Sunday, 19 February 2017

Karl Shuker's latest Nessie book and the Surgeon's Photo

I finally finished Karl Shuker's book on Nessie entitled, "Here's Nessie: A Monstrous Compendium from Loch Ness" and review it here, but some things Karl said also merits some thoughts on that most famous of Nessie photographs, the Surgeon's Photo.

Firstly, Karl has brought a lot to the cryptozoological table since the 1990s and his PhD in zoology qualifies him to speak perceptibly on various issues in the field of cryptozoology. Naturally, the Loch Ness Monster is one of those go to subjects and one that gripped the attention of Karl from his youth upwards.

Now the book itself is a compendium, so what we have is an collection of Karl's shorter writings over the years addressing the issue of the monster in its zoological, cultural and folkloric aspects. In that respect, some of the material may be familiar to seasoned Nessie readers. But the main point is that his thoughts are now put down on paper. As I have emphasised before, websites do not last forever. The may end up partially archived on Internet archive websites, but paper adds a degree of permanency which I welcome.

The scope of the book is wide and its depth varied as it moves from detailed analysis of cryptid theories to the lighter aspects of songs written and stamps issued in honour of this most famous of Scottish icons. The book begins in a more serious tone as it looks at the monster as plesiosaur and as long neck pinniped. The long necked seal theory was quite popular back in the 1970s as it was championed by the likes of Bernard Heuvelmans and Peter Costello.

I agree with Karl's conclusions that this is an unlikely candidate for the Loch Ness Monster. There are too many cons outweighing the pros of the argument. I would add the qualifier that I would only consider it viable if the creature was somehow not a resident of the loch, but rather a visitor who breeds and feeds elsewhere. That in itself is another discussion.

The modified plesiosaur also enjoys extended treatment and Karl writes well on this vexed subject. I say vexed because even if plesiosaurs survived the great Cretaceous extinction, we have no idea what they would like today after such a long time. It would be easy to add various adaptions to produce a Nessie-like plesiosaur, but a surviving plesiosaur may actually look nothing like the Loch Ness Monster. 

I also appreciated Karl's lookback at the 1987 symposium on the Loch Ness Monster in Edinburgh which I have read obliquely about in its published papers, but not from the perspective of an attendee. I am trying to think why I did not make this event myself. I suspect it was because I had started working and became a bit too focussed on that! 

Thereafter, the book tends to move towards smaller cultural articles which is probably a wise move as one is more focused at the beginning. 


But let us focus more on the overview of chapter one and Karl's words on the Surgeon's Photo. Karl takes a strong line in viewing the Spurling story of the hoaxed photograph as a hoax itself and bases this conclusion on various inconsistencies he sees in the narrative and which he lists in his book.

Now I myself take the view, based on the balance of the pros and cons, that the Spurling account is true. I don't say that with a 100% certainty as I tend to rate Nessie pictures on a scale of probability which is purely my own personal interpretation (as everyone's will be).

So in the mix of pictures that I regards as fake, real or misinterpretation, I may say a picture is 60-40 in favour of being the monster or I may say it is 70-30 in favour of being a wake or something else. That rating approach will also apply to this famous photograph. Let me now list Karl's objections in no particular order of persuasiveness.
1. There was a suspicious delay in publicising the 1975 Marmaduke article, leading to it being too late to question now deceased people.

2. The clockwork submarine with attached neck would be unstable. Karl does admit that a Japanese TV documentary crew did get a toy submarine stable, though he is not convinced of its closeness to the original setup.

3. The ripples around object show it is not moving, in distinction to the claim that the submarine was moving.

4. A 1987 study by LeBlond/Collins study of the surrounding wave patterns suggests the neck is nearer to four feet high and not the one foot that Spurling claimed.

5. The submarine theory does not explain the second photograph (below).

6. There are contradictions between the Wetherell confession and the Spurling confession.

7. Why did the hoaxers not expose the picture to the world and get their revenge on the Daily Mail?

8. The Egginton letter claimed Wilson told Egginton that the photo was a superimposition laid over an original image and not a model.

9. There is no evidence that the toy submarine was used (no photos of it or its deployment). The descendants of Marmaduke Wetherell manage to produce the hippo ashtray with which he produced his infamous tracks, but they could not produce anything to do with the toy submarine.

Now obviously some arguments carry less weight that others. I would not attach much weight to points 1, 4 and 7 as I can see counter explanations. Point 2 and the stability of the modified submarine was always one that could go either way for me. Spurling said he stabilised it by adding lead strips to the bottom and that is fair enough.

This was basically one that needed to be retried to satisfy curiosities. I can't find a link which shows this Japanese crew trying out their submarine reproduction, if anyone can find it, post a link below. But for me, the main test is not placing this in a bathtub, but seeing how stable such an arrangement would be in choppier waters. 

Points 3, 6 and 8 are all variations on the theme of contradictory witness statements. Was the rigged submarine moving or not? Was it actually a manipulated photo rather than a model? Wetherell does not mention Spurling as a co-conspirator and Spurling does not mention Chambers. Wetherell says it was rubber tubing, Spurling says it was plastic wood.

Now I have to say that if this was a group of eyewitnesses describing a monster sighting, the same sceptics who dismiss these contradictions would quite happily use them against any Nessie report ... because their prejudices demand they be used against the eyewitnesses. I expect nothing less from sceptics and their tactics, but should others fall for this?

The answer can be "yes" or "no" depending on the case. My problem is that Ian Wetherell made his confession 41 years after the event and Spurling made his nearly 60 years after. Clearly, there is going to be a significant degree of memory recall issues after such long periods. In fact, one cannot be sure either of them is being accurate in their details.

In the absence of written records or retained artifacts, I would say it is impossible to distinguish a lie from a memory defect after such a long period. That does not mean the basic story is in doubt, but rather the precise details.

Point 9 has its merits as well as we do have the hippo ashtray (now resident at the Loch Ness Centre in Drumnadrochit) but we have nothing physical to prove the Wilson hoax. Wetherell claimed the sub was stepped on because a water bailiff approached the group. It seems they did not recover it.

I had a curious thought at that point. Was not Alex Campbell the water bailiff at Loch Ness and so was he the supposed bailiff that interrupted the Wetherells? If so, he seems to have said nothing about it to anyone!

Finally, there is point 5 and that mysterious second photograph. I know critics say the wave patterns are different between the two photos, but the point is that the Spurling theory does not predict the photo, let alone explain it. It was on one of the exposed plates, so what does it mean? To date, I have read no persuasive argument regarding it.

So, do you think these nine points swing the argument towards "monster" or keep it in "hoax" territory? I have been aware of these arguments for some time, but I still weigh the pros and cons and come out about 60-40 in favour of this being a hoax. The one thing I would say is that this story has two confessors - Ian Wetherell and Christian Spurling.

Any one individual can make an accusation against a photo and we have had them in this field and that is why I am cautious about accepting one single person's accusation unless there is some corroborating evidence (e.g. Richard Frere and his lone accusation against Lachlan Stuart).

So we have two people on the record and, unless you believe in a conspiracy, that strengthens the case. And that is where I think I would leave this particular case.

The author can be contacted at

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Smirnoff Water Skier Advert

A fellow Nessie fan asked about this advert a while back and I did recall its striking image but could not find it anywhere. I have now, so here it is! It was published in 1978.

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Monday, 13 February 2017

Dolphins and Nessies

A recent BBC news item tells us that the populations of three dolphin species off the Scottish west coast are now at record levels since their surveys began in 1994. The key quote for me is this:

Dolphins are known as indicator species. They are a top predator, and if your top predator in an eco-system is doing well then that's a good sign that everything else in the eco-system is going well.

What has this to do with the Loch Ness Monster you may ask? Well, it has been one of my arguments that the decline in fish stocks around the Scottish coastline has also had an impact on the ecosystem of Loch Ness. Less fish means less Nessies and less Nessies means less sightings means less photographic opportunities. 

The question of biomass in Loch Ness has always been a qualified affair to me. When the various fish counts were done in recent decades, there was always the chance that these figures were historic lows. In other words, arguing that there is not enough food in Loch Ness for a number of large predators, even though it could be challenged, could only ever apply to the loch at that point in time.

It did not address biomass in the 1930s when reports began to ramp up, let alone 1940s through to the 1960s before environmental changes began to impact the loch. Undoubtedly there were more fish stocks back in those days and the whole food question becomes opaque for those periods.

But the main point is that the eco-system appears to be reviving and the hope is that these enigmatic creatures will begin to increase in numbers and again break the surface of the loch.

Original article here.

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Monday, 6 February 2017

First Nessie Sighting of 2017?

A fellow Nessie fan put me through to a friend of his who had a curious experience only yesterday (Sunday 5th February) at the loch. I phoned that person tonight and put down here what we discussed.

The person gave me his name but he requests anonymity but allows himself to be known as a local Foyers man. That day yesterday he was relaxing and watching the loch at the pier near the entrance to the Foyers power station. This is, in fact, the location where infamous Nessie Hunter, Frank Searle parked his caravan and spent thousands of hours watching the loch over thirty years ago. You can "drive" right up to the pier using Google StreetView.

It was about 9am and the loch was mirror calm. Our man observed some fish jumping ahead of him as he watched from the stone pier and it was then that he noticed bubbles a few feet in front of him breaking the surface and creating series of concentric ripples. The witness likened it to a funnel under the surface bubbling away.

At this, the source of the bubbles began to move away in the direction of the jumping fish and just kept creating these concentric circles up to a point over 200 metres away, at which point it stopped and dissipated. Our witness was so focused on watching the curious event that he forgot to take a snap with his mobile phone camera. That is not the first time we have heard of this and it won't be the last!

Considering what had been seen, I asked if he thought it might have been a seal, but he discounted this based on the behaviour of seals he had often watched near the Kessock Bridge. Whether it could have been a large fish like a pike is an open question. I, myself, am not convinced either way.

Anyway, the year has begun and we may already have our first sighting of the creature. Comments and opinions are welcome below.

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Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Peter O' Connor Photograph (Somewhat)

Over the years, I have discussed and analysed this, that and the other photograph of the Loch Ness Monster taken by a variety of individuals over 83 years. Looking back on these, I realised I have not actually ever handled a glossy photograph of the Loch Ness Monster. To begin with, it was prints in Nessie books and later in life the now ubiquitous digital images we all view on our computer screens or occasionally print off.

So, whenever I call an article, "Analysis of the X Photograph", this is not strictly true. I am invariably examining a JPEG image or a glossy print from a book. This actually matters, as I shall explain later. Finally, I did get my hands on an original photograph, and that was the Peter O'Connor one taken in 1960. I purchased it last year and you can see it below propped up against a laptop screen displaying the same image, which was originally scanned from Tim Dinsdale's "Loch Ness Monster".

On the reverse side of the photograph are the words below. The North American rights to the image had been purchased by Field Enterprises Educational Corp. from Peter O'Connor for the use of their subsidiary, the World Book Encyclopedia. I note the back says the photograph is the property of Peter O'Connor. I am not sure how that works out. Do they mean he retained the intellectual property rights or did he continue to own the glossy print? I would presume the first option.

World Book Encyclopedia's involvement with the hunt for Nessie is already well known to researchers and historians. As you can see from the image below they sponsored Dan Taylor's submarine expedition as well as other Loch Ness work.

Thanks to the work of Dr. Roy Mackal (also photographed above, standing to the right), the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau secured a $20,000 grant towards upgrading equipment in 1967. That would be about $150,000 in today's money. So, it may be that World Book Encyclopedia acquired the O'Connor photograph around the same time. The clipping below mentions the grant and is taken from the Boca Raton News dated 18th June 1967.

So much for the origin of this glossy photo, but what use is it? I did notice when comparing it to the screen image, that the digital image was more cropped. I would say the digital image had been cropped by 10% along the vertical, with more taken off the top than the bottom. This did not actually reveal much more on the glossy, just more blackness. though I am looking more intently into some markings.

However, that is not the main problem, and this goes to the heart of many a Nessie photo. The glossy photo I got in the post is also a cropped picture! This is known because Tim Dinsdale's book also published another aspect of the O'Connor picture showing more in the horizontal plane (reproduced below).

In other words, I have a photograph of the O'Connor creature, but not the real, uncropped photograph! That is a disappointment and you can extend that problem to other Nessie pictures which are normally offered to us in a zoomed-in format.

In other words, the search for these better images continues.

The author can be contacted at


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A Previously Unpublished Monster Sighting

Late last year I received an email from a reader telling me about her sighting of a strange object in Loch Ness over ten years ago. I get various emails at certain times from people who claim to have seen the monster and having checked she was not one of those Fake News sceptics who sometime pretend to be a witness, I am happy to recount her story to readers today. I reproduce her email to me below.

Hi, I have been reading your blog for a while now and have toyed with the idea of emailing you about a sighting myself and my husband had in 2000-2003 (not sure exactly what year it was). I have been interested in Nessie since I was young and my parents used to keep newspaper clippings for me and also make sure I could watch any news items on it.

Having grown up and married I travelled to Loch Ness once a year for a week with my husband and daughter. The last time it was just me and my husband. We were staying at Invermoriston Caravan and Camping Site in a caravan. The evening we had the sighting we had been to the Sports club at Lewiston at least I think its Lewiston as we stayed in a log cabin there the first time we came up.

It was about 8pm and I was driving back to Invermoriston and just before the bend near Urquhart Castle my husband said there is something in the water over there. I pulled in but couldn't see anything so he said to look across the bay and half an inch out I could just see something black. I turned the car around and sped back round through Drum and round the other side of the bay.

As we came round the bend I couldn't believe my eyes as there was a huge hump about 3 to 4 foot high. It reminded me of a huge chocolate brazil if you understand what I mean by the shape of it and a ridge running right the way down it. It looked mottled but I don't think it was rough just appeared so because of the mottling.

I am not sure I will be believed because it was so close inshore, feet rather than yards. I had only just come round the bend and was worried if I stopped that a car may come round and hit me but slowed down and we had a very good look at it. I drove until I came to a layby and waited for a long time but saw nothing more. I have no idea how deep the water is there but it was definitely not a bird, log or seal. It was enormous.

We have told people but as always we just get laughed at or asked how much had we drunk. I really don't care if anybody believes me but thought you might like to have the sighting for your records. I would of course rather stay anonymous as to most people its a laughable subject but I know what I saw that evening and whatever the animal is its huge.

I asked her to sketch what she saw and that drawing is shown above.  Enquiring more, she told me the length of the object at the water baseline was about seven feet, which tallies with the height of three to four feet mentioned in the original communication. The month of the sighting was also June.

As to where the creature was on the second, closer sighting, the witness cannot remember the exact location, but we can assume it was likely to be between the two lines shown on the map below.

By the time they parked at the lay by and went to the location of the object, it was no longer visible, despite waiting for a prolonged period of time. The presumption being that is had either submerged or moved off. I also asked whether the closer view on going round the bend was at Temple Pier, but she was sure it was further on.

Looking into the account more closely, the creature could have been at one of multiple points along the shoreline indicated in the picture below. Temple Pier is to the left and the curvature of the hill to the right sets a natural limit on where the creature could have been seen from Urquhart Castle.

As you can see from the buildings, this area would normally be a place of activity with people milling about and boats heading in and out of the pier. However, at 8pm onwards, most activity would have closed down for the day.

Looking further at the shoreline image for objects that could be mistaken for a seven by four foot dark shaped hump, the options are severely limited. We see buoys and some moored boats. In their attempts to discredit this report, sceptics may well resort to at least two items of fake news. They may say it was a boat, perhaps covered by tarpaulin. One would wonder why this imaginary boat then disappeared from view (covered in tarpaulin)? I note there is a covered object (probably a boat) in the photo, but it is on terra firma.

The sceptic may also try and cast doubt upon the location and claim nothing would be visible from the road due to the tree line. Having "driven" the route via Google StreetView, I am not buying that one. Or perhaps our witnesses saw the fibreglass hump that formed the basis of the 2012 George Edwards hoax which would have been used in that area? It did have a nice ridge to it, after all. Well, apart from being much smaller, this prop was used much later in 2011.

Or perhaps it was the oft invoked seal-on-demand which turns up just at the right time of witness reports before disappearing back to the sea. It could present a mottled appearance, but again, it would be too small, not have such a ridge and could not arch or suspend its back in the way described.

Either way, the witness was convinced that what they both saw was unusual and an animal.


The mention of the ridge running right down the back of the creature places this sighting in a unique niche of reports which mention this curious feature. Looking back at the database of sightings, I can count eight reports which mention a ridged back or something similar. That comprises less than one percent of all sightings, though I suspect there may be more; especially those describing the creature like an upturned boat, which suggests the underside ridge of its structure (see photo below).

So, the ridge may be more commonplace than realised. But going back to the sightings which are explicit on the matter, readers may be reminded of the Commander Meiklem report from August 5th 1933 in which he described a similar object in Inchnacardoch Bay. Curiously, this object was also seen in shallow waters and was also about four feet out of the water. The illustration is from Rupert T. Gould's book, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others".

We could also not pass by Tim Dinsdale's account of his filming of a strange hump in April 1960 from Foyers. In his first book, he included a sketch of the hump he saw through binoculars and one can clearly see the ridge line splitting the hump into two sections.

Another famous monster hunter saw a ridged back on June 15th 1965. That man was F.W. Holiday who describes his sighting of a humped object in his book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness". He sketched what he saw (below) for the book. I would point out that Meiklem, Dinsdale and Holiday all observed their objects through binoculars for greater clarity.

What is of more interest was the sighting by Mrs M'Grath and her son in Loch Dochfour just north of Loch Ness on the 11th June 1935. As reported by the Scotsman newspaper, the long head and neck was accompanied by a back from which "protruded two distinct rows of fin-like excrescences, also several feet apart". The creature was seen at a range of about 100 yards. An excrescence refers to a growth, protuberance or swelling and so on. M'Grath's ridge sounds more haphazard in appearance than the smoother ridges of Dinsdale and Holiday. 

Another reason why ridges may not be so visible may be down to the large distances involved in many sightings. but perhaps also that many will be side views of the back seen at almost eye level. For example, the other witnesses to Holiday's encounter, who were on the other side of the loch, drew a side on hump with no ridge.

One sighting on our list that bucks that trend is the August 16th 1933 account by Mrs E. Scott who saw a blackish ridge along the top of the hump. However, the object in question was about 800 yards away and was only seen for a few seconds and hence is not as strong as the other reports.

The final case I wish to mention brings things up to date and is William Jobes' report from May 2011. William has mentioned the possibility of a ridged back in his photos of the creature. The best picture is shown below which does give the suggestion of an unevenness along the back. 

However, something need to be compared and contrasted here. Namely, that a ridged back appears to conflict with the observation that the creature can control its humps in an almost fluid manner. Be it air sacs or fatty deposits, how does that fit in with a solid, ridged back?

Well, it is not clear that the ridge is as solid as it may appear. In fact, it is not clear what it is at all. Is it just darker markings along the presumed spine of the creature? Is it just skin deep serrations which would readily yield to expansion of the skin during sac inflation? I would go for the latter theory, thus accommodating both aspects of the creature's gross morphology.

What the ridge feature signifies as regards the creature's possible identity is ambiguous. Plesiosaurs are sometimes depicted with ridged backs, though it is not clear to me whether the fossil record bears out such an interpretation.

That other favourite of Nessie theories, the Atlantic Sturgeon, definitely sports a nice ridged pattern on its back, but could not possibly arch its back in the manner of the beast described by our various witnesses.

What I would say is that this ridge is inconsistent with a mammalian interpretation such as a long necked seal. However, some would interpret such a ridge as a mane, which would obviously take us to a fur lined Nessie, which is inconsistent with the vast majority of eyewitness accounts.

The idea of a mane tends to focus more on the neck of the creature rather than the entire length of the back. But the ridge as an extended mane is nicely pictured on Peter Costello's "In Search of Lake Monsters" where the extended mane idea is clearly seen.

So, it appears to be a case of "you pays your money and you takes your choice" with these ridge theories. We began with a good sighting of the monster just over ten years ago and expanded into the general realm of monster morphology. The witness was hesitant to write due to the predictable disdain and scorn of sceptics.

They will disdain and they will scorn, hence the anonymity. At this blog, we continue to accept genuine eyewitness accounts, just as the monster continues to appear at the loch.

The author can be contacted at

Friday, 20 January 2017

Hunting down the Taylor Film

The above article was recently published by the South African Daily Maverick newspaper and I will return to that later on in this piece. But looking back three and a half years ago, I published that still frame picture on my blog appealing for any information that would lead to the discovery of its film taken by a Mr. G. E. Taylor at Loch Ness in 1938. The first part of that strategy was fulfilled in that the article was highly visible on the Internet. In other words, a google search for "G E Taylor Loch Ness Monster" put the article as the number one hit.

The second part, in which someone would actually reply with some new information, never came to pass. While this was disappointing it was also somewhat worrying as one would assume that anyone who was a descendant or close associate of Mr. Taylor and knew about the film would be sufficiently Internet savvy to at some point search for this film and find the article.

This digital silence could mean one of several things. People may have relevant information but do not wish to divulge it. Or it could be that such people are unaware of such a film, either because they have not looked for it or because the film is now no more. I hope it is not the last of these possibilities, but it would always be a hard thing to confirm.

The other problem was that I did not know G. E. Taylor's full name. Descendants of Mr. Taylor may have searched for information on him by using his full name. Also, if they were not aware of his Loch Ness connection, then "loch ness" would not appear on their search input and so my article would be way down the list of hits (I have recently updated the article to "seed" it with common names that may match the "G" and "E". These are there only to lock into certain google search patterns).

That article remains, but it is not clear if it now still fulfils its original purpose. Expanding the search, enquiring of ancestry websites was the other obvious pursuit, though for me it resulted in tenuous matches. Scotland has a good genealogy site, as do others, and South Africa is also providing such online services. One problem is it costs money, the other problem is one of priority.

A search of the National Archives of South Africa indicates that the digitised archive does not go beyond 1950. Presumably, that is a fluid situation as more births, deaths and marriages are scanned and put online. But this is not a surprise as the service primarily caters to historians and genealogists and that means categorising the older data first and then working your way up to the present day.

The trick is again knowing what the "G. E." stands for. and I suspect this may involve going through the paywall of various genealogical websites to get some (if any) information. However, the main source of information would be the register of births, deaths and marriages in Pietermaritzburg. That may ultimately require the paid employment of a local researcher.

Other lines of enquiry were more proactive. I contacted the National Film Video and Sound Archive in South Africa regarding the old newsreels to see if anything regarding Loch Ness Monster films appeared on the "African Mirror" newsreels around 1938 or 1961. Again, nothing turned up.

I then paid for an advert to be placed in the Notices sections of the popular Sunday Times for three weeks running. Again, nothing, but it piqued the interest of a local journalist who contacted me and with my input ran an article concerning South Africa's claim to fame in producing the first colour film of the Loch Ness Monster and the subsequent disappearance of that film.

That also ended with an appeal for more information. Where that will lead remains an open matter. At the time of writing, there are only a couple of leads but nothing that is truly substantial. However, I have enough new material for an article on the G. E. Taylor film. That will go ahead, but ultimately there can be no really incisive analysis without the actual film.

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