The Loch Ness Monster, also called Nessie, is a cryptid that reputedly inhabits the Loch Ness lake in the Scottish Highlands. It is similar to other supposed lake monsters in Scotland and elsewhere, though its description varies from one account to the next, with most describing it as large in size. Popular interest and belief in the animal’s existence has varied since it was first brought to the world’s attention in 1933. Evidence of its existence is anecdotal, with minimal and much-disputed photographic material and sonar readings. The creature has been affectionately referred to by the nickname Nessie (Scottish Gaelic: Niseag) since the 1940s.
The most common speculation among believers is that the creature represents a line of long-surviving plesiosaurs. Much of the scientific community regards the Loch Ness Monster as a modern-day myth, and explains sightings as including mis-identifications of more mundane objects, outright hoaxes, and wishful thinking. Despite this, it remains one of the most famous examples of cryptozoology, aided by the sheer size of the loch – equivalent to all the other lakes in the UK combined.
The first reported sighting of something unusual lurking near Loch Ness (actually the River Ness) 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. Hearing this, Columba stunned the Picts by sending his follower Luigne moccu Min to swim across the river. The beast came after him, but Columba made the sign of the Cross and commanded: “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.” The beast immediately halted as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and fled in terror, and both Columba’s men and the pagan Picts praised God for the miracle.
In truth, many waterways had legends very similar to this attached to them, usually with a pious soul saving the day. It took a very long time for any further activity to be widely reported. It was only in October 1871, or 1872, that a Doctor D. Mackenzie of Balnain described seeing an object that looked much like a log or upturned boat “wriggling and churning up the water.” The object moved slowly at first, then disappeared off at a faster speed. Mackenzie sent a letter containing his story to Rupert Gould in 1934, shortly after popular interest in the monster skyrocketed.
A sighting on July 22nd 1933 can most reasonably be considered the true Year Zero of Nessie activity, though ironically, not in the water but on land. George Spicer and his wife saw ‘a most extraordinary form of animal’ cross the road in front of their car. They described the creature as having a large body (about 1.2 metres (3 ft 11 in) high and 7.6 metres (25 ft) long), and long, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant’s trunk and as long as the 10–12-foot (3–4 m) width of the road; the neck had undulations in it. They saw no limbs, possibly because of a dip in the road obscuring the animal’s lower portion. It lurched across the road towards the loch 20 yards (20 m) away, leaving only a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake. Five years later, Invernesshire Chief Constable William Fraser wrote a letter stating that it was beyond doubt the monster existed and stated the potential hunting parties it would attract were of major concern.
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. Grant claimed that he saw a small head attached to a long neck, and that the creature saw him and crossed the road back into the loch. A veterinary student, he described it as a hybrid between a seal and a plesiosaur. Grant said he dismounted and followed it to the loch, but only saw ripples. Some believe this story was intended as a humorous explanation of a motorcycle accident.
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. Sporadic land sightings continued until 1963, when 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.
On 12 November 1933, Hugh Gray was walking along the loch after church when he spotted a substantial commotion in the water. A large creature rose up from the lake. Gray took several pictures of it, but only one of them showed up after they were developed. This image appeared to show a creature with a long tail and thick body at the surface of the loch. The image is blurred suggesting the animal was splashing. Four stumpy-looking objects on the bottom of the creature’s body might possibly be a pair of appendages, such as flippers. Although critics have claimed that the photograph is of Gray’s labrador retriever swimming towards the camera (possibly carrying a stick), researcher Roland Watson rejects this interpretation and suggests there is an eel-like head on the right side of the image. This is the first known photograph allegedly taken of the Loch Ness Monster.
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 at a depth of 146 metres (479 ft). It was detected travelling for 800 m (2,600 ft) in this manner, before contact was lost, but then found again later. Many sonar attempts had been made previously, but most were either inconclusive or negative.
The most iconic Nessie photo was supposedly taken by Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynaecologist and was published in the Daily Mail on 21 April 1934. Wilson’s refusal to have his name associated with the photograph led to it being nicknamed the “Surgeon’s Photograph”. He claimed that he was looking at the loch when he saw the monster, so he grabbed his camera and snapped four photos. Only two exposures came out clear: the first one shows what was claimed to be a small head and back, while the second one shows a similar head in a diving position. The first one was more iconic one, while the second attracted little publicity because it was difficult to interpret what was depicted, due to its blurry quality.
For many years, the photo was regarded as good evidence of the monster. However, skeptics variously dismissed it showing a piece of driftwood, a bathing circus elephant, an otter, or a bird. Another factor that was brought up by skeptics was the scale of the photo; it is often cropped to make the monster seem proportionally large and the small ripples seem like large waves, while the original uncropped shot shows the other end of the loch and the monster in the centre. Despite this, the ripples on the photo were found to fit the size and circular pattern of small ripples, as opposed to large waves when photographed up close. Analysis of the original uncropped image fostered further doubt.
In 1993, the makers of Discovery Communications’ documentary Loch Ness Discovered analysed the uncropped image and found a white object was visible in every version of the photo, implying it was on the negative. It was believed to be the cause of the ripples, as if the object was being towed, though it could not be ruled out as a blemish in the negative. Additionally, one analysis of the full photograph revealed the object was quite small, only about 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 ft) long.
Details of how the photo was accomplished were published in the 1999 book, Nessie – the Surgeon’s Photograph Exposed, that contains a facsimile of the 1975 article in The Sunday Telegraph. Essentially, it was a toy submarine built by Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell. Wetherell was a big game hunter who had been publicly ridiculed by his employers in the Daily Mail, after finding “Nessie footprints” that turned out to be those of a hippopotamus-foot umbrella stand. To get revenge on the Mail, Wetherell committed the hoax, with co-conspirators Spurling (sculpture specialist), Ian Wetherell (his son, who bought the material for the fake), and Maurice Chambers (an insurance agent). The toy submarine was bought from F.W. Woolworths and its head and neck made out of plastic wood. After testing it out on a local pond, the group went to Loch Ness, where Ian Wetherell took the photos in the vicinity of Altsaigh Tea House. When they heard a water bailiff approaching, Duke Wetherell put his foot out and sank the model. It is presumably still somewhere in Loch Ness. Chambers handed over the plates to Wilson, a friend of his who enjoyed “a good practical joke”. Wilson then took the plates to Ogston’s, an Inverness chemist, where he gave them to George Morrison for development. He sold the first photo to the Daily Mail, who then announced that the Loch Ness Monster had been photographed.
In 1960, aeronautical engineer Tim Dinsdale filmed a hump crossing Loch Ness, leaving a powerful wake. Dinsdale allegedly spotted the animal on his last day hunting for it, and described the object as reddish with a blotch on its side. When he mounted his camera the object started to move and said that he shot 40 feet of film. Many were sceptical, saying that the “hump” cannot be ruled out as being a boat and claimed that when the contrast is increased, a man can be seen in a boat.
In 1993, Discovery Communications produced a documentary entitled Loch Ness Discovered, which featured a digital enhancement of the Dinsdale film. A computer expert who enhanced the film noticed a shadow in the negative that was not very obvious in the positive. By enhancing and overlaying frames, he found what appeared to be the rear body of a creature underwater. He commented that “Before I saw the film, I thought the Loch Ness Monster was a load of rubbish. Having done the enhancement, I’m not so sure”. Some have countered this finding by saying that the angle of the film from the horizontal along with sun’s angle on that day made shadows underwater unlikely. Others pointed out that the darker water is undisturbed water that was only coincidentally shaped like a body. The same source also says that there might be a smaller object (a second hump or a head) in front of the hump causing this.
Further video footage, photographs and even sonar images continued to appear, though with the advent of advanced technology and forensic techniques, the sightings were even more vague and verifications of authenticity were often from somewhat biased collectives as US military monster experts. On 19 April 2014 it was reported that Apple Maps was showing what appeared to be the monster close to the surface of the loch. It was spotted by Andrew Dixon who was browsing a map of his home town at the time and took a moment to take a look at the loch. Possible explanations for the image are that it could be the wake of a boat, a seal causing ripples or a floating log. Some believe that the image was Photoshopped using an image of a whale shark.
Google commemorated the 81st anniversary of the release of the “Surgeon’s Photograph” with a “Google Doodle”, and added a new feature to their Google street view feature in which users can explore the lake both above water level, and below. Google reportedly spent a week at Loch Ness collecting imagery with one of their street view “trekker” cameras. They attached the camera to a boat to photograph above the water, and collaborated with members of Catlin Seaview Survey to photograph beneath the water.
Since 1934, many expeditions have sought to find Nessie for both monetary reward, fame and scientific reasons. These have ranged from lone eccentrics on rickety boats to hi-tech sonar surveys, submersible craft and large scale American investigations. Perhaps the most quaintly engaging of these was the The Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau (LNPIB), a UK-based society formed in 1962 by Norman Collins, R. S. R. Fitter, David James, MP, Peter Scott and Constance Whyte “to study Loch Ness to identify the creature known as the Loch Ness Monster or determine the causes of reports of it.” It later shortened the name to Loch Ness Investigation Bureau (LNIB). It closed in 1972. Its main activity was for groups of self-funded volunteers to watch the loch from various vantage points, equipped with cine cameras with telescopic lenses.
On 13th April 2016, VisitScotland revealed that the remains of a monster had been found in Loch Ness – but only a model monster. The 10-metre (30ft) model, which was created for the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, was discovered 180 metres down on the loch bed by an underwater robot called Munin. Once filming was finished, the model’s humps were removed and, without ballast, it sank.
Furthermore, Operation Groundtruth, which utilised the intelligent marine scanning device, also apparently disproved the existence of a so-called ‘Nessie trench’, i.e. a huge underwater crevice large enough to conceal the monster. The underwater robot is usually used to search for downed aircraft, sunken vessels and forensic marine investigations. The search team hope to unearth more secrets from the bottom of Loch Ness…
Possible explanations for previous Nessie sightings include:
• Bird wakes. The effect on the water’s surface of swimming/landing and taking-off of birds producing a V-effect similar to those regularly attributed to the monster
• Giant eels. Largely discounted, though some species to live in the loch.
• The aforementioned elephant.
• Sharks. Certain species can survive in fresh water and can grow to a great size.
• Seals. Certainly an environment they could thrive in and would also account for the land sightings
• Optical effects, natural phenomena (escaping gas etc) and rotting tree debris
• Dinosaurs. Plesiosaurs are often used to represent the beast in mocked-up pictures. I am obliged to tell you why it couldn’t be an extinct creature; the logistics of the dinosaur’s body would not allow its neck to be raised out of the water; plesiosaurs would only be able to thrive in tropical waters; plesiosaurs became extinct around 66 million years ago – the loch has only existed for around 10,000 years.
• The first film to deal with the creature was Secret of the Loch (1934) an English feature film directed by Milton Rosmer, a “mildly amusing exploitation item”. The monster appeared at the end and was an iguana enhanced by special effects.
• The monster is treated in a tongue-in-cheek fashion in a 1961 film What a Whopper. The monster makes a cartoon appearance at the end of the film.
• The 1964 film 7 Faces of Doctor Lao features the monster as a small fish in a fish bowl which balloons into gigantic proportions when removed from the bowl.
• In the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes the monster is revealed to be a miniature submarine in disguise (see 2016 news update above).
• The monster is featured in the 1981 American horror film The Loch Ness Horror, directed by Larry Buchanan.
• In Ghostbusters, (1984) the Loch Ness Monster is among the various things Janine Melnitz asks Winston Zeddemore whether he believes in.
• Nessie, das Monster von Loch Ness or Nessie – Das verrückteste Monster der Welt is a West German film made in 1985.
• The 1987 movie Amazon Women on the Moon features a sketch involving a mock TV program, Bullshit or Not?, hosted by Henry Silva in which it is postulated that the Monster was, in fact, Jack the Ripper.
• Ted Danson starred in the 1996 film Loch Ness in which he plays an American scientist trying to disprove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, only to later disprove his own evidence when he comes to recognise that the Monster is best left alone to survive by itself.
• The 2001 horror movie Loch Ness Terror deals with a series of attack allegedly made by the monster.
• In the Disney-Pixar film Monsters, Inc., the Loch Ness monster is mentioned as one of the monsters who got banished from Monstropolis.
• In the 2004 movie Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster the characters from the Scooby-Doo The Mystery, Inc. gang travel to Loch Ness in Scotland to see the famous Blake Castle, the home of Daphne Blake’s cousin, Shannon.
• A mockumentary starring director Werner Herzog titled Incident at Loch Ness (2004) shows the director filming scenes around Loch Ness in an attempt to disprove the theories of the monster. His writer/producer continually tries to make a “blockbuster” film that Werner does not want. They eventually run afoul of the real Nessie with eerie results.
• In the 2005 film Lassie, Nessie can be seen swimming in the Loch Ness.
• The 2007 film The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep featured a young boy who discovers and hatches an egg belonging to the legendary Celtic creature, the Water Horse. Naming it Crusoe after the fictional character, he eventually is forced to release it into Loch Ness and the world begins to notice. Based on a novel by Dick King-Smith.
• Disney released The Ballad of Nessie along with their main feature Winnie the Pooh in 2011. It is a short cartoon narrated by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly and is a story about Nessie’s origins.
• The 1964 Gerry Anderson puppet television series, Stingray, included an episode where the crew was transported to Scotland to find the Loch Ness Monster. They discovered that the monster was secretly a robot operated by locals to attract tourists. The Stingray crew agreed to keep the secret once they left Loch Ness.
• In the 1971 Goodies episode Scotland, the Goodies travel to Scotland in order to capture the Loch Ness Monster as an exhibit for the new Monster House at London Zoo.
• In the 1971 Bewitched episode “Samantha and the Loch Ness Monster”, the monster turns out to be a warlock named Bruce that Serena put a spell on.
• In the 1975 Doctor Who story Terror of the Zygons, the Loch Ness Monster is revealed to be a Skarasen, an alien cyborg controlled by the extraterrestrial race known as the Zygons, who use it in a bid for world.
• An animated series, Happy Ness: Secret of the Loch, featured two groups of the creatures. The friendly Nessies included Happy Ness, Brave Ness, Forgetful Ness, Silly Ness, and Bright Ness, while the villains included Pompous Ness, Mean Ness, Devious Ness and Dark Ness
• In the TV series How I Met Your Mother one of the main characters, Marshall, has a continuing obsession with the Loch Ness Monster
• The TV series The Simpsons featured the Loch Ness Monster in the episode Monty Can’t Buy Me Love, in which Montgomery Burns captures the monster with the help of Homer Simpson, Professor Frink and Groundskeeper Willie.
• In Godzilla: The Series, which is an animated ‘continuation’ of the 1998 film, one episode features the Loch Ness monster as a foe of Godzilla.
• An episode of Disney’s Gargoyles titled “Monsters” featured a captured female plesiosaur Doctor Sevarius kept in a hidden cavern within his base of operations beneath Urquhart Castle. His goal was to collect a variety of “exotic DNA” for future mutation experiments and Nessie was merely bait to lure out “Big Daddy” – her larger and more fearsome mate.
• In “Achilles Heel”, the second story in series 7 of The Tomorrow People, a pair of aliens visiting earth to extract a rare mineral found in the vicinity of Loch Ness note that another race of aliens who had previously dominated the earth had transplanted a “giant plascadron” in the lake to ward off the natives.
• An 1978 episode of Scooby-Doo (“A Highland Fling With a Monstrous Thing”) featured a case that tied the Mystery Inc. gang between the Loch Ness Monster, and a phantom that seemed to be controlling it.
• The Sensational Alex Harvey Band wrote a song based on the Loch Ness Monster called “Water Beastie”, which can be heard on their 1978 album Rock Drill. The previous year frontman Alex Harvey recorded and released a spoken-word album, Alex Harvey Presents: The Loch Ness Monster, after spending a summer at Invermoriston and interviewing locals about the Monster.
• Lo-fi rock band Some Velvet Sidewalk included a song titled “Loch Ness” detailing the exploits of the lake’s mythical monster on their 1992 album “Avalanche”
• American progressive metal band, Mastodon, have a song titled “Ol’e Nessie”, named after the Loch Ness Monster, on their 2002 album Remission.
• The Judas Priest song “Lochness” from their 2005 album Angel of Retribution is about the Loch Ness Monster.
• The Loch Ness Monster was referenced in the Grinderman song Worm Tamer in the line “My baby calls me the Loch Ness monster, two great big humps and then I’m gone”
• In the Leslie Charteris short story “The Convenient Monster” (1959, coll. 1962) Simon Templar investigates an alleged monster attack, finding a human culprit – who is then attacked by the real monster. A 1966 TV adaptation ends more ambiguously.
• The Scottish poet Edwin Morgan published the sound poem “The Loch Ness Monster’s Song” in 1973
• In the book The Boggart and the Monster (1997) by Susan Cooper, the Loch Ness Monster is actually an invisible shape-shifting creature that has become trapped in one form.
• In the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001) by J.K. Rowling, the “Loch Ness Monster” is said to be a misunderstanding of what is in fact the world’s largest kelpie.
• The Loch (2005) by Steve Alten is a novel about the Loch Ness Monster which incorporates many historical and scientific elements into the story line. In the book, the creature is said to be a species of gigantic and carnivorous Eel.
• The tabloid Weekly World News often reports on the creature, claiming that it has become pregnant, or been captured, sold, or killed.
• Dick King-Smith wrote a novel, The Water Horse, also the basis for a film