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