The Loch Ness Monster, which the tourism boom in the 1930s dubbed “Nessie” (sometimes spelled “Nessy”) to remove the scary side it had until then, is a legendary lake creature believed to live, or have lived, in Loch Ness, a lake in the Highlands of Scotland.
|Name||Loch Ness Monster|
|Characteristics||Sea serpent or plesiosaur|
|Region||Loch Ness (Scotland)|
This fruit of the human imagination has become emblematic of cryptozoology and Robert H. Rines and the naturalist Sir Peter Scott even endowed it with a binomial name, Nessiteras rhombopteryx, in 1975, as is done for an attested animal species.
It is usually described as resembling a sea snake or a plesiosaur. Many enthusiasts have been taking to the waters of the loch since the early 1930s, when the monster first appeared “modernly”, in search of it. Photos and films are regularly presented and fakes are just as regularly foiled (or the deception finally admitted by its authors). The legendary creature is at the center of many works of fiction or imaginary representations such as certain cartoons or comic books.
This imaginary creature has thus contributed to the attraction of tourists for Scottish landscapes, especially lakes, and their mysterious aspect.
Legends of the Loch Ness Monster
Scotland has always been renowned for its legends of monsters living in the deep waters of rivers and lochs. These aquatic creatures are dragons of the Celtic waters that once guarded the treasure of chiefs buried in the loch, kelpies or “water horses”, which have the particularity of drowning unwary travellers. In the past, parents forbade their children to bathe in deep rivers, fearing that the spirits of the waters would carry them away.
The legend of the monster may also have originated from a hagiographic account, the Vita Columbae by Adomnan of Iona which tells of a miracle of Saint Columba, an Irish monk. In 565, he is said to have saved one of his followers from certain death while trying to swim across the lake to bring back a stranded boat: a frightful monster suddenly surfaced and rushed at him, “with great roars and open mouth”. Saint Columba made the sign of the cross and invoked the power of God, crying out to the monster not to touch the unfortunate man, which “an Niseag” (Celtic name for Nessia) did.
Mythological tales and testimonies about the presence of a monster may have accumulated due to the presence in the loch of a thermal inversion layer that causes mirages on the surface of the lake that can make it look like an upright tree trunk (usually a pine) or give a grotesque appearance to all kinds of objects (seagull, bottle, barrel). This thermal inversion also causes windless waves that can cause a tree trunk to drift against the current, giving the impression of a long wake created by a creature swimming up that current. Seals (Phoca vitulina) or otters that sometimes enter Loch Ness through the locks may also have fuelled these legends, their silhouette being enlarged by the phenomenon of atmospheric refraction.
The myth of the Loch Ness monster, on the other hand, gained worldwide fame in the years 1933-1934 (see below, the section Hoaxes and Hoaxing) which saw the multiplication of the number of eyewitnesses following the expansion of the road along the lake in the 1930s, the workers having cut down many Scots pines that blocked the view and whose rise to the surface of the trunks could have caused the pile testimonials.
In 1961 the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau was officially established. On October 14, 1971, Father Gregory Brusey of Fort Augustus Abbey was gazing out over the lake with a visitor to the Benedictine Abbey when he saw a large animal drift offshore. Since then, sightings have multiplied, especially near the ruins of Urquhart Castle, which is an ideal observation post. In 1972, a diver reported seeing a huge “frog” while exploring the wreck of a trawler and refused to go down to the bottom of the lake again. Several fishermen took a long time to reveal that they had seen the monster in the waters of the loch, for fear of being mistaken for fabulators…
Several expeditions were conducted to try to find the “creature”. In the 1930s, volunteers tried to catch it with simple tools: barrels, fishing lines, hooks, and pieces of fish as bait. Today, it is with the help of sophisticated means such as submersibles, naval radar, sonar and even webcams that scientists hope to identify or capture the beast (Pisces expeditions in 1969, Yellow Submarine in 1972 and Deepscan in 1987). Several echoes signalling the presence of “large unidentified masses in motion” and underwater caverns have been recorded by the devices, but these are artifacts because the base of the loch is made of granite and shale, so it cannot shelter underwater caves.
In the 1990s, there were reports of salmon washed up on the shore with very large bite marks. At the same time, two fisherman friends, who were skeptical of the monster’s existence, reported seeing a grey-brown hump emerging from the water. As we got closer to see what it was, the boat was surrounded by three distinct bumps of the same color. They managed to make their way back to shore after one of the three “humps” followed them for about a hundred meters.
In 2007, a video showing an underwater movement of the lake revived the attraction around the site. In 2011, George Edward, the owner of a touring boat, took a striking photograph, described as “the clearest photograph of the creature of legend.” It would eventually turn out to be a hoax: the brown bump appearing in the photo was actually a fiber reconstruction made for a documentary about the Loch Ness Monster.
Although it is a hoax, the monster continues to arouse curiosity: in 2015, according to Google, it was the source of 200,000 Internet searches per month and 150,000 requests for tourist information in order to get to the place.
In 1975, Sir Peter Scott and Robert Rines gave the Loch Ness monster a scientific name, based on the blurred underwater photograph of a supposed fin of the monster: Nessiteras rhombopteryx. This name comes from Greek and means “the wonder of the Ness with the diamond-shaped fin”. The Daily Telegraph later noted that it is also an anagram of Monster hoax by Sir Peter S.
Scientific research and expeditions
- The first serious search in 1934 was funded by an insurance magnate, Sir Edward Mountain, who hired twenty unemployed men equipped with binoculars and cameras to monitor the lake. After five weeks, the lack of formal photographs put an end to the official expedition in August 1934. Captain James Fraser, who accompanied the expedition, continued the observations and filmed a silhouette that turned out to be a seal on September 15, 1934.
- In 1961, the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau was created, which encouraged observations and photographs until 1974.
- In 1968, 1969 and 1970, a team from the University of Birmingham, led by Professor Gordon Tucker, conducted scientific expeditions that surveyed the lake using sonar. On two or three occasions, they record traces of a large mass in motion.
- Robert H. Rines, of the Boston Academy of Applied Sciences, produced photographs in 1972, 1975, 2001, which showed a large creature with a tiny head. Noting the decline in the number of eyewitnesses and the absence of sonar signals for years, he hypothesized during his last expedition in 2008 that the monster became extinct due to global warming.
- In 1987, a major sonar exploration was launched. “Operation Deepscan” received a lot of media attention but disappointed the press with the lack of conclusive results.
- In 2003, the BBC launched an operation involving six hundred sonar and satellite tracking. The documentary related to this research, The Searching for the Loch Ness Monster, concludes that the Loch Ness Monster is a myth.
- In 2018, a study of 250 water samples from the lake, in which DNA sequences were analyzed, identified more than 3,000 species (human, dog, sheep, deer, badgers, foxes, voles, and many species of birds and fish). The results were published in September 2019, allowing geneticist Neil Gemmel of the University of Otago in Dunedin (New Zealand) to rule out the probability of the existence of a prehistoric reptile. He proposes the possibility of the presence of giant eels which could be the origin of the myth.
Hoaxes of the Loch Ness Monster
According to Neil Clark, a paleontologist and curator of the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow, the popular belief about the monster’s existence is only the effect of “a magnificent example of marketing”. Indeed, several rumors are circulating that the invention of the monster is due to a certain Bertram Mills, a circus director by trade. In 1933, during a tour of Scotland, he had his elephants bathe for a long time in the water of the lochs. People of the time who had never seen an elephant were particularly impressed by these animals, of which “only the trunk, the top of their head and their back were visible…
The impression was then that of an animal with a long neck and two humps, and perhaps more if there was more than one animal.” Amused by this mistake, Mills offered up to 20,000 pounds—equivalent to 1 million pounds in today’s dollars—to anyone who captured the monster for his menagerie. He was aware of the enormous publicity this would generate, without much financial risk for him since he thought there was no monster, but only confusion with his pachyderms.
Another marketing stunt could be behind this legend. The Mackay couple, managers of the Drumnadrochit Hotel, drove back from Inverness on April 14, 1933, and said they saw a whale-like monster snorting for a minute before diving. Recounting this adventure to their friend Alex Campbell, a young fishery warden and amateur journalist, the latter published this anecdote in the local newspaper the Inverness Courier in an article of 2 May under the title “A Strange Spectacle on Loch Ness”, an article soon picked up by the London press, which triggered a series of “appearances” that year and a tourist wave that swelled bookings at the MacKays’ hotel. On July 22, 1933, a couple of London tourists, the Spicers, reported seeing a monster resembling a prehistoric animal. Local correspondent Campbell spread the story of a plesiosaur in the local newspaper.
The first official photo of the monster was taken on November 12, 1933. It is taken by Hugh Gray. Unclear and of poor quality, it was immediately published by the Glasgow Daily Record and the Daily Sketch of London. Skeptics believed that the gray shape was that of a Labrador playing in the water with a stick in its mouth.
The most famous photograph of the Loch Ness Monster, taken in 1934, shows the animal’s head and neck emerging from the lake, surrounded by concentric circles formed by the water. It was published on 21 April 1934 in the Daily Mail and caused a sensation because it was sharp and reminiscent of a plesiosaur. Its author, London gynaecologist Robert Kenneth Wilson, took a picture of the monster on the orders of the government. The photo went viral, but a few years later, Robert Kenneth Wilson confessed that the photo was a hoax: it was a plastic toy. He even confessed that it was he who had imprinted on the bank alleged traces of the monster. There is a second one, showing the animal’s head from a different angle at the time of immersion.
On 7 December 1975, an article in the Sunday Telegraph referred to a hoax but did not receive any response, until Christian Spurling’s confession during an interview with two English authors, shortly before his death, in 1993 (and not on his deathbed as a widely repeated thesis has claimed) and the publication in 1999 of the book Nessie – the Surgeon’s Photograph Exposed Which details the hoax thesis: in the mid-1930s, the competition between the five major British dailies to get a quality shot of the monster was intense.
The Daily Mail then hires big game hunter Marmaduke Wetherell to hunt down Nessie. At the end of 1933, Wetherell published the footprints of the monster, which, after analysis by scientists at the British Museum, revealed to be those of a hippopotamus. Humiliated by his employers at the Daily Mail, he is said to have taken revenge by making a crude montage with a children’s submarine with a head sculpted by his son-in-law Christian Spurling. To lend credibility to his photo, he asked Wilson, an acquaintance of his, to take credit for the photo.
But Christian Spurling’s remarks, made to the press nearly sixty years after the fact, have been questioned: the toy industry was still far from having designed miniature submarines in 1934, a time when plastic (necessary to keep the object from sinking) was not used. But above all, another man had already designated himself as the so-called hoaxer, in 1992. Professor Lambert Wilson had indeed claimed in the Danish weekly Hjemmet that it was he who had been at the origin of the famous photo taken by mounting a fake neck-head suit on a diving mask.
According to him, Robert Kenneth Wilson had only happened to be there to photograph him as he moved just below the surface of the water. For their part, two oceanographers, Paul LeBlond and Michael Collins, who examined the famous photograph in its uncropped version (where the opposite shore of the loch can be seen in the background) estimated in 1987 that the neck and head represented in the photograph were about 1.20 meters high, and not a few tens of centimeters as implied by theories of a hoax.
One of the residents of Loch Ness left a letter in his will explaining that he had carved a wooden monster, and that he was amusing himself by taking it out to inflate the legend. In fact, the model of the Loch Ness monster was found in his hangar, which perpetuated the myth and attracted tourism.
- The plesiosaur, a large prehistoric marine reptile with a long neck and fins whose morphology corresponds to the descriptions of the monster made by witnesses: this is the most widespread hypothesis in the general public, launched by Robert Rines, inventor, lawyer, professor and researcher at the prestigious MIT. Three fossilized shells were brought to the surface by underwater robots, providing incontrovertible evidence that Loch Ness, at one time, was directly into the ocean. The carbon-14 method has made it possible to date these shells back to 12,800 years ago, i.e. the end of the last ice age. But a reptile could not survive in the lake because it is a cold-blooded animal, unsuited to frigid waters. It is, however, accepted that plesiosaurs had endothermic metabolism and were able to regulate their body temperature.
- In 1965, Bernard Heuvelmans, a Belgian zoologist renowned for his tenacity in searching for animals still unknown to science, hypothesized an unknown species of pinniped, a long-necked sea lion named Megalotaria longicollis. He also suggested that the “horns” or “spines” seen by witnesses could be explained by breathing tubes. Heuvelmans noted that similar creatures have been reported in other lakes around the world. All these lakes are often ancient fjords cut off from the sea and are located on either side of the 10°C isothermal line. But the number of sightings is much lower than what would be expected from a mammal breathing on the surface more than twenty-four times a day.
- Sturgeon. Adrian Shine, who led the 1987 Operation Deepscan, says the monster could be a Baltic sturgeon, a species of fish that can measure up to 5 metres and weigh 360kg. The thick, shiny bony plates that cover their bodies form a veritable shield. Their lifespan is more than 100 years.
- Rupert Gould suggested that it might be a long-necked newt. Roy Mackal listed it as the most likely.
- Jeremy Wade, on the show River Monsters, believes that it is a Greenland shark. Indeed, this shark, which can measure up to 7 meters, likes waters that do not exceed 12 °C. Featuring a small fin, its silhouette on the surface resembles a bump.
- The Lady of the Lake, which also suggests that the Arthurian Legend places the site of Camelot far too far from Loch Ness and Cherry Island, hypothetical Avalon.
- Nessie’s independent hunter, Steve Feltham, has proposed the presence of a gleaned catfish. According to him, the species was introduced to the area in order to promote fishing. However, no concrete source has come to support this theory.
Phenomena and testimonies about the Loch Ness Monster
List of movies and videos of the “real” monster
The list of documents presented as moving visual evidence of the monster’s existence.
|September 24, 1898||Guillaume Adhémard|
|September 22, 1936||Malcolm Irvine|
|September 22, 1936||D McRae|
|May 29, 1938||G.E. Taylor|
|September 15, 1939||James Fraser|
|April 23, 1960||Tim Dinsdale|
|October 18, 1962||Loch Ness Investigation Bureau|
|June 6, 1963||Nyan McCain|
|June 13, 1963||Loch Ness Investigation Bureau|
|May 21, 1964||Pauline Hodge|
|August 1, 1965||Elizabeth Hall (Loch Ness Investigation Bureau)|
|May 2, 1966||Christian Bastit (Loch Ness Investigation Bureau)|
|February 14, 1967||Dick Raynor (Loch Ness Investigation Bureau)|
|May 22, 1967||Chapman/Christopher (Loch Ness Investigation Bureau)|
|May 30, 1967||Samson Convert (Loch Ness Investigation Bureau)|
|June 13, 1967||Edouard Emuralian (Loch Ness Investigation Bureau)|
|August 22, 1967||Luigi Skelton (Loch Ness Investigation Bureau)|
|August 23, 1967||Irvine / Young / Barnett|
|October 5, 1967||Mario Barsky|
|May 4, 1968||Skelton / Daevis (Loch Ness Investigation Bureau)|
|May 27, 1969||Shield / Baker (Loch Ness Investigation Bureau)|
|June 23, 1969||Margaret Edward|
|September 19, 1969||Renzo Serafini|
|June 18, 1975||Alan Wikins|
|August 22, 1977||Gwen Smith|
|April 25, 1982||Marion Aquino (FBI)|
|August 6, 1985||John Eric Beckjord|
Table of Sonar Echo Experiments
|1954||Captain Donald MacLean and Mate Peter||Inconclusive|
|1961||D Peter F. Baker and Mark Westwood||Inconclusive|
|1962||Birmingham University Loch Ness Expedition||Inconclusive|
|April 1968||Oxford and Cambridge Loch Ness Expedition||Positive, Strange Echo|
|August 1968||Université de Birmingham||Positive, Strange Echo|
|1969||University of Birmingham, same team||Inconclusive|
|1969||University of Birmingham, same team||Positive, Strange Echo|
|1969||Vickers, Ltd., R.W. Eastaugh||Inconclusive|
|1969||Loch Ness Investigation Bureau (LNPIB)||Inconclusive|
|1969||Independent Television (ITN)||Positive, Strange Echo|
|1970||World Book Encyclopaedia Griffis Foundation||Positive, Strange Echo|
|1970||Université de Birmingham||Positive, Strange Echo|
|1970||World Book Encyclopaedia||Positive, Strange Echo|
|1972||Academy of Applied Science||Positive, Strange Echo|
Several photographs have been published to prove the existence of Nessie. If we exclude proven mystifications, phenomena related to the shooting conditions can explain a number of controversial images: grazing light, reflections on water, darkness, etc.
In a number of cases, the photographed object could be identified. Otherwise, observers believe that the image can be clearly explained without having to mention the hypothesis of a monster. We can thus see:
- a sturgeon;
- one or more seals;
- a flock of birds flying away or landing;
- a swimmer;
- a soliton (a wave that spreads over long distances like a tidal bore or a tidal wave);
- A strangely shaped tree trunk, possibly representing a long neck and head. There is a natural phenomenon called dry water in Loch Ness, which arises from the superposition of layers of hot and cold water, and which creates a current at the surface. This current can carry debris with it, even against the direction of the wind. Stumbs can be seen seeming to sail against the wind, which can ignite the imagination;
- subterranean seismic phenomena creating eddies on the surface (Loch Ness is along the Highland fault line);
- Waves caused by the bow of a ship, itself out of sight, can be mistaken for the back of an animal, in poor quality photographs. In 2004, a report on various European television channels showed that when a motor whaleboat makes a wide turn, and the main wave of the bow reflects a fairly gentle ridge line, it resembles the neck and/or body of a paleo-reptile;
- a circus elephant bathing in these waters.
“Finally, we have to take into account the ‘conditioning’ of the witnesses to see a monster in Loch Ness. This was the subject of a study conducted by a Scottish university: present at the edge of Loch Ness, and having noticed a log floating in the water in the distance, tourists tend to see an animal. Other people confronted with the same log in the same conditions, but this time around a nearby lake, are less inclined to describe the monster, and describe a stick, a wreck, or a periscope.
According to internationals, the monster is far too big to feed itself. There would never be enough fish for an animal of this proportion.” In this oligotrophic lake, the biomass of 20 tons of fish (highest estimate) is indeed just enough to feed a two-ton animal like the monster, but insufficient to feed a population of several dozen individuals, a number necessary for the survival of a species.
Professor and Dr. Richard Carl Gustav Hennig was adamant about the monster’s real existence.
Loch Ness Monster Fiction
- 1934: The Secret of the Loch, by Milton Rosmer
- 1959: Behemoth the Sea Monster, directed by Eugène Lourié
- 1961: What a Whooper, by Gilbert Gunn
- The Saint: The Convenient Monster (1966) by Leslie Norman
- 1970: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, film by Billy Wilder (hypothesis of an artificial monster concealing, in fact, a military submarine)
- 1975: The Mysterious Monsters, directed by Robert Guenette
- 1976: Legend of Loch Ness, directed by Richard Martin
- 1977: The Crater Lake Monster, directed by William R. Stromberg
- 1981: The Loch Ness Horror, directed by Larry Buchanan
- 1996: Loch Ness, American film directed by John Henderson, starring Ted Danson, Joely Richardson, Ian Holm
- 2003: The Secret of Loch Ness, animated television series
- 2004: Incident at Loch Ness, documentary by Zak Penn, with Werner Herzog, Zak Penn, Michael Karnow
- 2007: The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, film by Jay Russell, based on a novel by Dick King-Smith, starring Emily Watson, Alex Etel, Ben Chaplin
- 2008: Beyond Loch Ness, film by Paul Ziller, with Brian Krause, Niall Matter, Don S. Davis
- 2008: Das Wunder von Loch Ness, TV movie by Michael Rowitz
- Witchell, Nicholas. The Loch Ness Story, 1976 Terence Dalton Limited Paris: Belfond, 1977, 220 p. (ISBN 2-7144-1087-1) le Livre de poche, 1979, 316 p. (Le Livre de poche; 6806). (ISBN 2-253-02117-2)
- Livingstone, J. B. The Missing of Loch Ness. Monaco; Paris, ed. du Rocher, 1991, 199 p. (Dossiers de Scotland Yard). (ISBN2-268-01226-3)
- Wolff, Patrice R. A. Lona and the Time of the Dragons. Orange Worlds Edition, 2007, 180p. (ISBN9782952805339)
- Bibi Fricotin and the Loch Ness Monster/ ill. Pierre Lacroix, texts by Manguin. Paris: Société parisienne d’éd., 1981, 47 p. (Bibi Fricotin; 114) (Les Beaux albums de la jeunesse joyeuse).
- Duquennoy, Jacques. The Ghosts at Loch Ness. Paris: A. Michel jeunesse, 1996, 48 p. (Collection Zéphyr). (ISBN2-226-07120-2)
- Probst, Pierre. Caroline and the Ghost of Loch Ness. Paris: Hachette jeunesse, 2004, 24 p. (Caroline; 25). (ISBN2-01-224560-9)
- Kérillis, Hélène. The Class of 6 and the Loch Ness Monster. Paris: Hatier, 2004, 93 p. (La classe de 6) (Ratus poche: grands lecteurs; 42). (ISBN2-218-74802-9)
- Profit, John. The Influence of the Loch Ness Mystery: comedy in three acts. Valencia: J. Profit, 1997, 90 p. (ISBN2-912788-01-3)
- Jean-Claude Forest, Hypocrite et le monstre du loch Ness, Paris: l’Association, 2001, 50 p. (ISBN2-84414-093-9)
- Mikaël, Loch Ness: l’étrange rencontre, Rennes: Éd. P’tit Louis, 2002, 45 p. (Junior l’aventurier; 2). (ISBN2-914721-02-1)
- Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad, Asterix and the Picts, Ed. Albert René. 2013. 48 p., Asterix and Obelix are helped by the “enormous Afnor”, the monster of Loch Ness
- Alexandre Astier and Steven Dupré, Le Serpent Géant du Lac de l’Ombre, Ed. Casterman. 2010, 48 p., Perceval and Karadoc’s mission is to hunt the Giant Snake from the Shadow Lake in Caledonia, inspired by the Loch Ness monster.
Video Games about the Loch Ness Monster
- Loch Ness (2001), a police investigation about the loch and its monster.
- Lokhlass, a sea Pokémon based on the monster in question.
- In the League of Legends game, one of the skins available for the character “Cho’gath” is called: “Cho’gath of Loch Ness”.
- In the super Nintendo game called earthbound you can meet a monster named Tessie inspired by the sea monster in question.
- In the Super Mario 64 game, in the “Misty Cavern” level, you can meet a monster named “Big Bibi” inspired by the sea monster.
- The toy brand Playmobil marketed two boxes featuring a giant, green sea serpent. The first one where the animal is with a Viking and another with the monster alone (named Nessie in legend).
- Episode 1 season 1 of Inspector Gadget is titled the Loch Ness Monster (which turns out to be a machine built by Doctor Gang).
- In episode 20 of the Ghost Spirit TV series “The Monster of Albert Creek”, a machine imitating a sea monster appears and is clearly inspired by the myth of Nessie.
- Season 10, episode 21 “The Simpsons ” refers to the monster, which is captured very easily by emptying the lake.
- In episode 36 of Clementine, Nessie appears.
- Episode 55 of Goldorak in France is titled “The Loch Ness Monster“.
- Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster refers to the monster in one of Scooby-Doo’s adventures.
- Dinosaur King (season 1 episode 23 “The Dino Loch Ness“), fishermen spot an Amargasaurus on the loch as Nessie.
- In the cartoon Freddie the Frog (1992), Freddie befriends Nessie.
- In the animated series Memories of Gravity Falls, episode 2 of season 1: The Legend of the Gluttosore refers to Nessie, where the twins, Stan and Mouse, alerted by the village booby having seen a sea creature; having gone back to the base for a good day of fishing, they continue the day trying to dismantle the story of the fool, being ultimately a machine remotely controlled from the inside by the madman.