Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Loch Ness Monster



Last week a photographer claimed to have taken a photograph of the Loch Ness Monster in the Lake District (left). Her claim inspired me to do some research on the Loch Ness Monster and its history. 

The Loch Ness Monster is a creature that supposedly lives in the Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. Whilst its existence has been suggested and 'photographed' many times, it has not been discovered or documented by the scientific community. Popular interest and belief in the animal's existence has varied since it was first brought to the world's attention in 1933.

The most common speculation among believers is that the creature represents a line of long-surviving plesiosaurs. The scientific community regards the Loch Ness Monster as a modern-day myth, and explains sightings as possible misidentifications, hoaxes or wishful thinking. Despite this, it remains one of the most famous examples of cryptozoology. 

On 4 August 1933, the Courier published an article about George Spicer who claimed that  a few weeks earlier while motoring around the Loch, he and his wife had seen "the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life", trundling across the road toward the Loch carrying "an animal" in its mouth. This led to a series of people writing into the Courier also claiming to have seen 'Nessie'. These stories soon reached the national (and later the international) press, which described a "monster fish", "sea serpent", or "dragon", eventually settling on "Loch Ness Monster".

On 6 December 1933 the first purported photograph of the monster, taken by Hugh Gray, was published in the Daily Express, and shortly after the creature received official notice when the Secretary of State for Scotland ordered the police to prevent any attacks on it. In 1934 R. T. Gould published a book about his personal investigation and collected records of additional reports pre-dating 1933.

The earliest report of the Loch Ness Monster appears in the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán, written in the 7th century. According to Adomnán, writing about a century after the events he described, the Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he came across the locals burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man had been swimming the river when he was attacked by a "water beast" that had mauled him and dragged him under. They tried to rescue him in a boat, but were able only to drag up his corpse. However, sceptics question the narrative's reliability, noting that water-beast stories were extremely common in medieval saints' Lives; as such, Adomnán's tale is likely to be a recycling of a common motif attached to a local landmark.

In August 1933 a motorcyclist named Arthur Grant claimed to have nearly hit the creature while approaching Abriachan on the north-eastern shore, at about 1 a.m. on a moonlit night.  On 21 April Dr Robert Wilson took a photo of the creature (the Surgeon's Photo), however this was later revealed as a fake. 
Sightings of the monster increased following the building of a road along the loch in early 1933, bringing both workmen and tourists to the formerly isolated area. In 1938, Inverness-shire Chief Constable William Fraser wrote a letter stating that it was beyond doubt the monster existed. In May 1943, C. B. Farrel of the Royal Observer Corps was supposedly distracted from his duties by a Nessie sighting. In December 1954 a strange sonar contact was made by the fishing boat Rival III. The vessel's crew observed sonar readings of a large object keeping pace with the boat for about 800m. In 1963 film of the creature was shot in the loch from a distance of 4 kilometres. Because of the distance at which it was shot, it has been described as poor quality.

In 2003, the BBC sponsored a full search of the Loch using 600 separate sonar beams and satellite tracking. The search had enough resolution to pick up a small buoy. No animal of any substantial size was found whatsoever and despite high hopes, the scientists involved in the expedition admitted that this essentially proved the Loch Ness monster was only a myth.

In 2004, a documentary team for television channel Five, using special effects experts from movies, tried to make people believe there was something in the loch. They constructed an animatronic model of a plesiosaur, and dubbed it "Lucy". Despite setbacks, such as Lucy falling to the bottom of the loch, about 600 sightings were reported in the 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 publicised the find widely, even setting up a website, but expert analysis soon revealed that the "tooth" was the antler of a muntjac. The Loch Ness tooth was a publicity stunt to promote a horror novel by Steve Alten titled The Loch.

In 2007, a video purported to show Nessie jumping high into the air showed up on YouTube. This was revealed by the online amateur sceptic's community eSkeptic to be a viral ad promoting the then-upcoming Sony Pictures film The Water Horse. The release of the film confirmed the eSkeptic analysis: the viral video comprises footage from The Water Horse.

Whilst a considerable amount of time and money has gone into searching for the Loch Ness Monster, the failure to prove its existence time and time again shows that 'Nessie' is nothing more than an interesting story tale - as much as we all wish she exists!