Wednesday 3 June 2015

The Pole Like Nessie Sightings

I would like to address a class of Loch Ness Monster sighting that has proved unusual within the context of a generally unusual phenomenon itself. I am referring to the pole like appearances of the Loch Ness Monster, if indeed that is what they are. 

To clothe this in some familiarity, I refer readers to perhaps the most famous of "pole Nessies" and that was Father Gregory Brusey back on the 14th October 1971. Relating one account of his sighting from his obituary (he died in 2001):

It was a lovely morning, and the sun was warm and the water smooth," he recounted to The New York Times in June 1976. "And with me was a friend, an organist from London. We suddenly noticed a big commotion about 200 yards out in the water, and then a black neck appeared, about eight inches in diameter and seven or eight feet high, followed by a hump. It rose, then dove sideways back into the water. It was not a boat or a log or a fish. It was a different animal.

The sketch below of his sighting is taken from Dinsdale's "Loch Ness Monster". Back in the 1970s and 80s, Gregory Brusey became a kind of star witness for the Loch Ness Monster as any media group would almost resort to him by default for a good, contemporary Nessie story. It appears that he eventually got fed up with all the attention his sighting had birthed (though he stuck to his story).

To compound the curiosity of this type of sighting, Brusey had another sighting back in the 3rd May 1968, but this was of a more expected "horse like head and two large humps". What is it about these "Pole Nessies" that makes them to differ?

Other sightings describing the neck as a "pole", "pillar" or "periscope" throughout the 81 years of Nessie include:

"L.A.R." July 1933
John Cameron August 1933
"J.C." 1934
The Rolands July 1937
Dom Cyril Dieckhoff May 1940
Warden of Altsigh Youth Hostel 1949
Robin MacEwen 1956 
Cambridge University Expedition 1962
Peter Hodge May 1964
Gregory Brusey October 1971 
Richard Jenkyns 1973
Ian McKenzie 1974
Peter and Gwen Smith August 1977
J. Cameron December 1980  
Miles Cato March 1987
Simon Cooke July 1993
Robert Pollack August 2000

This gives us about 17 "pole" sightings from a total of about 200 head and neck sightings which is 8%. Neck sightings overall constitute 18% of the total sightings record. So this class of sightings is rare being only 1% of all eyewitness reports.

The main reason I was prompted to write this article was an email from a Dr. Simon Cooke who was led to tell his tale for the first time having read this blog. The story is told below in his own words.

Dear Mr Watson

I've read with interest your excellent blog on the LN phenomenon and thought you'd be interested to hear of a possible sighting experienced by my wife and myself on a August evening in 1993.

We were on our honeymoon, and staying at a B and B in Dores. Following a meal at the Dores Inn we walked along the beach. This was about 7 in the evening, and very clear and bright. The surface of the loch was very still. When we approached the far end of the beach we noticed what appeared to be a black pole sticking out of the water, which then sank down vertically. It was about a hundred and fifty yards from the shore.

The object continued to rise and fall for about three minutes, each time disappearing and then reappearing in a different place - sometimes to the left by a few feet, sometimes to the right. I knelt down and looked directly across the surface of the water, and could see clearly a small splash as it sank and rose.

Needless to say, we had neither camera nor binoculars (I don't possess a set). We weren't expecting to have what might be a sighting and were both surprised by what we were seeing. We both formed the impression that this was something living, and definitely not a log, although it did look like a telegraph pole rising and falling.

Out of curiosity I subsequently did some research. What we saw looked exactly the same as the object appearing in the Smith film, reproduced on Arthur Clarke's Mysterious World. Nessie or not, this was probably the same phenomenon, in about the same place.

I'm not making any great claims for this, but I thought you'd be interested to hear of it. 

Requesting further details, I was able to ascertain that the object was visible in spells of about 30 seconds with the height of the object varying by as much as five feet. It always submerged in a vertical manner, but they had the impression it turned on its axis as it went down. The date was revised to July 29th 1993 and the sighting lasted 3 to 5 minutes. Nothing else was in view on the loch surface. Simon included some drawings which I include below.

So what non-monster explanations can be suggested for what Simon saw? We will consider their merits here.

1. Jumping Fish

This explanation is best told by regular reader, Simon Dawes, who had this story to tell.

I actually wanted to share with you something that I saw that initially made my heart race but turned out to be a fish. It's something I've never heard mentioned but I saw it at Fort Augustus on the jetty. I was looking at the Loch and in my peripheral vision noticed something come straight up out if the water at a fair speed and drop straight back down.

So I carried on looking and it happened again and this time I had a clear view of what looked like a pole straight up and down about 3-4 feet long, I called my dad over and he watched it happen several more times. He knew that it was just a pike fishing but if he hadn't been there we both know what I would've thought I was looking at!

Pop reckons it's how they fish? Swim with the prey between them and the surface of the water and then shoot up so fast they come out of the water as they grab the prey. It fits what I saw but I've never seen it before or since.

That's a good explanation and will fit some sighting reports. However, the reason I don't think it fits the bill for the Cooke sighting, is that his object stayed above surface for up to thirty seconds.

2. Birds

Clearly, a long necked bird whose body may be obscured by the waves could occasionally submerge and come back up in the kind of intervals and locations mentioned. The problem here is that the object was described as pole like. No bird fits that description.

3. Buoy

There are navigation buoys in that general vicinity which will be tall, erect and of similar height. But they have a large extended body underneath and they do not sink in the manner described. It would not be a very good buoy if it kept sinking out of sight! They are also not black but more green and red to improve visibility to boat traffic.

4. Driftwood

Many branches and other parts of tree debris flow into Loch Ness from its various rivers and streams. It is a fact that some of these can take on a Nessie like appearance. Most will be easily recognised after some inspection. In rough conditions, one such branch protruding from a submerged trunk could give the impression of appearing and disappearing.

However, in this case, the loch surface was described as "very still" and the witness has already discounted a log as an explanation. The object also disappeared from view permanently.

5. Hoax

This brings us to another famous "Pole Nessie" sighting from 1977. It was an 8mm cine film of a pole like object taken by Peter and Gwen Smith (pictured below). Eventually, suspicion fell on a group of schoolboys who were nearby at the time and also claimed to have seen the creature while out on a rowing boat. The sceptical hypothesis was that they had rigged up a fence post with an anchor on a rope to fool the Smiths.

Now, as far as I know, no one has admitted to this proposed scenario, and neither has it been proven that the boys had the skills to pull this stunt off. However, the technical feasibility of the fence post trick has been demonstrated by Adrian Shine and was repeated in 2002 by researchers Richard Carter and Dick Raynor.

Could the Cookes have been fooled by a prankster or were inadvertent witnesses to an experiment? It can't be discounted, though some questions have to be asked, such as did Adrian Shine perfect this technique before 1993, can such a pole be moved to varying locations and can a pole be made to rise five feet from the surface?

The 150 yards distance may also be an issue, though it is possible our hypothetical trickster was hiding in the undergrowth beyond the beach to the left of the map above.

6. Monster

So what if the Cookes saw the Loch Ness Monster? It would be another of those strange pole like Nessies which seem to have no head and all neck. Now, I have said it on this blog before, I don't think the head and neck of Nessie is as classical as made out. I mean, I don't think it is a neck but more a proboscis. By that I mean an extended trunk or appendage but not a head.

The corollary to that is that it is boneless and very flexible and malleable in form. It may contain a mouth or sucking part that connects to the oesophagus. It may also have other sensory organs at its extremis. 

The consequence of this is an ability to stretch and tense itself via its musculature into a range of lengths and thicknesses. The pole like structure would be envisaged as its most tense and taut form. Why the creature would assume various proboscis postures is unknown. 

One final thought as regards this and the fossil record. Critics have asked for a precedent for the Loch Ness Monster from the fossil record. The plesiosaur is the obvious candidate but if we have a boneless "neck", I suggest it is less amenable to preservation as fossilisation is more a hard tissue process.

That does not make it impossible for something like an outline to be preserved, but it may be that when we are looking for Nessie precedents, perhaps we should not be so preoccupied with matching long neck vertebrae.


  1. June 2015 at 08:38

    I'm afraid I'm gonna annoy you here and go for the obvious - driftwood.

    Dores Beach especially sets alarm bells ringing. Virtually every bit of wood that falls into the loch ends up in that beach, or sometimes bobbing about just off it in the wash. Believe me, I've had more than a few Nessie false alarms here over the years.

    This last storm threw up so much debris onto the beach it rendered it impassable for several weeks. Most of its been cleared away now, but it did give an insight into the sheer volume of wood that floats around the loch. All shapes and sizes.

    Steve has a few prize specimens mounted outside his van.

  2. Out of intrest GB did he report his sighting ??

  3. 7. Inaccurate recall.


    1. Okay, it was twenty years ago and so I would expect some recall degradation. In your opinion, which parts of the testimony have suffered in that respect?

  4. I say wood in the water too. Still water rarely means perfectly still on the loch and enough of a wave offshore to create a bobbing / submerging effect.

  5. I don't think witnesses would describe the loch as "very still" if there was enough wave motion to produce "the height of the object varying by as much as five feet"

  6. The location he's talking about is a driftwood hotspot. It's also surprisingly shallow water around Torr Point, you have to wade quite far out to even get into waist deep water there (it's where I did my ice bucket challenge)

    So yes, still water on the beach or not, 5 feet or whatever, I'm calling driftwood. Coming in from deeper water to shallow and hitting against rocks and bobbing around as a result before eventually submerging.

    The loch narrows here considerably and deep water becomes shallow water, roughly where X marks the spot on his sketch. And those 2 factors will surely combine to produce water movement even on an apparently still day. Add in the fact it's the height of summer so you've tourist boats passing regularly with all the delayed wave effects they bring to that point.

    1. One wonders why there are only a dozen or so sightings of this class if driftwood deceives so easily.

      The witness said it was not a log, so it's down to him to expand on that.

      I also thought logs submerging (water absorption) was quite a long process - weeks? The thing about driftwood is that it sticks around and the more you watch it the more you realise that.

      Bobibng around is not a convincing explanation for something that sinks and rises vertically.

    2. I'd say 'bobbing around' matches what i'm seeing in the sketch fairly accurately.

      Incidentally, where was the Gwen and Peter Smith film taken? Around Whitebridge area?

    3. I disagree, "bobbing around" suggest a more random motion which would include swaying. IIRC the Smith report was further down the south shore, possibly just south of Dores.

    4. 'Sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right' sounds random to me.

      We really need the observer to expand on his reasons for believing it was an animate object and not wood though. Until then I guess you and I will agree to disagree.

    5. Well, the idea of a log submerging and then reappearing further to the left and right but not also displaying this behaviour whilst NOT submerged sounds contradictory.

      It may be a log with a large vertical branch, but the explanations given in this regard don't cohere enough for me.

      I have alerted Mr. Cooke to this article, it's up to him to whether he wishes to comment further.

  7. If the observer is at beach level the distance and size of unfamiliar objects on calm water is unreliable beyond about 20 metres.

    1. True, although to be fair to the observer here he would've had the trees on the shore at Torr Point to give him a comparison to gauge against.

  8. As you might guess, before I'd suggest an extendable proboscis I'd favor saying it's the other end of the animal (on the rare occasions it's actually an animal and not a wooden pole): it would be the tail.

    1. Steve, how could I forget your salamander tail? Anyway, I don't think the constant and thin width of these sightings fits a salamander tail?

    2. Interesting hypothesis of an ancillary appendage. The first time I've heard of such an idea. A snorkel maybe? I believe Tim Dinsdale also had a pole like sighting subsequent to his famous first and he relates that it was just a fleeting one before it submerged, giving little time for him to bring his camera to bear.

    3. That was an almost pole like sighting, looks like the old shock and awe got to Tim.

    4. What's this "old shock and awe" thing? Not heard of it. Nor read about it in relation to anything at the Ness

    5. It's a phrase very common to readers of this blog, describing the phenomena of people being too dumbstruck by an extraordinary sight on the loch. Usually in relation to not having the sense or presence of mind to use a camera, if they have one.

    6. AKA 'Baloney' :)

  9. Pole .. neck ...tail ..driftwood.. whatever he saw its proof that a lot of sightings go unreported. So when a figure is given on nessie sightings you can probably at least double it.

    1. Undoubtedly, a large number go unreported. I had two reports on my visit to Loch Ness last week. I'll publish them in due course.

    2. A fair point but then why no videos? Are we really to believe that sightings like this only ever happen when people don't have a camera? Doesn't seem at all realistic IMHO.

    3. I would rather concentrate on what we know. But I'll call you out on this one.

      How many videos/photos SHOULD we have?

      Take your time, no hurry.

    4. Certainly not ZERO. There, I needed no time to answer.

    5. Well, you should have taken your time as you did not answer the question. I asked "how many?" and you did not give me a number. Probably because you do not know how to arrive at such a number.

      You answered with "NOT 0", that is a pretty BIG number range.

      But we do have one, the Smith film. That's one out of a dozen or so pole-like reports. Is that enough?

    6. A question in reply. How many sightings were not mistakes or hoaxes over the years? Can you conclusively show that the answer to that question is higher than zero?

      The Smith film is a very indistinct recording of a hoax by some schoolboys.

    7. A question in reply? Is this because we should not expect an answer in reply?

      You're indulging in the time honoured tactic of deflection. That's a particular game I am not going to play.

      I will answer your quesiton if you answer my earlier question.

      Simple. Yes?


    8. I will try to make a mathematical estimate, based on sighting numbers per era and the percentage of camera owners at the loch during each era. If we multiply the number of sightings by the percentage of camera owners we should arrive at a fairly realistic figure. Initial thoughts are that if there have been say 200 sightings since 1990 then I would expect at least 50 photos and or videos since then.

      Interestingly the bulk of the clear photos date from the days when camera ownership was much rarer. That is a very notable statistical anomaly.

      If you could post a link to a sighting report database I will oblige with a calculation.

    9. How many photos/videos should we expect? It depends. As of now I think most people have a phone capable of taking decent stills and video. So from now on, sightings of more than a minute's duration with no visual record should arouse some suspicion. That would not have been true for your list of sightings which date from 2000 and earlier.

    10. You can use

      I await your final and justfied estimates and will fully critique if and when you deliver it.

  10. Yes ive bin told of a few over the years. I look forward to you putting them on here GB

    1. People are winding you up jake :)

    2. No they not old bean. Some are good friends ::)

  11. I was down at the location again this morning.

    I think his estimation of 150 yards from beach to X is too great. I can understand how he came to it though, as the curve of the beach can make Torr Point look much further out in the water than it is.

    My estimation is that the distance from beach to X is about 100 yards tops. 150 yards would put the object beyond Torr Point, where in the sketch it is clear the observer saw Torr Point beyond the object. This in turn may have a bearing on the 5 foot height estimation.

    I will send a pic I took of the site this morning to Roland's gmail. It has a couple of 2 man open kayaks on the beach to show comparison. I reckon they are about 4 metres in length each.

  12. The Nessie hunt, should start from 0 Ignoring all past sightings (YES ALL) film,video, verbal reports and photos. Back to 'square one' A fresh start.

    I hold no faith in past sightings, nor video and sadly TD film. We need to start again in the hunt, disregarding all past media reports. A fresh start in the hunt for Nessie. Sonar is the way to go.

    1. My point being, how do we define what was mistaken identity sightings with no photographic evidence, the same criteria may also apply to photos/video and 16mm movie film. Don't get me wrong, I believe something swims in the Loch. It's a matter of sorting 'the wheat from the chaff' to coin a phrase.

      Starting afresh in the Nessie hunt, removes past assumptions based on the above. A fresh clean start is the way to go.

    2. May be a good idea in theory, but in practical terms not feasible. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. History at this point is immutable.

    3. John, it's simple, totally disregard all past sightings be they humps/long necks et al. It's a fresh start into the nessie hunt.

      All these past reports can only lead to confusion, debates identifying the creature for eg. long necked creature, giant sea slug, salamander lizard have all been discussed.

      Totally fogging the issue of identification. I still stand by, a new start in the nessie hunt is needed.

    4. Yes, I get and appreciate your point and premise. But, everything that has gone before, be it misidentification, disinformation, hoaxes or what have you, is all part of the Loch Ness Story, or as GB likes to say the “tapestry of the story”. It is ultimately up to one's judgment to accept the evidence at face value or to discard it outright.

      The mainstream scientific community has already made up it's mind, in a negative manner. So, what are we left with, if all possible candidates, including the paranormal, have been proposed discussed ad infinitum and maybe eliminated? Sightings of humps, long necks, hoaxes (photographic or otherwise) will continue to occur. Will we start again at 0, where we left off? I do agree with you that a new hunt is needed, something along the lines not seen since the LNPIB days. BTW, sonar has been used, to no definite conclusion.

    5. Not 3D sonar, big difference in results compared to most reports that use 'fish finder' equipment.

    6. Anon wrote, "A fresh clean start is the way to go." That depends on what you're really after. Say for example there is no positive evidence from this day forward. Does that establish that there is now and never was an unusual species in the Loch? Not at all. Perhaps the last one died yesterday. Or perhaps a combination of behavioral changes and population size have made the animals harder to detect. And perhaps regrowth of the side vegetation since it was cleared in the early 20th century prevents roadside sightings at their past frequency. We cannot know if the truth (if that's the goal) will emerge in new data going forward. The old data may be a tangled mess and difficult to sort out, but the truth is in it somewhere. I wouldn't be so hasty to throw out the baby with the bath water.

    7. But I think this dude is saying you can't work out what is the baby in the past bath water of evidence, and you'd get a clear picture by only starting again. And use modern science to discover what if anything is there.

  13. I agree wud be good to have a fresh start and try diffrent methods. But we cant ignore the history!! I enjoy studying the subject and its past, and one reason i come in here is cus sometimes i learn sumit diffrent!! I especially love the old pre 1934 stories that GB comes out with. Strange sightings have bin going on for years! Keep it up :)

  14. The water is quite shallow at the point on the map I know as my dog swims there regularly in fact I have a few pics on FB of him swimming there and he is too scared to venture into deep water, also I seriously doubt that the distance to x is 150 yards.

    The amount and size and shape of driftwood washed up at this spot varies but I have seen on occasion the most amazing piles of wood washed up and find it much more likely that they saw a log bobbing about than a large animal which may have grounded itself on the rocks so close to the shore.

  15. "There are navigation buoys in that general vicinity" Remind me of their location please as I often go there and haven't seen them from Dores beach.

    1. I think you'll find the clue in the phrase "general vicinity". You may define that in a more constricted sense than I have.

  16. Here is an image of at least one buoy at Dores beach Anonymous maybe you need some new glasses? Although sometimes when it's windy and the Loch is choppy you can't see them.

    1. To be fair to him he was referring to navigation buoys. They're the conical shaped ones that have been and could be confused with long neck sightings. The kind you see at Aldourie and Foyers.

    2. Yes you're right Trevor I realised that after re reading the article, my mistake !

  17. Another pole-like sighting (and a very compelling one IMO) is the one by retired farmer Richard Jenkyns in November 1973. Jenkyns was trying to start a stalled tractor; when he got it started it gave off an explosive sound, after which Jenkyns heard a loud splash in the Loch. He got off the tractor and walked a few feet down to the shore, but he didn't see anything that could account for the splash, so he went back to his tractor. After a short while he looked out at the Loch and saw a ring of ripples on the surface several yards to the left of a jetty. (This despite the Loch surface being wavy.) As Jenkyns watched a pole-like object, rounded at the top, emerged from the water to a height of about 3 -1/2 feet. Initially it was at about an 80 degree angle, but then the object moved through the water, the angle decreasing to about 60 degrees. Jenkyns described the object as slate grey, 9 inches uniform diameter (no taper), with a long slit of a mouth above which was a small dark eye or blow hole. On the top of what he took to be the head was a patch of scales or different skin texture. After moving in a northeasterly direction (parallel to the shore) for about 40 yards the object sank "on its tail" as Jenkyns put it.


    1. A classic case in its own right. Would you believe some just spin a story that he saw a seal. I was hesitant to call this "pole like" because a mouth and eye were described whereas "pole like" to me is a pretty featureless event. Of course, what he presumed as a mouth and eye may have just been surface markings, I can't recall he far away he said the LNM was from him.

    2. It sounds to me like it probably was a seal, Roland.