There have been some strange waves smacking the shores of Loch Ness recently, but according to some, the lake’s most famous resident is no longer making them.

The Loch has long been the alleged home of one of the world’s greatest cryptozoological mysteries. Reports of Nessie, a plesiosaurian-monstrosity from pre-history, date all the way back to the seventh century, when Saint Columba, an Irish Monk, came to learn of a “water monster” in the nearby River Ness that had killed a man swimming across. In a display of Christian faith, Columba sent one of his own traveling companions into the waters, who was soon pursued by the creature as well. Making the sign of the cross, Columba ordered the monster not to harm the man, and the creature withdrew, submerging into the waters.

Now, in an article that appeared in the UK’s Daily Record, the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club president Gary Campbell has said sightings are becoming increasingly rare, and that he and the club members “would have been really, really worried,” had it not been for a single “credible” sighting in June 2009. “We were so relieved to have heard about this sighting,” says Campbell, who fears that if people begin to believe that Nessie might be sleeping with the fishes, tourism to the area could be affected. But is it really time to start playing funeral dirges, or are some of the experts who suggest Nessie’s untimely demise merely jumping the gun?

Part of what has caused so much controversy regarding the alleged “death” of Nessie has to do with a recent episode of History Channel’s series Monster Quest, titled “Death At Loch Ness.” Near the conclusion, footage was aired of a large mass lying on the bottom of the Loch, billed as “Nessie’s carcass.” Cambell, nonetheless, is hopeful, and says, “Unknown sonar contacts happen all the time. Maybe Nessie is just keeping her head down.”

The typical problem with the “Nessie is dead” argument is pretty simple: it assumes that there was only a single creature, apparently having lived in the Loch for centuries. If this were the case, what about her ancestry? Obviously, there would have had to be others like her at some point, and presumably, at some point we might assume Nessie begat little others of her own. Granted, this is a fairly simplistic argument being made, and virtually any genuine scientific inquiry made into the existence of an alleged monster in Loch Ness has dealt with the alleged existence of an entire species, rather than a single, unique creature that magically “appeared” at some point, and has existed for several hundreds of years. However, in spite of many of the points presented here, there are a surprising number of variables which could be taken into consideration that are worthy of further probing, as they pertain to the monster’s lifestyle, behavior, and even the plausibility of a “single creature hypothesis” being (albeit strangely) somewhat valid.

First, regarding Nessie’s age, there is at least one species known to exist in the Loch that actually has a potential lifespan that may exceed more than two centuries. Sturgeons, the “Leviathans” of the Chordata Phylum, are immense, toothless fish that somewhat resemble sharks. Bearing strange features such as barbells, a series of small whisker-like protrusions around the front of the mouth used to drag through mud on river bottoms, the mostly bottom-feeding creatures are among the oldest families of bony fish that exist. Most sturgeon have an average lifespan of a century; this alone is surprising, however, observations made in Russia of the Hausen beluga sturgeons have shown that the species can actually live up to 210 years! Due to the immensity of their size (some weighing more than a ton), as well as their longevity, sturgeons in the Loch have long been considered a possible identity for Nessie.

And yet, this might seem entirely plausible, if not for those early accounts dating back to 1933 that dealt with a long necked creature which, surprisingly, was most often spotted on land, rather than in water. Consider the July 22, 1933 encounter Mr. George Spicer and his wife had with ‘a most extraordinary form of animal’ they witnessed crossing the road in front of their car. The animal they described was a creature with a large body 25 feet in length and a long, narrow neck resembling an elephant’s trunk. This long neck would obviously be one of the most striking features pertaining to the animal, which the Spicers said “had a number of undulations in it.” The monster “lurched across the road towards the loch 20 yards away, leaving only a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake.”

According to another account that surfaced, having taken place almost two months earlier, Nessie was observed on land for close to twenty minutes by a maidservant at approximately 6:30 in the morning. The young woman, Margaret Munro, claimed she spotted it onshore from a distance of around 200 yards, reporting tough, elephant-like skin, a small head atop a long neck, and two front “flippers.” After close to twenty minutes, Munro said the creature re-entered the water.

Then in August that same year a motorcyclist, Arthur Grant, described a close encounter with a nearly identical creature as he rode toward Abriachan on the northeast shore of the Loch. Grant detailed the same long neck with a small head; visible clearly in the light of the full moon, and claimed to have stopped his bike to pursue the creature on foot as it moved back toward the water’s edge. Some allegations have been made over the years that the story had actually been a humorous spin on Grant wrecking his cycle, which borrowed elements from the Spicer’s story in fabricating an excuse for the incident.

The accounts listed above comprise what were some of the best-known of reports of a Loch Ness Monster of the day, and interestingly, additional land sightings would follow, leading up to the 1960s when more films began showing some creature moving through the water (excepting one film made in 1938 by G.E. Taylor of South Africa). The most famous of the lake films, arguably, was one made by Tim Dinsdale in 1960, which three decades later would be enhanced digitally, showing what some purported to be a plesiosaur-like body beneath the water. However, this notion was refuted by some, calling to question whether the perception of a long-necked dinosaur-like creature might have stemmed from a now firmly-ingrained residual image of “Nessie” based on the early land-reports of the creature. And that’s just it: what caused so many “land” sightings prior to the 1960s, as opposed to the modern era when the most we seem to be able to hope for involves “anomalous sonar bloops?”

In terms of the biology of Nessie, a variety of arguments and counter-arguments have appeared over the years. Many paleontologists would argue that, if Nessie were descended from dinosaurs like plesiosaurs, Loch Ness would not be an environment very conducive to survival. Also, the osteology of plesiosaur necks, according to recent studies, says the creatures couldn’t have lifted their heads out of the water in swan-like movements, as Nessie was once often reported to do. In addition to common theories involving seals, otters, stumps, and even the bizarre notion of travelling circuses stopping to allow elephants to refresh themselves in the Loch, stranger warps and misshaping of fauna included the “long-necked seal hypothesis,” as well as the particularly peculiar “giant Tully monster theory” have been proposed over the years. Biologist Roy Mackal gave his best endorsement to the similar idea that Nessie was a giant, long-necked newt or another amphibian of some sort.

Considering the way that human perception of strange phenomenon, in many ways, seems to depend on “the eye of the beholder,” one must again consider why most early reports of Nessie often described her basking in the moonlight (or occasionally early sunlight) a good ways inland; by the 1960s, we were seeing her exclusively in the water. Now, if reports are accurate (and if all presumed witnesses are coming forward with stories) we’re seeing her far less than in decades past. Is there any kind of a correlation here? If so, what would it entail?

If we are ever to consider a plausible theory for Nessie’s existence in a scientific sense, it seems most likely that some variety of creature–known or unknown–may have evolved in the relatively secluded environment Loch Ness provides. Furthermore, the decline in Nessie sightings may have less to do with the creature’s ultimate demise, instead due to environmental changes affecting temperature, food sources, and other elements over time that may have disrupted the harmony once maintained in Loch Ness for a unique species of this sort to survive.

Nessie may not be making quite so many public appearances these days, but let’s not jump to conclusions and say it’s because she died; more likely, she and her kin are just fewer in numbers, and like most big fish do on the hottest days, they might dive a little deeper toward the comfort of cooler waters. All this remains dependent, of course, on one primary factor: whether or not such a creature could still, or ever did exist… and that remains a mystery.

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Micah Hanks

Author: Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, researcher, and podcaster. His interests include areas of history, science, archaeology, philosophy, and the study of anomalous phenomena in nature. He can be reached at info@micahhanks.com.

3 Replies to “The Great Debate over Nessie’s Death

  1. Yes, sound would have to be a factor. I’m fascinated with those old “land-lubber” reports, and don’t speculate that they are complete fabrications or anything… it is interesting that they have subsided so much over the years, but if there is a biological basis for Nessie, there would have to be a biological reason for her choice to remain water bound.

    So yes, the noise-factor makes a good deal of sense to me. As a youth, I was fascinated by the stories of Nessie, but as time went on I became less concerned with reports of a monster in Loch Ness. Nonetheless, every aspect of the mystery has fascinated me for some time, and will continue to capture my imagination!

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