Thursday, 18 July 2019

Loch Ness Mystery Blog Nine Years Old Today.




Happy Birthday to me.

It was on the 18th July 2010 that the first rather innocuous post was logged onto lochnessmystery.blogspot.com. Nine years later the blog is still running, still posting and still here. The tally of articles is now six hundred and ninety six (including this one) with the number of page views now in the millions since defending the famous Loch Ness Monster began.

The range of articles has varied in content and depth, some just simple announcements ranging to articles series such as the five articles on the Peter O'Connor photo and the four devoted to the Lachlan Stuart picture. The article with the biggest number of hits is "The Hugh Gray Photograph Revisited" at 88,500 page views and not far behind is the article on the 2012 Marcus Atkinson sonar image with 83,118 views. How many unique users that equates to is impossible to calculate.

Meantime, the site continues to at least appear on the second page of various search engines, but has gone as high as third ranking on Google (below). It rather depends how many articles I churn out it seems. In terms of global coverage, 45% of the views come from the USA, 22% from the UK going down to the likes of 0.5% from Spain.




A perusal of the various articles should make it clear where this blog stands and the strap line at the top is as true today as it was in 2010 - Reclaiming the Loch Ness Monster from the current tide of debunking and scepticism. Since the late 1990s and the rise of the Internet, the noise of scepticism and its errant child, pseudo-scepticism has grown with every browser refresh. Though there were cryptid websites around, there was an imbalance in the debate which needed some more counter-weight. Therefore, the remit of the blog can be broken into four areas:

  1. Counter sceptical arguments against the phenomenon.
  2. Promote arguments and theories in favour of a cryptid view.
  3. Cover current and folkloric aspects of Nessie culture.
  4. Write on the history of the monster hunt and its personalities.

One may ask if this implies total gullibility as every sighting, photo, film and sonar is swallowed as evidence. That is not the case if one reads through the blog, but certainly the logical and scientific facade displayed on the other side is rather the opposite of gullibility to me - namely cynicism and negativity towards cryptid theories and their adherents. This is exemplified in the attitude that not one witness out of the thousands has ever accurately described what they saw and not one case is ever problematic.

So be it, but this blog does "Messy Nessie" insomuch that it is bolder to accept various cases while others sit on the fence or run away at the first sceptical debunking. That means we get it wrong sometimes, but I don't really care much for that as it is not the intention of this site to protect a reputation or ego. We shall leave that to others.

Likewise, the odds of being proven right on any case as opposed to wrong is small as that means the monster has been proven to be a large, exotic animal. One thing you can be sure of, the sceptic and pseudo-sceptic are safe in their comfort zone while that situation persists. Denounce everything in the safe knowledge that it is unlikely they will be caught with their pants down when a carcass is pulled up the next day!

So here is to hopefully another nine years of blogging Nessie. Where you and I will be in 2028 is unknown, but I am pretty sure one or more monsters will continue to be seen.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Friday, 12 July 2019

Ted Holiday Interviews Loch Ness Monster Eyewitnesses (audio)




Here's a treat for all Nessie fans as famous monster researcher, Ted Holiday, conducts audio interviews with various eyewitnesses to the Loch Ness Monster. How this came about was thanks to Will Matthews, a Fortean researcher from the USA, who had been helping with the processing and archiving of material by the late great Ivan T. Sanderson and his organisation, the Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained.

During this unpacking, his friend indicated he had found an old audio reel tape of Ted Holiday conducting interviews with five monster witnesses lasting about 30 minutes. These were played back on an old tape player and he recorded them on his phone. He sent me a copy and I have listened to these interviews and was excited to hear the actual people talk about what they saw back in their day many years ago. In particular, I was very glad to hear the voice of John McLean recount his close up encounter from 1938.

In sequential order, the eyewitnesses interviewed with the years of their sightings are Hugh Ayton (1963), Peter Hodge (1965), Tom Skinner (1952), John MacLean (1938) and Alistair Grant (twice in 1963). The link to the audio is at the end of this article, but I would like to make three points regarding these and eyewitness recordings in general. Firstly, you may ask where can you find other recordings of eyewitnesses? During the 1960s and 1970s, Loch Ness was a hive of monster hunting activity as researchers pursued not only the creature but witnesses to it. Many were recorded onto audio media by the likes of Ted Holiday and Tim Dinsdale and I have no doubt there were others. But today you will struggle to find any of this even on the vast sprawling Internet.

The reasons are two fold. The cassettes and tape reels still exist, but those who hold them are doing nothing about digitising and putting these online. That is partly down to time, resources and trust. They personally do not have the time, money or know-how to do the conversion but at the same time, they do not want to hand over the items to relative strangers to do it for them. That is understandable to a certain extent but leaves us all in limbo.

The second reason is that there are those who hold these legacy items from past researchers and organisations but are not inclined to do anything public with them because they do not believe in the Loch Ness Monster, so why go to the trouble over something that was likely a log or a wave? Indeed, why encourage belief in these annoying monsters at all? It is better to stay quiet and do nothing. Well, there is one overriding reason for them to go that trouble and that is profit, but I will say no more.

But focusing on Holiday specifically, he not only recorded these interviews but transcribed them for his book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" in 1968. In Holiday's book, we have the transcripts of nine eyewitness interviews. Of the six eyewitness accounts on the audio, all but Hugh Ayton appear in the book. The four eyewitness transcripts that are in the book but not the audio are those of William John Holme, David Wathen, Simon Cameron and John Cameron. This certainly suggests a possible cache of other audio tapes created by Ted Holiday which are currently beyond public reach.

The second point is how accurate was the transcription process from tape to book? On listening to the John Mclean audio interview while following its text version in the book, there had been editing by the publishers as unnecessary phrases such as "you know" and vocal pauses such as "errr" and "umm" were omitted.  Some sentences had been removed for the sake of summary which had no material effect on the account itself and personal details were removed. In other words, there is no conflict between the written and spoken word.

The third point is that, as you might expect, the hand of the pseudo-sceptic is in here as they try to discredit and debunk anything that elevates the Loch Ness Monster story and these audio interviews would be no different in that respect. In this case, they have accused Holiday of asking leading questions to influence the witnesses' answers. A leading question is one that prompts or encourages the answer wanted, either consciously or subconsciously. But can Holiday be accused of this? If one asks a witness "How big was the Monster?" as opposed to "What was the length of the object?" you would be correct in saying the last question is more neutral than the first one. However, is such a line of questioning going to turn everyday objects into thirty foot monsters? Even deciding what is a leading question and what, if any, effect it has on the interviewee may be in the eye of the beholder and their own confirmation bias (whatever side of the monster debate you are on).

But Holiday does sometimes ask non-neutral questions, suggesting answers such as "round" when asking about the shape of the creature to John MacLean. Given that Mclean's sighting had been publicly available in the press and in books such as those by Whyte and Dinsdale, it hardly seems relevant to talk about leading questions. All the information was already out there whereas the idea behind leading questions is to produce new but false information.

This would also apply to the Skinner report of the prior decade and the Ayton/Grant interviews were done one year after the event. However, the Peter Hodge interview was done on the same day as the event and Holiday may well have been their first interviewer. Listening to that and the parallel text, I saw no leading questions apart from one when Holiday asked what may have caused the creature to turn from shore and suggesting a car in the same breath. Obviously, this had no bearing on the actual description of what was seen.

So, in my opinion, the attack regarding leading questions can be put aside as I invite you now to listen to these 34 minutes of the best type of monster talk - eyewitness talk. The audio can be accessed at this link and the transcripts of each sighting can be found at these pages in the first edition of the Great Orm book:

Peter Hodge pp.74
Alastair Grant pp.78 (twice)
John McLean pp.82
Simon Cameron pp.100
Tom Skinner pp.151
William John Holme pp.157
David Wathen pp.165
John Cameron pp.167


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com







Sunday, 7 July 2019

Video of the Loch Ness Monster?


Here is a video taken back in January this year that I did not see before. Perhaps it was not publicised and it was a fellow Nessie enthusiast that alerted me to it last week. I believe it was taken by an Australian by the name of James Petch right at the beginning of the year while they had a Christmas and New Year holiday in Britain. You can see the whole video here.

Having watched it, I am not sure anything solid is seen at the surface and this naturally brings to the fore the wave explanation. Just as the old legends used to talk about "waves without wind" we wonder if this is a "waves without boats" scenario?  The owner helpfully pans his video recorder across the loch and no boat is to be see, which is perfectly understandable for early January when boat traffic is minimal.

I know it is said that boat wakes can persist for up to ten minutes after the vessel has passed, but I see no evidence of a boat that is ten minutes gone in the panning of the loch. However, on closer inspection at about 10s into the video, a line of three smaller waves is seen to the right and at 1m20s in, one wave disappears at the spot to be replaced by one just further to the left. Also, there is a faint suggestion of a completed bow wave in its environ suggesting it is indeed part of a decaying boat wake.

So while the person exclaims "what else can it be?", there is something else it can be. While I am on the subject of objects in Loch Ness, here are three pictures put forward as possible evidence of the monster. The first was taken in February this year, the second last August and the third in June, All have made in into the media as "Nessie" photos.





Now I had already pointed out that the June picture was just the log below seen in the bay, but it didn't twig (excuse the pun) that other two claimed pictures were of the same object. How many people are going to picture this decidedly non-Nessie object and tout it to the press? I suspect there may be more, let's hope not. Alongside this trio there is the issue of the Hayley Johnson picture covered in May 2018,



Now I was not inclined to say the Johnson was the same log as, well, it did not look like it. However, it is in the same area as the log and one would have to argue the log somehow stayed out of view. Another layer of interpretation would be required here such as a video artefact which muddied the image, but I am not going to defend this picture with much zeal.




Perhaps some person will move this pain in the ass log so we do not get yet another Nessie picture from this spot which the witness claimed submerged. Meantime, we await more pictures of the quality of Roy Johnston, James Gray, William Jobes and so.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com







Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Sonar and an Article on Cruise Loch Ness


I spotted this on the Daily Telegraph, but I think it is only available to subscribers, so here is an insight into how the Loch Ness cruise boat industry works. I went on the new Cruise Loch Ness boat last April and it was an enjoyable and interesting experience, but more on that at the end of this article.



Not every small business owner can say they offer customers a chance to get up close and personal with a legendary monster, but Debi Mackenzie can. For more than 50 years, her tour company Cruise Loch Ness has ferried curious clients back and forth across Scotland's second-deepest loch. Most come to learn about the region's history and geology, but in the back of their minds is always Nessie, she explains. "There's no getting away from it – people are mystified by the creature!"

Based in Fort Augustus, a "quaint little village" on the banks of the loch's southernmost point, the family-run firm offers a range of scenic and exhilarating tours. Its standard offering is a 50-minute cruise that runs several times a day to Invermoriston and back, while more adventurous travellers can take a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RIB) to Foyers, Urquhart Castle and beyond at high speed.

"We try to cater for all ages and budgets," says Mackenzie, who thinks that her company's key differentiator is its local workforce. "Our staff are well versed and very passionate about the place, as most have lived here all their lives." The director isn't local; she used to work in banking in Glasgow. In 2010, a mutual friend introduced Mackenzie to her now husband Ronald, the owner of Cruise Loch Ness. His father Norman launched the enterprise with a second-hand lifeboat in 1968.

The couple began dating, but living a three-and-a-half-hour drive apart proved tough. "One of us had to move, but Loch Ness is Loch Ness and we couldn't shift that," jokes Mackenzie, who relocated to Fort Augustus in 2012 and took a job with a local bank. "This was about the time the business began to take off and Ronald was working really hard on it, doing pretty much everything himself."

He asked his partner if she wanted to come aboard. "He expected me to say no, but I loved rural life," she says. "I wanted to see what we could do together to make the company even better." Ronald's time was mostly spent working on the boats, which meant that the back office suffered. Mackenzie used her banking expertise to introduce new finance and administration processes. "Everything became streamlined," she says. A new website and bespoke booking system brought even more efficiency and a better customer experience. Business increased by about 20pc each year after that point, she claims.

The family slowly but surely grew its fleet of boats to meet demand, but by 2017, a much larger passenger vessel was needed. With nothing suitable second-hand, the Mackenzies commissioned a new build. It was "stressful" and a "huge risk", admits the director. "When you're a home-based business working from laptops, you don't expect to spend £1.5m on your next piece of kit."

The custom craft, Spirit of Loch Ness, was launched last year and brought capacity across the company's five boats to more than 350 people. Word of mouth marketing, local tour operator partnerships and a new social media strategy have all helped to keep bookings high.








One of the company's rigid-hulled inflatable boats Credit: Cruise Loch Ness
With nine award wins over the past year (including being crowned small firm of the year at the recent Federation of Small Businesses Awards), things are looking up for the enterprise, which employs 18 people in peak season and has an annual turnover of £1.6m. But Mackenzie and her team aren't getting comfortable. "We're always worrying about keeping things attractive so that people want to come," she says. The remoteness of Loch Ness can be a challenge. "It's a popular tourist destination but still in the middle of nowhere," she states. "With rising fuel costs and so on, people don't always make the effort to come that bit further north."

Winter trips can also be a difficult sell. "The village is so quiet and quite a few shops are closed," says the director. "It can be hard to get tourists to the village when it doesn't offer as much as it does in the summer." Fort Augustus being so isolated also makes it tough to attract talent, but Cruise Loch Ness is "lucky" in that it employs so many locals. "We're family," says Mackenzie. "Ronald grew up with most of them, which can present challenges now that he's their boss, but there's also a lot more respect."

The secret to keeping staff happy is simply to look after them, she thinks. "Pay them well and listen to their concerns." Her advice is to hire people who are as passionate about the business as you. "Our employees give the same tour presentation seven or eight times a day, but they do it consistently well because they really care about the company."

Having family members running the firm means there will always be passionate and dedicated people leading it, but working and living together can be hard. "It can feel like it's 24-7," says Mackenzie, who has two young children with Ronald. To fit everything in, they're often up at 6am writing emails, which can be physically and mentally taxing.

The flip side, however, is that the highs are much higher. "Being able to celebrate the wins together as a family at the dinner table is really nice." Cruise Loch Ness will soon open a new booking office, which will "transform" how the team works. "Ronald and I will have an on-site office space and a person purely focused on admin," says Mackenzie. "It's going to make a big difference." Two new RIBs are also on order. "There's going to be a lot of shiny new boats."

Could the future also hold a new sighting of Nessie? Mackenzie isn't sure, but adds that stranger things have happened. "A few years ago, one of our skippers captured an image of a large object on his sonar device screen," she explains. "It was quite deep below the water and a few metres in length, which is very unusual."

She is of course referring to Marcus Atkinson's 2012 sonar contact, but going back to my own recent experience of the boat, I do take a somewhat contrary position in watching the sonar screens more than the waters outside. According to one of the older staff I spoke to, the boats have had about 600 sonar contacts over 10 years, most of those which were GPS tagged and when revisited were gone. 

One crew member said he had once seen a sonar contact on the screen which required his thumb to cover it. What that quite meant in terms of the physical dimensions of the corresponding object under the waves is another matter, but as I watched the screen, I did spot my own sonar blob which aroused my curiosity. You can see it in the photograph below as the blue dot just above the loch bed above the "6" of "64.0".



The depth would be about 140m (460ft) going by the vertical scale on the right. You can see the smaller dots representing fish near the surface, but this blob is somewhat bigger, but not hugely. Though it has to be remembered sonar images denote changes in density and not physical size. So what was it? A seal (unlikely since they are not indigenous), a salmon kelt, ferox trout or something else?

The route did not allow to check whether it was still there on the way back, that would require paying for another trip and going over the same spot.  However, one sonar contact of interest roughly every week on average since 2009 makes one wonder what other cruise boats are seeing on their boats? The aforementioned 2012 sonar contact may have comparable ones which have received little or no publicity (such as this one). It would be good if they were made available for examination and discussion.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

3-D Model of Loch Ness




I collect many items related to Loch Ness and its Monster, so I came across this nice little item on eBay which is a 3-D print of the loch based on the 1903 bathymetric survey done by Sir John Murray. The description runs thusly:

3D Printed High Detail Bathymetric Survey Model of Loch Ness created from original info obtained in 1903 by Sir John Murray.
This model gives a unique view of what the Loch looks like under the water.
1000mm version - Scale 1:38,000 Horizontal & 1:19,000 Vertical.
A large scale model of this is on display in the Loch Ness museum.
Printed in Glow in the dark green or blue PLA.
All models include a recessed area at the bottom for a UV LED strip Light. (included)
This will come in 3 sections that are not fixed together.
 
It's not my cup of tea, but others may be tempted to spend the £88 on it. There is also a cheaper but smaller unpainted model listed by the same seller here.
 
 
The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com
 
 


Friday, 21 June 2019

Darren Naish Tells us there is no Loch Ness Monster

... again.

The headline from the Daily Telegraph trumpets "smartphones have killed the Loch Ness Monster, zoologist tells festival" as the article continues:

The advent of smartphones proves that the Loch Ness Monster is a myth, a leading scientist has claimed. The ubiquity of camera-enabled devices means the creature would have been photographed by now if it existed, according to palaeontologist Dr Darren Naish. However, the University of Southampton expert on cryptozoology - the pseudoscience of mythical creatures - said the last few years had seen a record low of reported sightings.

The same goes for other “cryptids”, such as the Himalayan Yeti, the Australian Bunyip and American’s Bigfoot. “Everybody has good phones,” said Dr Naish. “You really would think they'd be more and better photos, but the only things that ever have ever appeared are terribly low resolution little blobs in the distance. “I would say that the fact that we haven't got any of the evidence that we should have by now - alarm bells are ringing. “It's all speaking towards the fact that this is a cultural event, a belief system.” 

As sales of camera-equipped phones have soared, there have been droughts of several years with no new Nessie pictures, he said. Those that have emerged are unconvincing. Cryptozoologists have taken to calling them "blobsquatch pictures”. The name is a play on “Sasquatch” meant to convey how the purported monster invariably appears as a tiny, indistinct blur.

Most scientists argue it is unlikely that a creature such as Nessie - which purportedly resembles a cold-blooded reptile - could survive in the cold Scottish waters. They also say the 22-tonne stock of fish in the loch would not be sufficient to sustain a population of giant plesiosaurs. Sceptics further argue that if such a creature did or had existed, the bones of its ancestors would have been detected by now. In 2003 the BBC took part in a large search for the monster, including the use of 600 sonar devices, but nothing was detected.

Let us look at the main objection first, which is the only one attributed to Mr. Naish, given it is the only one he is quoted on, and that is mobile phones. I covered this objection five years ago in this article. Whether Mr. Naish has read this is unknown, but I learnt a while back that sceptics and pseudo-sceptics rarely if ever read articles by those who dare to believe in monsters. I guess it must be beneath their intellectual dignity.

Naish says "you really would think they'd be more and better photos". Well, as my previously mentioned article concluded, there are "more" photos of alleged monsters coming forth now. Unfortunately, they are of sufficient distance as to be mainly inconclusive or non-monster. As to the "better", the article concluded you do not get better images using a typical mobile phone camera compared to the traditional SLR cameras with their superior optics. 

But perhaps Naish means more pictures that are better than what has gone before? When it comes to objects that appear mid-loch in a typical distance from tourist to water objects, the answer is no. In fact, the quality of the image is worse. But at the other end of the witness spectrum, is it reasonable to conclude that more and better short range pictures would become available?

All things being equal, one may be tempted to answer in the affirmative. But there is a likely cryptozoological explanation for the lack of these "better" images and that is because there are less monsters in Loch Ness. Leaving aside the itinerant monster theory which would explain volatile swings in monster photograph counts, it seems not to have occurred to pseudo-sceptics to consider this sub-theory of the monster. The reason they do not consider the sub-theory is because they have rejected the main theory - there is no Loch Ness Monster. Thereafter, anything else is mentally blocked out.

The idea itself is eminently reasonable. Historic overfishing, pollution, climate change and other factors have served to reduce the biomass of the fish the monster would normally feed on. Less fish means less monsters. Less monsters means less surfacings and less surfacings means less clear photographs. Now whether such environmental factors have served to reduce the population of indigenous fish such as Arctic Char in the loch is a matter of debate. The tonnage of biomass stated in previous studies were performed decades ago. Have they now changed for the worst? Perhaps the recent eDNA studies could help in that regard, but that is a hope rather than a stated fact on my part.

The graph below shows the catastrophic crash in the Scottish salmon and trout populations over the last 67 years.  One wonders how the underlying cause of this depopulation has affected the alpha predators around these waters?



Focusing on the rivers feeding into Loch Ness, we have these graphs from the Ness District Fishery Board since 1952. The first graph is for catches of salmon and the second for trout. It looks like trout have fared considerably worse than salmon. Realising the predicament, the authorities instituted tougher measures such as catch and release to encourage numbers to recover, but what effect has this had on large predators in Loch Ness? What is the tipping point for a given number of such creatures?





That other large predators have suffered is evident in this population graph of harbour seals around the Moray Firth from the year 1995 onwards where the count dropped from 1300 to less than 850. Seal counts have fared considerably worst in other parts of Scotland such as the east where the count is now a third of what it was. Biologists may debate what the main cause of decline is, but it is naive to isolate larger creatures such as the one of Loch Ness in this overall problem.



So, we have an alternative explanation to counter the one championed by scepticism. But some other arguments were cited in this newspaper article that may or may not be supported by Darren Naish. The first one cited is "the 22-tonne stock of fish in the loch would not be sufficient to sustain a population of giant plesiosaurs". Needless to say, cryptozoologists are not all plesiosaur supporters. There are other theories which can reduce the required prey to predator ratio.

The oft quoted estimate of 22 tonnes of fish stock is also a fabrication. Yes, studies were done which came up with this approximation, but this was performed on the fish inhabiting the top 10 metres of the loch water column in the pelagic region using sonar counting. It took no account of the eel population in the lower regions or the migratory salmon and trout in the side (littoral) regions. Some journalist did not do his research and any sceptic would do well to avoid leaning on this number too much.

Indeed, one may ask such people how many fish were in Loch Ness in 1833 or 1933 when the monster became international news? I say this because they indulge in the logical fallacy of applying this 22 tonne number not only erroneously today but retrofit it to decades past. To be clear, it is likely there were far more fish in the loch in times past than in these ecologically challenged times when recent studies have been done.

How many large creatures this translates to whether in 1819, 1919 or 2019 is a complete unknown. A study I did on multiple creature sightings suggested a minimum of four creatures - and that was back in  1976. How many are in the loch right now is a number no one can authoritatively state.

Finally, we are told that "in 2003 the BBC took part in a large search for the monster, including the use of 600 sonar devices, but nothing was detected". Now I wish I could watch that documentary again as the memory of it has long faded (indeed I cannot even be sure I watched it at all). However, I am pretty sure the BBC did not use "600 sonar devices". Perhaps they meant 600 sonar beams which in itself is inadequately explained.

Did the BBC sweep the entire loch in the manner of Operation Deepscan (which produced three sonar hits which had moved on when the sites were revisited)? Or was it done in a fragmented, piecemeal manner? Does the BBC finding nothing negate anything else found by other sonar researchers? That is a bit like me looking out the window and stating that if I do not see a blackbird outside, then they do not exist in the area. Well, such is the range of pseudo-sceptical logic.



The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Thursday, 13 June 2019

A new Loch Ness Video .. Quickly Identified


The Daily Record put out this video today by tourist couple Gloria and Ian Davison. I watched it, I sighed, I looked up my archive of recent photographs and moved on. You can watch the video yourself and then compare this screen grab against the picture of this log I took in 2017 which is evidently still there and is at the same spot.









They are the same thing, so no point in taking this further. However, the tourist is quoted as saying "It disappeared after a minute beneath the water". Now unless this log briefly submerged under a passing wave, somebody is lying. The witness or the reporter? I have my suspicion, but will leave it at that.

Nothing to see here, move on!


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Friday, 31 May 2019

Loch Ness eDNA results to be published in September


The iNews website has published an article today claiming that Professor Neil Gemmell's eDNA study of the loch has almost completed and the results will be revealed in July but possibly pushed out to September. One or two surprises are in the offing though one should not begin to superimpose one's own guesses and just wait and see what will come of this. However, the failure to sell this as a documentary may or may not eliminate "sensational" results. After all, what kind of DNA would elicit such a scenario?

It is a bit surprising no TV company picked up on this though, considering the lack of novel research they so often come up with - banal retellings of the Surgeon's Photograph, CGI shots of plesiosaurs and the same old faces going on about waves and birds. Perhaps the price of novelty was too high. I would also note that the comparison eDNA studies from other lochs may well be worth a watch. Was Loch Ness or even Loch Morar different to others?

UPDATE: It's always worth checking out the original source, especially when the Press get a bit over-excited. Neil Gemmell's own twitter account states it will be September rather than July for any announcements and this will take the form of a conference at Loch Ness. Likewise, he plays down (a bit) any idea he has discovered Nessie. Likewise, the delay in announcing turns out to be mainly due to classifying nearly 3000 micro organisms and bacteria (and this works still has not finished).

To quote two of his tweets:

Gosh this is quite the headline, but not quite what I said. Just to clarify, at this point, we can't rule out one of the common theories used to explain the monster myth. A full announcement of our findings will be made at Loch Ness, likely in early September. 

Some sensational headlines about our eDNA hunt at Loch Ness have come across my social media today. For the record, we are still investigating the data. Most popular hypotheses seem unsupported; one cannot yet be excluded. An alternative and more accurate headline.



Loch Ness monster study set to reveal ‘surprising’ findings

Researchers took samples of water from the loch with the hope of capturing Nessie's DNA

A scientific trawl of the waters of Loch Ness by researchers hoping to uncover the truth behind the myth of the famous monster has made a “surprising” finding. Professor Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago in New Zealand, who led the study, told i that his team had managed to test most of the main theories about the Loch Ness monster.

While he declined to reveal exactly what they had found until the results had been fully analysed, he hinted that the Nessie myth was likely to endure. Professor Gemmell is preparing to announce the full results of his research almost a year after taking a series of water samples from the loch with the hope of catching the monster’s DNA. His team was using a new technique that can pick up traces left behind by passing animals in miniscule amounts of fur, skin, scales, faeces or urine.

Having been extracted in the lab, the DNA has been sequenced and compared against known species, creating near-definitive list of everything in the loch for the first time. The results of the study were supposed to be published in January, but cataloguing the extensive range of micro-organisms and bacteria has taken longer than expected. The team has found around 15 different species of fish and up to 3,000 species of bacteria, some of which will have been deposited in Loch Ness by animals using connecting rivers.

Professor Gemmell said he hoped to announce the full findings of the study at a press conference in Scotland in July, but the date may yet be pushed back until September. “Is there anything deeply mysterious? Hmm. It depends what you believe,” he said. “Is there anything startling? There are a few things that are a bit surprising. “What we’ll have achieved is what we set out to do, which is document the biodiversity of Loch Ness in June 2018 is some level of detail.

“We’ve tested each one of the main monster hypotheses, and three of them we can probably say aren’t right and one of them might be. “We’ll never disprove that there’s a monster, as we said at the beginning. If we find no evidence of the monster, that doesn’t prove anything. All we can do is describe what we’ve found.” Professor Gemmell also admitted that part of the reason for the delay in the publication of the results was due to a series of failed attempts to film a television documentary. He and his team had hoped to use any money generated from the project to fund further research, but negotiations with a series of production companies ended without a deal.

“There’s been an ongoing tension between wanting to tell people what we’ve found and wanting to maximise the vehicle through which we tell them,” he added. “To be fair, I think a TV documentary would’ve been a wonderful way to document the search and what we found, and put it into the context of other studies of Loch Ness. “It’s been something I’ve worked on pretty hard. I haven’t pushed things as hard as I could have with my collaborators because I was working on the production deals.”


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



 


Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Finlay's Monster and Cobb's Speedboat




After speaking to Harry Finlay and reliving his famous encounter with the Loch Ness Monster in 1952, I thought I would do some follow up. These days, people can sit in the comfort of their armchairs and access many a resource online. In this case, that was not an option as not all newspaper year ranges are digitally online. In this case it was off to the local library to examine the microfilm rolls for the Inverness Courier and Northern Chronicle in August 1952.

As it turned out, there wasn't much to add to the story as the Inverness Courier from August 22nd 1952 gave a rather terse account below while the Northern Chronicle had nothing to say. My expectation was that the sighting by Dores school kids a few hours later may have appeared with further details, but alas, the clipping below does not add much to what was already known.




One thought that did pass my mind was whether the creature in question was actually entering the loch when it was seen by the Finlays. I say that because the entrance to the River Ness at Bona Narrows was less than a mile away and the creature gives the impression that it is making its way at speed from that point into the loch.

Of course, I cannot prove that but you will go on to read that John Cobb and his speedboat team were on the eve of arriving at the loch and the monster's spectacular appearance seemed almost portentous as John Cobb was to die in his speedboat accident on the 29th September, just over 5 weeks later.




Seasoned Loch Ness fans will know about the valiant but fatal attempt at the water speed record at Loch Ness by John Cobb. I have written about it before on this blog but it had not then twigged with me the proximity of the Finlay and Cobb events. Was the creature seen by Greta and Harry Finlay responsible for the death of John Cobb? The accepted explanation was that the Crusader had hit a wave caused by the support boat, the Maureen combined with a known weakness in the forward planing shoe of the boat (note the possible waves in the picture below).




The sequence of events is taken from this website:

When the morning of the 29th arrived conditions were far from perfect, slight ripples on the surface of the water .By almost 9.30 am conditions had worsened, then events took a turn for the better in that surface conditions had improved dramatically.  At 11.25 am 'Crusader' was again put in the water at Temple Pier and the official observers boat 'Maureen' set off to land the timekeepers at the Drumnadrochit end of the Loch. The 'Maureen' had reported the timekeeper were ashore at 11.50 am. At 11.55 am 'Crusader's' engine was started and she catapulted out at an angle from Urquhart Bay. Cobb came round to his starting point and revved his engine up to full power. 'Crusader' rose in the water and the attempt was under way, the time was almost 12 noon.

With a slight burst of spray in front and a trail of white foam behind she skimmed over the course and reached the second marker. As 'Crusader' reached 200 mph eyewitness accounts say she was hardly touching the water when she came out of the measured mile. Then 'Crusader' started to decelerate to make the second run but hit a wave causing her to bounce twice, she recovered for a second but the next moment the horrified spectators saw the boat plunge in a whirl of spray and foam, flaked with flying wreckage. There was no audible explosion but the boat gave the appearance of bursting apart. Hopes for Cobb's safety was roused when the yellow light attached to his safety apparatus bobbed to the surface. The 'Maureen' made her way to the floating debris and lowered a small boat which reported Cobb had been found. The news brought an immediate call over the radio for a doctor and ambulance, but later it became clear Cobb was dead, probably killed instantly.

Another site states that Cobb was "furious" with the late arrival of the Maureen and any residual waves left behind but pressed on regardless. One presumes from this that he did not regard it as a serious concern but the main theory of how this ended in disaster remains. However, for me, the sighting of a twenty foot plus creature entering the loch some weeks before should have put the brakes on this project from the start.

Of course, John Cobb and his team did not believe this and the Inverness Courier piece on the Finlay sighting was not taking it seriously enough to advise a cancellation. Indeed, another clipping from the time had some people convinced a series of wakes observed during the Crusader trials were monster related, but they were assured these were again just support vehicles. Were people that undiscerning?

On examining the story again, I tried to visualise the sequence of events. The "Maureen" pulled in at the "Drumnadrochit end of the loch" which to me was likely by the Castle, not far from where the Crusader took off from Temple Pier. So, the Crusader took off and headed south one mile to the marker. It then decelerated to turn round and run the second mile back when the accident happened.

So, the question for me was why the Crusader did not hit the Maureen's wake when it was at its strongest closer to the Castle at the beginning of the run? Perhaps because the boat had not picked up speed? But a mile down the water it was dissipating and indeed, it has to be surmised that it was a reflection from the sides of the loch that was encountered, not the original wake. For me, that is a weak explanation as reflections from the loch are not as strong as some make out.

Of course, even if the boat wake theory is proven inadequate, that does not mean it was the Loch Ness Monster as a freak gust of wind could have been enough. Over sixty years on, no further water speed records have been attempted and long may that continue while a large creature continues to move beneath the surface of Loch Ness.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




 




Saturday, 11 May 2019

Loch Ness Monster seen from the Air?



This letter appeared in the Letters section of the Daily Telegraph dated 10th May 2019 regarding a strange object seen by an RAF training instructor by the name of Dave Henderson as he flew above Loch Ness. No date is given but it is now added to the list of airborne sightings previously discussed in this article.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com
                              


Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Update on the Ricky Phillips Picture




I was back at the loch a few weeks back and managed to do an onsite visit at the spot where Ricky Phillips took his photograph. I will get onto those in a minute but first the picture below was sent to me by a person by the name of "yeezy man" who also commented "Here's the full version of Ricky's purported 'Loch Ness Monster' photograph. As you can see, he clearly just cropped a bit of log sticking out of the water."

However, it is a tiny 13kb in size and so is not the expected full multi-megabyte image, so I would ask him, if he has it,  to send the full EXIF image so a proper analysis can be done and also explain how he or she came by this image. Ricky Phillips is, of course, invited to offer his comments on this image, but he has already told me it "looks a bit fake". Either "yeezy man" is lying or Ricky is lying, it is as simple as that.



The image above was taken under the disused stone railway bridge at Fort Augustus rather than near the disused wooden bridge further along. As an update, the second photograph was emailed to me and expands everything out with a comment by Ricky himself. No need to say much more and it's good to have an Internet which allows such communications. However, and as ever, Ricky has the right of reply right here.




And here is a third photo sent by Ricky himself of a log at the same spot which does bear some resemblance to the object, though Ricky was not saying if it was his object!




It is probably a bit moot now, but I visited the site as mentioned and took some pictures from the spot Ricky identified. The map of that location as well as the direction of the sun at that time is shown as a yellow line.



I talked to the anglers you can see in the picture and it turned out they were regulars at this spot and so I showed them the photo and they were unanimous in saying it was just a branch. Okay, fair enough, but when I asked if any believed there was a large creature in the loch they all said "No". 



They said the depth of the river reached up to eight feet depending on rainfall and they pointed me to some branches that had washed up on the shore which I pictured below, though they they didn't bear much resemblance to the object in the picture and so were not of much use as regards an assessment. Needless to say, looking for anything from the time Ricky took his photo was a futile venture.




So things may have moved along or just got muddier. Therefore, comments are welcome, but especially from "yeezy man" and Ricky.



The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Friday, 26 April 2019

The Sometimes Unloveable Media



There is a report doing the rounds in the media just now that is being hyped along the lines of  "Study suggests Loch Ness monster was mass delusion triggered by discovery of dinosaurs". So ran the headline of the Daily Telegraph as it spoke to Charles Paxton who co-authored a paper on sea serpent sightings and parallel discoveries of marine megafauna fossils.

The actual paper is entitled " Did nineteenth century marine vertebrate fossil discoveries influence sea serpent reports?" and is published in the latest Earth Sciences History Journal. Charles Paxton says a bit about it on his university's website. I recall being at a talk on this subject given by Charles last year in Edinburgh but defer any critique of this paper - mainly because I do not have it and regard myself as no expert in sea serpent reports.

But let us just put things right here and say that this study has essentially little or nothing to do with the Loch Ness Monster. Back in the 19th century when various monster fossils were being unearthed, the Monster was a local story confined to the Highlands and camouflaged with the veneer of the Water Horse and Kelpie culture.

Now cryptozoologists' view of the media can be a love-hate thing. They continue to publish sightings, videos and photos (though a lot are at best inconclusive). That is good and generally keeps the monster in the limelight. But when they get a hold of stuff like this, they have an almost obsessive urge to link any aquatic monster story to the Loch Ness Monster.

The simple reason is that Nessie is clickbait, sea serpents are far less so. So you have to take the rough with the smooth and hope people who actually read it see the inconsistency between headline and paper. 


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

 

 



Sunday, 21 April 2019

A Look at a Recent Nessie Video




The videos and photos are beginning to come in as human activity increases around the loch, be it tourists or those servicing the local and tourist economy. The Scottish Sun relates this event that happened on Thursday 11th April.

AN INVERNESS man has spotted the Loch Ness Monster "going at speed" across the famous loch - fifty years after his grandad's own sighting. Rory Cameron, 36, spied the strange movement in the water last week after visiting his pal nearby. And his video footage has stumped everyone who's taken a look. He said:

"I was coming from a friend's house near the top of the loch last week when I saw something in the water. It was going at some speed, I've never seen anything like it before in my life. I've lived in the area for 20 years and I've driven on the A82 every day of that time. I've never spotted anything like this. And nobody can work out what it is, it's really strange."

Rory, who's MD of Cobbs Bakery in Drumnadrochit, isn't the first member of his family to have an encounter with the elusive Nessie. He revealed that his grandad, who was a member of the police, saw something in the 1960s. He said: 

"You know, I do believe there's something out there. My grandad spotted something back in 1962 I think it was. He couldn't identify what it was back then and I'm the same now. My clip isn't like a lot of sightings, this thing was really moving fast. And it looks tiny too, compared to some of the boats on the loch. It was definitely going somewhere".

So runs the story and one may feel inclined to look and move on as the subject is not exactly close at hand. The witness was up in the hills near Drumnadrochit, so the map below gives a rough range. Where he was exactly is not clear, but he was up in the hills overlooking the bay outside of Drumnadrochit, so I would guesstimate the apex of the triangle below. One line points to Urquhart Castle which is seen to the right in the video and the object is at the end of the second line near mid-loch.


Looking at the video, a horizontal line can be drawn from the object to the castle area which suggests the object and castle are both roughly the same distance from the observer, which I place at just over a mile away. Clearly, at that distance, not much in the way of detail can be ascertained or ever produce a game changing image. But because the castle is in the video, we can use it as a ruler to make some estimates since its dimensions are known.

The height of the castle keep is about fifty feet and from this we can calculate the width of the tower to be about thirty feet. From the still from the video below, we note an area of disturbance comprising two main areas which cover a distance of about sixty feet based on the castle in the picture. Each area of "white water" disturbance are at least fifteen feet in extent.


We can further make some estimates regarding the speed of the object from the various stills. By noting the change in distance between the object(s) and a fixed point (the castle) between frames, the speed relative to the observer can be made. So, firstly, the two frames below were captured at 5.0 and 7.0 seconds on the Sun video (obviously with no break in between). Based on the change in distance in that time, the object(s) were travelling at an average speed of 15 feet per second or just over 10mph.



Applying the same approach to the two stills below captured at 13.0 and 19.0 seconds, the speed has dropped dramatically to two feet per second or under 1.5mph. Note the white blob by the castle which is a boat and by its movement, it is heading in the same direction as the the object(s) but is markedly different to the object of interest.


What might these metrics say about the object under discussion? One theory might be that these are two or more birds chasing each other as they run and flap along the surface of the water. I can see such a group dropping from 10mph to 1.5mph but I am not sure about them creating areas of disturbance at least 15 feet in extent. A group may do this and as they subside to float on the surface, this may appear as a "submergence" if they are not discernible at a mile away. One would really need to see a known disturbance made by birds to compare and contrast to make an informed decision.

From this I am pretty sure it is not a wave formation, but again the object(s) is too far away to be sure absolutely what it is but at least on this occasion we have a "ruler" to make some measurements to help.



The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com


Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Revisiting the Margaret Munro Site




I have returned from a recent trip to Loch Ness on which I shall speak more fully some other time, but there was enough going on to split off some of those activities into several articles. I will begin with a trip we made to Borlum Bay on the southern extremity of the loch. To those well versed in Loch Ness Monster lore, this spot will be indelibly linked with the land sighting of Margaret Munro on June 3rd 1934, when at about 6am she watched a huge creature moving on the shore close to Glendoe. My main article on this can be read here.




Before I headed north, a fellow Nessie enthusiast, Doug, referred me to the above map which featured in a 1936 newsreel produced by Scottish Film Productions entitled "Things That Happen". It shows a map of what it calls recent sightings, although they are somewhat selective in only including three land sightings. We have Arthur Grant's late night monster from January 1934 at the top right, Margaret Munro at the bottom left and, well, another land sighting which is pinpointed at Inverfarigaig. 

Now one presumes the newsreel is referring to the Spicers land sighting of July 1933, but this had been placed nearer to Whitefield, four miles further north on the same road by researcher Rupert Gould. It could refer to another land sighting, perhaps that of Mrs. T. MacLennan or Mrs. Reid from August and December 1933 respectively, but why give these priority over the most famous land sighting of all? Perhaps George Spicer finally settled on the shore near Inverfarigaig, we may never know.

But zooming in on the Munro area, the map maker got it right as they place the event, not on the shore nearest to Kilchumein Lodge, where Ms. Munro was, but further north near the Alt Na Dubhair stream. That may have been the end of this particular observation, but things have changed at Loch Ness allowing a re-investigation. This became apparent when we arrived at Borlum Bay to do some drone work.

I will get to the drone footage at the end, but a look to the right of Borlum Bay revealed a new tourist path built by authorities to complete a walk up to Loch Tarff (details here). This meant I could finally access by foot the spot on the beach where the monster hauled itself ashore. By that I do not mean I know the exact spot, but you could be sure you had walked past it.



The first obvious thing to do was to locate the Alt Na Dubhair stream which was easy enough as we came upon it in a short time and the two photos below show it above the path and below the path as it empties into the loch. At that time, it was not much more than a trickle as the rainfall had not been abundant over the last few days.



The beach width varied between mainly narrow and sometimes wide as the path was walked to the end of the beach and one could imagine the creature landing at any point though the wider points seemed more likely to me. My favoured spot was where the stream entered the loch as the beach widened out a bit there (as you can see in the above photograph). There was quite a bit of tree coverage along the way and I imagined it was probably similar 85 years ago, if not more given it was further into the growth season.

This suggested to me that Margaret Munro was right in her assertion that the beast was partially out of the water as any further into the beach would result in it being obscured by the bushes and trees. Indeed, a partial landing may have only been possible for such a large creature due to trees obstructing its way. This also made me think of the unsatisfactory seal explanation as a smaller seal could easily push further in and be lost to view.


Having surveyed the now accessible area, it was back to the main shoreline for some drone work. The main task was to fly the drone at a height of several hundred feet and point its 4K camera down at the surface of the loch looking for any unusual activity. The video below shows the general panorama as the drone panned 360 degrees above the bay and then onto the main work of recording the surface water below looking for signs of unusual activity just below the surface.





Nothing was noted on this occasion though twice the drone was troubled. Firstly, several seagulls flew near the drone, perhaps thinking it was one of them or an intruder. To avoid a collision, a quick drone ascent was required until the birds flew on. The second incident was more troubling still as I manoeuvred the drone over the trees where Margaret Munro saw her monster and then I looked down at the streaming video app on the remote control. 

On looking back up, the drone had disappeared from view and the remote control had lost contact! Now at that distance, it was rather dot-like to begin with, so had I just not focused properly or had it dropped below the tree line, perhaps catastrophically? There was only one thing to do and that was to hit the RTH button.

I had never used the "Return To Home" button which records the drone's take off coordinates via GPS and returns there on this button being activated. I pressed it and waited for perhaps ten seconds before a whirring noise came over my head and there was the drone hovering above me! No large creatures were seen swimming below the surface, but at least I will return another day with the drone to try again.

It has to be noted that drone surveillance is quite energy intensive as the drone carries a brick like battery that gives no more than 30 minutes flight time. One wonders how much energy is required just to carry the battery up that high! I have two batteries giving one hour of flight time per day of operation. I hope to ramp up flight times during the next trip, but the main issue is finding a safe place with good landing spots. When I was at the bay, a young family paused nearby before going up the new path. I had to cease operations while the kids played on the beach.

Finally, I pointed out last year that the house from which Margaret Munro watched her creature had been demolished. Gone is Kilchumein Lodge and its history. On this return visit, you can see the new house nearing completion. I wonder what sightings of the Loch Ness Monster will come to pass from this new location?



The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com