Friday 1 February 2013

Strange Skeleton in Lake Labynkyr?

Something is afoot in the remote Siberian lake called Labynkyr as a diver has claimed to have found the skeletal remains of a large creature. We covered this monster lake back in September and so await with interest any further developments.

From the original article:

A Russian scientist has made the first deep plunge in the waters of Yakutia’s Lake Labynkyr which claims to be home to a 'Siberian Loch Ness monster'. The fact has a real chance to be registered in the Guinness Book of Records, a statement of the Russian Geografical Society (RGO) has said.

Head of the RGO underwater research team Dmitry Shiller went down to the bottom of one of the world’s coldest lakes located in the remote Yakutia region of Russia’s Siberia. This was the first time a man plunged to the depths of the lake.

In winter the air temperature here drops down to minus 89 degree Celsius.

According to members of the team, the expedition’s aim was to take video footage of the lakes’ bottom and collect samples of water, flora and fauna.

Moreover, according to the scientists, with the help of an underwater scanner they discovered jaws and skeletal remains of a large animal.

Lake Labynkyr is known for its geographical characteristics, the depth of its cracks reaches 80 meters. Evenk and Yakut people, Yakutia natives, claim an underwater creature, a "Siberian Loch Ness monster", lurks in there.

UPDATE: Another article came out from a Russian news outlet, but it makes no mention of any bones!

Thursday 31 January 2013

Nessie Symposium and Edinburgh Science Festival

The 2013 Edinburgh International Science Festival has just published its brochure and the Symposium on the 80th Anniversary of the first modern sighting of the Loch Ness Monster gets a slot on page 42. Further details can be had at the official "Nessie 80" website and I add some words of my own here.

I am beginning to gather my thoughts for my own talk on the pre-Nessie era prior to 1933. There is a spot of "limbering up" as I currently engage Dick Raynor in a little exchange on Richard Franck's  "floating island" at Loch Ness. But that will expand into other areas such as Ulrich Magin's sceptical study on pre-1933 sightings written for volume seven of "Fortean Studies" (published by Fortean Times). What doesn't get used at the lecture will still be used on this blog for your interest.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

One of those Damned Logs

Ever mistaken a piece of floating wood for a prehistoric monster? No, nor have I, but apparently some do. This kind of faux pas has been touted as an explanation for Nessies for decades as this picture from the Daily Express of the 15th December 1933 demonstrates.

The text reads:

It bobbed up and down travelling at a fair pace - a tree trunk carried by strong currents at Foyers, Loch Ness. France has now heard of the "monster" - "It has the body of a diplodocus and the head of a horse" one Paris newspaper told its readers.

Clearly the Loch Ness Monster in its two humped aspect!

Sunday 27 January 2013

What Is Nessie? The Long Neck Problem

Steve Plambeck has updated his "The Loch Ness Giant Salamander" blog with further thoughts on how a salamander of suitable size can be harmonised with the sightings record. The article is here

One major block to a salamander interpretation is the traditional long neck of the creature. Salamanders do not have long necks. Steve however suggests that the long tail of the salamander can account for this apparent problem. I can see merit in that idea and have no problem believing that a long tail can be mistaken for a long neck by eyewitnesses. The main question is whether this theory can account for all (or a persuadable majority) of such sightings and so we await his next instalment.

Having pointed out the eel-like head in the Hugh Gray photograph over a year ago, I have to admit I have presented myself with a problem as the picture does not seem to offer the possibility of a long neck. The part of the body where the neck is presumed to be is actually obscured by a water cascade shooting upwards. However, the obscured region between head and main body is not wide enough to accommodate a long neck anyway.

So how does that reconcile with long neck sightings and how often are long necks reported by eyewitnesses? Tim Dinsdale in his 1961 book "Loch Ness Monster" conducted a study of 100 reports of which 45% had head-neck descriptions. However, 15 years later, Roy Mackal conducted a more extensive study of sightings for his book "The Monster of Loch Ness". He analysed 233 sightings from 1933 to 1969 and I estimate 70 or 30% were classic head-neck.

The problem here is cherry-picking and I believe there may be a tendency for long neck sightings to be placed ahead of other types of sightings. Over Mackal's sample period of 1933-1969 there is at least 600 documented sightings across the literature. A simple calculation suggests that at worst head-neck sightings would be about 12% of all sightings but it is probably more.

But on the short neck versus long neck issue, one speculation I had was that the neck is somehow extensible. Some vertebrates can extend their necks (or give the impression of it) but it is pretty limited. There are exceptions such as turtles which can extend their necks out to a good proportion of their main body length. Check out this Jeremy Wade clip where the turtle's neck goes out an amazing length!

A truly extensible neck or equivalent is more to be found with invertebrates due to the obvious lack of impeding vertebrae. So can the Loch Ness Monster retract its neck into its body? The answer is "yes" if some eyewitness reports are to be believed. Going back to the invertebrate theory as espoused by F. W. Holiday,he wrote an article for "The Field" magazine of February 1976 entitled "The case for a spineless monster". It's a fascinating read and you can find it in our Rip Hepple archive in the June 1976 issue (No.16).

Holiday mentions two cases thus:

"It's neck went up and down as if on elastic" someone told Commander R T Gould. The head changed shape while you watched. Two Scottish visitors who had binoculars on the monster near Dores told me "From the end of the neck sprouted a head. One second it had no head; then it did have a head".

An intriguing and virtually unknown aspect of monster lore you may well say. I investigated further. The Gould sighting that Holiday refers to is taken from page 96 of the 1934 first edition and recounts the sighting of a Miss K. MacDonald between Lochend and Abriachan on the 1st May 1934. The actual quote is:

The head was quite small. Head and neck undulated up and down "as if by elastic".

That left me slightly confused as Holiday may have somewhat misquoted the text. Was the elastic movement of the neck an illusion brought on by the up and down movement in the water or an actual physical change? The interpretation is ambiguous to me. I could not find the source for the Dores sighting so it may be there in the literature or The Field magazine was its public debut. Perhaps a reader could help here.

However, the saga of the elastic neck does not end there as I stumbled upon another sighting of this genre elsewhere. It comes from the book "The Great Monster Hunt" by David and Yvonne Cooke written in 1969. On page 61 a previously undisclosed sighting is unveiled as Mr. Cooke interviews a man by the name of Kenneth Ross who recounted a strange experience on his boat opposite Invermoriston in 1936.

As they were motoring in their boat they presumed to see a boat nearby but as it approached to within 200 yards a head and neck of several feet was noticed. Taking up his story:

Then all of a sudden this huge glistening body came out of the water and the neck disappeared into the shoulders or into the body of the creature. Then the monster struck the water with one of its floppers and there was a whirlpool and it disappeared.

So in Holiday's account, a head sprouted from the neck and in this account the opposite happens as the head-neck retracts into the body. What are we to make of these two extraordinary and unique reports? Is this a display of retractibilty akin to our turtle above or something completely different? I say that because there does not seem to be much of a head to speak of. If we had more details on the two sightings, a better picture may emerge but two models present themselves. The head-neck retracts like a turtle or this is not a head-neck at all.

The first model appeals but if it is not a head-neck then what is it? I see no reason why this should be a retractable tail unless someone can point to a known precedent in nature? Neither do I think it is a phallus and paranormal advocates could have a field day with subconscious archetypes here (I think of Tom Bearden's work here)!

Could it be a retractable appendage such as a flipper? The Ross sighting above describes a separate flipper but it is possible though I cannot quite think what the advantage of such an ability is apart from protection. The problem here is that the witnesses are presumably correct in placing the "neck" where the neck would normally be in the creature morphology.

So a mystery within a mystery presents itself. Add to this curious feature of humps changing appearance before witnesses' eyes and one wonders how malleable and flexible this creature is (but such wondrous "floating islands" are for another day and another article).

Comments are welcome and if any can find similar instances of retractable appendages send me a comment.