Grant, a young veterinary student reported nearly running
into the monster as it slithered across the road and down
into the lake. (Copyright Lee Krystek,
of Loch Ness
The Great Glenn is an enormous gash in the earth
that splits the Scottish Highlands in two. It forms a chain of
rivers, canals and lakes, (or lochs), that connect the North Sea
with the Atlantic Ocean. One of these lakes, Loch Ness, is the
home of perhaps the most famous cryptozoological riddles of our
Loch Ness, the largest freshwater lake in the British
Isles, is twenty four miles long and, at one point, one and a
half miles wide. It has an average depth of four hundred and fifty
feet and at times plunges close to a thousand. It is cold and
murky, with dangerous currents. In short, it is the perfect place
to hide a monster from even the most prying eyes of science.
Many bodies of water in Northern Scotland have
ancient legends about monsters that were never written down. A
tale that supposedly occured in 565 A.D. tells of Saint Columba
who saved a swimmer from a hungry monster in the Ness river. This
story was recorded in the book The Life of Saint Columba
sometime in the late 7th Century and is often connected with later
sightings in the in the nearby lake.
In 1933 after a new road was built along the edge
of the Loch, the number of reports soared. The first of these
came on April 14 when the owners of an inn in Drumnadrochit, the
Mackays, observed an "enormous animal "rolling and plunging" in
the Loch. They reported itto Alex Campbel, the man in charge of
regulating salmon fishing in the Loch. Campbel spent a lot of
time at the lake and observed the monster himself several times
after being told of the Mackay sighting.
Ness is a long, narrow, deep lake cutting through the Scottish
Campbel described the creature as having "a long,
tapering neck, about 6 feet long, and a smallish head with a serpentine
look about it, and a huge hump behind..." Campbel estimated the
length of the "monster" to be about thirty feet.
The first photograph of the thing was taken in 1933
by Hugh Gray. Gray reported, "I immediately got my camera ready
and snapped the object which was then two to three feet above
the surface of the water. I did not see any head, for what I took
to be the front parts were under the water, but there was considerable
movement from what seemed to be the tail."
Probably the most famous picture of the Loch Ness
monster was the "surgeon's photo" supposedly
taken by Colonel Robert Wilson in 1934. It shows a long, thin
neck rising above the water connected to a hump-like body. This
photo is thought to be a fake, though, after the confession of
Christian Spurling who helped build the model monster that was
photographed. He admitted the hoax shortly before he died in 1993
at age 90.
so called "surgeon's photo," now thought to
be a fake, helped establish the plesiosaurus image in
the public's mind. (Fair Use)
Early in 1934 there was a land sighting of the beast.
Arthur Grant, a young veterinary student, was out on his motorcycle
one evening when he almost ran into the monster as it crossed
the road. Grant's description of the thing, small head, long tapering
neck and tail with a bulky body and flippers, seemed to match
the appearance of the plesiosaurus. The plesiosaurus,
an aquatic, reptilian contemporary of the dinosaurs, was thought
to have been extinct for at least 65 million years.
In April of 1960, Tim Dinsdale, while visiting the
lake, captured the first moving picture of the monster. Though
the film shows little, a group of Royal Air Force photographic
experts pronounced that the object was "probably" animate and
as long as ninety feet. Skeptics argued that the thing was probably
a motorboat. Dinsdale was convinced enough by his own pictures
to give up his career as an aeronautical engineer and devote the
next twenty years of his life to finding the monster. Though Dinsdale
was rewarded with two more sightings of the creature, he was never
able to gather incontrovertible proof of its existence.
The next major event for Nessie was a study of the
Loch Monster started in 1970 by the American Academy of Applied
Science. The group, headed by Dr. Robert Rines, used automatic
cameras and sonar to monitor the Loch. In 1972 one of the underwater
cameras got four frames of what appeared to be a flipper six to
eight feet long.
One night Peter Davies, a member of Rines' team,
was out in a small boat in the Loch when he had a close encounter
with the beast. He detected it under his boat with sonar. "I don't
mind telling you it was a rather strange feeling," said Davies,
"rowing across that pitch black water knowing that there was a
very large animal just thirty feet below. It was the sheer size
of the echo trace that was frightening."
Though the photograph most often seen by the public
seems to clearly show something that looks like the diamond-shaped
fin of a plesiosaurus, some photographic experts have argued that
the image has been retouched. In the original images the interpretation
is much more ambiguous.
In 1975 one of the team's cameras captured a vague
and fuzzy image that could be interpreted as the face of the beast.
"I thought that would clinch it," remarked Rines," but as you
know, it didn't at all." The photograph, known as the "gargoyle
head," was identified by a later expedition as the remains of
a tree stump.
The Man Who Made the Loch Ness Monster
Various researchers have employed sonar to find
the monster with varying results. In 1968 professor DG Tucker
of the University of Birmingham tested a prototype sonar at the
Loch. The transducer was mounted at one side of the lake, pointing
at the opposite side so that any objects passing through its beam
would be detected. During a two-week period, multiple animate
objects 20 feet in length were detected moving up and down from
the loch bottom to midwater, but never surfacing. The size and
movement did not seem to match that of any known fish. Tucker
even declared, "The high rate of ascent and descent makes it seem
very unlikely that they could be fish, and fishery biologists
we have consulted cannot suggest what fish they might be. It is
a temptation to suppose they might be the fabulous Loch Ness monsters,
now observed for the first time in their underwater activities!"
A year later Andrew Carroll, a researcher for the
New York Aquarium used sonar from his research launch Rangitea
to sweep the Loch and picked up a strong echo of an animate object
estimated to be twenty feet in length. Neither object found by
Carroll or by Tucker were ever definitely identified.
Roy Mackal, a biologist at the University of Chicago
who was interested in cryptozoology, built a system of underwater
microphones and placed them in the loch to see if he could detect
any sounds the monster might make. "Bird-like chirps", "knocks"
and "clicks" were recorded along with a swishing sound which Mackal
thought might be the sounds of an animal echolocation to find
and hunt its prey. Mackal noted that the sounds stopped whenever
a boat passed by and resumed after it had reached a safe distance.
The most recent sonar exploration of the Loch was
in 2004 when an expedition from the BBC used 600 sonar beams to
probe the Loch from end-to-end. They could detect no sign of a
large living animal in its waters. Efforts have continued to find
the monster. A small submarine was even used to explore the depths
of the lake, but no convincing evidence was found.
argue the monster sightings were caused by an oversized
river otter. (Copyright Lee Krystek, 1996.)
There is certainly not a single Loch Ness
monster. If there truly is something strange living in the lake
there must be a breeding population, perhaps anywhere from a dozen
to a hundred individuals. There are a few photographs which seem
to show more than one of the creatures together.
If there really is a population of monsters in Loch
Ness, what are they? Some of the evidence, like the vet student's
sighting, point to the plesiosaur.
Mackal has suggested a large mammal like a manatee
or a zeuglodon (primitive whale). Others
suggest an unknown species of long-necked seal or giant otter.
Earlier, Mackal also considered it might be a giant sea slug.
A few researchers suggest an over grown eel.
Skeptics argue that the water in the Loch is too
cold for a reptile like the plesiosaur though recent studies suggest
that some dinosaurs, and therefore perhaps the Plesiosaur, were
warm-blooded. They also argue an air-breathing animal like a plesiosaur
or even a whale or seal would spend much more time on the surface
than this creature seems to and would be spotted more often. Any
population of warm-blooded creatures would also require a large
food source. The fish population in the Loch, while larger than
originally thought, still seems inadequate to support a large
group of warm-blooded predators.
Some scientists have wondered if the sightings might
be caused by an underwater wave which is known to sometimes occur
in deep, long, cold lakes, like Loch Ness. Standing waves, also
known as seiche, can be caused by the
wind piling up a layer of warm water at the end of the loch which
forces the underlying cold layer to the opposite end. The wave
is not visible on the surface, but moves underwater with the interaction
of the layers. Such a wave might be powerful enough to push debris
to the surface that might look like a strange animal.
"Doc" Shiels photograph is widely thought to
be a fake. (Fair Use)
Another theory forwarded by Dr Maurice Burton suggests
that logs of scotch pine that have fallen into the lake may decay,
creating gas inside the wood which cannot initially escape because
the resin in the bark seals it in. As the pressure builds, however,
the seal can rupture, propelling the log through the water and
even to the surface. This may account for some of the sightings.
Unfortunately, the history of the Loch Ness monster
is filled with people creating hoaxes. In 1933, Marmaduke Wetherell,
who himself was thought to be responsible for the famous Surgeon's
Photo hoax, was himself hoaxed when he found the footprint
of a large animal in the mud along the shore of Loch Ness. The
mark was created using a dried hippo foot that was probably part
of an umbrella stand. The incident, reported in the Daily Mail,
humiliated Wetherell, who later got his revenge when his fake
"Surgeon's Photo" appeared in that same publication.
One of the clearest photos of the Loch Ness monster
was taken by Anthony 'Doc' Shiels in May of 1977. The picture
is so clear, however, it immediately makes experts skeptical and
has been referred to in some circles as "the Loch Ness Muppet."
Shiels himself, a self-styled physic, has said that while he definitely
takes photos of lake monsters, he doesn't believe in them.
As recently as March, 2005, two American students
visiting the Loch claimed to have found a gigantic tooth stuck
in the carcass of a deer. However, the object was actually the
antler of a roe muntjac deer, not a Nessie fang. The whole story
turned out to be a marketing ploy for an upcoming horror novel
entitled The Loch, written by author Steve Alten.
Nessie has entered popular culture and is a symbol
recognized around the world. In addition to appearing in Alten's
book, Nessie has been featured in many films. This includes appearances
as dangerous killer in The Loch Ness Horror (though in
reality nobody has ever claimed they have been injured by the
creatures), a secret submarine in the film The Private Life
of Sherlock Holmes and, most recently, a child's magical friend
in The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep.
people picture Nessie as a plesiosaur that escaped
extinction (Copyright Lee Krystek, 2000).
If the monster truly exists and is not a hoax or
a publicity stunt, it is extremely elusive. No bones or remains
have ever been, found and short of draining the Loch, it seems
impossible to disprove the existence of the creature. We can only
wait and see if time and patience, with a little luck, solves
this most mysterious riddle.
Krystek 1996-2007. All Rights Reserved.