The term Loch Ness monsters refers to mysterious beasts that have been reported dozens of times in a Scottish lake known as Loch Ness, which is approximately 20 miles (32km) long and a little over 1 mile (1.6km) wide. Descriptions of these beasts vary, but they are usually said to be black or gray and 15 to 30 feet (4.6 to 9.1m) long, with a long neck like an elephant’s trunk, and two or three humps that rise above the surface of the water. The head is typically described as being similar to a horse’s head, but with two small horns. A few people who claim to have seen a Loch Ness monster emerging from the lake onto shore describe it as being a combination of a horse and a camel, with some witnesses reporting that it had skinny legs or fins, a thin tail, and a mane.
Sightings of Loch Ness monsters date from at least 1771, though according to local legend a dragon was seen in the area in A.D. 565. (The beast supposedly emerged from the bottom of the River Ness, which leads from the north end of the lake to the sea, to attack and kill a man swimming there.) Reports of the monsters were particularly prevalent, however, during the 1930s. The first of this period, appearing in the August 27, 1930, edition of the Northern Chronicle, involved three fishermen who noticed a commotion in the waters around their boat and then spotted a strange creature about 20 feet (6m) long. This report received little attention, but another story in the May 2, 1933, issue of the Inverness Chronicle, which told of a couple’s sighting of a “monster” in the lake on April 14, 1933, sparked a flurry of similar accounts, as various people came forward to say that they had seen the same monster in the 1870s, 1880s, or 1890s.
In April 1934 excitement over the Loch Ness monsters increased still further after physician R.K. Wilson took a photograph that he said was of the creature. Several other photographs of “Nessie,” as the beast is commonly called today, have also appeared, but some of them have proved to be fakes. In fact, skeptics suggest that all photographs of Nessie are either hoaxes or depict some ordinary animal or object mistaken for a monster.
For example, skeptics say that underwater photographs taken in the lake in 1972 and 1975—the latter of which seem to show a creature with a horselike, horned head— were either hoaxes or pictures of submerged objects like algae-covered junk or rotting tree stumps. Skeptics similarly discount the more than twenty films of Nessie moving across the lake, including a fourminute piece of footage taken by Nessie investigator Tim Dinsdale on April 23, 1960. While this evidence cannot be proved a fake, and is particularly convincing for those already predisposed to believe in Nessie, some skeptics say that the image was caused by an underwater wave produced by seismic activity in the earth beneath the lake. They also note that all Nessie photographs are too gray, murky, and grainy to show objects clearly.
Skeptics also dismiss apparent sonar trackings of Nessie, usually on the grounds that the equipment was faulty or the researchers were mistaken in concluding that the trackings were caused by Nessie. One such set of sonar trackings occurred as part of two searches for Nessie evidence. In the first, called Operation Deepscan, twenty ships used sonar to detect objects deep within the southern part of the lake, and after three days (October 8 to October 10, 1987) they found ten unidentifiable large shapes. In the second, which took place in 1997, a similar effort sponsored by the PBS television show Nova yielded similar results. But skeptics argue that with such sophisticated equipment, if Nessie were really in the lake, people would have found it—or at least discovered a carcass or bone as evidence of the creature’s existence. Moreover, they say that there are not enough fish in the lake to support the eating habits of a creature as large as Nessie is supposed to be.
People who believe in the existence of the Loch Ness monsters counter that if Nessie can go undetected, so too could a volume of fish large enough to sustain them. They have also suggested that Nessie might be a species of dinosaur, such as the amphibious plesiosaur, which, scientist say became extinct more than 65 million years ago, or a prehistoric whale known as a zeuglodon. Interestingly, similar creatures have been sighted in other freshwater lakes that have characteristics similar to Loch Ness. Specifically, these lakes are all fairly cold and deep; the bottom of Loch Ness, for example, is approximately 1,000 feet (305m) deep, and the lake—even on the hottest of days—only has an average temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7.29°C). Believers do not know why lake monsters might be attracted to the cold, however.
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning