Updated: Oct 20
A mere three-hour drive from St Andrews lies a narrow trench of murky water, 230 metres deep and 37 kilometres long. The largest freshwater lake in Great Britain is surrounded by mystery and mythology. Its name: Loch Ness. The public fascination with Loch Ness stems from the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, affectionately known as Nessie. Is there really such a thing as a kelpie: a long-necked creature shape-shifting water spirit from Scottish folklore? And has it really been sighted in Loch Ness?
The first known record of a monster in the Loch dates back to around AD565. However, the modern world was introduced to the mediaeval creature in 1933 due to reports in The Inverness Courier newspaper. Stories persisted in the following decades, making their way to a global audience. The Loch Ness Investigation Bureau (LNIB) was formed in 1961, giving way to a flurry of activity in the 60s, recording more than 20 sightings in some years and attracting interest from The Daily Mail to King Olav of Norway.
Since its rise in popularity, Loch Ness has been subject to many visitors, over 1.6 million a year in recent times, and expeditions with one goal: to witness the legendary myth. The particularly ambitious individuals dream of photographing the monster. Even professional attempts have been made such as the famous ‘Surgeon’s Photograph’ in 1934, unfortunately proven later to be a hoax.
Still, the hunt continues. In 1972 the LNIB studied the Loch in the biggest search operation to date. Fifty years later, we have finally returned to the Loch in the biggest search since. In August of this year, around 100 Nessie enthusiasts descended upon Loch Ness, this time armed with modern technology. The Loch Ness Centre, partnered with Loch Ness Exploration, used surveying equipment that had never been tried at the Loch, including thermal drones and hydrophones. With these thermal drones, they could view the loch in infrared. Unlike visible light, infrared waves cannot be seen by the human eye. However, these thermal cameras allow you to see how much heat radiates off an object. Since all living things radiate heat, the team were able to see if anything surfaced above the water from its heat signature and even see heat anomalies beneath the surface. Unfortunately, the drones had difficulty picking up quality images due to the unfortunate, but not unpredictable, poor weather in the area. Not to worry, the researchers had other methods to search for their elusive Nessie.
This is where the hydrophones come in. A hydrophone is specifically designed for underwater use and detects and records sounds from all directions. It’s made of a piezoelectric material which vibrates in response to underwater soundwaves, generating an electrical charge when subjected to mechanical stress. By analysing the frequency and amplitude of the sound wave, the hydrophone can provide information about the underwater environment and sources of sound. With these hydrophones, the search team managed to hear ‘four distinctive gloops’. Unfortunately, upon rushing over to see if the sounds had been recorded… it was discovered that the recorder wasn’t plugged in.
Despite the myriad of sightings, no concrete scientific evidence has been produced to prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. So what could explain all these sightings? Is it people’s imagination or is there a more scientific explanation? One popular theory put forward is that the sightings are European eels, a species whose DNA has been picked up by new research and environmental surveys. With no plesiosaur, shark, catfish or even sturgeon DNA found, for now, we must assume that Loch Ness Monster sightings are merely overgrown eels. Or, maybe there is truly a less mundane explanation more suited to the legendary mystery surrounding the famous Loch. Perhaps some secrets will be revealed in the next exhibition.
Image from WikiCommons