Sunday, 17 March 2013

Classic Sightings: Those Strange Humps

Date: Summer 1946
Time: afternoon
Location: Near Whitefield
Witnesses: Robert Wotherspoon, Rev. John Taylor Stark and wives
Type of sighting: Multiple humps and tail in water

It's time for a classic sighting and this one from 67 years ago is interesting from more than one point of view. Our main witness, Robert Wotherspoon, was a man of some means and reputation from the Highlands. According to his obituary in the Glasgow Herald of 28th December 1968, he worked his way up to senior partner for the solicitors McAndrews and Jenkins and during the war he was promoted to commanding officer of the northern region of the Air Training Corps. After the war, he went into business and became managing director of Caledonian Associated Cinemas, a chain of fifty cinemas and also served as the Provost of Inverness between 1954 and 1961.

As a self made millionaire, it seems it would not be in his interest to become the butt of jokes if he ever claimed to have seen Nessie. Nevertheless, he was adamant about what he saw on that clear Summer day. The sighting came into focus for me when I came across a 1957 article about Wotherspoon speaking at a series of business engagements in North America. The clipping below is from the Calgary Herald dated 28th October 1957 followed by a transcript of the story.




Loch Ness Monster Sight Is Described By Scotsman

One of the few men ever to see the Loch Ness Monster arrived in Calgary this weekend and told how it happened. He is Robert Wotherspoon, provost (mayor) of Inverness and vice-chairman of the Scottish Tourist Board.

As managing director of Caledonian Associated Cinemas, owners of 50 theatres throughout Scotland. Mr. Wotherspoon is visiting Canada and the US primarily on business.

But he finds the monster is like an eight-ender in curling or a hole in one at golf. Once it happens to you, everything else seems comparatively unimportant. Expressing surprise at the interest shown in the monster here Mr. Wotherspoon contemplated asking Inverness to send on a postcard showing what the beast looks like. As far as Mr. Wotherspoon is concerned, it (or parts of it) looks like nothing so much as an elephant taking a bath. Two friends, a minister and his wife, were visiting him at the time he saw whatever it was. He decided to take his guests down to see Loch Ness in his car. The Loch is about six miles from Inverness.

"A few miles down the loch, I spotted the monster," Mr Wotherspoon related. "The people in the car were very skeptical. So I stopped and walked to the side of the water. There, right enough, was the monster, about 20 yards out from the shore."

Mr. Wotherspoon recalled that, a few weeks earlier, a circus was in town and he had seen a group of elephants "disporting themselves" in a river. He decided that the first hump of the monster resembled an elephant lying on its side. The size, color and texture were the same.

"There were other humps and spaces between them," Mr. Wotherspoon continued. "I did not see the head. The place where the head would be was under water." Adding to the drama, a salmon leaped high out of the water. At the instant when it fell back in, the humps of the monster straightened out.

Mr Wotherspoon believes the salmon had had it. "obviously swallowed by the monster." At this point, the monster turned toward the centre of the loch and soon Mr Wotherspoon lost sight of it. "As it proceeded through the loch, it created a wash not unlike that of a small fishing boat." he reported. "I estimated its length at slightly more than 60 feet."

He had run to his car to get a camera. But the car had recently been washed and, at that time, the camera had been removed. The minister accompanying Mr. Wotherspoon also saw the monster and verified the discovery. Several imperfect pictures of the monster have been taken since it first was sighted in 1895. The best photo corresponds to what Mr Wotherspoon saw, he said.

Mr Wotherspoon said his current trip is in the nature of a "goodwill mission" to all Scots in Canada. "Particularly, as provost of the capital of the Highlands, I would like all Highlanders to know that we think very kindly of them and wish to convey heartiest greetings to them." he said. "A warm welcome awaits them when they decide to pay a holiday visit home."

I lie reported that the tourist season in Scotland this year had been "phenomenal—the best we have ever had." His main business interest at the moment, Mr. Wotherspoon said, is the development of commercial television in Scotland. Problems of televising in Scotland are similar to those in Western Canada, he said. He is interested in knowing how Canada gets television in to remote areas such as the interior regions of the Rockies.

A few months before his death, Mr. Wotherspoon again related his story to David Cooke with further details for his 1969 book, "The Great Monster Hunt". We learn that he saw three humps in total and the sighting occurred opposite Urquhart Castle. The name of the other male witness was also given as the Reverend John Taylor Stark. He also added that the tail became visible as it moved to the centre of the loch and it pushed up waves 2.5 to 3 feet high.

John Taylor Stark, it turns out, was an influential Baptist minister in Scotland leading the faithful at the Victoria Place Baptist Church in Paisley near Glasgow. He was also President of the Baptist Union of Scotland in 1944-45. Can we conclude that two witnesses such as these were not likely to fabricate such a story? I would, others may not.

Wotherspoon's sighting is remarkable for its proximity of a mere 60 to 70 feet away. Not many other sightings can claim to be closer. Interestingly, he comments that the creature had a hide similar in texture to that of an elephant. He is not the first to mention this but others have mentioned a smoother more polished texture. One would imagine you could not have both but I am not so sure as we look further into this story. 

HUMPS

Looking at the humps, I am struck by the fact that he saw three humps separated by water only a mile down the road from where Lachlan Stuart took his famous three hump photo five years later. Was Wotherspoon's sighting a near copy of what Stuart claimed to have seen? We cannot be sure for Wotherspoon does not say what shape his humps were plus he did not see any head or neck as Stuart claimed.


  

My own feeling is that the humps were more rounded and closer together. I conclude this because of what he says next:

 "Adding to the drama, a salmon leaped high out of the water. At the instant when it fell back in, the humps of the monster straightened out."

This is a statement loaded with implication. We have had other sightings in which the humps have changed shape before the witnesses' eyes but here the action is seemingly accompanied by intent - the proximity of food. The salmon drops into the water and the humps simultaneously straighten.

Fascinating.

I have stated on this blog before that the Loch Ness Monster is more an opportunistic predator than one which roams the loch in pursuit of prey. The diffuseness of the food stock demands that patrolling the loch is not an energy efficient procedure. There is food enough in the loch but it must be caught in a better way. In a previous article I suggested a ploy similar to the Angel Shark where the creature lies in wait ready to grab its passing prey (see clip at end of said article).

Furthermore, the retractable appendage (which may or may not be a neck) which I also discussed in this article could shoot out in a manner conjusive to this tactic. Shooting out an appendage to capture prey is a common energy saving tactic employed in the animal world. Frogs and chameleons have employed their tongues successfully in this venture before we ever arrived on the scene of time.


  


So, imagine the scene under the water as Robert Wotherspoon observes the salmon re-enter the water and the humps straightening. The monster's neck/appendage shoots out to grab the salmon and a cause or effect of this is that the humps straighten out. Does the appendage extending cause the humps to straighten or does the humps straightening cause the appendage to extend? That is an area of some speculation.

One line of thought is that the humps are buoyancy devices which allows the creature's humps to stand so far out of the water or at varying other depths below the surface. Other animals employ inflatable sacs for various purposes - courtship display, defense or mock attack. The gas used can be air or some other gas with a different density, indeed it is also possible that the loch's water could also fill the sacs.

How this affects appendage extension/retraction is unclear but is worthy of further thought. Different animals employ different techniques. The chameleon uses a form of coiled collagen to further propel the tongue. The frog uses muscle fibres at right angles to each other. What the Loch Ness Monster uses may be gas or water based.

Another seeming contradiction may be answered here and that is the reports of  smooth and rough skinned monsters. It may be objected that swimming animals tend to have smooth skins so as to reduce drag underwater and that is true. But we have already suggested that the monster is not given to frequent motion (though it can up its speed if required on rare occassions).

However, our inflatable hump scenario can perhaps answer this in that when the humps are fully inflated with gas, air or water) then the skin  "fills out" to give our oft reported smooth skin and when deflated it contracts and takes on a more wrinkly appearance. Perhaps, but in the world of the Loch Ness Monster there is plenty of room for speculation and a bit of lateral thinking.

HISTORY 

One further point that this case obliquely refers to and that is the antiquity of the Loch Ness Monster. You may have noted that the author of the Calgary Herald article states that:

"Several imperfect pictures of the monster have been taken since it first was sighted in 1895."

Now the modern era of Nessie began in 1933, so where did the reporter get this date of 1895? The most obvious answer, given the context, was from Mr. Wotherspoon himself during his Nessie talk. Where did he get the date from? I would suggest from local sources back in Scotland. 

This theory is backed up by what Mr. Wotherspoon added as a postscript to his talk with David Cooke in 1968. He said that he arrived at the loch "over forty years ago" and it was shortly after that that he began to hear stories about the monster.  

The aforementioned obituary from 1968 mentions that Mr. Wotherspoon arrived at Inverness in 1921. From that we conclude that he was aware of a creature in Loch Ness twelve years before it became international news in 1933.

Given the connections that Robert Wotherspoon had as a local businessman and his love for fishing and hunting (stated in Cooke's book), it is no surprise that if there was gossip of something strange in Loch Ness, he would be a prime candidate to find out.

Why he should state 1895 is not clear as there is no claimed sighting for that year. One clue is from a letter to the Times in 1933 from the Duke of Portland:

“I should like to say that when I became in 1895 ... the tenant of the salmon angling in Loch Oich and the River Garry, the forester, the hotel keeper and the fishing ghillies used to often talk about a ‘horrible great beastie’ as they called it which appeared in Loch Ness.”

Had the local men recently seen something which prompted such discussions? There is no further information to make a judgement. The subject is further energised but not concluded by rumors rathers than facts as the Loch Ness literature talks of a Glasgow newspaper which mentioned the monster in 1896 and there is the curious case of UFO researcher John Keel finding an article on the Loch Ness Monster in an 1896 Atlanta newspaper. Again, neither of these articles has been found but one wonders if these four allusions to something happening around 1895-96 carries a kernel of truth? Only further research and digging into the archives may reveal an answer and if we do find anything, it will be reported on this blog.





7 comments:

  1. here was a sighting reported in 1895:

    6 or 8 people including a forester, a ghillie, anglers and hotel keeper Reported to police a horrible great beastie in the loch

    There must be a record somewhere of this if police records were kept or maybe a report in a newspaper.I can't look up where I found it from as all my stuff is packed away as I am moving house shortly.

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    1. If you could find that, it would be great. Meantime, I'll do my own digging about!

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  2. As Dinsdale may have been the first to reason: rough skin can look smooth when wet and shiny, whereas smooth skin looks smooth be it wet or dry, leading to the conclusion our beasties' hides, having been described both ways on numerous occasions, are actually rough. And if the animals breathe by means of dermal respiration, as seems likely, this texturing would also increase the surface area for oxygen absorption.

    Three humps may also be explained by a caudal fin, dorsal hump, and the top half of a large head breaking the water; that too could appear to merge into a single dorsal line if the animal stretched. Other accounts mention multiple humps merging into a long, single dorsal line but that here we have clear indication the animal was reaching towards prey makes this a particularly exciting sighting!

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    1. Well, that is possible, Steve. I would have to see some photographs of, say, elephants in water in the stated circumstances to see how smooth their hides appear.

      I do remember Mackal writing in his "Monsters of Loch ness" book on how a giant eel's back fins could flop to give multiple hump appearances. My issue with Mackal was that the fins did not appear high enough to account for a lot of hump reports.

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  3. I have found this :http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/6095673/Loch-Ness-Monster-the-strangest-theories-and-sightings.html
    And also Its in the book Hidden Animals by Michael Newton. You'll find Michael on Facebook . Hes a lovely man and am sure will talk to you about it.

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  4. Thanks for this blog GB, I'm a regular visitor. I hope there is something in Loch Ness, I really do. I am a (hopefully) healthy sceptic and want there to be truth behind all this. I personally would subscribe, if pushed, to Steve Plambeck's giant salamander theory.

    However, the problem I have with this sighting is the position of the witness. I would respectfully disagree with the opening paragraphs. Whilst I'm sure he wouldn't want to be the butt of jokes if he claimed to have seen Nessie, I definitely think the Mayor of Inverness and Vice-Chair of the Scottish Tourist Board would have a keen interest in fabricating a story like this on a trip to Canada. As for the priest, we can only speculate what the reward might have been for playing along. The language he uses describing the leaping salmon draws on another of Scotland's famous inhabitants. It sounded to me like a tourist broadcast.

    I'm a big fan of this blog, and the scientific angle to the posts lends it a lot of weight and credibility. I just wonder though if for a sighting like this, mentioning the details above and coming at it from a sceptical angle might lend weight to the blog overall?

    Thanks again for all your work, I'll continue the daily visits and hope to get up to Loch Ness myself soon.

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    1. Ah well, we'll have to agree to disagree. It is easy to suggest deception on the grounds of financial gain, but I doubt it can ever be proven!

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