The Loch Ness Monster is a legendary creature purported to inhabit Scotland's Loch Ness, the most voluminous freshwater lake in Great Britain. Since reported sightings in the early twentieth century, Loch Ness has become world renowned for its mysterious lake monster. Local Scottish highlanders, and many people around the world, have affectionately referred to the animal by the feminine name of Nessie.
Most scientists and other experts find current evidence supporting the creature's existence unpersuasive, and regard the occasional sightings as hoaxes or misidentification of known creatures or natural phenomena. However, belief in the legend persists around the world, with the most popular theory posing that the creature is actually a plesiosaur. Beyond the debate as to whether Nessie is real or imaginary is the fact that this creature, like the Yeti of the Himalayan Mountains or Sasquatch in North America, inspire people on a imaginative, even subconscious level, tapping into that part of humanity that connects with the supernatural and unknown.
Over the years, the many sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie, have produced a rather uniform description of the creature. It is said to have a long, slender neck that attaches a flat, rectangular head to a rounded body that possess four large flippers. Some report Nessie to have a long, slender tail while others insist it is shorter and thicker. One of the most prominent features attributed to Nessie are the eyes, large and situated on either side of the head. The color and length of the creature seems to be a point of contention, possibly due to the fact that the loch is dark and murky, sunlight not easily penetrating through the peat moss concentrated in the water. Reports have Nessie appearing grey or a dark tan color, ranging from the size of an elephant to as large as a whale.
The Scottish Highlands have always held a long standing tradition of mystery and belief in the supernatural. Loch Ness itself is believed to be the site of some long lost Druid power. The Celts of pre-Roman Britain also believed in a type of creature they called kelpies, water spirits that would appear to children in the forms of horses or bulls, enticing them into the water where they would drown them.
The first suggestive reference of a creature that correlates to the modern day conception of Nessie comes from the seventh century writer Adamnan, in The Life of St. Columba. A passage from this work describes how in 565 C.E. Columba saved the life of a Pict, who was being supposedly attacked by a lake monster. However, since these kinds of works often embellished the truth and incorporate supernatural elements for use as symbolism, this work must only suggest how far back in history belief in the lake monster goes.
It is difficult to accurately pinpoint when belief in Nessie began, but such is the characteristic of mysterious creatures, like Bigfoot or the Yeti. Beyond the debate of real or imaginary, creatures like Nessie appear to inspire people on an imaginative, even subconscious level, tapping into that part of humanity that connects with the supernatural and unknown.
The number of reported sightings of the Loch Ness Monster is extremely large. However, there are several that are distinctive and worth noting, especially the earlier reports that led to Nessie's world wide celebrity. The first reported sighting during modern times was in 1880, by a diver named Duncan McDonald, who had an alleged underwater encounter with a creature that left him quite shaken. But it was not until a string of sightings in the 1930s that Loch Ness received world attention. On July 22, 1933, Mr. 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 high and 25 feet long), and long, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant's trunk and as long as the 10-12 foot width of the road; the neck had a number of undulations in it. They saw no limbs because of a dip in the road obscuring the animal's lower portion. It lurched across the road towards the loch some 20 yards away, leaving only a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake. Then on June 17 of the same year, there were three reported sightings in one day. Edna MacInnes and David Mackay reportedly saw a monster that had a long neck and was brownish in color. They watched it for a few moments from the shore before it dipped below the surface and did not re-emerge. However, later that evening the creature was seen again, first by James MacIntosh and his son, and then by Lorraine Davidson. All three claimed to have first noticed the wake Nessie left in the water, which was distinctive since there were no boats on the loch at the time and the water was calm.
On January 5, 1934, a motorcyclist named Arthur Grant claimed to have nearly hit the creature while approaching Abriachan on the northeastern shore, at about 1 a.m. on a moonlit night. Grant saw a small head attached to a long neck; the creature saw him and crossed the road back into the loch. Grant dismounted and followed it to the loch, but only saw ripples where it had entered.
In another 1934 sighting, a young maidservant named Margaret Munro supposedly observed the creature for about 20 minutes. It was about 6:30 a.m. on June 5 when she spotted it on shore from about two hundred yards away. She described it as having elephant like skin, a long neck, a small head and two short forelegs or flippers. The sighting ended when the creature re-entered the water. In 1938 Mr. G. E. Taylor, a South African tourist, filmed something in the loch for three minutes on 16mm color film. However, the footage has never been released.
In December 1954 the first of many ambiguous sonar contacts attributed to Nessie was reported. The fishing boat Rival III, on a routine run, observed sonar readings of a large object keeping pace with the boat at a depth of 480 feet. It was detected traveling for half a mile in this manner, before contact was lost.
One of the most famous images of Nessie is known as the “Surgeon’s Photograph," which many consider to be good evidence of the monster, though doubts about the photograph's authenticity have been expressed. The photographer, a gynecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson, photographed an animal in the water he could not identify (never claiming it was Nessie), but did sell it to the Daily Mail newspaper whose printing of the photograph caused a sensational reaction among its readers. However, it was later determined that the photograph was cropped, seeming to make the monster seem larger than it actually is in the original un-cropped shot, which shows the other end of the loch and the "monster" in the center, relative in size to the average bird.
In 1994, Chris Spurling allegedly confessed on his deathbed that the photograph was a hoax. Spurling was the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell, a big game hunter who was deceived into searching for the storied Loch Ness Monster based on evidence which turned out to be a children's prank. Wetherell was publicly ridiculed in the Daily Mail, the journal which employed him. Spurling claimed that to get revenge, Marmaduke Wetherell committed the hoax, with the help of Chris Spurling (a sculpture specialist), his son Ian Marmaduke, who bought the material for the fake Nessie, and Maurice Chambers (an insurance agent), who would call to ask surgeon Robert Kenneth Wilson to display the pictures. However, Spurling's "confession" is held in doubt because of the involvement of several people not connected to Wilson. Critical analysis of the photography generally deems it a fake, but it has lived on as a popular symbol of Nessie in the public eye.
Just as with sightings, there have been countless investigations into the Loch Ness mystery, some privately funded and well equipped, others conducted on an amateur budget. Most have turned up little, if any evidence, but some are worthy of note. 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 Stanton Griffis, whose son Nixon Griffis was a director of the aquarium). This was the tail-end (and most successful portion) of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau’s (LNPIB) 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 animal remains a mystery. Later analysis determined that the intensity of the returning echo was twice as great as that expected from a 10 foot pilot whale. Calculations placed the animal's length at 20 feet.
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 seven hundred feet of water. Two hydrophones were secured at depths of three hundred and six hundred feet. After two nights of recording, the tape (sealed inside a 55 gallon steel 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 echolocating 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 one hundred feet.
Members of the LNPIB decided to attempt communication with the animals by playing back the calls previously recorded 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. "More specifically," he said, "competent authorities state that none of the known forms of life in the loch has the anatomical capabilities of producing such calls.".
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 nine fold. Using sonar, the team encountered a rare kind of underwater disturbance due to stored energy causing an imbalance between the loch's warmer and colder layers. 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 analysis and enhancements of the 1960 Dinsdale Film, the Surgeon's Photo, and the Rines Flipper Photo.
Cryptozoologists, those who study and search for animals that are purported to exist but have not officially been discovered, believe that the numerous eye witness reports, film footage, and sonar contacts all conclude in the likelihood of Nessie being real. Others who have researched the evidence, such as science writer Steuart Campbell, have concluded that "there is absolutely no reason why anyone should believe in lake monsters" and that the Loch Ness Monster is no more than "an imaginary animal compounded of incongruous elements…indeed an incongruous mix of reptile and mammal, of fish and amphibian, of vertebrate and invertebrate, of long-necked and short-necked plesiosaur, of seal, whale, eel, etc. It is a chimera, no more real than the centaur or the griffin." Yet, people do continue to believe in Nessie and provide evidence for her existence.
A popular theory is that Nessie is a plesiosaur, a long-necked aquatic reptile that became extinct during the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event. The discovery of previously believed extinct animals has happened in the past, such as the survival of a fish called the coelacanth, which supposedly became extinct along with the plesiosaur but was rediscovered off the coast of Madagascar in 1938.
Many believe in this hypothesis for two reasons: first, a plesiosaur matches most of the eyewitness descriptions, and it is an established organism in the geological record. However, as skeptics often point out, there are many reasons not to believe this theory. Apart from its apparent extinction, the plesiosaur was probably a cold-blooded reptile requiring warm tropical waters, while the average temperature of Loch Ness is only about 42°F. Even if the plesiosaurs were warm-blooded (like dinosaurs), they would require a food supply beyond that of Loch Ness to maintain the level of activity necessary for warm-blooded animals. Scientists also point out that no other dinosaurs have been proven to have survived to date, not to mention the fact the loch is too small a location to support a group that would be able to continuously breed for millions of years.
Non-believers are quick to put forth their own explanations as to Nessie sightings, ranging from misidentification of existing animals such as eels, sea lions, and even large fish. Some of these explanations can sometimes seem as far reaching as belief in Nessie, such as Maurice Burton's proposal that sightings of Nessie and similar creatures could actually be fermenting Scots pine logs rising to the surface of the loch's cold waters. Initially, a rotting log could not release gases caused by decay, due to 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.
However, four Scottish lochs are very deep, including Morar, Ness, and Lomond. But not all lochs have monster legends; the lochs with pinewoods on their shores have legends, but Loch Lomond—the one 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.
Geology and Geo-physics may be responsible for Loch Ness Monster sightings. The loch, due to its long, straight shape, is subject to some unusual occurrences affecting its surface. For example, 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. The impetus from this reversion continues to the lake's windward end and then reverts back. In Loch Ness, the process occurs every 31.5 minutes and could account for strange appearances. Boat wakes can also produce strange effects in the loch. As a wake spreads and divides from a boat passing the center 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. By the time this occurs, the boat has passed and the unusual waves are all that can be seen.
Non-believers in the Loch Ness Monster phenomenon like to point out the number of hoaxes over the years as further evidence that the creature does not exist. 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 some footprints but when the footprints were sent to scientists for analysis, they turned out to be hippopotamus footprints. A prankster had used a petrified hippopotamus foot umbrella stand to make the footprints. In 2004 a documentary team (primarily consisting of special effects experts from movies) deliberately tried to make people believe there was something in the loch. They constructed an elaborate animatronic model. Despite setbacks, it was a success, and numerous sightings were reported on the day, in the very 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 publicized the find widely, even setting up a website, but expert analysis soon revealed that the "tooth" was the antler of a muntjac.
It should be noted, however, that the verification of a few sightings as hoaxes should not taint every report. As with sasquatch and the yeti, it is unlikely that all of the thousands of sightings are purported hoaxes. The human desire for attention, particularly with the level of attention the media can provide, should be taken into consideration as well. It is more than likely that individuals, having heard the stories of Nessie and seen the media attention surrounding the phenomenon, desired their own share of attention. Or, as Sir Arthur Keith suggested, they were just seeing what they wanted to see.
All links retrieved July 24, 2018.
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