Friday, 24 September 2021

Loch Ness Monster caught by Drone Camera?


A new image from Loch Ness with a new twist appeared in the media yesterday. By  a new twist I mean a drone video of something allegedly in the waters below. Now I use my drone at Loch Ness in the hope that I will catch footage of something interesting just below the surface, but invisible to those watching from the shore. In that light, I was very curious to see this footage. You can go this link and fast forward to about 3:45 to see something that appears to be just below the water moving towards the shore.

The media story can be found here. I found it to be an impressive looking video, so it was time to ask the owner of the video some questions and I posted it on the Zombie Plesiosaur Society Facebook group to generate views and discussion. This is where the path from impressive to not so impressive began its journey. I first made contact with Richard Mavor who posted the video and asked him some questions. The first was the important one. Could I see the original video file from the drone? His answer on the messenger box is below.

This raised a red flag right away, as will be explained later, but I am a drone user too and have plenty of 4K files from way back. In this day of terabyte storage, why would someone extract a few seconds clip and throw away the record of an important and memorable trip? It didn't make sense to me. But I dutifully asked the other questions and then put a scenario to him.

Okay, perhaps they saw nothing, but this creature was practically within biting distance. The ante was upped when it was mentioned on Facebook that two clips from the video showed the same scene, but one without the creature, the other clip being at 1:44. This was demonstrated in this comparison image with thanks to Henry Baker and James Kitwood. It may be a bit hard to see as the image is just appearing, so compare on the actual video if you prefer.

I thought one could also produce a similar split image with no creature in either frame as it was just about to appear giving us split second timing in how to begin each sequence. However, that is just my opinion and for me more was required. That led to the thought that Richard claimed he did not see it at the time and struggled to see it even now (as he said in the YouTube comments). But for me, the creature appearing out of the depths just as this random clip began without the editor knowing about it was just too much of a coincidence.

The next and biggest nail in the coffin was the fact that someone else (Jonathan  Falcone on Steve Feltham's group) mentioned it looked just like the famous Robert Rines 1975 underwater picture of a bulbous body and long neck. Here is the comparison and suggests to me the Rines photo was the template for this one and ironic that one underwater picture leads to another underwater one. It also has to be said that if you observe the rock to the left of the creature's "head", water is clearly lapping over the rock, suggesting the depth where the "head" is must be only inches!


Another and better comparison is by Sam Shearon who thinks the template is a picture of a plesiosaur which is shown below. This looks a good fit, so make your choice as to which was used, either way it's not looking good for this video.

I think that pushes us beyond the realms of coincidence and hence push this video beyond the realms of acceptable. The object moving towards the shore would seem to be a plus against inanimate object theories, but I looked hard to see any movement within the creature itself, I concluded whatever the motion of a Nessie may or may not be, we should expect some flipper, neck or tail articulation. The more unpalatable truth is the Rines photo was the basis for this hoax.

Going back to the lack of original drone files, the deletion argument is not an acceptable answer and comes straight out of the hoaxer play book. Readers may recall the previous hoaxes perpetrated by Ricky Philips and Steve Challice. When both of these people were asked for the original images, they either claimed it was deleted or something which was clearly not the raw image file was sent. The implication being the original files would give the game away. The same applies here.

Also Richard saying he and his colleagues saw nothing when this "creature" was practically upon them is not credible. So taking all these observations into account, we have to once again file this one under "fake". It was suggested Richard would eventually come clean. Perhaps he will, but the hoaxer play book again suggests he won't. Philips and Challice never confessed and my last message to Richard suggests he will not either:

I guess even though they see it as a harmless prank, they don't want to self-incriminate and be put on the record as liars as it may end up on their CVs. After all, how many people plead "not guilty" in court? The TV detective series where the criminal confesses to all at the dramatic end rarely happens in real life. All in all, these hoaxes just create problems for serious researchers. If I produce drone footage next summer with a plesiosaur looking beast moving along, sceptics will point to this video and say "Nah, another CGI!". That raises the bar of proof, but I hope people who know me would treat me differently.

Once again, we ask the question has easy digital image manipulation rendered video-still image evidence worthless? I think the answer is no, but it is clear that the vetting of such images and their owners must be thorough and use all the tools at our disposal. Fortunately, this one took less than a day to expose, so the perfect but fake image would seem to be a project beyond many. But I say that hoping not to tempt fate!



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Tuesday, 21 September 2021

A Poacher's Frightening Encounter


Intrepid Aussie cryptozoologist, Paul Cropper, recently sent me some old clippings he had and this one certainly raised an eyebrow. It is a letter anonymously sent to the Scottish paper, The Sunday Post, dated 12th August 1979. Based on the letter, the actual incident is dated to about 30th July 1979. The clipping can be read above, but here is the text of the encounter below.

A Poacher's Frightening Encounter At Loch Ness

On Wednesday, a remarkable letter reached The Sunday Post. It came from an Edinburgh man who could not give his name, as he admits to being a salmon poacher for 25 years. Two weeks ago he was driving north with a friend to poach the River Conon near Bonar Bridge. At about 1:30am, they were on the A82 by the side of Loch Ness near Drumnadrochit. They pulled in at the side of the loch where, using infrared night-glasses, they confirmed salmon were jumping. The Edinburgh man got into his wetsuit and took his fishing net from the boot of his car.

The net, 100 metres long by 30-feet deep was brand new. While his mate held one end on the shore, he swam out into the loch with the other end. then began to pull the net round to a circle to trap the salmon. At that moment the net started to move up the loch of its own accord! Then he felt something brush against the side of his legs. As he became tangled in the net, he reached down to try to free himself - and felt his his hand touch a rough, horny skin! By this time, he was being dragged up the loch at a fantastic rate. His mate was also in the water, jerked off the shore by the lurch, as whatever they'd caught suddenly swam away.

Then the net snagged on a rock at the side of the loch. As it did so, the creature burst through the net, threshed the water to foam, and was gone. The poacher got out of the water as fast as he could, shaking with fear. The two men waited till dawn broke, then went back to recover the net. They found a hole in it, 20 foot long by 15 feet deep. A half-inch, lead-cored rope was burst in two places.

Eleven salmon were still caught in the net - enough to pay for the trip. "What I've written," he says "is absolutely true. I can assure you there is a creature in the loch - and there is no way I am ever going back, even in daylight".

So runs the tale and clearly, it is up to the reader whether to believe it or not as there is no corroboration of any kind. One can understand the person wishing to remain anonymous though. The precise location of the incident can only be inferred but points to near the mouth of either the River Enrick or Coiltie which empty into Urquhart Bay beside the village of Drumnadrochit. It may be that they parked near the castle grounds and scrambled downhill with their net or perhaps walked through the woods covering the bay. Either way, their net was not sufficient for the task that night.

What happened next goes one or more levels beyond what eyewitnesses normally experience. Something large brushes past you under the water, you feel rough, horny skin with your hand and the net pulls away threatening to drag you into the deeps of the dark loch. Finally, the shredded net is revealed the next morning. It sounds like something from one of those fictional Nessie movies!

The net used was likely a gill net which catches fish by their gills. Such a net may stop salmon, but it is unlikely to pose any problems to a four tonne, thirty foot carnivore with a decent set of teeth moving at speed. It would seem this monster was busy feeding on the salmon making their way to or from the bay and did not take kindly to someone else sharing. If this story is true, this man had a lucky escape.

This account has two features I had only heard of once before in other accounts. It was some months back that one could not find an account of anyone ever claiming to have touched the Loch Ness Monster. A second hand account dating back to 1922 came in to us last November which I published here. This is our first first hand account and describes a skin consistent with the rough appearance described by those close enough to see such detail.

It is also to be noted that only one story suggestive of a monster being snared in fish nets at the loch had been found prior to this and that was a story from Sandy Gray dating back to 1893 which is in this article. It is not clear if that was a first or second hand account. In that instance, the entire net was hauled out into the depths, never to be found again. Like this account, nothing large was clearly visible.

No one has ever claimed to been dragged into the loch by the monster. Clearly it is a unique account and if it is true, it is no surprise the fellow felt compelled to tell someone about it. Perhaps somewhere in Edinburgh today, in a shed or in an attic lies an old net, only used once because there is a gaping hole in it. One would be very interested to see such an item which may be located only miles from my own house.

But perhaps there is some corroboration of a sort. I checked the sightings database for anything happening at that time. The date was around 30th July 1979. As it turns out, Alistair Boyd, noted Nessie Hunter, had his only sighting of the beast on the same day in the same area of Urquhart Bay, either hours before or after this incident. His was a 20 foot long black hump, was it the same creature (below)?

Furthermore, we also learn from Rip Hepple's Nessletter No.36 from October 1979 of another sighting the next day by a Mrs. Clark and Mrs. MacLeod who saw a large snake like head from the same point at Temple Pier, moving into the bay. It seems one of the creatures was minded to stay in this area for the dates of 30th to 31st July 1979. 

Forty three years on, there is probably not much more to add to this story. The persons involved may still be alive but probably still unwilling to come out into the open. We live in hope. Either way, thanks to Paul Cropper for this fascinating story.

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Thursday, 16 September 2021

Another Audio Interview


Hot on the heels of the podcast I did recently, Steve Ward, host of the High Strangeness Factor show, contacted me to do another interview for him. I was happy to do that and the audio can be found here. Steve's show has a more paranormal bent to it and I reckoned I would take a different route to the previous talk which was more wide ranging and generic.

Therefore, this podcast focuses on the paranormal, supernatural and mythical aspects of the Loch Ness Monster, from its days as a Celtic water spirit to the notorious Water Horse of the Highlanders and onto the modern thoughts on how these may apply to the current cryptid. Naturally people like Ted Holiday, Tim Dinsdale, Erik Beckjord and so will be mentioned.

Click on and enjoy the talk, comment welcome below.

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Sunday, 29 August 2021

The Latest Audio Interview


I was invited to speak on the Loch Ness Monster from the guys at the Controversial Science website last week and spent over an hour answering questions and comparing-contrasting the various cryptozoological disciplines and the common themes we see from scepticism in these areas. You can click on the video below or find the talk at this link.

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Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Hunting Nessie in Wigtown

I am not long back from the small town of Wigtown in the Scottish county of Dumfries and Galloway in the south west of Scotland. Back in 1998 it was designated the National Book Town of Scotland and no wonder as it hosts over a dozen well stocked second hand bookshops around its small green square shown above. Around 1998, I had visited that other book town, Hay-on-Wye on the English-Welsh border and came home with several boxes of books.

This time I was more circumspect and selective as my collection has dropped from thousands down to less then a thousand (I think having not actually counted them). I had some tightly defined subjects on my shopping list and the Loch Ness Monster was one of them. Admittedly, I own about 68 of the 70 titles ever published (excluding kids books and fiction), so I did not expect to fill the box this time.

So over the weekend, I toured the bookshops with these subjects in mind, but it proved to be a disappointing exercise and the results were as follows. Only about a third of the shops had any Nessie books and those were the shops with the biggest stocks. The first one visited produced the best selection as shown below. Those were "The Loch Ness Story" by Nicholas Witchell, "Nessie, Seven Years in Search of the Monster" by Frank Searle and "The Loch Ness Monster - The Evidence" by Steuart Campbell.

Witchell's book was the hardback first edition and was a snip at only five pounds, but I already owned it. As it turned out, I only bought Searle's book for one pound. Why buy that one by a proven faker? Well, actually, I was looking for such a copy, even though I also owned this, as I plan to write an article on Frank Searle and wanted to scan some text from his book. The trouble is scanning this book which is a thin glued spine could split it if forced flat onto a scanner bed. The solution is to buy another on the cheap and pull it apart!

Actually, for a man who claimed to have watched the loch more than anyone else, he does not have a lot to say compared to other monster hunters' books. It is a thin volume which was more likely written up quickly to cash in on the Nessie fever of the 1970s and probably also before the 1976 expose of Searle fully finished him off. How much of it is plagiarism is a matter of discussion. After that, it was onto the next book shop and that had two Nessie books in its Highlands section. One was a later paperback version of Witchell's book and the small tourist booklet produced by the Fort Augustus Abbey monks called "Loch Ness and its Monster", in this case, the 1967 reprint.

All the books so far were reasonably priced, probably cheaper than you will get on eBay and elsewhere. All the Nessie books were in the "Highlands" section and were in good condition. It was then onto the next bookshop which had the smallest stock of them all and their sole Nessie book was under the Folklore and Forteana section. It was the paperback version of Ronald Binns' first book from the 1980s. It was the most expensive book coming in at six pounds, I declined the offer and will say no more. It was then off to the bookshop which claimed to be the biggest secondhand bookshop in Scotland.

I had visited another large secondhand bookshop some months before, namely Leakey's of Inverness which is also a substantial bookshop. I compared the two in my mind's eye and thought that this one just shaded it for the title. Nevertheless, a search of the shelves revealed not one single title on the Loch Ness Monster in any form. Somewhat disappointed I enquired as to any titles out of sight. The response came up with the best one of all - "The Loch Ness Monster and Others" by Rupert T. Gould.

Unlike the picture above, the one he produced for me had no dustjacket and the listed price was a cool two hundred pounds. That is actually cheaper than some I have seen on eBay. The one I own cost about fifty pounds but that was purchased about twenty years ago. There was a reprint published in the 1970s which is a cheaper alternative for monster fans. However, this book had one particular claim to fame as it was owned by the author, Gavin Maxwell.

Maxwell authored the famous "Ring of Bright Water" but was also a fan of the Loch Ness Monster and indeed claimed a sighting of it back in 1945 as I recounted in this article. Indeed, his brother Eustace was directly involved in the hunt back in the 1960s. It then came to me later that Gavin Maxwell had actually been brought up in the area around Wigtown and some of his relatives still live in the Monreith area to this day. It would seem that some of them had sold off some of his collection to this book dealer. It would be natural to assume that having seen his monster in 1945, Maxwell bought the only available book on it at the time written by Gould.

I checked for anything unique, such as annotations by Maxwell and then handed back the book and that more or less ended the hunt. Five titles and nothing after the 1990s. Whether these titles are any less or more likely to be found than a random title with a similar publishing run is hard to say. I did not see anything published in recent years and I noted that there was not really anything else of a Fortean nature (e.g. UFOs or Bigfoot). 

I left with Searle's book plus a 1930s Ordnance Survey map of the loch and a couple of booklets on the Great Glen. It was an enjoyable weekend browsing all those titles and I would recommend a trip to the town for any lovers of long shelves of old books.

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Monday, 9 August 2021

Tim Dinsdale and the Oxbridge Students


Fellow Nessie fan, Gary, sent me a Youtube link to an old newsreel item entitled "Look at Life" which the Rank Organisation churned out for British cinemas in the 1960s. This one was called "Out for a Catch" and featured the man himself, Tim Dinsdale. The video is below and though it mainly is concerned with British angling, for some reason it begins and ends at Loch Ness.

The scene opens with Tim surveying the loch from his deckchair at a spot I think is on Foyers beach, beside the small island on the right I have before dubbed "Dinsdale Island". During the mid-1960s, Tim used this river inlet as a base of operation for a while, setting up a hide for observation. This is all downhill from where he took his famous film in April 1960. As you can see, he uses those small binoculars he was well known for as he looks for a sight of his quarry, the Loch Ness Monster.

The scene switches to Tim helping out a group of young people, examining a map of sightings and pointing this way and that as they also survey the loch. The narrator tells us they are Cambridge University students and that pretty much sums up these short segments. The question is when was this film footage shot? A look at the Wikipedia entry for "Look at Life" says this particular reel was shot in 1960, so who were these university students? 

The answer is they were one of the first expeditions to the loch in the frenetic era that spanned 1960 to 1980. A search of the newspaper archives gives us more details. For example, the clipping below from the Birmingham Post dated 12th July 1960, tells us they were a group of students from Britain's top two universities, Oxford and Cambridge on a camera surveillance trip led by Dr. Richard Tucker, formerly of the British Museum.

Interestingly, two weeks later, the Sunday Pictoral for the 24th July offers more information by stating that they had been there the past month and they numbered more than a dozen students. However, they are stated as being led by twenty three year old Peter Baker and not Richard Tucker. The only theme this lightweight article can focus on is the menace of the biting midges. Now I wondered who this Richard Tucker was who was formerly of the British Museum?

There is the controversial Dr. Denys Tucker who was sacked around this time for declaring his belief in the monster after seeing a hump moving across the loch during a visit. This led to his sacking by the Natural History Museum (though the alternate explanation was his eccentric behaviour). But then again it could more credibly be Dr. Dennis Tucker, another zoologist from the Natural History Museum, who did sonar work at the loch in the 1960s. Or is there a third Tucker called Richard? It is all a bit confusing and readers are invited to offer an explanation as to who Richard Tucker may or may not be.

What is not confusing is the fact that this newsreel was filmed only two or three months after Tim Dinsdale shot his hump film. One could argue this is the earliest footage of a young looking Tim Dinsdale and is an important part of the record of the Loch Ness hunt (I think he was forty years old).

That year was a busy one as another former employee of the Natural History Museum was there in June. His name was Maurice Burton who was on the cusp of becoming a Loch Ness Monster sceptic and would head south to his home in England to write the first sceptical book on the monster. It was titled "The Elusive Monster" and was published the following year as Tim published his very pro-Nessie book, "Loch Ness Monster".

This was all a prelude to the formation of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau which would mount annual expeditions to the loch from 1962 and for the next ten years. An era which is receding in the rear view mirror as its participants pass away and we look to more complex techniques to finally solve this mystery.

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Sunday, 1 August 2021

Scott Mardis - Monster Hunter

I had gone up to Loch Ness a couple of weeks ago with a new mobile phone with better reception and more data. I will pass on how the previous phone was accidentally dropped down the toilet, never to recover. But this allowed me during those warm evenings in the tent to listen to the podcasts of "The Haunted Sea" by Scott Mardis to which I directed others on my last blog. 

Scott picked up on that and messaged me last Sunday about 2am his time to tell me he had touched base with Marty Klein of those 1970s expeditions, hoping to get him on one of his shows. That would have been a great podcast I thought and I replied but never heard from Scott again. Unknown to me, he passed away three days later at the age of 57. I have written one or two tributes to people who have died, such as Roy Mackal, who were well advanced in years, but I did not expect to be typing this in 2021 concerning Scott.

Loren Coleman has laid out the sad circumstances of Scott's untimely death, I will add my own tribute to Scott here. I got to know Scott back in 2014 when I joined his growing Facebook group, the Zombie Plesiosaur Society (ZPS), dedicated to large creatures of lake and sea, be they extinct, cryptid or relevant in some way to that pursuit. I became a co-administrator some time back, but we all knew this was Scott's baby from the start.

Pretty soon we were pinging messages between each other about Nessie, Champ and other hard to get beasts. Scott's enthusiasm for aquatic cryptids was evident through these and his posts on the ZPS. He later branched out into other groups dedicated to his chief quarry, the Lake Champlain Monster. Being convinced that some of these animals may be survivor plesiosaurs (hence the group title), he also branched out into paleontology to expand his understanding of the creature and even worked as a volunteer in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences' Department of Vertebrate Paleontology.

But what keeps a monster hunter's enthusiasm and drive going? Like Dinsdale, Holiday and others before him, Scott saw his monster back in 1994 about a couple of years into his personal quest. I quote from Dale Drinnon's blog:

The date I believe was July 9, 1994 and I was at the waterfront park called Battery Park in Burlington, Vermont on Lake Champlain, purposely watching the water for something with my binoculars (I did not own a camera at the time and could not afford one, as I had recently spent most of my money relocating to Burlington to investigate the "monster"). I had been watching the lake for weeks on a regular basis from this park as it was easy to access and had a wide view of one of the deepest parts of the lake. The park was sparsely occupied at the time and I was sitting on one of the benches facing the water. Around 11 a.m., a large object bobbed to the surface and remained stationary for a few seconds. It was very far out into the water but I had a good view of it with my binoculars. I later estimated it’s size by comparing it with a boat I saw afterward. I believe it was about 15 feet long and about 4 feet high.

It was a large mound-like object with a smaller mound-like object rising up out of the middle of it. It kept this configuration for a few seconds, then turned to the right, with the smaller mound-like object taking on a different profile and then oriented on the right side of the larger mound (as pictured below). The full object began to swim or move to the right, with the smaller object making a rocking motion as this was happening. The smaller object could be interpreted as an appendage of some sort, possibly a head on a short neck or a flipper. The whole thing briefly swam a few yards to the right, then promptly sank vertically and I did not see it again. The entire incident may have lasted something like 30 seconds, if that. I did have a very good view of it through the binoculars. The object was a greenish-black, "garbage bag" color, reminiscent of a leatherback turtle.

When you go out seeking to hook the monster of Lake Champlain or Loch Ness and see one, it actually hooks you and reels you in. What kept the likes of Scott, Dinsdale and Holiday going? They saw something they couldn't explain and they were determined to get more. I have a desire but also a fear of seeing the monster. Not because I expect it to attack me, but what effect it would have on my lifestyle. Would I become more determined to find out more or would it become an obsession that takes control? I hope more of the former as Scott did. He upped the ante and kept going back every year to find the clinching evidence for Champ.

In that respect, Scott taught me a few things. I am pretty much a landlubber when it comes to Loch Ness, but Scott ploughed into the waters will all manner of schemes and devices. Boats, sonar, hydrophones, underwater cameras, underwater speakers and diving. In fact, I am pretty sure that is not an exhaustive list, and I have not even added the land based stuff. Some interesting acoustic and sonar hits were made to add to the panoply of evidence, but like Nessie, Champ remains a stubborn target to pin down.

Back in November 2019, I flew over to Orlando in Florida for a holiday. Yes, we did the usual Disney World stuff and so on but Scott lived over on the west coast in Bradenton and I reckoned this may be my only chance to meet up with him. So we did the two hour drive over and followed Scott's directions into Bradenton. To my surprise, we turned into a mobile home park and Scott directed us into the parking bay by his modest caravan-type home. I guess I am just not used to seeing such a thing in Scotland.

He lived there with his wife, cat and dog in humble surroundings that actually made me admire him all the more given his obvious lack of resources. We went out to a Chinese restaurant and talked monsters and I still have the toy Champ he gave me as a souvenir of our visit. It sits between some Nessie books in my study. The visit ended as we needed to get back to Orlando for nightfall and I said my goodbyes to Scott. As it turned out, it was not my one chance to see Scott, but my last chance.

Four months later, the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world, shutting down non-essential travel across countries and continents. I had taken my chance and seen Scott before his untimely death. So, Scott, thanks for the chat, the interviews with you on your podcasts, the information and insights you gave me and the friendship.

Rest in Peace, Scott Mardis.

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