Let's get started.
For the first (1st) real article for the blog I have decided to go with a subject that many people are familiar with but few are truly prolific with. The lack of proficiency is not due to a lack of interest by the average interested party, it is due to the fact that there are literally thousands of locales around the world that claim to have some sort of lake or river monster living in their waters. Couple with that the fact that the explanations for said phenomenon are almost as numerous as their locations. They range from misidentified local fauna to out of place creatures to sightings with no plausible explanation, and everything in between.
Firstly, you have the superstars of the genera. Nessie (Loch Ness), Ogopogo (Lake Okanagan), and Champ (Lake Champlain) are the ones that have been thoroughly covered in the media. Let's just touch on one (1) of these since all of them have such rich histories. By the rules of solitaire "Rock, Paper, Scissors" Nessie wins. Enjoy.
Nessie resides in Loch Ness, a lake situated in the Scottish Highlands. The loch was formed when the Great Glen fault line formed, cutting through the highlands from south-east to north-west. Loch Ness is not the only body of water that was formed. A number of bodies such as the River Ness, Loch Lochy, and Loch Linhe also reside in the glen. One of the notable features of the lochs is depth of the bodies of water. For example Loch Ness is 755 ft (230 m) at its deepest point. If you couple the depth of Loch Ness with the fact that it's surface area is 21.8 sq mi (56.4 km sq) you have the largest body of water in Scotland.
The creature gained much of its notoriety in the nineteen thirties (1930s) when a number of sighting and a very notable photograph came to light. Some of the more notable sightings were:
- Mr. and Mrs. John Mackay observed an "enormous animal rolling and plunging" in the loch on 14 April 1933. They reported this to Alex Campbell who...
- Alex Campbell reported seeing a creature on 2 May 1933 to the Inverness Courier.
- George Spice while traveling with his wife around the loch in their car saw a creature cross the road in front of their car carrying another animal in its mouth on 22 July 1933.
- Arthur Grant claimed to almost hit a creature while travelling on his motorcycle on 5 January 1933.
On 12 November 1933 Hugh Gray took the photo on the left of the alleged creature. The blurriness of the photo has lent it to be explained by skeptics as a distorted image of a dog carrying a stick in its mouth as it swims through the water. I have a hard time finding the dog, or honestly anything else in this photo.
In 1934 a piece of evidence termed the "Surgeon's Photograph" came to light. A London gynaecologist named Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson. This photograph shows the head and long neck of an unknown creature extending from the surface of the loch. Over the years the photograph has been referenced innumerable times as proof that the creature exists due to its uncanny portrayal of the creature. Unfortunately in nineteen ninety-four (1994) Mr. Wilson admitted that the photograph was hoaxed using a toy submarine and some plastic wood. Even after his admission some researchers still claim that the photo is real, namely Tim Dinsdale, a notable Nessie researcher.
Now, at this point I could expound on the other noted photos of the creature but I feel that this would just needlessly expand out further an already very wordy post. Unfortunately almost all of the most famous photos of the creature have been found in the end to be hoaxes. If you care to look up these interesting, but man made, photos feel free to look up the following:
- 1933 Hugh Gray photo - Yes, we did speak of this photo above, and yes, I do feel if this is truly Nessie I would be very surprised.
- 1934 Surgeon's photo - Remote control submarine with twelve inch (12") plastic wood "Nessie" attached to it. Enough said.
- 1934 Sir Edward Mountain's Expedition picture - Unemployed workers paid to sit by the loch and receive bonuses for pictures taken of the creature.
- 1934 Adam's photo - Dolphin-like appendage protruding from surface. Highly suspect photo more likely than not taken at sea, and not in the loch.
- 1951 Lachlan Stuart photo - Classic three (3) humps coming out of the lake. Firstly, if the creature acted as such, there would be a plethora of photos like this. Secondly, investigators have determined where the photo was taken from and the humps are in water far to shallow for a creature that size to swim in.
- 1956 MacNab photo - Sheer size of the creature coupled with inconsistencies in the type of camera used and lines of reflection coming from the creature and Urquhart Castle make this photo very suspect.
- 1960s Cockrell photo - Very clear photo of...well lets just say if it looks like a stick, floats like a stick, and you find a stick right after shooting the picture...
- 1977 "Doc" Shiels' photo - Interesting color photo of a head and neck extending from loch surface. Colors look off and the creature looks "placed" in photo. Has been called the "Muppet picture".
Theories run the gamut from explaining it as being a purely cryptozoological phenomenon to it being some type of local paranormal manifestation. The more readily accepted of the two (2) schools of though is the belief that there is an animal of unknown origin living in Loch Ness. What this creature is and where it came from is much debated amongst cryptozoologists and a few zoologists.
A.C. Oudeman's Megophias megophias
A.C. Oudemans believed that the creature is a specimen of Megophias megophias, which is a long necked, long tailed pinniped. Pinnepeds are a family of marine mammals which include true seals, sea lions, fur seals, and the walrus. When the first modern day sightings of the creature were taking place in the early nineteen thirties (1930s) Mr. Oudemans was already a well known researcher of sea serpents and had published the classic work of the era, The Great Sea Serpent (1892). Unfortunately Mr. Oudemans was already seventy-five (75) years old when these sightings took place, which made it difficult for him to travel to the loch to perfrom first hand investigations. Never the less he was very excited by the initial reports of an unknown creature residing in Loch Ness for he was hoping that a reputable scientific expedition would be sent to the loch to investigate the sightings. To his dismay the media frenzy which followed everything from blatant hoaxes, gibes at the expense of the Highlander's fondness for whiskey and gift of second sight, and much sensationalism and ill informed journalism and made it so no scientist wanting to preserve his reputation could seriously investigate the phenomenon. Mr. Oudemans would be quoted as saying, "Consequently, like so many of its predecessors, it will one day die in the lake, sink to the bottom and be irretrievably lost to science." Mr. Oudemans passed away in nineteen forty-three (1943).
A candidate for the identity of the Loch Ness monster which has gained, and lost, much of its acceptance over the years is the plesiosaur. Plesiosaurs are a type of marine reptile that existed between 200 million years ago and 65 million years ago. Technically speaking, there are two (2) type of plesiosaurs. There is one (1) variety, called the pliosaur, which has a large head and short neck and then there is the plesiosaur which has a much longer neck and a smaller head. Both creatures have large bodies and four large flippers for appendages. The long necked variety is then sub-divided into three (3) groups, the plesiosaurids, the cryptoclidids, and the elamosaurs. Of the three (3) varieties, the oldest is the plesiosaurids, which which all the others, including the pliosaurs, descended from. The longest of all the varieties was the elamosaurs, which has been found to be forty-five (45) feet in length.
Formerly one of the strongest arguments against the Loch Ness monster being a plesiosaur was the fact that it was assumed that all fish and reptiles were cold-blooded, or ectothermic, meaning that they are completely dependant upon their environment for their body heat. This belief has recently come under attack as it has been discovered that tuna, a species of sea turtle, and some sharks, do create some of their own body heat. A creature which is equally dependant upon its environment and its own internal heat source for its body temperature is called mesothermic. In contrast, a creature which is completely dependent upon its internal heat source for temperature is called warm-blooded, or endothermic. With this new evidence being discovered many scientists have begun to reappraise the possibility that some dinosaurs and marine reptiles may have been actually partly warm blooded, if not fully. The problem is that it is very hard to determine such detailed information about a creature's internal workings by using fossils as your only source of data. Typically only bones are preserved by fossilization as soft tissues such as internal organs, muscles, or skin decompose long before fossilization could occur.
Another problem with the theory of Plesiosaurs being the source of the sightings at Loch Ness is the fact that many scientists believe that there is not enough of a fish population to support a creature of such size, let alone a breeding population of creatures if there is no hidden access way to the ocean, which many believers of the Loch Ness monsters claim exists. The amount of food that a predatory creature must east is determined by the type of metabolism that the creature possesses. For example, an African lion, which is warm-blooded, must eat fifty (50) times its own body weight to survive, while a Nile crocodile, which is cold-blooded, only needs to eat five (5) times its own body weight. The reasoning for this is that a warm-blooded creature must not only eat enough food to keep its body functioning, but it must also allocate some of the energy in its food to simply maintaining its own body temperature. Deducing a creature's weight by using only fossil remains us a very inexact endeavor but it has been estimated that the most massive plesiosaurs, the pliosaurs, weighed around twenty-five (25) tons, while their long necked ancestors, the elamosaurs, having a less massive body, probably weighed in at about eight (8) tons. Using these weights it is possible to deduce that a single plesiosaur, which would have to be warm-blooded to live in Loch Ness, would need to eat between four hundred (400) and twelve hundred and fifty (1250) tons of fish and other marine life a year. The amount of fish in Loch Ness is a question which has yet to be definitively answered due to an unusual distribution of their populations in the loch. The upper levels of water in the loch hold a rather limited number of fish but there is an unusually high number of fish living in total darkness between sixty (60) and ninety (90) feet below the surface. Also, a large number of fish are found near the entrances of the rivers to the loch and near the shore lines. One of the most recent estimates is that the the amount of fish in between twenty-seven (27) and thirty (30) tons for the entire loch. If this figure is in any way accurate than it can be said with reasonable certainty that it would be physiologically impossible for any large predator to sustain itself with the limited amount of prey available.
It appears that if a large unknown creature is responsible for the sightings at Loch Ness than they must have an access way to the ocean that we are not aware of. It has been said for many years that there are caves underneath the surface of the loch which connect it to the ocean. These caves are supposedly responsible for the creature's ability to disappear for long periods of time and also make it so that they are able to eat in the open ocean making the dilemma regarding the lochs indigenous fish population a moot point. The local residents have claimed the existence of these caves for many years but to date no caves have been found in the walls of the loch, and on the contrary, sonar has shown the sides of the loch to be very steep and for the most part uninteresting. Even though no caves have been found in the walls in the loch the floor may hold some surprises for in two thousand and two (2002) a member of the auxiliary coastguard, George Edwards, using sonar equipment found a large cavern at the bottom of Loch Ness. This cavern's depth has been measured at eight hundred and twelve (812) feet below the surface of the loch, extending the depth by over fifty (50) feet from what was previously believed. This feature has been named after the discoverer and has since been dubbed "Edward's Deep". The media has already has already given this location the moniker "Nessie's Lair" due to the long standing belief that the creature resides in an underwater cave, which up until now has eluded discovery. The scientific community has yet to make a determination to the validity of this find, but it appears that a cavern does exist, now what is up for debate is whether this cavern leads anywhere or if it is purely an anomalously deep area of the loch leading to nowhere.
Another discovery which has been allegedly made at Loch Ness is the existence of sulfuric thermal vents at the bottom of the lake. Some researchers have theorized that a super-volcano, very similar to the one which is known to exists under Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, may be under the Great Glen and that this geothermic feature is powering the vents. Scientists using a special robot submarine claim to have found nematode worms and zoo plankton the size of a human fist that seem to be feeding on the sulfuric outflow from the thermal vents. Believers in the theory that a large creature resides in the loch claim that these organisms may supplement the indigenous fish populations as the creature's food source. It has even been theorized that the creature, or creatures, may have survived the numerous ice ages which have affected the area by staying close to these vents while utilizing them for both food and heat. It appears that if a plesiosaur, or any other large animal, exists in Loch Ness its existence must rely on a number of "ifs". For they could only exist if they are warm blooded, or if the supposed vents can be shown as a viable source of heat and food, or if the vents are not shown to be relevant, then only if they have a way to access the oceans for feeding purposes. With all this uncertainty may critics have stated that there are too many variables which must fall into place for this to be a viable theory. On the other hand, believers say that with all of the possible scenarios or phenomenon which could lend a hand to the existence such a creature, it stands to reason that some of these possibilities should be in place, thereby making said creature more plausible.
Another plausible prehistoric creature which is often blamed for the sightings at Loch Ness, and many other bodies of water around the world, is the Zeuglodon (Basilosaurus cetoides). The physical characteristics of this creature do closely match many of the descriptions which have been given by witnesses. The Zeuglodons were originally thought to be a type of maritime reptile when their fossils were discovered in eighteen thirties (1830s) but it was subsequently reclassified as a primitive whale with a long serpentine body. Zeuglodons are believed to have grown as large as eighty two (82) feet in length and have reduced legs and pelvis with no rear flippers. The fossil record shows that Zeuglodons existed as recently as the Miocene period, about twenty five (25) million years ago. Fossil remains of this creature have often been found with fauna of the period which are known to have existed in shallow bodies of water. Given this evidence it has been surmised that these whales may have lived in inland seas, lakes with open access to the sea, or other similar environments. This would be fairly similar to the environment of Loch Ness and with this creature being a mammal, it would have no problem inhabiting a cold body of water such as the loch. A problem the Zeuglodon share with the Plesiosaur is the source of its food supply, for the Zeuglodons are known to have weighed approximately five (5) tons, and using the above mentioned ration of body weight to amount of yearly food needed for a warm blooded animal, it means that the creature must eat approximately two hundred (200) tons of food yearly. Based upon recent estimations of fish population Loch Ness can not support a predator of this size meaning that this creature, like the Plesiosaur, must either rely on an unknown food source, or hace an access way to the ocean which we are unaware if. As you can see many of the same dilemmas exist for both the Plesiosaur and both of their statuses as candidates for the source of the phenomenon are both tenuous and reliant upon a number of phenomenon or geologic features which have yet to be discovered or conclusively proven. The only attribute the Zeuglodon has which the Plesiosaur may not is the fact that that Zeuglodon, being an ancestor of the modern whale, is a warm blooded creature. Making it less dependant upon any type of heat source other than its own body heat. Given the similar physical descriptions of the Loch Ness creature and the Zeuglodons and the fact that Zeuglodons are mammalian, many researchers believe that the Zeuglodons is a stronger candidate than the Plesiosaur as the source of the sightings at Loch Ness.
"Unknown" known creature possibilities
Besides the camps that hold onto the possibility that a prehistoric survivor is responsible for the Loch Ness monster, there is a very strong contingent of scientists that believe that there is no creature at Loch Ness or it is an as yet unknown population of a known creature. This belief system has been in place for many years and dates back as far as the late nineteenth (19th) century. In eighteen forty eight (1848) Sir Arthur Keith, a physical anthropologist and an anatomist, stated that if so many people had really seen the beast so often and in so many places "then concrete and unmistakable evidence of its existence should have been at our disposal long before now" and furthermore, "The only kind of being whose existence is testified to by scores of witnesses and which never reaches the dissecting table, belongs to the world of spirits." Some of animals that have been thrown into the pot of possibilities have been manatees, long necked seals, giant otters, giant sea slugs, or over grown eels. For various reasons each of these candidates following has grown and fallen over the years.
Manatees have often been considered a possible cause for the sightings, and for good reason. Manatees have a few things going for them when it comes to it being the Loch Ness monster. One thing that the Manatee has that many of its competitors do not is the fact that it spends almost all of its life in the water. Creatures such as otters and seals come to the surface quite often and will even crawl onto beaches, rocks, and even man made docks. Manatees do not exhibit this behavior. Also, Manatees can grown up to fifteen (15) feet long and weigh thirty five hundred (3500) pounds, making them much larger than the average seal or otter, but not the enormous Elephant seal. Manatees also only eat aquatic vegetation, making the question of whether the indigenous fish populations would able to support a large predator, or predators, a moot point.
Long Necked Seals
A type of long necked seal has often been argued as a possible explanation for the sightings. There are two (2) types of seals which are most often suspected. The first (1st) is the Elephant seal (Mirounga augustirostris). The Elephant seal measure up to twenty five (25) feet in length and weigh as much as eight thousand (8000) pounds. These characteristics make the Elephant seal very attractive as a candidate since these dimensions are very similar to the ones given in the testimonies of many witnesses of the phenomenon. The second (2nd) type is any number of smaller, more common seals. These smaller seals are obviously no where near the size of their relative the Elephant seal, but when seen in a group, from a distance, they are often mistaken as one large animal. Also, if in this group one of the seals has its head above the water as the others are diving, or their backs are exposed to the surface, it could give a witness the impression they were seeing a creature with a very small head with an expansive body. Even though both of these seals' body types, in various ways, could explain the features many witnesses have seen, they suffer from a fatal flaw in behavior; seals spend much of their time at the surface. This is due to the fact that when they are not feeding, which they do underwater's surface, they surface for breathing, basking, and moving about on shore. If the creature at Loch Ness was a seal there would be a great deal more sightings and photographs which would show conclusively that the animal was a seal. Hence, the seal theory has never received a lot of attention due to this flaw.
Books on the subject
I would recommend all of the books I have hand selected in the article as well as the ones I will mention in this section. The reason I am listing them here, at the end of the article, is due to the fact that they are out of print and do not have accompanying photos that go with them. Please allow me to forewarn you, these books will not be inexpensive as you will most likely be purchasing them from other cryptozoological researcher's collections. They are as follows:
The Monsters of Loch Ness The First Complete Scientific Study and It's Startling Conclusions - seminal work on the creature done first hand by a University professor. Limited printing has added to value. Of course the softbacks are less expensive but if you can find it for less than $25 get the hardcover.
In The Wake Of The Sea-Serpents - written by Bernard Heuvelmans. This is the man who coined the word cryptozoology. Everything he has done is excellent, and unfortunately now out of print. If you can find this for less than $50 it is a bargain.