Up in the Scottish Highlands sits Loch Ness – a 23 mile long lake home to the country’s most famous unsolved mystery. Visitors have contemplated what could be lurking in the depths of its cold waters for hundreds of years, propagating the popular tale of a sea monster affectionately referred to as “Nessie.”
While the legend of the Loch Ness Monster is incomparable to dramatic theories about government cover ups and vast underground networks, Nessie’s story is worth examination because of its sheer longevity and popularity.
As difficult as it is to believe in the presence of such a creature given modern-day thinking and scientific advancements, the Loch Ness monster has ancient origins. According to Britannica, Nessie first surfaced in stone carvings done by the Picts –groups of tribes populating Scotland during the late Iron Age and early Medieval periods. Saint Columba gave the first written account in 565 A.D. – describing an ordeal in which he ordered the beast away before it could attack another man.
Nessie became a modern celebrity in 1933 when the Inverness Courier published a story about a couple who reported seeing the creature distort itself, “rolling and plunging for fully a minute, its body resembling that of a whale, and the water cascading and churning like a simmering cauldron.” Ever since, scientists, speculators and fame-seekers alike have been searching for explanations for subsequent encounters.
Shortly after the couple’s sighting, Marmaduke Weatherall, famed big game hunter, was hired to find evidence of the Loch Ness monster. Here is where I propose that anyone wishing to take up the occupation of big game hunter must first possess a name equal in flamboyance to Marmaduke Weatherall’s. Instead, he used a hippo foot fashioned into an umbrella stand – because apparently those used to be a thing – to create the appearance of footprints.
With the public still craving definitive proof of the monster’s existence, Robert Kenneth Wilson’s grainy photo of a long neck poking out of the water became iconic after it was published in 1934. Dubbed “The Surgeon’s Photo,” it was used as evidence for 60 years.
In an odd turn of events, a 1994 deathbed confession revealed the iconic photo was in fact staged using a toy submarine and a model for the monster’s head. Weatherall was the mastermind of the hoax, using Wilson’s credible name to get revenge for his previous failing.
Outside of hoaxes lie further explanations for Nessie sightings ranging from the believable to the mythological. According to Mentalfloss, sightings could be mistaken for as benign of things as tree limbs, reflections and birds.
Some of Nessie’s earlier appearances could have been trunks of traveling circus elephants using the loch to bathe. On the other hand, some think Nessie is really a long-necked plesiosaur who somehow managed to survive the extinction of the dinosaurs.
People across the globe still believe Nessie is out there today, and advances in technology may be the key to an answer. New Zealand’s University of Otago professor Neil Gemmell is using DNA from water samples collected in various parts of the Loch to check for any unaccounted species.
Testing a separate hypothesis, Dr. Tom Davey used a wave pool to demonstrate how the geology of Loch Ness could create waves that look similar to the undulating back of a sea monster.
Whatever your opinion on Nessie’s existence, one thing is for sure. The Loch Ness monster is unlikely to lose her legendary status until the lake is dry.