Latest posts by Kirsten Tillman (see all)
There are many events that happen in people’s lives that others consider unbelievable, implausible, or otherwise, unexplainable. Events such as near death experiences (NDEs), various paranormal phenomena, alien encounters, etc. For many…if they can’t see it, smell it, taste or hear it, and they particularly haven’t experienced it…then it doesn’t exist.
Today I’m going to write about a legend…a mysterious legend that has yet to be solved…yet some are absolutely convinced of it’s existence; The Lochness Monster…said to be located in “The Loch.”
“The Loch” is fresh body of water that is considered to be the largest freshwater lake with a depth of 788 feet. The Loch is approximately 23 miles long, is located directly over the Great Glen Fault in Great Britain, and runs from Inverness on the Moray Firth to Fort William at the head of Loch Linnhe. It is here, that the first sighting of the Loch Ness Monster, a.k.a. Nessie, is said to occur, dating all the back to 565 AD, where it is said that the monster snatched, and consumed a local farmer, and was forced back into the waters by the missionary, St. Columbia.
Rumors of the beast continued to spread over the years at Loch Ness. Some people believe that the ancient Scottish myths about water creatures, such as Kelpies and the Each Guise (meaning ‘water horse’), are the source behind the idea that a massive water creature continues to dwell in the depths of Loch Ness.
The 20th century is when the stories of the Loch Ness Monster really took form. In 1933, construction began on the A82…the road that runs along the north shore of the Loch. There was a significant amount of drilling and blasting, and as a result, it is believed that this disruption forced the monster from the depths out into the open. Around this time, there were numerous sightings.
On November 12, 1933, a British Aluminum company worker named Hugh Gray watched “an object of considerable dimensions” rise out of the murky waters of the Loch and when it was two to three feet out of the water, Gray photographed the unknown thing. Gray’s ambiguous photograph was published internationally. In the year following the release of the Gray photograph, there were over fifty sightings. Nessie hit the headlines and has remained the topic of fierce debate ever since.
Generally considered the first sighting of “Nessie” back in 565 A.D., that case was studied by Charles Thomas, Director of the Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter, England, who published his findings in the Journal of the International Society of Cryptozoology. Thomas concluded that the significance of the supposed encounter should be discounted as misleading since a critical examination of the original text (reported from oral tradition 110 years after the event) reveals that St. Columba probably encountered a large, stray marine mammal in the River Ness, rather than a monster in the Loch.Thomas’s findings are based on sound scholarship and reasoning, and would lead the unbiased researcher to conclude that the first non-retrospective sightings of the Loch Ness Monster actually occurred in the 1930s.
Sightings continued to occur, to the point where in the 1960s, the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau decided to conduct a ten-year observational survey which resulted in documenting an average of 20 sightings per year. By the end of the decade, mini-submarines were being used for the first time to explore the depths of the Loch using sophisticated sonar equipment. New public interest arose in the mid 1970s as a result of this when underwater photographs of what appeared to be a ‘flipper’ were made public.
“To date there have been over 3000 recorded sightings of the celebrity monster, according to cryptozoologist Roy P. Mackal, author of The Monsters of Loch Ness. This figure may be on the high side, but whatever the figure is, Nessie is certainly one of the most-sighted monsters in the world.
British newspapers reported that on June 17, 1993 a young mother, Edna MacInnes, and her boyfriend David Mackay, both of Inverness, Scotland, claimed to have watched the Loch Ness monster for 10 minutes. MacInnes, age 25, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that the 40 foot monster swam around, waving its long giraffe-like neck and then vanished into the murky waters of the loch in what was the first major sighting of the year.
“It was a very light colored brown. You could see it very clearly,” Miss MacInnes recalled. The creature was estimated to be a mile away, but appeared huge. Edna MacInnes reportedly ran along the shore in an attempt to keep up with Nessie.
“I was scared when the wash from its wake lapped on the shore, but I just kept running behind it. By the time it plunged below the surface I was running as fast as I could go,” Miss MacInnes exclaimed. She and her boyfriend ran to get a camera and binoculars from a relative’s house nearby and returned to the Loch. Shortly thereafter they had another sighting. This time the creature was only 20 feet from the shore, and David attempted to photograph Nessie. Unfortunately, the resulting photos showed a wake but no monster.
Later the same evening, James MacIntosh of Inverness was returning from a fishing trip with his son, also named James. Young James first sighted the unidentified object, telling his father, “Dad, that’s not a boat.”
“I was concentrating on my driving but I looked over the loch and I suddenly saw this brown thing with a neck like a giraffe break the surface. It was an eerie experience. It was swimming quite swiftly away from the shore at the time,” recounted the elder MacIntosh.
Based on the strength of the sighting, bookmakers William Hill cut the odds against Nessie being found from 500-1 to 100-1. According to National Geographic, since 1987, bookmaker William Hill has paid the Natural History Museum in London an annual fee of £1,000 to ensure that its experts would confirm Nessie’s identity, should the monster ever be found.
Seeing that there have been so many documented sightings, one would think that another, more clear photograph or at some point, a video would have captured the creature. However no one yet has been able to provide definitive proof of it’s existence.
Due to the lack of proof, various skeptics have come up with their own theories as to what the Loch Ness Monster truly is.
In the year 2001, an event in Edinburgh, Scotland was put on by the Geological Societies of America and London. A scientist from Italy by the name of Luigi Piccardi, informally argued that Loch Ness sightings could be blamed on geological activity, meaning earthquakes occurring around the lake. He stated that these earthquakes could have generated the movement of the water as though a monster were seething underneath. Piccardi’s theory was repeated recently in an interview he gave to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and has since gone viral: “Loch Ness Monster Mystery Explained,” reported Fox News.
Earthquakes in the Loch Ness area are usually at a magnitude of 3 or 4…not strong enough to send the lake water shivering, the Scientific American reports. However larger quakes have been recorded in 1816, 1888, 1890 and 1901, though these dates don’t correlate to prior monster sightings, like in 1933, when “Nessie” sightings were popular after the Spicer couple documented theirs.
Piccardi’s geological explanation could’ve possibly covered what might have caused the circumstances that suggested a monster gurgling underwater. However how can we explain what caused people to see in that lake…an enormous, mythical sea creature? That leap might be due to what is called “availability heuristics,” says professor Cronk. In other words…the human brain will intelligently look for the most available solution to explain an visual problem. For example, when a visitor has gone to Loch Ness Lake, and is well aware of its depths, the monster is the most rational solution to explain sudden waves in the water as opposed to the possibility of the geological explanation above.
And so Piccardi’s hypothesis falls to the wayside, like other unsatisfying scientific theories, attempting to explain what Loch Ness visitors feel they witnessed. Some hypothesize for example, that Nessie is actually an eel or a sea otter generating the patterns in the water, or that perhaps birds generate the pattern in the water when they take flight; or maybe it’s that floating, dead pine tree logs have been mistaken for a serpent; etc.
Although there appears to be a plausible explanation, people still hold onto the idea that good old “Nessie”, exists. In the year 2005, it was said that 100 athletes, about to take part in Scotland’s biggest triathlons were each insured for £1 million against any possible bites from the Loch Ness Monster. In as recently as 2009, a man claimed he saw the Loch Ness monster via Google Earth satellite images.
What Piccardi’s, and so many other theories out there lack however, is how the role of the human component plays into it. The brain has this amazing ability to gather bits and pieces of information collected from the world that it doesn’t understand, and categorize it into a meaningful, believable narrative.
“People don’t want an explanation that it’s just in their head. They want a geological explanation. But that geological explanation is also just in your head,” says Brian Cronk, chair of the psychology department at Missouri Western State University.
“Humans are really smart animals. And one of the things are brains are always doing is trying to find the meaning in things,” says Cronk. “So if you’re at the lake, and you want to see the monster, and then you see a random, unexplained shape, your brain will make it into the Loch Ness monster.”
On a side note…while compiling my notes for this article, I realized that the explanation above parallels with proven evidence that applies to photos in which people see faces in that instead of an actual face being viewed, it’s actually a phenomenon called Pareidolia.
“People who are believers in an unproven phenomenon will reject any plausible explanation to the contrary and only be receptive to explanations which support their views,” says Bryan Farha, director of Applied Behavioral Studies & Counseling at Oklahoma City University, in an email interview.
We might also want to believe because, well, we want to: a world full of not-quite-explainable monsters is more entertaining than one without it.
“Many people believe weird things because they have a need to be entertained – and it’s far more entertaining to believe in the extraordinary than the mundane,” says professor Farha.
One explanation for Nessie says that, because the Loch is directly over the Great Glen Fault, “sightings” are actually disturbances on the water surface caused by fault activity. For those who believe in the Loch Ness Monster…due to the fact that no proof has been given that the monster exists, perhaps we are left with the possible explanations provided above. That being said…this is not to say that it isn’t plausible that something unexplained isn’t in fact real. Just because someone else did not experience it, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen…however until definitive proof is provided, we are unable to state for a fact that what seems impossible or unlikely, is a reality.