The Loch Ness Monster (Nessie)

The Loch Ness Monster, nicknamed Nessie by the locals, is an amphibious dinosaur-like creature allegedly inhabiting Loch Ness the largest freshwater lake by volume in Great Britain.

Rumours of a mysterious creature inhabiting the deep and foreboding waters of Loch Ness are nothing new, in fact there are numerous references to the elusive monster dating back over 1,500 years. It was during the twentieth century, however, that sightings took an upswing as hordes of inquisitive tourists armed with expensive cameras descended on the once tranquil lake in ever increasing numbers:

Robert Kenneth Wilson, an English physician, is probably responsible for the heightened interest and the deluge of visitors that followed when in 1934 he snapped what has become known as the “Surgeon's Photo” which seems to show a head and neck indicative of a large creature emerging from the lake's murky waters.

In an interesting aside, long-time suspicions that the picture was a hoax were given a boost with the alleged deathbed confession in 1994 of Christian Spurling the son in law of Marmaduke Wetherell a big game hunter. Shortly after arriving at the loch to search for Nessie, Wetherell had become the victim of a children’s prank when he mistakenly identified fake hippopotamus tracks as those of the monster. Humiliated and in order to exact revenge he decided to perpetrate a prank of his own. Spurling along with a couple of others was enlisted to build a Nessie model which was then taken to the loch and photographed. The result was a photo which was subsequently presented to a gullible world as definitive proof of Nessie’s existence by Dr. Wilson whose profession Wetherell felt would place him beyond reproach.

Arthur Grant a motorcyclist was obviously unaware of the hoax when he narrowly missed hitting the creature while driving along the loch’s northern shore. The monster was purportedly crossing the road on its way back to the water.

Also in 1934 a young local named Margaret Monroe claimed to have seen a large animal with a long neck, small head and flippers re-enter the loch near a spot where she was walking.

Sightings at Loch Ness have continued through the decades with cameras no longer the only device used to capture images:

In 1938 a South African tourist captured something swimming in the loch on 16mm color film. 

In 1960 engineer Tim Dinsdale filmed what some thought a hump (others a boat) crossing the loch leaving behind a significant wake. A later enhancement of the film, the intent to clarify the exact nature of the object, only added to the controversy.

Along with the amateurs, came the professionals armed with devices of ever increasing sophistication, their intent expose the loch’s most intimate secrets, no mean feat considering that Loch Ness is 22.6 miles (36.3 kilometers) long, with a maximum width of 1.7 miles (2.7 km) and a maximum depth of 744.6 feet (226.96 meters). [1]

In 1968 DG Tucker a professor of engineering at the University of Birmingham chose Loch Ness as the site to test his new sonar transducer. The underwater acoustic device was fixed on one side of the loch and aimed at the opposing shore. The listening apparatus would then “echo locate” any large object passing within range. Over the following two week period numerous contacts were observed, some as large as 20 feet (6 meters) in length traveling at 10 knots or more.

In 1969 a New York Aquarium field researcher named Andrew Carroll initiated a trawling scan of the loch from his research vessel Rangitea which at one point resulted in a strong echo that lasted for almost 3 minutes. Exactly what the mysterious contact was is still unknown but later calculations placed its length at about 20 feet.

In 1970 Dr. Roy P. Mackal
(later known for leading several expeditions into the virtually impenetrable and largely unexplored Likouala swamp in search of Mokele-mbembe) an engineer, zoologist, biologist and avid cryptozoologist, used hydrophones (underwater microphones often used to listen to whales, dolphins and even submarines) in an attempt to hear the monster but aside from clicks, chirps, knocks and a swishing that might have been made by a flipper or tail he came up dry. Efforts to communicate by playing back recorded sounds produced no appreciable response.

Also arriving in 1970 was Dr. Robert Rines, renowned MIT professor, inventor of high definition image scanning radar, holder of more than 60 patents and founder of the Academy of Applied Science, along with a number of other high profile scientists. Their well equipped expedition was to be long term, returning and searching for the elusive cryptid [2] every summer for the following six years.

In 1972, using a combination of sonar to identify large moving objects and an underwater stroboscopic camera to capture the objects on film, they recorded what appeared to be a large diamond shaped fin. In 1975 other pictures were released showing what appeared to be the body, head and long neck of a creature that strongly resembled a plesiosaur, a large prehistoric air-breathing animal long thought extinct.

The controversy soon raged from universities to the mainstream media, some concluding that the pictures were absolute proof of Nessie’s existence while others maintained that objects that were originally something else only appeared to resemble a large aquatic animal because of extensive computer imaging.

In 2001 members of an Academy of Applied Science research team took videos of a V-shaped wake on what was otherwise the calm surface of the loch. Later they also videotaped what appeared to be the decomposing body of an unidentified animal.

Other expeditions were to follow each drawing its own conclusions, the one mounted by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 2003 definitely being the most extensive of all time. Armed with 600 sonar beams and a satellite navigation system to insure complete coverage they surveyed the loch from one end to the other and from top to bottom and found nothing; not one single sonar anomaly was recorded (actually one would have been a mystery within itself, in order to perpetuate the species a viable gene pool comprised of dozens if not hundreds of the creatures would be needed). The team’s conclusion was that Nessie does not exist.

Is the monster bona fide, a hoax or just plain wishful thinking? Draining the loch is probably the only way to know for sure and considering its size that's highly unlikely.

In 1975 British naturalist Sir Peter Scott grandly announced that Nessie would from now on be known officially as Nessiteras rhombopteryx which is Greek for “The Ness monster with diamond shaped fin.” A Scottish politician named Nicholas Fairbairn then dryly noted that it’s also an anagram of “Monster hoax by Sir Peter S.” Dr. Robert Rines in quick rebuttal replied that the letters could also be rearranged to spell “Yes, both pix are monsters, R.”

[1] By comparison Lake Champlain, alleged home of the North American cryptid the Lake Champlain Monster, is 125 miles (201 km) long, with a maximum width of 14 miles (23 km) and a maximum depth of 400 feet (122 meters) and Lake Okanagan, alleged home of Ogopogo the Lake Okanagan Monster, is 84 miles (135 km) long, with a maximum width of 3.1 miles (5 km) and a maximum depth of 761 feet (232 meters).

[2] The word “cryptid” was devised by Manitoban John E. Wall and first used in the International Society of Cryptozoology Newsletter, Summer 1983. It basically refers to creatures that are hypothetical, presumed extinct or for which there is insufficient proof to establish their existence with absolute certainty.

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