Wednesday 13 August 2014

Nessie on Land: Morphology and Behaviour

In the next instalment of our occasional series on land sightings of Nessie, it's time to look at what kind of creature was described by witnesses. As stated before, the presumed advantage of a land sighting is that we get to see much more of the creature as opposed to when it is in the water.

When one studies water based accounts, there is sometimes the feeling that you are re-enacting the parable of the blind men and the elephant. In other words, what part are we looking at, how does it fit into the whole picture and just how do these creatures vary as individuals and over their lifetimes and natural cycles? With land sightings, we get a bit closer to the truth; but, again, not wholly there. 

By way of a panorama, a sequence of witness's drawings are presented. Of the thirty seven land sightings that this blog knows about, we only have seven original sketches, one photograph and one film drawn from them. The sixth sketch below is my own reconstructed from an earlier article from the witness' description. The one sketch not included is Alfred Cruickshank's 1926 sighting (which was never published by Tim Dinsdale). The drawings are all flipped to point the same direction for ease of comparison.

I also have no stills from the 1963 LNIB film, which is held by the Loch Ness Project (headed by Adrian Shine). It is now over 30 years since the Loch Ness Project obtained the films, photos, sightings reports and other materials from the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau. To this day, precious little of that has been put in the public domain despite the Loch Ness Project having an Internet presence for a long time.  I wonder what LNIB co-founder David James would make of that?

A. Margaret Munro 1934
B. Arthur Grant 1934
C. Mr. and Mrs. Spicer 1933
D. Torquil MacLeod 1960
E. Alastair Dallas 1936
F. Patricia Harvey and Jean MacDonald 1934
G. Ian Monckton 2009
H. Lt. Fordyce 1932

The question to ask of you, reader, is what were your expectations of this gallery of images? Did you expect (as some sceptics insist) that each sketch must vary little from the other? Or (more reasonably), you would expect some variation depending on the creature and the witness?

In terms of creatures, it is not unreasonable to expect one individual to differ from another. Male may differ from female, young may differ from old and a sexually active creature may differ from a sexually inactive one. They may even differ in colour as some other animals do. 

In terms of the witness, they are not going to give a perfect description of what they saw. They will have seen enough to convince them this was no otter or deer, but to ask for details accurate to the square centimetre is not reasonable. 

But, you may ask, what is real, what is hoax and what is misidentification? The sceptic has a simplistic answer, all fall into the second and third categories. On the other side of the debate, the argument is more nuanced and could fall into any of these categories. Of those 37 land sightings, some may well be hoax and misidentification, but which ones is a rather more difficult task.

Some of the arguments put forward by sceptics in this vein may convince their compatriots, but we are more demanding of their arguments on this blog (because, after all, they are more demanding of our arguments on their blogs).

But, of the list above, I would put a question mark over the Dallas and Fordyce cases. In the case of Fordyce, either he seriously mis-remembered his account after over 50 years or what he saw has nothing to do with the Loch Ness Monster. The pros and cons of the Dallas case have been covered elsewhere on the Internet. That leaves six cases which are actually quite uniform in their general appearance.


Moving onto particular features of the creature, we first look at limbs. Of the 37 reports available, only 11 (30%) mention them. Four of these reports describe them as webbed feet, with two of these adding the details that they were three toed. One of the reports describes them more as like pig hooves (i.e. two toed). However, three of the eleven reports describe them as flippers. The remaining limb reports do not add any further details.

Now webbed feet are not the same as flippers. So, unless one set is discounted at the expense of the other, how are they reconciled? If we take the view that the creature does indeed have webbed feet (which I tend to favour), then it is possible that these can be presented as flipper like.

In fact, an idea originally suggested by (I think) Bernard Heuvelmans, would have the webbed feet observed in an open or closed position. I think the picture below of the rear flipper of a seal conveys that idea best. It is a matter of guesswork whether the webbed feet lock into a closed position or just just relax into that position.


Moving onto the head and neck, the majority of witnesses describe it in a pretty standard or brief way, but others add more detail:

head and neck thrown over so as to rest on the creature’s back” (MacLennan 1933)

undulations were rapid and showed two or three arches” (Spicers 1933)

relatively slender neck, and it turned from side to side” (Smith 1870s)

the long neck was twisting from side to side” (MacGruer 1912)

The "floppiness" or fluidity of this structure is highlighted in these reports. In fact, enough to suggest its flaccidity is due to the absence of a spinal column in that part of the body. 

Another curious feature is mentioned in two reports separated by forty years.  It is this strange side to side movement of the creature’s neck as it headed back into the loch. I think there are two ways of looking at this. My own opinion is that it is another argument against the traditional head neck interpretation.

The reason being that if the creature has two eyes at the end of a head, then it is going to be looking straight ahead of its intended destination. Twisting the neck in other directions other than the direction of travel suggests that eyes are not a feature of the end of the “neck”.

However, there is another interpretation, and that is the idea that the monster has poor or non-existent eyesight brought on by millennia of living in dark, peat stained waters. In that case, there may be vestiges of eyes in the usual place but they are not employed in a meaningful way (apart from sensing basic light levels).

In either case, this would suggest the described neck movement is not without purpose and may have another sensory use. Is the neck being used in the same manner as a blind man’s stick to find obstacles or is other sensory data being collected based on smell, vibration, electric fields or something else?  Your guess is as good as mine.

In regard to the head and neck of the monster, one final case needs to be mentioned. That is the account Alfred Cruickshank wrote to Tim Dinsdale in 1960. Tim describes the drawing as showing a shortened neck which he states is contrary to the standard long neck model. I would agree that it would, but I would suggest it is consistent with a neck which is more retractable and pliable than has been previously thought.


Looking at the land reports in terms of other characteristics, movement is mentioned in 15% of reports. It is described variously as "waddling", "lurching", "caterpillar-like" and "jerky". The word "rapid" is also mentioned though we are talking about short distances here.

It has been suggested that the monster is incapable of movement on land due to its bulk and water-equipped limbs. If the creature does indeed have webbed feet (as mentioned above) then perhaps it is more adapted to land motion than first surmised.

The weight issue is not so big to me. A male elephant seal can weigh two to three tonnes and can move at up to 5 mph. There is no requirement for the Loch Ness Monster to be a rapid mover in any case. I will look more at this when I critique Mr. Lovcanski's explanation of the Spicers account.

In terms of times and seasons, 26% of reports are stated as being in darkness whilst 43% of reports which state the months are during the winter months of December to February. Does this signify a nocturnal creature or a creature which prefers environments devoid of tourists, boats and noise?

Be that as it may, this is a higher percentage than expected for land sightings, if the matter was merely down to misidentification and hoaxes. It could be also argued it is an anomaly for real monsters, but that really depends on your monster "model".

Does the Loch Ness Monster make any utterances? Apparently, yes, if two reports are to be believed. These describe a bark noise or a walrus like noise. A walrus can make a variety of noises, so which one was being described? Conceivably, a walrus can make a bark-like noise, but it is not certain what was meant by the witness. I do not think we should take this to mean the Loch Ness Monster is a mammal, but assuming this was a vocal noise, it would imply lungs. Then again, it is not mandatory to me that it has to be lungs (I think particularly of the proposed gas production method of the humps). Answers on a postcard ...

Furthermore, we have 9% of reports mentioning the creature carrying an object. This is normally taken to be food and casts the Loch Ness Monster in the role of land predator. I have covered this aspect of Loch Ness Monster reports in a previous article. But I would add one story which I did not add to that article. It comes from the Inverness Courier of the 20th October 1933.

The community of Benedictine nuns who once resided near Fort Augustus are now living close to me here at Holme Eden Abbey, and one of the lay sisters, an old Inverness-shire woman , says she can remember fifty years ago talk of an uncanny beast being seen in the Loch, and also that animals grazing by the loch-side disappeared.

It may surprise you to learn that there were nuns as well as monks at Fort Augustus. Both are gone now, but the sheep and cows are still here! Talk of loch-side livestock disappearing in the 1880s is perhaps less relevant now with reduced farming and increased fencing, but one wonders if the exploding population of deer provides alternate meals?


If you are a believer in a large creature residing in Loch Ness, then these accounts can help form a better picture of the monster. The most interesting aspects for me are the webbed feet and the strange neck descriptions. What kind of species possess such webbed feet? All types from mammals to reptiles to amphibians. My own idea of an amphibious like-fish still comes within that domain, though a more standard fish morphology is less likely. For example, the pectoral fins of the amphibious mudskipper do not differentiate in this way (although they are perfectly adequate for moving on land). Nevertheless, given the diversity of nature's ability to adapt, it would not surprise me if such a fish existed.


  1. Hello,

    Very interesting but those 6000lb elephant seals will move across the sand over 10 mph for short sprints at knuckle-heads here in California that try to get too close to them. People don't how dangerous they are.

    Huntington Beach, CA

    1. If the creature/creatures leave the Loch waters and take to land we would have to presume the creature is an air breather?

    2. If you mean primary land air breather, not necessarily. In the case of the aforementioned mudskipper, it can switches between gills and taking in oxygen thru its skin or mouth/throat lining.

    3. I feel that skin breathing is not likely to be an option for something this big because of the low surface/volume ratio.

    4. Hmmm, doesn't the leatherback turtle employ oxygen absorption thru the skin?

    5. I can't find any evidence for skin breathing in leatherbacks. They do have adaptations to store oxygen which allow them to stay under for 5 hours.

    6. Really interesting read just occurred to me that maybe the creature comes on to shore to give birth or lay eggs , say every four years . just an idea !

  2. Hi GB,
    You mention that the Dallas case has been covered elsewhere, but it's the only one here I've never come across... could you direct me to a site or book that would be useful?
    I think it most unlikely that the monster comes ashore to eat land animals - especially large land animals - as a matter of course, though I suppose it might be driven by hunger in lean salmon years. Most descriptions do not imply a head shape consistent with preying on large animals, and you would expect predation on land to leave more obvious signs of struggle (notwithstanding the mysterious wool you found on that bush!)

    1. Holiday covered some aspects of it in his Orm book, Mike Dash did a talk for Weird Weekend which is on YouTube and Dick Raynor has a page at his website.

  3. Hello,

    I've never been a fan of Adrian Shine. Maybe it's the ZZ Top beard. To read that he's been sitting on Nessie info for three decades that has not been made public just increases my distaste. Secrecy for no good reason sucks. Where is the public or private harm in divulging info in this situation? Hardly scientific and not in anybody's interest, 'cept Shine's, I'm thinking. And Shine thinks a sturgeon could be Nessie? You've got to be kidding me. I've caught sturgeon in the Columbia River here in the US. and seen them in the Snake River in Idaho. Never seen a sturgeon crawling around on the ground breathing air. Maybe Shine has. A sturgeon would be far, far down my list of possible candidates. Might be time to re-evaluate Shine's limited contribution to this mystery. Just my 2 cents. All things considered, I'm impressed with the similarity of the gallery sketches.



    1. I think the bottom line is that Adrian does not think the LNIB stuff is worth putting out in the public domain.

    2. What is the 1963 LNIB film you mention reported to show?

    3. It was taken in June 1963. A cylindrical object was seen moving onto the shore. However, the object was over 2 miles away from the camera. A JARIC study suggested the object was 6-7 feet long but it was too far away to make a conclusive assessment.

      It is mentioned in Roy Mackal's book but there are no frames included.

      This is certainly a film I would like to see, though admitting it will not be a game changer.

    4. Dick Raynor has stated "I think the film may have shown a boat partly out of the water with a man standing up in it. The range would be 2 miles, 3286m." I wish we could see the film and make up our own minds

  4. The Dallas drawing interests me. In particular, the "wattles" at the side of the creature's head are noteworthy. Long-necked creatures seen around Scotland's coast (and beyond), and even on land near the River Tay have been described as having floppy ears as well as stubby horns. I wonder if these wattles are mistaken for ears (or vice versa) and if so, if the Dallas creature is one of these Atlantic "sea serpents". The fact that Nessie isn't often described as having either floppy wattles or ears could mean she's either a different creature from those described as swimming around the Atlantic or else the same species at a different stage of development.

  5. GB, if memory serves, JARIC estimated the object in the '63 film as being 17 feet long.


  6. Large turtles can bellow and roar, so the sound producing is do- able by them. The Dinsdale shortened neck observation - only one animal that can have both a short neck or a really long neck, again a turtle (chelidae). Turtles can have the flippers you need too. And as Jenny mentioned, "wattles" on the head is what the Mata Mata turtle is famous for. So 4 for 4 = turtles.

  7. " It is now over 30 years since the Loch Ness Project obtained the films, photos, sightings reports and other materials from the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau. To this day, precious little of that has been put in the public domain despite the Loch Ness Project having an Internet presence for a long time. I wonder what LNIB co-founder David James would make of that?"
    James would be appalled, of course. One of the films caught an object on land, admittedly at very long range, but it would at least enable an estimate of size. Shine is entirely self-serving and not to be trusted. Thirty years ago he claimed to be making the LNI material avalable to genuine researchers, but he refused me access when I visited him in 1985.

    1. On the other hand none of these sketches looks anything like a turtle. They show a neck thickest where it joins the body and tapering to a small head. Turtles don't look like that.

  8. It's a real shame that information from the LNIB is being held back. I see no harm in offering it up to whomever may wish to use it.

    1. Is all the the material in Roland Watson's collection available online? Or Henry Bauer's, or Tim Dinsdale's or Roy Mackal's, or that of any self-styled "cryptozoologist"? Please post the URLs.

    2. From my point of view, pretty much. Apart from stuff that is in the long pipeline for publishing. Other stuff I have can be accessed in the public domain or Internet 3rd party pay-walls.

      My blog has been up four years and is one big collection of URLs consisting of 339 articles and counting. We have no confidenc that any of this historicLNIB material will make it into the public domain. And I have not even started on the many LNIB sighting reports that have not been publsihed.

      What is the problem? Do we have to get a lawyer in to force publication?

    3. You completely miss the point, Anonymous. It's not about who has what available online. It's about people being arbitrarily refused access to a large body of documented research material, presumably having made perfectly reasonable requests for access.

      That's hardly in keeping with the spirit with which the LNIB was founded.

      What possible agenda is served by not letting interested parties have a look at archived research findings?

  9. Yes, I agree with Mr. Bauer and would go a step further about Shine and some of the other researchers at Ness. I've noticed in the past, when Mr. Raynor for example, releases something like a still from a video that we'll never see, he will kind of make fun of what's in the picture and then tell you what Shine thinks about it. Everyone on the front line over there controls the release of "their" data quite carefully, and then when they do, it seems to come to you conditioned and "pre-debunked."

    1. I agree that all LNIB material should be made available,but I cannot see what advantage it would be to Adrian Shine and Dick Raynor to withhold convincing evidence of a unknown creature in Loch Ness.

  10. Hello Anonymous. Thank you for your kind comments. If any of you would care to contact me at I'll be pleased to answer your questions, and even supply links to the "videos we'll never see".

    PS regarding the latest "New Photograph of Nessie", the passengers on my Loch Ness boat tour had great fun taking snaps of the large amount of odd-shaped debris floating around following the rains brought by ex-Hurricane Bertha.

    1. Why not post the link here? Why do we need to contact you privately to get that link?

  11. It's true there's a lot of debris floating around the loch at the moment. There's a stack of it built up on Dores beach over the past week. Unusually large amount.

  12. Roland,

    I always enjoy your blog postings. Viewing the eyewitness drawings, I am going to go way out on a limb here, and say:

    a)--There may be more than one type of "Loch Ness Monster" species that has been observed.

    b)--Has there been an attempt at statistics to learn when "Pleasiosaurid" type creatures are viewed, versus the decidedly non-"Pleasiosaurid" type creatures? (I still have in my head that one underwater sighting of a large frog-like creature sitting on a ledge from the late 19th century, if memory serves.) Could there possibly be one creature that remains year-round, while the potential "Pleasiosaurid" is a seasonal visitor?

    Just throwing that out there.


    Roland, I would very much like to know more about the films and photos that the LNIB may have garnered over time (Yes, this 1963 film footage that you have described here in the comments section sounds very intriguing indeed.), that you have read or heard about, that may not be publicly accessible with more details. Could you put together a listing of such items (based on what has already been mentioned in published media)? Also, is this Dr. Shine willing to engage in correspondence with interested parties? Does anyone know?

    I wasn't aware at all that there may be photos and film not yet in the public domain from the LNIB.

  13. The issue I've always had with some of these sightings is that flippers might allow such an animal to lurch around on a flat beach at the water's edge, but surely would not enable a creature to climb up over rocks and through trees to cross the lochside road. It just doesn't seem possible.

    There was talk a while ago of GB checking the slopes between the locations of the sightings and the loch, to see what kind of terrain would need to be crossed. Did this happen?

  14. Geordie Sceptic - you asked GB about the sightings locations; if you had asked me I could have directed you to my rather skimpy collection of videos on my cunningly disguised Dick Raynor Youtube channel. If you scroll down to the "Loch Ness shoreline opposite Urquhart Castle" clip it follows "monster alley" for a while before arriving at "Sandy Bay" and then, due to the draft of my vessel I turn right and the clip ends with view across to Achnahannet. It is the "creature on the beach" shot in reverse. I will post some shots of boats at the beach and anglers there on the Facebook Lake Monsters page soon. These should educate at least some of those clamouring to see the 1963 LNI film shot from the other direction.

    Dick R

  15. Hi Dick ! What is the exact title for this lake monsters facebook page i cant find it?? Cheers

  16. I agree that the Fordyce beast is outside the range of "acceptable" imoages of the LNM. But doesn't it sort of remind you a bit of an "unfolded" Pictish Beast?

    1. Hmmm, well! I am not sure what the Pictish Beast is!