The Loch Ness Monster

The first photo of the Loch Ness Monster, which sparked the current ‘Nessiemania’.

OF ALL THE MYTHICAL BEASTS in the world, the most famous, most hunted for, and most talked about must be ‘Nessie’ the Loch Ness Monster. She, for the Scottish monster is always seen as a not-so-wee lassie, is often the first phenomenon thought about when the subject of unexplained mysteries is raised. She is an internationally-known celebrity, who has probably done more for her native tourist industry than any other famous Scot. There have been Nessie documentaries, programmes, films and even cartoons. But although she appears each year to a select few, she has been too shy to debut in a major scientific investigation. So is Nessie really a strange creature, lost in time, and lurking at the bottom of Loch Ness? Loch Ness is a 24-mile-long freshwater lake found in the Great Glenn, a massive crevice that cuts the Scottish Highlands in two. The loch is up to a thousand feet deep and, at some points, a mile-and-a-half wide. The first tale of a monster living in the water originates in AD 565 and features Saint Columba, who rescued a swimmer from the beast’s advances. Experts now generally feel that Saint Columba actually encountered a known, normal, marine animal that had ended up outside its natural environment. Although the loch continued to be the focus of strange sightings, it was not until the 20th century that the phenomenon really flourished.

In 1933 the Loch Ness Lakeshore road was built. This initiated a flood of sightings and created the Nessie legend. In April that year, a local couple spotted an enormous animal rolling and playing in the water. They reported what they had seen to the man in charge of salmon stocks in the loch who then saw the monster himself, describing it as having a six-feet-long neck, a serpentine head and a huge hump. He suggested the creature was a total of 30 feet in length. In the July a family from London were driving along when they almost crashed into a massive dark, long-necked animal that strolled across their path and then disappeared into the water. Similarly, early the next year a young veterinary student was riding his motorcycle along the road when he almost struck a creature. He said what he saw had a large bulky body, with flippers, a long neck and a small head. Over the years, many people have tried to capture the creature on film. One Nessie witness managed to take a rather inconclusive photograph of something appearing from the water in 1933. In 1934 a London doctor released a most mysterious photograph of the monster to the public. It showed a strange head and neck appearing from the water; 60 years later it was revealed to be a fake. In April 1960 an aeronautical engineer used a 16mm movie camera to film something moving through the loch’s waves. Although it has never been established exactly what is captured on the film, experts at the Royal Air Force’s photographic department have verified that the footage is not a fake and has not been tampered with. Dinsdale himself devoted the rest of his life to finding Nessie. Recent years have also provided new sightings. In June 1993, a couple were on the bank of the loch when they saw a huge, strange creature lolling about in the water. They said it must have been about 40-feetlong, with a giraffe-like neck and very light brown flesh. Later that same evening, a father and son were on their way home when they spotted something odd in the water. They later told reporters they saw an animal with a neck like a giraffe swimming swiftly away from the shore. Because of the evidence accrued during these two episodes, bookmakers William Hill slashed the odds of there really being a Loch Ness Monster from 500-1 to 100-1.

Despite over 3,000 similar sightings by private individuals, Nessie has always been coy about exposing herself to dedicated, scientific research teams. The Academy of Applied Science from Boston, Massachusetts operated the first extensive expedition in the early 1970s. Using underwater cameras and sonar equipment, the project captured images of what looked like an eight-foot-long flipper, an unusual 20-foot-long aquatic body, and even a hazy photo of a creature’s face. However, an organised, structured sonar sweep of the loch in 1987, named ‘Operation Deepscan’, revealed the earlier portrait picture of Nessie was actually a tree stump. That said, Deepscan did report various, unaccounted-for, large sonar echoes moving about in the extreme depths of the loch. Although these hunts have proved inconclusive, other recent scientific evidence has been more hopeful. In March 2000, a team of Norwegian scientists, the Global Underwater Search Team, picked up bizarre noises in the loch’s water. At one point whatever was making the sounds even crashed into the team’s underwater microphone. This group had already recorded unusual sounds from another mythically monster-infested lake in Norway. The strange noises found in Loch Ness are described as a cross between a snorting horse and a pig eating, closely matching the experiences in Norway. Not only does this suggest there are unknown creatures in both lakes, but they might actually be related. In recent years, sonar equipment has also discovered huge underwater caverns opening onto the bottom of the loch. These structures have been termed ‘Nessie’s Lair’, and may well be large enough to house and hide a whole family of monsters.

It is agreed that a breeding colony of beasts would be needed to continue its existence, and some witness accounts have reported more than one Nessie appearing on the water’s surface. Nessie’s actual species is still unknown although experts have suggested it may be a manatee or type of primitive whale. It my also be a large otter, a long-necked seal, a huge eel, or even a giant walrus. However, Nessie seems to bear a much stronger resemblance to a creature now thought to be extinct. This is called the plesiosaur, a marine dinosaur that has not been found on Earth for over 60 million years. It had large flippers, a small head and a large body, and some experts believe a few of these animals were stranded in the loch after the last Ice Age. None of these suggestions are completely plausible. Even if the plesiosaur did survive the disaster that wiped out the rest of its fellow prehistoric creatures, it is generally believed to be a cold-blooded animal, and would find the chilly environment of a Scottish lake too cold to survive. If Nessie is really a modern day aquatic mammal like a whale or a seal, then it would constantly have to come to the surface for air, resulting in many more sightings. One cannot help but feel there might actually be something in the murky depths of Loch Ness. With a continued interest that actually grows with each unsuccessful scientific study, this loch remains the home of the world’s most mysterious, unexplainable monster.