“Scotland Yarn” (Loch Ness Monster)


One can deny the existence of the Loch Ness Monster but not his staying power. There have been reports about a beast inhabiting the loch for 1,500 years. He was a more terrifying beast in earlier incarnations, consistent with the heyday of sea monsters. The modern era began in 1934 with the publication of his most iconic image and he’s stayed relevant in cryptozoological circles ever since.

Nessie was in the news again this month with a viral photo that could be generously be interpreted as its head, followed by two humps. Looking at it closely, it was pretty obvious the lead image was of a seal, and it can reasonably be assumed the two humps were his fellow cavorting pinnipeds. Most observers went the seal trio theory, though I did spot one online poster who insisted Nessie was real and being hidden by the government. The poster offered no details on how the government was doing this, how he knew it, or why Her Majesty’s animal control division had let Nessie out for this daytime frolic.

Whereas most crypto critters are bloodthirsty or at least induce fear, the Loch Ness Monster seems safe. There are no bloodcurdling wails or ferocious fangs associated with it. Drawings of the beast frequently depict it in smiling cartoon form and a snaking replica of him near Loch Ness is there for children’s climbing amusement. There is no equivalent of that for the Florida Skunk Ape or Chupacabra.

Whether the most recent photo was of Nessie or his potential snacks, such images have notably become less frequent in the era of ubiquitous cell phone cameras. Despite nearly 100,000 visitors per year and webcams focused on the loch, we have yet to be presented with a clear photo of the beast. Additionally, the BBC aimed 600 sonar beams through every meter of Loch Ness and came up empty. The same cannot be said for some people’s desire to believe something significant is there.

The reason for Nessie’s continued hold on the public is largely due to his alleged home. Sasquatch is reported to be anywhere from Alaska to Alabama and Yeti resides 25,000 feet up, abominable indeed. By contrast, seeking out Nessie is much easier. There’s no danger of getting lost in the woods or of oxygen deprivation. And if one fails to find him, at least a nice lakeside picnic was had.

So tourists continue to flock to Loch Ness, where sightings are driven by expectation, pareidolia, and communal reinforcement. Accounts are embellished by repeated retellings and even what is said to or asked of the eyewitness can become woven into future narratives. Eyewitnesses also are subject to errors in guessing the size of distant floating objects. Put all this together and an overturned log or ripple in the water becomes a living fossil.

The best proof, of course, would be the capture of a live creature. Also very strong evidence would be carcass or skeleton. There have been an untold number of sightings and plenty of photographs, but no amount of weak evidence can be combined to equal one strong piece.

The most well-known photo was revealed 60 years later to by a hoax involving a toy serpent’s head affixed to a toy submarine. Other photos are invariably dark and grainy, often indistinguishable from the water or floating debris. It might be an elusive sea serpent, or a log, shadow, wave, or vegetation.  

Among believers, Nessie is most often suspected of being a plesiosaur, but that animal’s anatomy was suited so that only its head could surface for air, not its entire neck for graceful, elegant positioning. A few have suggested an oversized fish, but a breeding population would require a diet of hundreds of times of what the loch houses.

Marine biologists have concluded that 10 is the minimum number that would be needed to sustain the Monster population. Yet for all the technology and submarines deployed to find one, along with 24/7 webcams and a ceaseless stream of visitors trying to do the same, there is nary a carcass, nor even a bone. For that matter, not even an up-close, in-focus photo clearly showing the Monster’s features. When one considers how often whales and dolphins are spotted in much larger bodies of water and in much lower population densities, it’s easy to see the extreme unlikelihood of Nessie’s existence.

Many of the sightings are likely the result of logs being thrust above the surface. This is especially prone to happen because of seiches, which are waves in an enclosed body of water. Imagine getting out of the bathtub and the resultant waves that flow back and forth. This can happen in a lake, with various physical phenomenon replacing a freshly-washed body standing up.

While lakes have a tranquil look, there are waves below the surface. In springtime, the warming temperatures cause the lake surface to heat up, while the wind churns the water to distribute the heat down to about 60 feet. So there is a warm upper layer and a cool bottom layer, somewhat analogous to oil and water.  When this circumstance is combined with a wind stoppage, it’s as if a giant got out the lake. The upper layer water begins to flow, relieving the pressure on the lower level, which begins to flow in the opposite direction. This can have the effect of dislodging logs and vegetation and shooting them to the surface. This is most likely to occur in lakes that are long, narrow, and deep, and which experience strong winters and have winds that run the length but not breadth of the lake. All of this applies to Loch Ness. So most sightings are either of logs being displaced or of Nessie finishing his bath.




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