Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Two Books of Interest

First up is a new book by Rob Cornes entitled "The Loch Ness Sea Lion". Rob is the author of the larger work, "The Seal Serpent", but here he focuses on a more conventional theory in which he argues that an itinerant sea lion was responsible for some sightings since 1933. The cover showing the Arthur Grant episode shows you that this may well be involved in the book. I have a copy and will review it in the near future. The book can be purchased from amazon.com.

I would also like to draw readers' attention to a biography of the late Erik Beckjord written by Molly Squire and entitled "Beckjord: Biography of a Cryptozoologist". Some may be aware of Erik's involvement in the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster in the 1980s and his assertion that Tim Dinsdale was a Nessie paranormalist, just like him. Perhaps the book will also have something new to say about his film taken at the loch in 1983. I covered a few items on him in the past, which you can find here and here. The promotional text of the book says:

Biography of Bigfoot and anomaly researcher. Adventures of Jon Erik Beckjord, MBA, in woods, on Indian Reservations, Area 51, in the United Kingdom at sites of Crop Circles, at Loch Ness, with analysis of material evidence and 35 photos in text.

The book can be purchased here.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Loch Ness eDNA results released

The results are out and you can view the press conference here and the eDNA results are officially published here.

Having now watched the whole feed, the gist of it to me was that they did not find any unusual DNA, certainly no reptilian DNA. He did say all the expected fish DNA were found including lots of eel DNA, in fact a surprising amount of such data, which led him to suggest that Loch Ness could harbour a giant eel.

This was not concluded from the eel DNA as the experiment (he said) could not distinguish between large and small eels. Also, no seal or otter DNA was found. Again, I do not find that surprising as the seal is an itinerant visitor to the loch and otters may have specific locations not visited by the samplers. Adherents of the itinerant Nessie theory will not be surprised by this. Neil Gemmell did say that about 20% of the DNA they found could not be identified, though the main issue there may be that such fragments were not amenable to analysis. To that end, he related the story of how 40% of DNA samples taken from an American subway station (?) were not identifiable. Is there a loophole there for some believers as any sequence not matching the species database would be set aside?

You may wonder about any catfish or sturgeon DNA results. No such DNA was found, but again for sturgeon, the itinerant theory can be invoked. For catfish, the only hope for such adherents is that the population is so small, perhaps even one individual, that it was missed in the sampling (a limitation of the sampling that Neil readily admitted to).

Personally, my own view from some years back that we have an exotic fish of some sort remains viable. Neil Gemmell implied that the degree of accuracy of the analysis was not species level but some level above. I would like to know more about that. The related giant eel theory has received a boost, though that theory needs further work to explain features not usually associated with eels (e.g. raised humps).

My second favoured theory of itinerant/trapped visitors was never going to be touched in this regard and Loch Ness will continue to receive visitors of all sorts, usual and unusual now and from centuries past.The fact that the experiment failed to identify any visitor species was a bit of a surprise and made me wonder if migratory salmon or trout were missed.

May I also say I was particularly interested in one DNA find and that was "a bacteria most commonly associated with salty waters in the freshwater loch". How did such a specimen get there? Once again, that reopens the discussion as to whether there is a subterranean path to the sea from the loch. Also of interest to me was whether these results can help towards estimating the total biomass of the loch or relative abundances of species - a item of data important in predator foodstocks.

In the end, the professor was not suggesting this disproves the Loch Ness Monster and the "legend" will continue and people will continue to report strange things. Indeed, there was perhaps a bit of the old spin in the conference because not only are scientists and cryptozoologists interested in these results, but local and national tourism interests. The experiment did not prove giant eels but it also did not disprove them. I am sure VisitScotland will be happy with that!

The Otago team will put a searchable species database online soon and there will a documentary on the UK Discovery Channel on the 15th September while Neil Gemmell hopes to publish a peer reviewed article for a scientific journal by the end of the year. The BBC has published a summary with reactions at this link.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Monday, 2 September 2019

Large eel like object in River Ness?

Something large seems to have passed by one of the underwater cameras that the Ness Fishery Board employs to monitor salmon runs. It has all the appearance of a large eel. It's a bit indistinct due to our helpful peaty water but it looks alive and big. Not quite a 30 footer but easily outsizes the salmon in the foreground which gives the impression of backing off from this object before moving back in.

Assuming this was taken at the weekend when we had a lot of rain and rivers were in high spate, something seems to have taken advantage of this high water level. I assume from the motion of particles in the water and the salmon that the flow is from left to right indicating Loch Ness is to the left and the Moray Firth to the right. In other words, this object is heading from the loch towards the sea.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Friday, 23 August 2019

Professor Gemmell sets the Date

Credit: Graham Sellers @G_S_Sellers

So the date has been set and it is 10am on Thursday 5th September at the Loch Ness Centre in Drumnadrochit. The eDNA work and conclusions of Professor Gemmell and his team from Otago University in New Zealand and beyond will be announced to the world. An article from the BBC website sets the scene and quotes Prof Gemmell: 

There have been over a thousand reported sightings of something in Loch Ness which have driven this notion of a monster being in the water. From those sightings there are around four main explanations about what has been seen. Our research essentially discounts most of those theories, however, one theory remains plausible.

This hearkens back to a statement he made back in May when some perhaps exuberant headlines were written:

Just to clarify, at this point, we can't rule out one of the common theories used to explain the monster myth ... For the record, we are still investigating the data. Most popular hypotheses seem unsupported; one cannot yet be excluded.

This was in response to some articles which quoted him thusly:

Is there anything deeply mysterious? Hmm. It depends what you believe. Is there anything startling? There are a few things that are a bit surprising.

Of course, "surprising" may refer to something unrelated to large monsters directly, but perhaps indirectly (e.g. food chain). But my own thoughts were on this quartet of monster theories he mentions but never divulges. Was it a generic quartet of fish, amphibian, reptile and mammal? Or perhaps a cryptozoological quartet of plesiosaur, giant eel, long necked pinniped or ... well I am not sure what would be number four.

Or is is a more mixed bag of sturgeon, catfish, giant eel, plesiosaur? I suspect the last list but when he says the "fourth" one cannot be excluded and remains plausible, I presume that means there is identified DNA fragments in Loch Ness consistent with such a theory. Well, I look forward to the event, but as said before, fans of paranormal and itinerant Nessies will be less moved by such events. Adrian Shine, whose Loch Ness Centre will host the event said:

We are delighted to welcome Prof. Gemmell back to the Loch Ness Centre on 5th September where he will announce the results at a press conference. Undoubtedly, many will be waiting to see if any of these results shed light upon the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster. Prof. Gemmell, in a press invitation yesterday, claims to have dismissed a number of monster theories but has promised that ‘one remains feasible’. Naturally, we look forward to much discussion and debate!

As an aside, I was in email communication with a media company who were asking me for Loch Ness Monster information for a documentary which they said would likely air on September 15th on the Travel Channel. He was a bit coy about their access to the eDNA results. So perhaps that will be worth watching in regard to this latest scientific venture into Loch Ness. I also asked Otago University's PR team about live streaming the press event, to which they said wait and see.

In conclusion and as said before, various past ventures have seemed to promise much and delivered little, such as the LNIB surface watches of the 1960s and the sonar-led Operation Deepscan of the 1980s. The shortcomings of the former were laid out by Ted Holiday in his books while the latter did have its contacts but it became clear that interpretation could turn the raw data into anything.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Thursday, 15 August 2019

A Word on Paul Harrison

As readers may know, Paul Harrison is a well known author on matters pertaining to the Loch Ness Monster. Most enthusiasts for the subject will have a copy of his "Encyclopaedia of the Loch Ness Monster" and may also have his other cryptid work, "Sea Serpents and lake Monsters of the British Isles" on their bookshelves. However, it is in true crime writing that he had established his name writing a plethora of books and engaging on a career devoted to that subject.

But it was with sadness and regret that I recently read of allegations by the Sun newspaper that he had lied about and fabricated interviews with famous serial killers Peter Sutcliffe and Ted Bundy amongst others. Paul has made some sort of confession and has now withdrawn from social media and other activities awaiting whatever happens next.

In blog posts over the years, I have intimated that Paul said he had the manuscript for a book concerning one or more interviews he held with infamous monster hunter, Frank Searle, whom he said he tracked down to his home in Lancashire in his latter years. A book on a serial hoaxer would have fitted in well with his books on serial killers I surmised.

But now in the light of these allegations, I must question whether such an interview took place at all and whether it was just a fabrication like those interviews conducted with famous serial killers. The fact that Paul repeatedly put off publishing such a book despite saying he had the manuscript all but ready does not fill me with confidence either.

Now Paul may well have tracked down Frank like he said he did and there is still a book to be read. But the onus is now on him what to do or say next about this matter. I won't pre-judge him and neither will I contact him as I suspect he has a lot on his plate to deal with and Frank Searle will be the least of his concerns.

So I will just leave it at that but thank him for the research he has contributed to the great subject of the Loch Ness Monster over the years.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Sunday, 11 August 2019

A Review of an Interesting Book

I thought I had just about all the Loch Ness Monster books listed on my booklist, but then I discovered another one recently. It is more an A4 booklet running to just under 60 pages and it describes an expedition to the loch by the senior school pupils of Blackdown High School in Leamington Spa back in 1971 and 1972.

One may assume this would be a publication more worthy of juvenile books that I generally avoid and not even list, but this book is a delight, well researched and written and, as you can see from the table of contents below, has its own highlights. In fact, the book begins with a foreword by none other than influential author, Constance Whyte. She offered a lot of help to the pupils in their research into the topic. Her foreword does not say much that Nessie researchers do not already know, but her anti-scientist stance (not anti-science stance) included a hope that these bright young things would augur a better future for Loch Ness Monster research.

That was over-optimistic in hindsight, but let me go over some of the nuggets I found whilst digging into this snapshot of Loch Ness research in the early 70s. Most of the notable researchers of the time were talked to or got a mention. That list includes Ted Holiday, Alex Campbell, Frank Searle, Tim Dinsdale and so on.

Obviously, Frank Searle has been exposed since then, but he comes across as being helpful to the kids including giving them a copy of his first "monster" photograph from October 1971 and a sketch of a tail he claimed he have seen on August 8th 1971. Now I am not actually sure I have seen this photo before. I included most of his photos in my most recent book, but not this one, so I include it here for readers' interest, though the quality of the reproduction is not great.

What was most interesting was their interview with monster aficionado, Alex Campbell, at his cottage in Fort Augustus. A few interesting points came out of that chat. As usual, he recounted his only sighting of a head, neck and humps in Borlum Bay back in 1933, but what I was always unsure of was his father's experiences, as he was the previous water bailiff. 

This was clarified when he said his father had also seen the creature multiple times and had warned him as a kid not to go into the loch due to the water horses that resided there. However, what caught my attention the most was that Alex Campbell "expressed some doubts about land sightings". That surprised me as one might assume that those who believe there is a monster in the loch would tend to accept the possibility of it coming ashore.

Apparently not, and we can now add Alex Campbell to a list that includes Frank Searle, Alistair Boyd and whomsoever else. Campbell's reasoning was that he would have expected to have seen evidence of more compressed vegetation, some which I presume he expected to have seen as the roving water bailiff.

Moving on, all the classic black and white photographs are discussed except for one - Peter O'Connor. In fact, it is not even discussed in dubious terms, I presume it was the only photo dismissed by the LNIB and others when the school kids were discussing evidence. The survey of sightings show some sketches done for the kids. This includes the classic Gregory Brussey neck sightings but also a sketch supplied by Ted Holiday of his August 26th 1968 hump sighting (which I believe was his penultimate sighting).

To my own interest, I found some sightings which were not on my own list of eyewitness reports, though it is not clear whether these have appeared elsewhere in the literature. These are a head and neck sighting by a Mrs. Scott of Foyers in November 1969 seen from a bus on the way to Inverfarigaig which stopped to see the 4-5ft neck approach to within 200 yards of the observers.

Another "new" sighting was actually two reports from a Miss Mackay of Foyers. Her first encounter with the beast was in 1955 as she was cycling to work at about 7am. Assuming an awful noise of splashing was a boat, she looked at the loch to see a big black hump in mid-loch. It had the classic upturned boat appearance only to submerge and reappear as a "big black heap" whereupon a second submergence led to a final re-appearance which now included a very small head on a long neck. The sighting lasted 10 to 15 minutes with the creature moving at a fast pace.

She had a less spectacular second sighting years later and also commented that her father had seen a whale like creature in the loch and she knew of the old tales of the monster from her childhood. As it turns out, the school group had two sightings of their own on June 22nd 1971 and July 2nd 1972. The first was seen in Foyers Bay, being a hump seen at the centre of a pool of ripples, though it was at 600 yards in rain for ten seconds.

The second a year later from the same spot involved a four foot long dark object moving at speed from the Foyers Bay towards the Hydro-Electric plant. It moved 80-100 yards in 13 seconds to give an average speed of 14 mph. In a sobering lesson in monster hunting, no photos or film were taken (some equipment being lent by the LNIB).

So, plenty of excitement for our young hunters, and by way of example of those days, the school had access to the LNIB records of accepted sightings and they randomly took 1968 as their year and from this they tabulate 15 sightings, Of which six were single hump sightings, four double humps, two of three humps, one was two pairs of humps  and two involving a head-neck (one of which was a hump-head-neck).

When the media talks about a record 11 sightings this year, the quantity is comparable to 1968 but the quality is well short. So, the school's report hearkens back to a time when activity was high at the loch and so it seems was the monster itself. At some point, I will scan all the pages in allowing all to study this document from 47 years ago.

As an interesting appendix, Frank Searle mentions helping out the school in his unpublished work, "Loch Ness Investigation". However, he is not very complimentary of a teacher from the group whom he accuses, amongst other things, of passing information onto ex-LNIB members. The teacher himself later accused Frank Searle of plagiarising a chapter from this very school report in his 1976 book, "Nessie, Seven Years in Search of the Monster". To Searle's chagrin, his publishers settled with the teacher and let Searle's book lapse out of print. Never a dull moment with Frank!

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Latest Loch Ness Monster Sonar Story

Let us now look at another recent Nessie event when Mike Bell, captain of the cruise boat, Nessie Hunter snapped this sonar hit when near Urquhart Castle on the 27th June. The account from the Sun newspaper is quoted below to give a flavour of what happened:


Loch Ness boat skipper claims he’s finally found Nessy as sonar image shows ’25ft monster lurking beneath waves’

A BOAT skipper claims he's finally found the Loch Ness Monster lurking beneath the waves in Scotland. Mike Bell captured the remarkable sonar image which he reckons shows 25ft-long Nessie. The sonar picture, taken while he was taking a group of tourists for a trip on Loch Ness on June 27, shows the bottom of the loch, a fish and a long, thin object about 115ft below the surface. But when the 24-year-old skipper took readings at the same spot the mystery object had vanished. Mike, from nearby Drumnadrochit, said:

“I would like to think this is our creature, Nessie. It’s my first year being the skipper in the boat in five months and I’ve never seen it or had something that big on the sonar. My dad is the more experienced skipper who has been doing this for a few years and has said he’s never seen it that big before on the sonar. It’s my first sighting of Nessie and I think my dad is a wee bit jealous as he has never seen it. The standard size on the sonar is usually a sharp prick suggesting a small fish. The large line about 35 metres in the water was about 10-25 feet. An object of that size I would think is way too big for the normal species in the loch. It must have been about five or six minutes we spent trying to pick up this creature again.”

Now I wasn't sure if this was the same Nessie Hunter boat associated with the infamous George Edwards. Perhaps it is or was, but it doesn't matter as this is a different person with a different story to tell. What can we tell from the sonar image at the top of this article? Three targets are circled in the picture and the first one at the bottom coincides with the depth measure of 101m at the top left and so we can take this to be part of the loch bed.

There are two objects in mid water, one elongated and one more compact in shape. Since there is a depth scale on the right, we can estimate the depths and apparent sizes of the objects, The shallower object is at a depth of 18 metres with dimensions of about 2m wide by 3.5m high. The deeper object is at a depth of 32 metres with dimensions of 17m x 3.5m. 

That suggests objects of notable size in the range of a sonic nine feet high and not likely to be fish or a group of fish (because fish do not shoal into larger aggregates in Loch Ness). Below is a Fishfinder screen for what fish tend to look like. Here the depth is in feet and not metres and is shallower at 30 feet deep. You can see the fish as crescent images generally taking up a height of less than a foot.

But let me point out again that though the vertical axis denotes depth, the horizontal axis denotes time and that is why this should not be interpreted in the same manner as an optical image. In real time, the sonar screen moves from right to left, with the sonar returns on the right being the most recent data.

Does this imply a creature with a body thickness of nine feet, which is big even by Nessie standards? Well, we do not know the orientation of the object or whether it changed over time, so that is unknown. Also, the 17 metre (54 feet) extent of the image suggests that the object is moving in roughly the same direction as the boat for no more than 17 metres before moving out of the sonar beam.

However, if a true elongated object was aligned with the boat's length, then as the boat passed over such a stationary object, then the trace would be consistent with its true length. Whether this is a stationary or moving object trace is hard to say. Meantime, one interpretation of the shallower compact sonar image is that it could be an elongated perpendicular object which is either stationary or moving away from the sonar sweep.

Note that the false colour scale of each object is also a measure of the object's density. The lighter the colour, the stronger the return of the sonar echo. What one can deduce from that in this image is unclear, but in the case of fish, it is the swimbladder that returns the strongest signal and the lungs for mammals and reptiles. Opinions are divided on whether the Loch Ness Monster has lungs, swimbladders, other air sacs or nothing at all which would give them a weak sonar signal.


Having said all that, what kind of objects could produce this kind of trace? What about waterlogged tree trunks which have achieved a degree of mid water buoyancy? I am not sure these would account for the thickness of object traced and we are told the objects could not be found on a rescan of the area.

The thermocline is also oft mentioned in such scenarios but would not such a large super structure produce more than a 17m blip on the screen? Indeed, what does the thermocline or logs or seals or other objects of interest actually look like on modern sonar screens? Surely an appropriate catalogue of such images would be a boon to interpreting such images.

The final explanation would be effects of false sonar images produced by reflection and refraction. However, this just begs the question again, what do such images look like? Are the possible variations in such spurious echoes so wide and varied that it becomes an unfalsifiable scenario? Again, proven comparison images are required here.

So, the account focuses on the deeper sonar hit, although one is inclined to include both images in the debate and I still have a query over the relative brokenness of the deeper image.  These could be images of two large creatures and they are certainly of more interest than the recent surface photography and ranks with a similar sonar image taken by Marcus Atkinson in 2012.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Monday, 29 July 2019

Recent Loch Ness Webcam Clip

Let us look at the latest webcam clip from Eoin O' Faodhagain who recorded what looked like two objects in the water estimated by him as 20 feet in length and about five feet out of the water. The clip was recorded on the 10th of July at 12.53 pm. A cruise boat can be seen making its way north at the top of the picture complete with wash.

Looking at the two objects throughout the two minute clip one can make out that they slightly move further apart and then closer together which gives the impression that they are merging into one larger object. As with Eoin's video of a long, shadow like object back in November 2018, I brought in a shot of a cruise boat from the same webcam and did some overlay measurements.


Once the two pictures were overlaid and the two objects dragged over to be underneath the boat image, some estimate of size could be attempted, though with a degree of error for the fuzziness of the objects. I low balled the numbers with this boat last time but one commenter said it was the 80 foot Jacobite Cruiser. If that is the case, then the objects are about three to six feet wide and six to nine feet from each other.

That gives a total extent across the water of twelve to twenty one feet, so Eoin was in the ballpark with the estimates. Since the objects look near spherical, the height of each object is roughly the same as its width. It is not possible from this clip to ascertain whether it is one single object or two separate ones. What could it or they be? Well, too big to be birds is an obvious interpretation or how about two kayakers moving with not so visible paddles?

Beyond that there is nothing that could be conclusively deduced from the images, though others are free to comment. I asked Eoin how the event panned out after the clip ended and he said the objects remained in view for at least another four minutes, but as the objects drew further away, one disappeared and then the other one or two minutes later. One question that was on my mind was how visible this webcam vista is from the busy Urquhart Castle area? Are the objects often brought up for discussion clearly visible to tourists at the castle? That is an important question, but one I do not have a ready answer to.

The Daily Mail article is below (link here), note the reporter erroneously states both objects are twenty feet long, when it is rather the total length of the objects and the space between them that is correct.

A veteran Nessie hunter claims to have filmed two 20ft monsters swimming together in the legendary Scottish loch. Eoin O' Faodhagain, 54, was watching a live stream of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands when he saw the beasts on Wednesday, July 10. He immediately started his own recording of the live stream, run by researcher Mikko Takala, to show the world what he had seen. The footage shows two dark objects moving closely together close to the shore in Urquhart Bay - which Mr O' Faodhagain believes are two Nessies.

He said: 'The day of the sighting was extremely windy, as you can notice from the trees moving over and back. When I noticed the two strange shapes first they were either side of each other and not behind each other, going in the same general direction. Never did I think it was two humps from the one animal, the sighting did not give me that impression.'

Mr O' Faodhagain, from Co Donegal, Republic of Ireland, added: 'The two strange shapes were identical to each other, and that also gave me the impression it was two separate objects. 'I was quite startled to see two possible Nessies on the webcam. I think it's a bit of a rarity to view this.'

Mr O' Faodhagain estimates the objects were both in the region of 20ft long and reaching about 5ft out of the water. He said: 'I have never seen two objects so close to each other on the webcam before and I have been watching for years. Their shape in the water is very strange.

Mr O' Faodhagain, from Co Donegal, Republic of Ireland, saw two dark objects moving closely together close to the shore in Urquhart Bay 'What are they, I don't know. They could be two Nessies.' Mr O' Faodhagain has now spotted the Loch Ness Monster four times altogether, and three times in 2019 alone. 

While we are on this article, the Mail quotes the owner of  the webcam, Mikko Takala: 

Mikko Takala, a computer scientist who has been researching Loch Ness for over 20 years, believes climate change may have effected the increase in sightings of the legendary creature. He said: 'There has been a slight increase in surface temperatures in Loch Ness due to climate change and it is possible that a cold blooded creature like Nessie may be encouraged to return and/or stay longer in the warming waters of Loch Ness.

'We believe that the recent winter was milder and less road salt was spread as a result (the previous winter saw thousands of tonnes spread locally during a long cold treacherous spell). 'It all finds its way down water courses and into the loch raising saline content and that may deter the monster(s) to the point at which they leave it until levels normalise again.' On the possibility of there being more than one Loch Ness monster, he added: 'I've always believed there has to be a family of unknown creatures in the loch, albeit a small one.

'It's too much of a stretch to believe that a single creature can live for hundreds, if not thousands of years or more. Also, there are cave like formations near Urquhart Castle, known as Edwards Deep and no attempt has ever been made to see if these are navigable.' 

Are Nessie sightings on the increase due to climate change? In a recent article I penned, I argued the exact opposite, sightings are down historically due to climate change. The problem here is relative, I am looking over the decades as there is a real drop since the 1960s where Mikko is looking at the recent uptick in reports. The problem for me is that a lot of the claimed sightings made in recent years do not come up to standard of older reports and I doubt would have made it past older researchers. It seems today any report that comes with a picture or video is automatically hyped by the media and gets logged as the genuine article.


I had a look at the satellite images over Urquhart Castle to guess where this webcam might be. Based on the topography of the immediate area in front of the webcam, I have included this map to circle the area and the line of general sight (though that depends on the orientation of the camera). It looks like the camera is pointing over the busy area of the Castle. Why is the castle not visible? This is because the area in question is high above the castle and the main road which will be out of sight.

I could be wrong, but draw your own conclusions. This location is several hundered metres from the loch.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

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