The Loch Ness Monster ("Nessie")

Legendary or Alive, the Loch Ness Monster Continues to Capture Public Attention

Lochness Monster
The "Surgeon's photo" (1934)

The Picts (painted people) were the indigenous tribes of the Scottish Highlands. An artistic people, the Picts covered their bodies with tattoos and carefully depicted their surroundings on huge carved stones, many of which still stand in the area around Loch Ness. So expert was their artistry that the animals they carved are easily recognizable yet today—except for one. The exception bears a long snout, a waterspout, and flippers. It is, perhaps, the first rendering of the Loch Ness Monster.1

The Loch Ness Monster is the longest-lived and probably most famous cryptid. The first documented sighting of the monster (except for the Pict carving) occurred circa 550 AD. Numerous sightings have been reported since then.

In 565 A.D., while journeying along the shores of Loch Ness, Saint Columba saw a large water beast preying upon a man who was swimming in the lake. In the biography, "Life of Saint Columba", Adomnán of Iona wrote 2,

"...(He) raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, "Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed." Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes..."

However, this account, like those that succeed it, is often discredited because the book also contains tales of encounters with other supernatural beings.

Naming the Creature

The first modern-day sighting of the creature occurred after a new road was constructed along Loch Ness, enabling clear views of the lake from its northern shore. In an article published in the Inverness Courier, water bailiff and part-time reporter Alex Campbell referred to the creature as the "monster". This first report aroused an outbreak of "monster sightings" and soon the International press was full of stories about a Scottish "sea serpent" or "monster fish". Finally, the media settled on the name "Loch Ness Monster".3

In order to add the Loch Ness Monster to the British register of officially protected wildlife, it was necessary to give the legendary creature a proper scientific name. Although naturalist Sir Peter Scott and Robert Rhines (who had obtained an underwater photo that contained an undefined image) agreed that the existence of the Loch Ness Monster was still controversial in scientific circles, they suggested the name Nessiteras rhombopteryx (Greek: "The Ness monster with diamond-shaped fin").3, 4 The public affectionately shortened the name to "Nessie" .

What Nessie looks like

Descriptions of Nessie are many and varied. The monster has been compared to an eel, a seal, a manatee, a porpoise, and a whale as well as being described as:

1933 – The Loch Ness Monster Hits the Headlines

In April of 1933, the Inverness Courier published the report of a local couple who described "an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface [of Loch Ness]" as they drove home on the new Loch Ness road.

Their sighting inspired a number of sightings, both in the lake and on land. By autumn, several London newspapers had sent journalists to the area and the excitement caused by Nessie sightings was so great that radio stations interrupted their broadcasts with Loch Ness Monster updates and a British Circus offered a £20,000 reward to anyone who captured the monster.

In December, the London Daily Mail hired Marmaduke Wetherall to find the creature. After just a few days' search, Wetherall reported finding footprints of a large four-toed animal that he estimated to be 20 feet in length, perpetrating the first of many modern-day Loch Ness Monster hoaxes. He made plaster casts of the prints and sent them to London's Natural History Museum for confirmation of his claim. In early January, the museum zoologists debunked Wetherall's claims, announcing the footprints were those of a hippopotamus, made with a stuffed hippo foot.

Although it wasn't clear that Wetherall had created the prints, he is quoted as angrily spouting, "We'll give them their monster!" His statement led to a 1934 conspiracy with Dr. R. Kenneth Wilson.

The Surgeon's Photo

In 1934, the London Daily Mail published a photo that showed what appeared to be a large reptile rising from the water. The photo, submitted by Dr. R. Kenneth Wilson, went unchallenged as "the" image of the Loch Ness Monster until 1994 when renewed attention was given to a 1975 newspaper clipping wherein Wetherall's son, Ian claimed the photo was a fraud. David Martin and Alastair Boyd set out to track down the truth.

By that time, Ian Wetherall had died, but Boyd and Martin were able to find his aging stepbrother, Christian Spurling. The 93-year old confessed to the hoax. He related that Duke Wetherall had pulled the stunt in seeking revenge for the humiliation he had suffered due to the hippopotamus incident. The Surgeon's Photo, as it came to be known, was actually a picture of a toy submarine attached to a wooden neck.7

Nessie into the New Millennium

The Surgeon's photo has spurred several scientific investigations into the whereabouts or at least, the plausibility of the Loch Ness Monster. Sightings of the Loch Ness Monster have occurred throughout the decades and along with eye-witness accounts, some have been reported in photographs, film, and in June 2007, a video by lab technician Gordon Holmes who exclaimed, "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this jet-black thing, about 45 feet long, moving fairly fast in the water."8

Like all other reports, Holmes's video is still under investigation. However, sightings have dwindled in recent years. At the end of the century, annual numbers were consistently in the teens, but in 2006 only two sightings were reported and in two sighting in 2007 9. Scientists remain skeptical. There has been no physical evidence, such as a captured Nessie, tissue samples, or skeletal remains recovered as of 2008.

1. Stephen J. Murray. “Scotland.” From Dot to Domesday. 29 May 2008 <http://www.dot-domesday.me.uk/scotsandpicts.htm>.
2. Adomnán of Iona. “Medieval Sourcebook: Adamnan: Life of St. Columba.” Life of Saint columba. Ed. William Reeves. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1874. 31 May 2008 <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/columba-e.html>.
3. “Loch Ness Monster.” Wikipedia 29 May 2008. 29 May 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lochness_Monster>.
4. Sir Peter Scott, Robert Rines. “Naming the Loch Ness Monster.” Nature 11 Dec 1975: 466-468. 30 May 2008 <http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v258/n5535/full/258466a0.html>.
5. “Why the Loch Ness Monster is no plesiosaur.” New Scientist 2 Nov 2006: 17. 30 May 2008 <http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19225764.900-why-the-loch-ness-monster-is-no-plesiosaur.html>.
6. "Loch Ness Monster." Myths and Legends of the World. Ed. John M. Wickersham. Macmillan-Thomson Gale, 2000. eNotes.com. 2006. 30 May, 2008 <http://www.enotes.com/myths-legends/loch-ness-monster>
7. Stephen Lyons. “The Beast of Loch Ness.” NOVA Online Nov 2003. 29 May 2008 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lochness/legend3.html>.
8. “Fox News - Tourist Says He's Shot Video of Loch Ness Monster.” FoxNews.com 1 Jun 2007. 29 May 2008 <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,276793,00.html>