Thursday 15 October 2015

The Sightings Problem

It is the constant refrain of the sceptical - "Where is the conclusive film or photograph?". Having "jousted" with such people over the years on this subject and replied in various articles, there is no need to repeat long arguments and replies. 

However, the sceptical demands for evidence are brought into contemporary relief by the advent of mobile phone cameras and the supposed deduction that this ought to produce something game changing. My previous replies to that suggests it is not as clean cut and wrinkle free as they make out.

A further look at the recent sightings database reveals more. I produced the graph below for the aforementioned article to demonstrate that image capture was on the increase due to such technology. The proportion of images taken in relation to the total number of reported sightings has increased substantially since the 1980s with at least 50% of reports carrying a film or photo.

However, that is not enough for the critics. They want an irrefutable image which would somehow get past the accusations of "Fake" and "CGI". Setting aside the issues of how exactly a photo is deemed fake-free or non-CGI, one thing is certain and that is the Loch Ness Monster would have to be pretty close and well out of the water to produce such a compelling image. Here begins the problems. I charted the number of historical sightings which were less than 100 yards or meters from the witness and got this graph.

As you can see, close up reports of Nessie have been on the decline since the 1970s. To put it plainly, if the monster is not playing ball by putting in a close appearance, no amount of fancy or expensive HD ready mobile phones will capture anything that could be called game changing.

Accept it, as they say.

You won't? Okay, let's take a closer look. The question is why close up reports have declined? This is not surprisingly part of a general decline in sightings, for which I drew up a list of possible reasons in an earlier article:

  1. People are less easily fooled by natural loch phenomena. 
  2. People are less motivated to report sightings in a sceptical age. 
  3. People find it harder to find an "official" centre to report sightings. 
  4. The media does not report as many sightings as it used to. 
  5. The creature(s) is surfacing less often either due to population decline. 
  6. The creature(s) is surfacing less often due to aversion to increased surface activity. 
  7. Reports from recent years have still to filter through to researchers. 

To be clear, though, the absence of close encounters with Nessie at a hundred paces is not going to be explicable by all these categories. For example, the first explanation is not so convincing for close up encounters, I quite frankly get bored with people who insist witnesses mistook a cormorant for a monster at sixty feet. You can only dumb down witnesses so far.

In fact, of these seven speculations, I would think only 5 and 6 are relevant as I can't imagine a close up view of Nessie not making it into the media mainstream. In fact, the bottom line is that sightings of the calibre of MacLean, Jenkyns, Cockrell and so on have just not happened in recent years.

I would add a modifier to option 5 and that is the travelling Nessie hypothesis. As opposed to population decline due to overfishing and pollution, perhaps the Loch Ness Monster has just vacated the premises? Since the sightings record indicates at least three or more creatures seen at one time, the population in the loch is not so dependent on breeding but on new creatures every few decades coming in to replenish the numbers. Whether they can leave again is a matter of debate and an article in its own right.

But we do have sightings which have occurred within 100 metres of the witness, but whatever was seen was just below the surface or barely showing. One example is the photo taken by Jon Rowe in 2011. There may be one or two others but they involve water disturbances rather than a full show of the creature.

Which brings me to a comment posted a while back on the matter of how many films and photos should we have of the Loch Ness Monster. That word "should" is pretty loaded as it can carry a lot of bias generated assumptions with it. Their reasoning went as follows:

"Ok let's show mathmatically the minimum since 2005, because I have read a stat that 90% of adults since 2005 have carried a mobile phone with a camera, averaged over the last 10 years. This seems reasonable, certainly not far off the mark in terms of everyday observations. In 2015 it is higher than 90%, in 2005 it was lower. So for argument's sake we will both ignore the years before 2005, and we will not factor in the multitude of digital cameras and video cameras (inc night vision) taken to the loch additionally.

Next we need to know how many sightings lasting more than 10 seconds have occurred since 2005. We are told that this figure is down to about 3 a year.

So doing the maths, there should have been 30 sightings of more more than 10 seconds, and 90% of these should have been filmed. We should have 27 films worth looking at since 2005, and dozens more from before then. Of these 27, if they were all clear views of Nessie, they would all produce footage worth analysing.

Now, your turn to justify why we have ZERO instead

So, our commenter is expecting 27 films of the Loch Ness Monster since 2005 - and he thinks I expect zero. The first thing to do is ascertain how many sightings have actually been logged in the ten year period up to 2015. Consulting my own articles as well as the database maintained by Gary Campbell, I have come up with at least 24 recorded events as opposed to the 30 assumed by the commenter. In this, I have excluded webcam reports, sonar contacts and Google Earth map stories.

How many resulted in films or photos? Our commenter applies a 90% ratio to get 27 image captures and for some reason he expects them all to be motion and not still images. As it turns out, the number is 13, 11 of these were photos and 2 were film. That is an image/report ratio of 54%. Three of the cases involved driving in a car and three were in boats. If the car drivers are removed as potential camera users, the ratio increases to 62%. The list is shown below:

2005 - 4 (Bell, Yeats, Anonymous(b), Girvan(p))
2006 - 1 (Murphy(d))
2007 - 2 (Wilson(bp),Holmes(f))
2008 - 1 (Ellis(p))
2009 - 1 (MacDougall)
2010 - 1 (Preston(p))
2011 - 4 (Rowe(p),Hargreaves,Gruer,Jobes(p))
2012 - 2 (Assleman(p),Ross(p),Anonymous(d))
2013 - 0
2014 - 3 (gamekeeper,Loch Ness Lodge staff(p),Bhardwaj(bp))
2015 - 5 (Ross(f),Anonymous,Bruce(d),Bates(p),McKenna(d))


Those are the numbers and I would not class any of them as a close up view of a fully exposed monster. Indeed, some reports will be too far for such a situation. So that means I do expect films and photos but I (at this point in time) expect no game changers. There are others things to note.

The first is that even monster researchers will not accept every sighting as a bona fide sighting of Nessie. Some are going to be misidentification, though these will tend to be the ones which are much further away or only seen briefly before a proper assessment could be made of the object in question.

Secondly, witnesses prefer taking photos than films. As much as sceptics fume at dumb witnesses not switching their phones or cameras to video mode, it just doesn't happen the way they want it. The raw data says that 15% of images taken are motion and not the idealistic 100% of our commenter.

Where does this leave us? That sceptics expect films is not to be denied. The problem is the old girl is not putting in the required close up appearances. They say this is because such "sightings" do not happen now because witnesses are better educated and not so easily fooled. I say prove it and how on earth does that apply to close ups at 100 metres where doubts over what you are seeing should be minimal.

Rather than accept these arguments, consider the possibility that the Loch Ness Monster is just not surfacing as much as it used to. Whether that is due to increased surface activity or population decline or just due to some of the monsters vacating the loch  is now a matter of debate.

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  1. The basic assumption is that this is an un-captured animal and that one of your 7 conditions must be met, but Ted Holiday tried to show that the creatures themselves somehow knew what was going on with us human observers and reacted accordingly (they hide from us). As Roland has pointed out in previous blogs,a prime example is operation Deepscan which finished with uncertain results as to the actuality of the animals. The next day Nessy was seen by visitors, putting the scans results to question. Holiday also stated that the creature(s) would be seen in the few spots that were not being monitored by the LNIB at the time, indicating they "knew" what spots were being watched, and avoided them. Holiday also felt that the animals could leave the loch unobserved anytime they needed to. Most modern fans of Nessy don't seem to get into lake monsters beyond the notion that they are plesiosaurs that didn't die out 60 million years ago, or as the current crop of Ness experts will proclaim, it's just waves, wind, debris, unaccounted for sturgeons, seals and most of all our fantastic imaginations triggered by social beliefs surrounding the lore of the Loch. After 80 years of folks scrutinizing this lake, we are no closer to an answer, which flies in the face of modern zoological pursuits, so maybe it's time to accept the notion that they are not just an undiscovered animal waiting for the zoologists dissection knives, and something else.

    1. As in a paranormal Nessie?

      An alternative is that Nessie is a highly intelligent creature which is aware of human activity and has decided to avoid all contact as much as possible.

      Mind you, if I suddenly became a water breathing creature in Loch Ness but retaining human intelligence, could I avoid all contact with humans?

    2. Yet somehow she shows herself in clear detail regularly enough to be beyond doubt. But never enough to be clearly filmed.

      Not an animal that follows the rules of statistical probability.

    3. Ha! Ha! Yeah I remember reading an article on this blog about Holiday proposing to pretend not to be looking for a Nessie, effectively fooling the monster into showing up. As one witty commentor to that article put it “The Art of Searching Without Looking. It's the Zen approach to Nessie Hunting”

      Link to article here:

      Something else? A Tulpa maybe. A conjured up entity

      BTW GB, it was one of the longest spells without a new article or comments that I can remember. I started to worry that something foul had happened to you. Maybe perhaps you decided to stroll along Loch Ness shore, came upon a Kelpie and decided to take a ride! :-)

    4. "Yet somehow she shows herself in clear detail regularly enough to be beyond doubt. But never enough to be clearly filmed."

      Ermm, you clearly have not read the article properly. The monster has NOT shown herself in clear detail regularly to be beyond doubt.

    5. John, no Kelpie assault, just busy with other things.

    6. So why even think she exists Glasgow Boy?

    7. You mean NOW in Loch Ness or at previous decades? I know people who think Nessie was once in Loch Ness but is gone. I don't take that view.

  2. Simple bottom line: NO picture will be enough to undoubtly bring the entity of the LNM into zoology as long as no Holotype is available.

  3. Bottom line: There's no decent evidence whatsoever for the existence of Nessie.

    1. If you mean evidence that will convince the majority of sceptics, yes we figured that out for ourselves a long time ago.

  4. I have to agree with above commentary. We are expected to believe in the numerous vivid eyewitness reports, yet also expected to believe that the opportunity to film the beast just "melts away" as soon as a camera or phone is engaged.

    Quite logically, if the sightings database were to be believed, we would have a great number of very clear photos and videos of a species and those images would support eachother through their similarities. It speaks volumes that the most vivid eyewitness reports are not supported by photographic evidence. It suggests that the imagination and creativity of recollection are free to run wild in the absence of any supporting material.

    1. Okay, so first you are going beyond the scope of this article (2005-2015) sightings, so no one should take what you say as relevant to that.

      Your use of hyperbole such as "numerous vivid eyewitness reports", "great number", "very clear photos", "speaks volumes", "run wild" suggests to me you have no evidence to back up what you're saying and are rather reliant on big, "in your face", statements.

      Just how many photos and films do you predict from the 1933-2005 era? I suggest you have no clue as to the answer.

    2. You use emotional statements like "you are going beyond the scope", "no one should take what you say as relevant ", "you have no evidence","you have no clue", all of which suggest you have a very emotional attachment to the Nessie myth and are no longer able to apply logic when discussing the subject.

    3. How can "you are going beyond the scope" be emotional when you clearly are arguing beyond the 2005-2015 scope of the article?

      Therefore, within that context, your comments are not relevant to the article. Logic or emotion?

      I think you do have no clue as to how many photo/films "should" have been taken between 1933 and 2005. That's not emotion, I just happen to believe you are truly cannot do it.


  5. Regarding mobile phone photography, the intrinsically un-ergonomic shape of such devices makes them hard to hold steady such that really sharp pictures are difficult to obtain: try, for instance, threading a needle with your arms held out in front of you as when taking a picture with a phone or compact camera.

    Also, the short focal length of their lenses necessitates the use of digital zoom which basically shuffles around what few pixels there are in the original image and creates the rest by the use of algorithms. This means that any image they produce is largely invention.

    But what about sightings where the monster is seen simultaneously at close quarters and from a distance, e.g. where the creature is seen a few feet away from a witness on the shore and from a distance by, say, by those on a cruise boat? Such sightings corroborated by independent witnesses - whether they involve photographic evidence or not - should occur, so where are they?

    BTW, when you get around to the second part of the article on the O'Connor photograph, I've got the evidence you wanted when you disagreed with my comments on the picture not being genuine.

    1. Off the top of my head, the one independent witness corroboration that springs to mind is the recent Hargreaves/MacGruer report. Also, Holiday mentions one of his sightings in his Orm book and relates seeing a family who also saw it and how he found them later to tell their side of the story.

      As for O'Connor, you're free to post your "evidence" anytime to the article on his photo. No need to wait.

    2. Thanks for the information on the multiple-witness sightings above.

      As for my criticism of the O'Connor photograph, I will add it immediately to the replies to your post of 14/08/15.

  6. Elephant remains in room.

    I note that the grand 3D sonar investigation by 'Daz' was just another hoax. Doesn't all this rubbish just grind you down as the years go by Roland?

    1. Yes, you mean the nice porcelain one on the mantlepiece?

      I'm from Glasgow, it's not a problem.

  7. I think I once before mentioned the rogue nessie hypothesis as explained here
    I'm not convinced of it and go to Loch Ness frequently hoping to see the resident monster, though I never have. However Roland it was that book of 1933-34 sightings that brought it back to me how few of the original reports supposed it was a monster unique to the loch. The assumption was it was an animal that had strayed in from the sea. A plausible hypothesis and one which would explain dramatically differing sighting levels in different decades. Just out of interest, why do you suppose this theory fell out of fashion after the 1930s? There seems no evidence against it.

    1. I don't think ti fell out of favour per se, it just petered out with the Nessie story as the war took over.

      Once the monster was back in vogue in the 1960s, its persistent presence perhaps brought a rethink from Dinsdale & Co. as to a post-glacial creature.

  8. I think people have just got bored with making up monster stories at loch ness that's all.

  9. Gary

    I habe only recently discovered your site and am very impressed with the detail and the thumbs up approach on the side of all things Nessie...

    I have long had an interest in Loch Ness and find it amazing that some people will still go to the greatest lengths to debunk when admittance to a question mark just won't do. I always found it most engaging to read and hear the local eyewitness testimony - people who are familiar with the Loch's personality enough to know when they experience something that doesn't quite fit. Not all of those are liars, glory-seekers or attention mongers so to me, there has to be something worth the mention...

    The pictures at the very top of this blog I find curious. I am an angler of many years, who has spent many, many hours around water. You pick up a few things, some water craft, and become familiar with the way water is and how it behaves. Those pictures look exactly like an upwelling of water from animate movement below....period. If time was spent looking after/before those pictures were taken, and it's known as a place where water does not move like that there for any regular occurence, then we need not say anymore. Any angler or person who has the same instincts for water as I'm sure many of the locals around the Loch will have done over the years, I'm sure can be trusted with their accounts in their various forms as long as they are not lies. Read the chapter "The Corrie Creature" in angler Michael Pritchard's book " A Sporting Angler" (Willow Books 1987). A reliable account from a reliable and responsible reporter, amateur naturalist and angler since childhood about a situation he just could not explain given all of the circumstances within which he was so familar and could explain.

    As has been pointed out on this site, it doesn't matter how long you stay looking at the Loch in as diligent a fashion as you must to succeed, the size and dimensions will always be against you capturing anything no matter how it goes down. That, along with all of the many sceptical arguments and practical explanations do not sum up Loch Ness in any distance to totality....

    Long may that continue. A truly great website Roland!

    Long may it continue to....


    1. A balanced comment, thank you.

      I will check that corrie reference.

  10. Just thinking, with an unfortunate contemporary reference, about the amount of commercial aircraft crashes. Looking at wikipedia, there appear to have been, for maybe the modern era, at least 10 per year and sometimes closer to 20. So maybe 15 a year, on average for the last 50 years. That amounts to approximately 750, with very little in the way of photographic recording, unless it is close to the airport. Point being, something that sadly happens often has very little in the way of images connected to it.