch from a distance of 4 kilometres.
Chief Constable William Fraser (1938)
In 1938, William Fraser, Chief Constable of Inverness-shire, wrote in a letter that the monster existed beyond doubt. His letter expressed concern about a hunting party that had arrived armed with a specially-made harpoon gun and were determined to catch the monster “dead or alive”. He believed his power to protect the monster from the hunters was “very doubtful”. The letter was released by the National Archives of Scotland on 27 April 2010.
C. B. Farrel (1943)
In May 1943, C. B. Farrel of the Royal Observer Corps was supposedly distracted from his duties by a Nessie sighting. He claimed to have been about 230 metres (750 ft) away from a large-eyed, ‘finned’ creature, which had a 6-to-9-metre (20 to 30 ft) long body, and a neck that protruded about 1.2 to 1.5 m (3.9 to 4.9 ft) out of the water.
Sonar contact (1954)
In December 1954 a strange sonar contact was made by the fishing boat Rival III. The vessel’s crew observed sonar readings of a large object keeping pace with the boat at a depth of 146 metres (479 ft). It was detected travelling for 800 m (2,600 ft) in this manner, before contact was lost, but then found again later. Many sonar attempts had been made previously, but most were either inconclusive or negative.
Photographs and films
Hugh Gray’s Photograph (1933)
On 12 November 1933, Hugh Gray was walking along the loch after church when he spotted a substantial commotion in the water. A large creature rose up from the lake. Gray took several pictures of it, but only one of them showed up after they were developed. This image appeared to show a creature with a long tail and thick body at the surface of the loch. The image is blurred, suggesting that the animal was splashing. Four stumpy-looking objects on the bottom of the creature’s body might possibly be a pair of appendages, such as flippers. Although critics have claimed that the photograph is of Gray’s labrador retriever swimming towards the camera (possibly carrying a stick), researcher Roland Watson rejects this interpretation and suggests there is an eel-like head on the right side of the image.
This is the first known photograph allegedly taken of the Loch Ness Monster.
“Surgeon’s Photograph” (1934)
The “Surgeon’s Photograph” is purported to be the first photo of a “head and neck”, and is one of the most iconic Nessie photos. Supposedly taken by Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynaecologist, it was published in the Daily Mail on 21 April 1934. Wilson’s refusal to have his name associated with the photograph led to it being nicknamed the “Surgeon’s Photograph”. He claimed that he was looking at the loch when he saw the monster, so he grabbed his camera and snapped four photos. Only two exposures came out clear: the first one shows what was claimed to be a small head and back, while the second one shows a similar head in a diving position. The first one became iconic, while the second attracted little publicity because it was difficult to interpret what was depicted, due to its blurry quality.
For many years, the photo was regarded as good evidence of the monster. However, sceptics variously dismissed it showing a piece of driftwood, an elephant (see below), an otter, or a bird. Another factor that was brought up by sceptics was the scale of the photo; it is often cropped to make the monster seem proportionally large and the small ripples seem like large waves, while the original uncropped shot shows the other end of the loch and the monster in the centre. Despite this, the ripples on the photo were found to fit the size and circular pattern of small ripples, as opposed to large waves when photographed up close. Analysis of the original uncropped image fostered further doubt. In 1993, the makers of Discovery Communications’s documentary Loch Ness Discovered analysed the uncropped image and found a white object was visible in every version of the photo, implying it was on the negative. It was believed to be the cause of the ripples, as if the object was being towed, though the possibility that it was a blemish in the negative could not be ruled out. Additionally, one analysis of the full photograph revealed the object was quite small, only about 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 ft) long. However, analyses of the size of the photograph have been inconsistent.
Since 1994, most agree the photo was an elaborate hoax. It had previously been outed as a fake in an issue of The Sunday Telegraph dated 7 December 1975, but this article fell to obscurity. Details of how the photo was accomplished were published in the 1999 book, Nessie – the Surgeon’s Photograph Exposed, that contains a facsimile of the 1975 article in The Sunday Telegraph. Essentially, it was a toy submarine built by Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell. Wetherell was a big game hunter who had been publicly ridiculed by his employers in the Daily Mail, after finding “Nessie footprints” that turned out to be those of a hippopotamus-foot umbrella stand. To get revenge on the Mail, Wetherell committed the hoax, with co-conspirators Spurling (sculpture specialist), Ian Wetherell (his son, who bought the material for the fake), and Maurice Chambers (an insurance agent). The toy submarine was bought from F.W. Woolworths and its head and neck made out of plastic wood. After testing it out on a local pond, the group went to Loch Ness, where Ian Wetherell took the photos in the vicinity of Altsaigh Tea House. When they heard a water bailiff approaching, Duke Wetherell put his foot out and sank the model. It is presumably still somewhere in Loch Ness. Chambers handed over the plates to Wilson, a friend of his who enjoyed “a good practical joke”. Wilson then took the plates to Ogston’s, an Inverness chemist, where he gave them to George Morrison for development. He sold the first photo to the Daily Mail, who then announced that the Loch Ness Monster had been photographed.
Little is known about the second photo and how it came to be. It is often ignored by researchers, who believe its quality is too poor and its differences with first photo too large to warrant analysis. It shows a similar head to the first photo, with a more turbulent wave pattern and possibly taken at a different time and location of the loch. It has been speculated as to what appears in the second photo, with some believing it to be an earlier, cruder attempt at a hoax, and others (including Roy Mackal and Maurice Burton) believing it to be a genuine picture of a diving bird or otter that Wilson had mistaken for the monster. Morrison reported that when the plates were developed, Wilson wasn’t interested in the second photo, allowing him to keep the negative and the second photo to be rediscovered some years later. When questioned about the second photo by the Ness Information Service Newsletter, Spurling “… was vague, thought it might have been a piece of wood they were trying out as a monster, but [was] not sure.”
The hoax story is disputed by Henry Bauer, who claims this debunking is evidence of bias, and asks why the perpetrators did not reveal their plot earlier to embarrass the newspaper. Alastair Boyd, one of the researchers who uncovered the hoax, argues that the Loch Ness Monster is real, and that although the famous photo was hoaxed, that does not mean that all the photos, eyewitness reports, and footage of the monster were as well. He asserts that he too had a sighting and also argues that the hoaxed photo is not a good reason to dismiss eyewitness reports and other evidence.
Tim Dinsdale also disputes the claim of this photograph as a hoax in his book Loch Ness Monster. He claims that he studied the photograph so often and from many different angles that he was able to discern objects that prove the photograph is not a hoax. He states “upon really close examination, there are certain rather obscure features in the picture which have a profound significance.” Two of the obscure features are: a solid object breaking the surface to the right of the neck, and to the left and behind the neck there is another mark of some sort, Dinsdale states. After making this claim Dinsdale discusses that these objects are too hard to identify, but that just proves that they could be part of the monster. According to Dinsdale either the objects are part of a very subtle fake or genuinely part of the monster. Another object that he points out to prove the photograph is not a fake is the vague smaller ripples that are behind the neck, which seem to have been caused after the neck broke the surface. Dinsdale emphatically states that this is a part of the animal that is underwater behind the neck.
Taylor film (1938)
In 1938, G. E. Taylor, a South African tourist, filmed something in the loch for three minutes on 16 mm colour film, which was in the possession of Maurice Burton. Burton refused to show the film to Loch Ness investigators (such as Peter Costello or the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau). A single frame was published in his book The Elusive Monster; before he retired. Roy P. Mackal, a biologist and cryptozoologist, declared the frame was “positive evidence”. Later, it was shown also to the National Institute of Oceanography, now known as the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.
Dinsdale film (1960)
In 1960, aeronautical engineer Tim Dinsdale filmed a hump crossing Loch Ness, leaving a powerful wake. Dinsdale allegedly spotted the animal on his last day hunting for it, and described the object as reddish with a blotch on its side. When he mounted his camera the object started to move and said that he shot 40 feet of film. JARIC declared that the object was “probably animate”. Others were sceptical, saying that the “hump” cannot be ruled out as being a boat, and claimed that when the contrast is increased, a man can be seen in a boat.
In 1993, Discovery Communications produced a documentary entitled Loch Ness Discovered, which featured a digital enhancement of the Dinsdale film. A computer expert who enhanced the film noticed a shadow in the negative that was not very obvious in the positive. By enhancing and overlaying frames, he found what appeared to be the rear body of a creature underwater. He commented that “Before I saw the film, I thought the Loch Ness Monster was a load of rubbish. Having done the enhancement, I’m not so sure”. Some have countered this finding by saying that the angle of the film from the horizontal along with sun’s angle on that day made shadows underwater unlikely. Others pointed out that the darker water is undisturbed water that was only coincidentally shaped like a body. The same source also says that there might be a smaller object (a second hump or a head) in front of the hump causing this.
“Loch Ness Muppet” (1977)
On 21 May 1977 Anthony “Doc” Shiels, while camping beside Urquhart Castle took some of the clearest pictures of the monster till this day, and has become very popular with the public. Shiels, a magician and psychic, claimed to have summoned the animal out of the water. He later described the animal as an “elephant squid”, claiming the long neck shown in the photograph is actually the squid’s “trunk” and that white spot at the base of the neck is the squid’s eye. Due to the lack of ripples, it has since been declared a hoax by a number of people and received its name due to its staged look. While Shiels claims his photo was authentic, he also suggests it could have been a hoax.
Holmes video (2007)
On 26 May 2007, Gordon Holmes, a 55-year-old lab technician, captured video of what he said was “this jet black thing, about 14 metres (46 ft) long, moving fairly fast in the water.” Adrian Shine, a marine biologist at the Loch Ness 2000 centre in Drumnadrochit, described the footage as among “the best footage [he has] ever seen.” BBC Scotland broadcast the video on 29 May 2007. STV News’ North Tonight aired the footage on 28 May 2007 and interviewed Holmes. In this feature, Adrian Shine of the Loch Ness Centre was also interviewed and suggested that the footage showed an otter, seal or water bird.
Holmes’s credibility has been doubted by an article on the Cryptomundo website, which states that he has a history of reporting sightings of cryptozoological creatures, and sells a self-published book and DVD claiming evidence for fairies. His video also has no other objects for size comparison. The MonsterQuest team investigated this video as well in their TV episode “Death of Loch Ness”, where they examine evidence that Nessie has died, as well as other photos. In this documentary, Holmes asserts he spotted two creatures. A CNN news report showed the footage and an interview with Gordon Holmes.
Joe Nickell has suggested that this footage shows a beaver or an otter, swimming in the loch.
Sonar image (2011)
On 24 August 2011, Marcus Atkinson, a local Loch Ness boat skipper, photographed a sonar image of a long 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) wide unidentified object which was apparently following his boat for two minutes at a depth of 23 m (75 ft). Atkinson ruled out the possibility of any small fish or seal being what he believed to be the Loch Ness Monster. In April 2012, a scientist from the National Oceanography Centre said that this image is a bloom of algae and zooplankton. However, Roland Watson, a cryptozoologist and Loch Ness Monster researcher, has criticised this analysis, stating that the object in the image is very unlikely to be a bloom of algae and zooplankton, since algae needs sunlight to grow, and the waters of Loch Ness are very dark, and nearly devoid of sunlight, 23 m (75 ft) down.
George Edwards’s photograph (2011)
On 3 August 2012, skipper George Edwards published a photograph he claims to be “The most convincing Nessie photograph ever”, which he claimed to have taken on 2 November 2011. Edwards’s photograph consists in a hump out of the water which, according to him, remained so for five to ten minutes. Edwards claimed that the photograph had been independently verified by a “Nessie sighting specialist” and group of “US military monster experts”. Edwards spends 60 hours per week on the loch aboard his boat, Nessie Hunter IV, in which he takes tourists for a ride on the lake, and claims to have searched for the Loch Ness monster for 26 years. Said Edwards, “In my opinion, it probably looks kind of like a manatee, but not a mammal. When people see three humps, they’re probably just seeing three separate monsters.”
However, other researchers of the Loch Ness phenomenon have questioned the authenticity of the photograph. A subsequent investigation by Loch Ness researcher, Steve Feltham, suggests that the object in the water is in fact a fibreglass hump used previously in a National Geographic documentary that Edwards had participated in. Researcher Dick Raynor has also questioned Edwards’s claims about finding a deeper bottom to Loch Ness, which he refers to as “Edwards Deep”. He also found inconsistencies between Edwards’s claims of the location and conditions of the photograph and the actual location and weather conditions of that day. Additionally, Raynor also stated that Edwards had previously told him he had faked a photograph in 1986, which he had promoted as genuine in the National Geographic documentary.
In October 2013, Edwards admitted that his 2011 photograph was a hoax. However, Edwards insists the photograph he took in 1986 was genuine.
David Elder’s video (2013)
On 27 August 2013, tourist David Elder presented a five-minute video of a “mysterious wave” in the loch. He believed that the wave was being produced by a 4.5 m (15 ft) “solid black object” just under the surface of the water. Elder, aged 50, of East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, was taking a picture of a swan at the pierhead of Fort Augustus, at the south-west end of the loch, when he captured the movement. He added that “The water was very still at the time and there were no ripples coming off the wave and no other activity on the water.” Sceptics suggested that the wave may have been the result of a gust of wind.
Apple Maps photograph (2014)
On 19 April 2014 it was reported that a satellite image on Apple Maps was showing what appeared to be a large creature just below the surface of the water of Loch Ness, thought by some to be the Loch Ness Monster. Appearing at the far north of the lake, the shape in question appeared to be around 30 meters long. Possible explanations for the satellite image include that it could be the wake of a boat, with the image of the boat being lost in image stitching or at low contrast, a seal causing ripples or floating wood.
Google street view (2015)
Google commemorated the 81st anniversary of the release of the “Surgeon’s Photograph” with a “Google Doodle”, and added a new feature to their Google street view feature in which users can explore the loch both above water level, and below. Google reportedly spent a week at Loch Ness collecting imagery with one of their street view “trekker” cameras. They attached the camera to a boat to photograph above the water, and collaborated with members of Catlin Seaview Survey to photograph beneath the water.
Searches for the monster
Sir Edward Mountain Expedition (1934)
Having read the book by Gould, Sir Edward Mountain decided to finance a proper watch. Twenty men with binoculars and cameras positioned themselves around the Loch from 9 am to 6 pm, for five weeks starting 13 July 1934. They took 21 photographs, though none was considered conclusive. Captain James Fraser was employed as a supervisor, and remained by the Loch afterwards, taking cine film (which is now lost) on 15 September 1934. When viewed by zoologists and professors of natural history it was concluded that it showed a seal, possibly a grey seal.
Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau (1962–1972)
The Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau (LNPIB) was a UK-based society formed in 1962 by Norman Collins, R. S. R. Fitter, David James, MP, Peter Scott and Constance Whyte “to study Loch Ness to identify the creature known as the Loch Ness Monster or determine the causes of reports of it.” It later shortened the name to Loch Ness Investigation Bureau (LNIB). It closed in 1972. The society had an annual subscription charge, which covered administration. Its main activity was for groups of self-funded volunteers to watch the loch from various vantage points, equipped with cine cameras with telescopic lenses. From 1965 to 1972 it had a caravan camp and main watching platform at Achnahannet, and sent observers to other locations up and down the loch. According to the 1969 Annual Report of the Bureau, it had 1,030 members, of whom 588 were from the UK.
LNPIB sonar study (1967–1968)
Professor D. Gordon Tucker, chairman of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Birmingham, England, volunteered his services as a sonar developer and expert at Loch Ness in 1968. The gesture was part of a larger effort led by the LNPIB from 1967 to 1968 and involved collaboration between volunteers and professionals in various fields. Tucker had chosen Loch Ness as the test site for a prototype sonar transducer with a maximum range of 800 m (2,600 ft). The device was fixed underwater at Temple Pier in Urquhart Bay and directed towards the opposite shore, effectively drawing an acoustic ‘net’ across the width of Ness through which no moving object could pass undetected. During the two-week trial in August, multiple targets 6 m (20 ft) in length were identified ascending from and diving to the loch bottom. Analysis of diving profiles ruled out air-breathers because the targets never surfaced or moved shallower than midwater.
Andrew Carroll’s sonar study (1969)
In 1969 Andrew Carroll, field researcher for the New York Aquarium in New York City, proposed a mobile sonar scan operation at Loch Ness. The project was funded by the Griffis foundation (named for Nixon Griffis, then a director of the aquarium). This was the tail-end (and most successful portion) of the LNPIB’s 1969 effort involving submersibles with biopsy harpoons. The trawling scan, in Carroll’s research launch Rangitea, took place in October. One sweep of the loch made contact with a strong, animate echo for nearly three minutes just north of Foyers. The identity of the contact remains a mystery. Later analysis determined that the intensity of the returning echo was twice as great as that expected from a 3-metre (10 ft) pilot whale. On returning to the University of Chicago, biologist Roy Mackal and colleagues subjected the sonar data to greater scrutiny and confirmed dimensions of 6 metres (20 ft).
Earlier submersible work had yielded dismal results. Under the sponsorship of World Book Encyclopedia, pilot Dan Taylor deployed the Viperfish at Loch Ness on 1 June 1969. His dives were plagued by technical problems and produced no new data. The Deep Star III built by General Dynamics and an unnamed two-man submersible built by Westinghouse were scheduled to sail but never did. It was only when the Pisces arrived at Ness that the LNPIB obtained new data. Owned by Vickers, Ltd., the submersible had been rented out to produce The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, a film featuring a dummy Loch Ness Monster. When the dummy monster broke loose from the Pisces during filming and sank to the bottom of the loch, Vickers executives capitalised on the loss and ‘monster fever’ by allowing the sub to do a bit of exploring. During one of these excursions, the Pisces picked up a large moving object on sonar 60 m (200 ft) ahead and 15 m (49 ft) above the bottom of the loch. Slowly the pilot closed to half that distance but the echo moved rapidly out of sonar range and disappeared.
“Big Expedition” of 1970
During the so-called “Big Expedition” of 1970, Roy Mackal, a biologist who taught for 20 years at the University of Chicago, devised a system of hydrophones (underwater microphones) and deployed them at intervals throughout the loch. In early August a hydrophone assembly was lowered into Urquhart Bay and anchored in 210 metres (690 ft) of water. Two hydrophones were secured at depths of 300 and 180 metres (590 ft). After two nights of recording, the tape (sealed inside a 44 gallon drum along with the system’s other sensitive components) was retrieved and played before an excited LNPIB. “Bird-like chirps” had been recorded, and the intensity of the chirps on the deep hydrophone suggested they had been produced at greater depth. In October “knocks” and “clicks” were recorded by another hydrophone in Urquhart Bay, indicative of echolocation. These sounds were followed by a “turbulent swishing” suggestive of the tail locomotion of a large aquatic animal. The knocks, clicks and resultant swishing were believed to be the sounds of an animal echo-locating prey before moving in for the kill. The noises stopped whenever craft passed along the surface of the loch near the hydrophone, and resumed once the craft reached a safe distance. In previous experiments, it was observed that call intensities were greatest at depths less than 30 metres (100 ft). Members of the LNPIB decided to attempt communication with the animals producing the calls by playing back previously recorded calls into the water and listening via hydrophone for results, which varied greatly. At times the calling patterns or intensities changed, but sometimes there was no change at all. Mackal noted that there was no similarity between the recordings and the hundreds of known sounds produced by aquatic animals.
Robert Rines’s studies (1972; 1975; 2001; 2008)
In 1972, a group of researchers from the Academy of Applied Science, led by Robert H. Rines, conducted a search for the Loch Ness Monster. The search involved painstakingly examining the loch depths with sonar for unusual activity. Rines knew the water was murky and filled with floating wood and peat, so he took precautions to avoid it. A submersible camera with an affixed, high-powered flood light was deployed to record images below the surface. If he detected anything on the sonar, he would turn the lights on and take pictures.
On 8 August, Rines’ Raytheon DE-725C sonar unit, operating at a frequency of 200 kHz and anchored at a depth of 11 metres (36 ft), identified a moving target (or targets) estimated by echo strength to be 6 to 9 metres (20 to 30 ft) in length. Specialists from Raytheon, Simrad (now Kongsberg Maritime), and Hydroacoustics, Inc.; Marty Klein of MIT and Klein Associates (a producer of side scan sonar); and Dr. Ira Dyer of MIT’s Department of Ocean Engineering were all on hand to examine the data. Further, P. Skitzki of Raytheon suggested that the data showed a protuberance, 3 metres (10 ft) in length, projecting from one of the echoes. Mackal proposed that the shape was a “highly flexible laterally flattened tail” or the misinterpreted return from two animals swimming together.
Concurrent with the sonar readings, the strobe light camera obtained a pair of underwater photographs. Both depicted what appeared to be a rhomboid flipper, though sceptics have variously dismissed the image as the bottom of the loch, air bubbles, a rock, or a fish fin. The alleged flipper was photographed in different positions, indicating movement. The first flipper photo is more well-known than the second, and both were highly enhanced and retouched compared to the original negatives. Team member Charles Wyckoff claimed that someone retouched the photos to superimpose the flipper, and that the original enhancement showed a much less distinct object. No one is sure how the originals came to be altered.
Despite this, British naturalist Peter Scott announced in 1975, on the basis of these photographs, that the scientific name of the monster would henceforth be Nessiteras rhombopteryx (Greek for “The Ness monster with diamond-shaped fin”). Scott intended that this would enable Nessie to be added to a British register of officially protected wildlife. Scottish politician Nicholas Fairbairn pointed out that the name was an anagram for “Monster hoax by Sir Peter S”.
Later, another sonar contact was made, this time with two objects estimated to be about 9 metres (30 ft). The strobe camera photographed two large, white, lumpy objects surrounded by a flurry of bubbles. Some interpreted these objects to be two plesiosaur-like animals, suggesting there to be multiple large animals living in Loch Ness. This photograph has rarely been publicised.
A second search was conducted by Rines in 1975. Some of the photographs, despite their obviously murky quality and lack of sonar readings, did indeed seem to show an animal resembling a plesiosaur in various positions and lightings. One photograph appeared to show the head, neck, and upper torso of a plesiosaur-like animal. Another seemed to depict a horned “gargoyle head”, consistent with that of several sightings of the monster. However, sceptics point out that several years later, a tree stump was filmed during Operation Deepscan, which bore a striking resemblance to the gargoyle head.
In 2001, the Robert Rines’ Academy of Applied Science videoed a powerful V-shaped wake traversing the still water on a calm day. The AAS also videotaped an object on the floor of the loch resembling a carcass, found marine clam-shells and a fungus-like organism not normally found in fresh water lochs, which they suggest gives some connection to the sea and a possible entry for Nessie.
In 2008, Rines theorised that the monster may have become extinct, citing the lack of significant sonar readings and a decline in eyewitness accounts. Rines undertook one last expedition to look for remains of the monster, using sonar and underwater camera in an attempt to find a carcass. Rines believed that the animals may have failed to adapt to temperature changes as a result of global warming.
Operation Deepscan (1987)
In 1987, Operation Deepscan took place. Twenty-four boats equipped with echosounder equipment were deployed across the whole width of the loch and they simultaneously sent out acoustic waves. BBC News reported that the scientists had made sonar contact with a large unidentified object of unusual size and strength. The researchers decided to return to the same spot and re-scan the area. After analysing the echosounder images, it seemed to point to debris at the bottom of the loch, although three of the pictures were of moving debris. Shine speculates that they could be seals that got into the loch, since they would be of about the same magnitude as the objects detected.
A tree stump was also filmed during the search, which bore a strong resemblance to Rines’ “gargoyle head” photo from 1975, and is often believed by sceptics to be the same object.
Darrell Lowrance, sonar expert and founder of Lowrance Electronics, donated a number of echosounder units used during Operation Deepscan. After examining the echogram data, specifically a sonar return revealing a large moving object near Urquhart Bay at a depth of 180 metres (590 ft), Lowrance said: “There’s something here that we don’t understand, and there’s something here that’s larger than a fish, maybe some species that hasn’t been detected before. I don’t know.”
Discovery Loch Ness (1993)
In 1993 Discovery Communications began to research the ecology of the loch. The study did not focus entirely on the monster, but on the loch’s nematodes (of which a new species was discovered) and fish. Expecting to find a small fish population, the researchers caught twenty fish in one catch, increasing previous estimates of the loch’s fish population about ninefold.
Using sonar, the team encountered a kind of underwater disturbance (called a seiche) due to stored energy (such as from a wind) causing an imbalance between the loch’s warmer and colder layers (known as the thermocline). While reviewing printouts of the event the next day, they found what appeared to be three sonar contacts, each followed by a powerful wake. These events were later shown on a program called Loch Ness Discovered, in conjunction with analyses and enhancements of the 1960 Dinsdale Film, the Surgeon’s Photo, and the Rines Flipper Photo.
Searching for the Loch Ness Monster BBC (2003)
In 2003, the BBC sponsored a full search of the Loch using 600 separate sonar beams and satellite tracking. The search had enough resolution to pick up a small buoy. No animal of any substantial size was found whatsoever and despite high hopes, the scientists involved in the expedition admitted that this essentially proved the Loch Ness monster was only a myth.
A variety of explanations have been postulated over the years to account for sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. These may be categorised as: misidentifications of common animals; misidentifications of inanimate objects or effects; reinterpretations of traditional Scottish folklore; hoaxes; and exotic species of large animals.
Misidentification of known animals
There are wake sightings that occur when the loch is dead calm with no boat nearby. A bartender named David Munro claims to have witnessed a wake he believed was a creature zigzagging, diving, and reappearing. (There were 26 other witnesses from a nearby car park.) Some sightings describe the onset of a V-shaped wake, as if there were something underwater. Moreover, many wake sightings describe something not conforming to the shape of a boat. Under dead calm conditions, a creature too small to be visible to the naked eye can leave a clear v-shaped wake. In particular, a group of swimming birds can give a wake and the appearance of an object. A group of birds can leave the water and then land again, giving a sequence of wakes like an object breaking the surface, which Dick Raynor says is a possible explanation for his film.
A giant eel was one of the first suggestions made. Eels are found in Loch Ness, and an unusually large eel would fit many sightings. This has been described as a conservative explanation. Eels are not known to protrude swanlike from the water and thus would not account for the head and neck sightings. Dinsdale dismissed the proposal because eels move in a side-to-side undulation.
Sightings, in 1856, of a ‘sea-serpent’ or Kelpie in a freshwater lake near Leurbost in the Outer Hebrides were also explained as being of an oversized eel, which were also believed to be common in ‘Highland lakes’: “All, however, agree, in describing its form as that of an eel; and we have heard one, whose evidence we can rely upon, state that in length he supposed it to be about forty feet. It is probable that it is no more than a conger eel after all, animals of this description having been caught in the Highland lakes which have attained a huge size.”
On 2 May 2001, two conger eels were found on the shore of the loch; as conger eels are saltwater animals and Loch Ness is freshwater, it is believed that they were put there to be seen as “Mini-Nessies”.
In a 1979 article, California biologist Dennis Power and geographer Donald Johnson claimed that the Surgeon’s Photograph was in fact the top of the head, extended trunk and flared nostrils of a swimming elephant, probably photographed elsewhere and claimed to be from Loch Ness. In 2006, palaeontologist and artist Neil Clark similarly suggested that travelling circuses might have allowed elephants to refresh themselves in the loch and that the trunk could therefore be the head and neck, with the elephant’s head and back providing the humps. In support of this he provided a painting.
Angler and television presenter Jeremy Wade investigated the creature in 2013 as part of the series River Monsters, and came to the conclusion that the creature is a Greenland shark. The Greenland shark can reach up to 20 feet in length, and inhabits the North Atlantic Ocean around Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and possibly Scotland. It is dark in colour and has a very small dorsal fin. Biologist Bruce Wright speculated that the Greenland shark could survive in fresh water, possibly using rivers and lakes to find food, and noting that Loch Ness had an abundance of salmon and other fish.
As at July 2015 three newspapers report that one Steve Feltham after much research had decided that the Loch Ness Monster is an unusually big specimen of the wels (Silurus glanis), perhaps released in the lake in the later 19th century.
When viewed through a telescope or binoculars with no outside reference, it is difficult to judge the size of an object in the water. Loch Ness has resident otters and pictures of them are given by Binns, which could be misinterpreted. Likewise he gives pictures of deer swimming in Loch Ness, and birds that could be taken as a “head and neck” sighting.
A number of photographs and a video have confirmed the presence of seals in the loch, for up to months at a time. In 1934 the Sir Edward Mountain expedition analysed film taken the same year and concluded that the monster was a species of seal, which was reported in a national newspaper as “Loch Ness Riddle Solved – Official”. A long-necked seal was advocated by Peter Costello for Nessie and for other reputed lake-monsters. R. T. Gould wrote “A grey seal has a long and surprisingly extensible neck; it swims with a paddling action; its colour fits the bill; and there is nothing surprising in its being seen on the shore of the loch, or crossing a road.” This explanation would cover sightings of lake-monsters on land, during which the creature supposedly waddled into the loch upon being startled, in the manner of seals. Seals could also account for sonar traces that act as animate objects. Against this, it has been argued that all known species of pinnipeds are usually visible on land during daylight hours to sunbathe, something that Nessie is not known to do. However, seals have been observed and photographed in Loch Ness and the sightings are sufficiently infrequent to allow for occasional visiting animals rather than a permanent colony.
Misidentifications of inanimate objects or effects
In 1933 the Daily Mirror showed a picture with the following caption ‘This queerly-shaped tree-trunk, washed ashore at Foyers may, it is thought, be responsible for the reported appearance of a “Monster”‘. (Foyers is on Loch Ness.)
In a 1982 series of articles for New Scientist, Dr Maurice Burton proposed that sightings of Nessie and similar creatures could actually be fermenting logs of Scots Pine rising to the surface of the loch’s cold waters. Initially, a rotting log could not release gases caused by decay, because of high levels of resin sealing in the gas. Eventually, the gas pressure would rupture a resin seal at one end of the log, propelling it through the water—and sometimes to the surface. Burton claimed that the shape of tree logs with their attendant branch stumps closely resemble various descriptions of the monster.
Four Scottish lochs are very deep, including Loch Morar, Loch Ness and Loch Lomond. Only the lochs with pinewoods on their shores have monster legends; Loch Lomond—with no pinewoods—does not. Gaseous emissions and surfactants resulting from the decay of the logs can cause the foamy wake reported in some sightings. Indeed, beached pine logs showing evidence of deep-water fermentation have been found. On the other hand, there are believers who assert that some lakes do have reports of monsters, despite an absence of pinewoods; a notable example would be the Irish lough monsters.
Seiches and wakes
Loch Ness, because of its long straight shape, is subject to unusual ripples affecting its surface. A seiche is a large regular oscillation of a lake, caused by water reverting to its natural level after being blown to one end of the lake, causing a standing wave; in Loch Ness its oscillation period is 31.5 minutes.
Boat wakes can produce strange effects in the loch. As a wake spreads and divides from a boat passing the centre of the loch, it hits both sides almost simultaneously and deflects back to meet again in the middle. The movements interact to produce standing waves that are much larger than the original wake, and can have a humped appearance. When this happen, the boat has passed and the unusual waves are all that can be seen.
Wind conditions can give a slightly choppy and thus matte appearance to the water, with occasional calm patches appearing from the shore as dark ovals (reflecting the mountains), which can appear as humps to visitors unfamiliar with the loch. In 1979, Lehn showed that atmospheric refraction could distort the shape and size of objects and animals, and later showed a photograph of a mirage of a rock on Lake Winnipeg that looked like a head and neck.
The Italian geologist Luigi Piccardi has proposed geological explanations for some ancient legends and myths. He pointed out that in the earliest recorded sighting of a creature, the Life of St. Columba, the creature’s emergence was accompanied “cum ingenti fremitu” (with very loud roaring). The Loch Ness is along the Great Glen Fault, and this could be a description of an earthquake. Furthermore, in many sightings, the report consists of nothing more than a large disturbance on the surface of the water. This could be caused by a release of gas from through the fault, although it could easily be mistaken for a large animal swimming just below the surface.
Binns concludes that it would be unwise to put forward a single explanation of the monster, and probably a wide range of natural phenomena have been mistaken for the monster at times: otters, swimming deer, unusual waves. However, he adds that this also touches on some issues of human psychology, and the ability of the eye to see what it wants to see.
According to the Swedish naturalist and author Bengt Sjögren (1980), present day beliefs in lake monsters such as the Loch Ness Monster are associated with the old legends of kelpies. He claims that the accounts of loch monsters have changed over the ages, originally describing creatures with a horse-like appearance; they claimed that the “kelpie” would come out of the lake and turn into a horse. When a tired traveller would get on the back of the kelpie, it would gallop into the loch and devour its prey. This myth successfully kept children away from the loch, as was its purpose. Sjögren concludes that the kelpie legends have developed into current descriptions of lake-monsters, reflecting modern awareness of plesiosaurs. In other words, the kelpie of folklore has been transformed into a more realistic and contemporary notion of the creature. Believers counter that long-dead witnesses could only compare the creature to that with which they were familiar, and they were not familiar with plesiosaurs.
Specific mention of the kelpie as a water horse in Loch Ness was given in a Scottish newspaper in 1879, and was commemorated in the title of a book Project Water Horse by Tim Dinsdale.
A study of the Highland folklore literature prior to 1933 with specific references to Kelpies, Water Horses and Water bulls suggested that Loch Ness was the most mentioned loch by a large margin.
The Loch Ness monster phenomenon has seen several attempts to hoax the public, some of which were very successful. Other hoaxes were revealed rather quickly by the perpetrators or exposed after diligent research. A few examples are mentioned below.
In August 1933, Italian journalist Francesco Gasparini submitted what he claimed was the first news article on the Loch Ness monster. In 1959, he confessed to taking a sighting of a “strange fish” and expanding on it by fabricating eye witness accounts. “I had the inspiration to get hold of the item about the strange fish. The idea of the monster had never dawned on me, but then I noted that the strange fish would not yield a long article, and I decided to promote the imaginary being to the rank of monster without further ado.”
In the 1930s, a big-game hunter named Marmaduke Wetherell went to Loch Ness to look for the Loch Ness Monster. He claimed to have found footprints, but when casts of the footprints were sent to scientists for analysis, they turned out to be from a hippopotamus. A prankster had used a hippopotamus-foot umbrella stand to make the footprints.
In 1972 a team of zoologists from Yorkshire’s Flamingo Park Zoo had gone in search of the legendary monster and discovered a large body floating in the water. The corpse was 4.9–5.4 m (16–18 ft) long and weighed up to 1.5 tonnes, described by the Press Association as having “a bear’s head and a brown scaly body with clawlike fins.” The creature was put in a van to be taken away for testing, whereupon police chased them down and took the cadaver under an act of parliament that prohibits the removal of “unidentified creatures” from Loch Ness. But it was later revealed that Flamingo Park’s education officer John Shields had shaved the whiskers and otherwise disfigured a bull elephant seal that had died the week before and dumped it in Loch Ness to dupe his colleagues.
On 2 July 2003, Gerald McSorely found a fossil supposedly belonging to Nessie when he tripped and fell into the loch. After examination, it became clear that the fossil was not from Loch Ness and had been planted there.
In 2004, a documentary team for television channel Five, using special effects experts from movies, tried to make people believe there was something in the loch. They constructed an animatronic model of a plesiosaur, and dubbed it “Lucy”. Despite setbacks, such as Lucy falling to the bottom of the loch, about 600 sightings were reported in the places they conducted the hoaxes.
In 2005, two students claimed to have found a huge tooth embedded in the body of a deer on the loch shore. They publicised the find widely, even setting up a website, but expert analysis soon revealed that the “tooth” was the antler of a muntjac. The Loch Ness tooth was a publicity stunt to promote a horror novel by Steve Alten titled The Loch.
In 2007, a video purported to show Nessie jumping high into the air showed up on YouTube. This was revealed by the online amateur sceptic’s community eSkeptic to be a viral ad promoting the then-upcoming Sony Pictures film The Water Horse. The release of the film confirmed the eSkeptic analysis: the viral video comprises footage from The Water Horse.
Exotic species of large animals
In 1933 the suggestion was made that the monster “bears a striking resemblance to the supposedly extinct plesiosaur”, a long-necked aquatic reptile that went extinct during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. At the time this was a popular explanation. The following arguments have been put against it:
– Plesiosaurs were probably cold-blooded reptiles needing warm tropical waters, while the average temperature of Loch Ness is only about 5.5 °C (42 °F). Even if the plesiosaurs were warm-blooded, they would require a food supply beyond that of Loch Ness to maintain the level of activity necessary for warm-blooded animals.
– In October 2006, the New Scientist headlined an article “Why the Loch Ness Monster is no plesiosaur” because Leslie Noè of the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge reported, “The osteology of the neck makes it absolutely certain that the plesiosaur could not lift its head up swan-like out of the water”.
– The loch is only about 10,000 years old, dating to the end of the last ice age. Before then, the loch was frozen solid for about 20,000 years.
– If creatures similar to plesiosaurs lived in the waters of the Loch Ness, they would be seen very frequently as they would have to surface several times a day to breathe.
In response to these criticisms, proponents such as Tim Dinsdale, Peter Scott and Roy Mackal postulate a trapped marine creature that evolved either from a plesiosaur or to the shape of a plesiosaur by convergent evolution. Robert Rines also explained that the “horns” described in some sightings may be breathing tubes or nostrils that allow the animal to breathe without breaking the surface.
Long-necked giant amphibian
R. T. Gould suggested something like a long-necked newt and Roy Mackal discussed this possibility, giving it the highest score (88%) in his list of possible candidates.
In 1968 Frank Holiday proposed that Nessie and other lake-monsters such as Morag could be explained by a giant invertebrate such as a bristleworm, and cited the extinct Tullimonstrum as an example of the shape. He says this provides an explanation for land sightings and for the variable back shape, and relates it to the medieval description of dragons as “worms”. Mackal considered this, but found it less convincing than eel, amphibian or plesiosaur types of animal.
In the 1930s, the Dutch zoologist Antoon Cornelis Oudemans first proposed that the Loch Ness Monster could possibly be an unknown form of long-necked Pinniped (semi-aquatic mammals including seals). In 1892, Oudemans had come to the conclusion that several sightings of Sea serpents were probably huge, plesiosaur-like pinnipeds. He came up with a hypothetical new species of long-necked pinniped, to which he gave the scientific name of Megophias megophias. He theorised that the Loch Ness cryptid was simply a freshwater version of his own Megophias megophias. In 2003, cryptozoologists Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe discussed the pinniped hypothesis, and found it to be the most likely candidate for the Loch Ness Monster.