Loch Ness, located in northwest Scotland is twenty-four miles long and reaches 788 feet down at its deepest point. Its water is said to be extremely dark, at times even black. Its depth and darkness give it an aura of mystery. Human beings are said to fear what they do not know, but fear and intense curiosity are feelings inspired by the lake for another reason: there may be a monster living in its depths. The Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie, as it has been nicknamed, is among the most well-known urban legends of modern times and it is among the greatest points of interest for cryptozoologists – scientists who study animals that have not been proven to exist.
The History of the Loch Ness Monster
The first documented sighting of Nessie was in the year 565 when Saint Columba saved a swimmer from becoming its dinner. For nearly 1500 years following, the Loch Ness Monster had appeared in stories, but it is unknown which ones were eyewitness accounts and which ones were invented solely for entertainment purposes. Legends of the monster lived on as they were passed from generation to generation, but the creature’s popularity reached an unprecedented height in 1933. That year, a new road was constructed beside the loch. Travelers reported more sightings than ever before. Later that year the infamous Surgeon’s Photo was published, depicting what appeared to be a head and long neck stretching out of the loch water. In 1994, one of the individuals who shot the Surgeon’s Photo confessed on his deathbed that the photo was a hoax. While some people had their hopes crushed, the succeeding evidence was still not invalidated. Though what was thought to be the best evidence was proven false, the other pieces of evidence kept the monster alive in the minds of many. Today there are stories of similar lake monsters in Lake Champlain, Lake Michigan, Iceland, and elsewhere.
What is Nessie?
The most popular theory behind Nessie’s identity is that it is a plesiosaur: an aquatic dinosaur species that was said to have died off during the early Jurassic period. Others speculate that it might be a giant sea serpent while some deny that it exists outright. There are many questions to be asked and with every one there is some sort of logical response. How can one animal live for millions of years? Perhaps it hasn’t. There might be more than one and they breed. How can the loch sustain a multitude of monsters without us seeing them blatantly? Perhaps the monsters only use the loch as a breeding ground and return to the ocean via an underground tunnel. All of these ideas are merely speculation. What is for sure is that there are sometimes odd wakes in the loch water that could not be made by even the largest seal or school of fish.
Crude photos and videos of the Loch Ness Monster can be found everywhere from YouTube to television specials. Unfortunately, none of them are convincing enough to be considered undeniable proof that the creature exists. Despite this, there have been a number of breakthroughs in the field of cryptozoology that leave the possibility open. The first was the 1901 discovery of the okapi, a mammal with a giraffe-like head and zebra-striped legs. The animal had been depicted in ancient Egyptian drawings and was well-known by certain tribes in Africa, but it had never been seen or documented by Western explorers. The okapi occupied only a small area in central Africa so it took a rather long time to find them. Might this also be the case for Nessie? More evidence was provided a few decades later. In 1938, a coelacanth was caught off the coast of Africa. The species of fish was thought to have died out over 300 million years ago. People cite the coelacanth as evidence that plesiosaurs could have indeed endured the same fate.
During the 1960s there were many attempts to discover the monster using sonar. Results varied. In 1970, Chicago biology professor Roy Mackal used underwater microphones to record the environment underneath the loch. He captured various sounds including a swishing noise that suggested the presence of a larger animal. There was no proof of Nessie, however. In 1972, Robert Rines led an expedition to find the monster. His boat was equipped with sonar, a strong light and an underwater camera. He returned with a photo of a flipper. Later, in 1987, the most comprehensive search for the Loch Ness Monster took place. More than twenty boats, each equipped with sonar, traveled side-by-side across the lake but failed to detect any abnormalities under the water. Moving into the 1990s and the early 2000s scientists incorporated the use of echosounder equipment and satellite tracking but they never uncovered conclusive evidence. Many consider this proof that the monster does not exist, while others have their theories about underground tunnels.
See the Monster Yourself…If You’re Lucky
Needless to say, the possibility of a monster in Loch Ness is a strong draw for tourism in Scotland. Accommodating the visitors, there are many organizations that give boat tours of the loch. While there, be sure to take in the other sites and to try Scotland’s cuisine. Many travel companies offer comprehensive packages that include these tours as well as lodging and airfare. Book your trip as soon as you can!