I never really expected to actually see the Loch Ness Monster. As a result, when I looked through the tour boat window out at the frigid waters of the loch and happened to spot “Nessie” cruising alongside with a little monster in tow, it was a startling moment.
What made it more amazing was that I was gazing at the time at the radar scanner that the boat has in its main cabin. As it moves up and down the loch, this boat, and the other boats as well, are constantly scanning every nook and cranny of this 23-mile-long inland lake in the Highlands of Scotland. Loch Ness is the second largest lake in Scotland (after Loch Lomand, where the popular BBC series, Monarch of the Glen, was filmed). But there she was, right before my eyes, right out the starboard window (see nearby photo).
I was in the UK on personal business and decided, after visiting St. Andrews and its famous golf course and university, to take a trip up north and see Nessie for myself. I’ve always been willing to believe in most legendary creatures now derided by science, including the yeti of the Himalayas, the Sasquatch of the Pacific Northwest, fire-breathing dragons, at least some elves, trolls for sure (I’ve met some myself!), and giants. I haven’t made up my mind about vampires and werewolves, though, and am an unreconstructed skeptic when it comes to space aliens. But Nessie? A race of prehistoric plesiosaurs that somehow survived in the isolated lochs of northern Scotland and falsely believed, like the famous coelacanth, to be extinct? Sure, no problem!
The Loch Ness monster was first mentioned, as far as we can tell, in the 7th century. According to Adomnán, the ninth Abbot of the monastery of Iona, who wrote The Life of St. Columba, the great Celtic saint saw the monster himself around the year A.D. 565:
Also at another time, when the blessed man was for a lumber of days in the province of the Picts, he had to cross the river Nes [Ness]. When lie reached its bank, he saw a poor fellow being buried by other inhabitants; and the buriers said that, while swimming not long before, he had been seized and most savagely bitten by a water beast. Some men, going to his rescue in a wooden boat, though too late, had put out hooks and caught hold of his wretched corpse. When the blessed man heard this, he ordered notwithstanding that one of his companions should swim out and bring back to him, by sailing, a boat that stood on the opposite bank.
Hearing this order of the holy and memorable man, Lugne mocu obeyed without delay, and putting off his clothes, excepting his tunic, plunged into the water. But the monster, whose appetite had earlier been not so much sated as whetted for prey, lurked in the depth of the river. Feeling the water above disturbed by Lugne’s swimming, it suddenly swam up to the surface, and with gaping mouth and with great roaring rushed towards the man swimming in the middle of the stream. While all that were there, barbarians and even the brothers, were struck down with extreme terror, the blessed man, who was watching, raised his holy hand and drew the saving sign of the cross in the empty air; and then, invoking the name of God, he commanded the savage beast, and said: “You will go no further. Do not touch the man; turn back speedily”. Then, hearing this command of the saint, the beast, as if pulled back with ropes, fled terrified in swift retreat; although it had before approached so close to Lugne as he swam that there was no more than the length of one short pole between man and beast.Then seeing that the beast had withdrawn and that their fellow- soldier Lugne had returned to them unharmed and safe, in the boat, the brothers with great amazement glorified God in the blessed man. And also the pagan barbarians who were there at the time, impelled by the magnitude of this miracle that they themselves had seen, magnified the God of the Christians.”
Things were pretty quiet, though, for the next 1,400 years. It wasn’t until the 1930s that Nessie sightings really picked up… and led skeptics to charge that the whole thing was an elaborate publicity stunt for the money-grubbing Scots! In 1933, a man named George Spicer and his wife reported seeing a large creature crossing the road with a 25-foot-long body and a long, very narrow neck. Nessie gained a lot more publicity, though, when a famous photograph was taken of her the next year, in 1934, supposedly by a London gynecologist named Robert Wilson. That photo remains the iconic evidence for Nessie. Alas, it turns out the photo was almost certainly a fake. In 1993, Christian Spurling, stepson of a movie maker named Duke Wetherell and then age 90, confessed to two Loch Ness researchers that he had fashioned the “monster” in the photograph out of a toy submarine and plastic.
Yet sightings, photographs and films and videos have continued over the decades. What’s more, sonar scannings of the loch, far from disproving Nessie’s existence, have actually fueled the belief that she could be real. A series of acoustic scans in the late 1960s revealed tantalizing evidence that something was down there in the loch — something big and something fast! The Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Birmingham, England, set up an acoustic “net” in 1967-68 through which no creature could pass without detection. In August 1968, the sonar system detected multiple moving objects, 20 feet in length and moving at speeds of up to 10 knots, ascending and descending to the loch bottom. “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,” the lead scientist concluded. The next year, 1969, another scientific group, this one from the New York Aquarium, also spotted a large creature (at least 20 feet long) with its sonar equipment. A small submarine in 1969, launched to film a movie and dragging a fake Nessie behind her, picked up a large moving object on sonor just 50 feet from the bottom. In the 1970s and then again in the 2000s, an MIT scientist named Robert Rines, using a variety of photographic and sonar equipment, collected evidence of what did indeed appear to be some kind of underwater dinosaur-like creature — including a famous underwater photograph. In 1972, Rines’s sonar equipment also detected an underwater object, 20 to 30 feet in length, moving about 35 feet off the bottom. By the 2000s, Rines concluded that the family of underwater Nessies did, in fact, exist up until the late 1990s, when global warming finally finished off the last of the species.
In 1987, Operation Deep Scan, one of the most ambitious searches to date, deployed 24 boats throughout the entire width of the loch… and detected “a large moving object near Urquhart Bay at a depth of 600 feet.” One of the scientists involved in Operation Deep Scan, concluded “There’s something here that we don’t understand, and there’s something here that’s larger than a fish, maybe some species that hasn’t been detected before. I don’t know.” Yet more searches conducted in 1993 and again in 2003 for TV documentaries failed to detect anything significant.
Skeptics say there never was a Nessie, that all the sonar detected was large pieces of debris moving through the water due to the unusual currents of the loch; believers say that there may well have been a Nessie, or a family of Nessies, until perhaps the late 1990s.
All was quiet until 2007. That’s when a man named Gordon Holmes took some home video of what he and other Nessie supporters believe was or at least could have been the monster (see video). You can see for yourself below.
For my part, I kept my eye on the sonar all during the cruise down Loch Ness (see photo above). The scanner reached all the way down to the bottom of the loch, 650 feet deep. You would think that, with these boats moving up and down the loch, day after day, week after week, they would be able to detect something. But alas, no, not until I took my photo of Nessie out the window.
- None Found