If you follow my blog, you’re now probably saying “What took you so long?”. And you’re right. This time I’m going to talk about the most mysterious and wonderful legend of all time: The Loch Ness Monster (Nessie for friends) and who started this myth. First of all, let’s start with a little bit of geography. Loch Ness is a long, narrow lake localized in the southwest of Inverness, a city in the Scottish Highlands. It is the second largest in Scotland by surface area (holds more water than all of the other lakes in Great Britain combined)and the largest by volume. It is also the second deepest loch, at an astounding 755 feet (230 meters) at its deepest point. In fact, because of its depth, Loch Ness doesn’t freeze. Most of the water stays at a steady temperature of about 44 degrees Fahrenheit. Only the top 100 feet or so varies in temperature, but with so much warmer water beneath keeping things relatively hot, you’ll not get a chance to ice skate on it. The water is dark and murky due to the high levels of turf in the surrounding soil. The breadth, depth, and low visibility of this particular loch make a prime environment for people’s imagination to run wild, particularly when other lake monsters were plentiful in Scottish legends (thirteen in total).
The first recorded sighting of Nessie, even if this should be considered more as a legend, was in 565 A.D. by Saint Columba, an Irish missionary praised for spreading Christianity in Scotland. Once in the Highlands, he ran across a group of people burying a man who had been bitten by the monster in the River Ness. The Saint supposedly asked another man to swim across the river. When the man jumped in, the monster rose from the depths and Saint Columba, invoking God’s power, banished it at the end of the river course. The story was written nearly a century after the supposed encounter; but even so, it remains a popular proof used to demonstrate Nessie’s existence.
The next recorded sighting happened over 1300 years later, in 1933. George Spicer was out driving with his wife when he saw a large creature, walking in front of their car near the loch. The creature, according to Spicer description, had a huge body, long neck, and they couldn’t see any limbs before it lunged toward the Loch Ness. A few weeks later, a motorcyclist claimed to have nearly run into a similar creature, describing it as a type of plesiosaur -a prehistoric marine creature with four large fins and a long neck- fitting the Spicers’ description. Soon, with the building of a road along the loch’s coast, many more reports of sightings of the monster flooded in.
The huge amount of sightings in 1933, can be considered as the beginning of a long, fruitless search for the monster. The first picture taken of the monster was in November 1933 by Hugh Gray. He supposedly saw a large creature rise above the surface of the water and snapped several photographs before it disappeared, but only one photo turned out when developed. The picture shows a creature with a long neck and a thick body, with four lumps at its side which might have been flippers. However, it should be noted that critics claim that the photo represents nothing more of a dog swimming with a stick in its mouth… not remotely frightening.
Later that year, a man named Marmaduke Wetherell, a well-known big game hunter, was hired by the Daily Mail to find evidence of the Loch Ness Monster. He later found large tracks on the edge of the lake and made molds, but the Natural History Museum examined them and said they were likely from a dried hippo’s foot which had become popularly used as umbrella stands. Wetherell was fired for failing to find any substantial evidence.
On April 21, 1934, the most famous picture of the monster was published in the Daily Mail. The picture was supposedly taken by a doctor named Robert Kenneth Wilson, but he didn’t like having his name associated with the photo so it became known as the “Surgeon’s Photograph.” (left) The picture shows, from a distance, the long neck and head of the monster rising from rippling water. The picture is convincing to the untrained eye, though critics, certain the photo was a hoax, claimed it was everything from an elephant to a diving bird.
Well, If you think the photo is real, I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. It turns out the photo was a fake. In 1994, Christopher Spurling, the stepson of Marmaduke Wetherell, admitted to being involved in creating a model of Nessie’s neck and head and placing it on a toy submarine. The pair then took the model to Loch Ness and took photos of it in the water. Wilson was then given the photos because he was a trusted man, being a doctor. Wetherell was said to have come up with this cheating plan because he was humiliated by his previous attempt at finding the monster.
So it’s very difficult to understand which one can be a “real” photo of the monster. Many other searches have taken place to find the monster than those already listed. In 1934, twenty men sat at various locations around the loch with binoculars and cameras in the Sir Edward Mountain Expedition. They remained there from 9 am to 6 pm every day for five weeks. 21 pictures were taken and examined, but they were thought to be of seals.
Since the very first photo, countless more pics, videos and eyewitness accounts have emerged claiming to prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. But when technology came in to help searchers, the secrets multiplied.
In 1954, the first contact via sonar was made on Rival III, a fishing boat. 480 feet below the boat, a large and strange object was seen keeping pace with the boat’s speed. In 2011, sonar contact was made again by Marcus Atkinson who saw an object about five feet long and 75 feet below the surface. It kept pace with his boat for two minutes before it disappeared. The sonar image has been examined and critics have dismissed it as an algae bloom. However, believers have said that algae couldn’t survive at 75 feet as it needs sunlight to thrive, and as murky as the waters of Loch Ness are, very little sunlight would reach so far below the surface.
But a brave adventurer didn’t give up. In the 70s and early 2000s, Robert Rines conducted a number of underwater investigations hoping to find Nessie. His studies resulted in several underwater photographs of possible fins and tails. (one of the photos on the right) However, in 2008 he claimed that, based on fewer sightings and sonar readings, Nessie had died due to global warming.
The most recent photograph (on the left) was taken by George Edwards in November 2011. Edwards claimed that it is the most convincing photograph yet, which perhaps shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given advances in easy to use and readily accessible home photo editing software. However, in this case, even other Loch Ness Monster researchers have questioned the authenticity of the picture, saying the hump rising from the water in the picture is actually a fiberglass model that was used in the filming of a documentary by National Geographic, which Edwards had participated in. So another try to become famous using an old legend (and lots of subterfuges).