Monday 14 September 2015

Nessie FAQ

Realising that people of varying familiarity with the Loch Ness Monster visit this blog, I thought it appropriate to put up a page of frequently asked questions concerning Nessie. For some, most of these facts and figures may be well known but to others such as kids who may wish to write a school essay on Nessie or anyone else who wants the straight facts for any article, this Loch Ness Monster FAQ can help them.

 Now when I say "facts" or "evidence" there is clearly going to be disagreement on what constitutes evidence for the Loch Ness Monster. Indeed, most will regard any evidence as falling short whilst others such as myself will be found closer to the other end of the spectrum. The point of this page is not to sit in judgement but rather state what has historically been regarded as evidence.

Also facts can lack unanimity. This is perhaps best shown in the total number of claimed Nessie sightings. Some claim as many as 10,000 whilst others drop to the hundreds depending on their "filtering" processes. I have no doubt in my mind that the number of sightings are in the thousands but most never make it into the public domain.

The sources for the data come from a variety of places and the data may change as new information comes to light. This is a work in progress!

Q. How did the Loch Ness Monster story begin?

A. There had been stories of strange things in Loch Ness going back centuries, but the "Loch Ness Monster" as we know it began in 1933 as a series of reports of monsters received increasing attention from local, national and international media organisations.The first report came on May 2nd by a Mrs. Mackay and was followed in August by a sensational sighting of the creature on land by a Mr. and Mrs. Spicer. The first photograph by Hugh Gray followed in November and monster fever reached its highest pitch in April 1934 when the famous Surgeon's Photograph was published.

By the end of 1934, there had been over three hundred claims of monster sightings and the Loch Ness Monster was now firmly established as an international mystery. The press loved a monster story, especially during those years of economic depression, and so a large dinosaur-like creature turning up at a remote highland loch was a godsend for them. The debate around that time revolved around not only the reports but what the creature could be and what steps should be taken to solve this mystery.

Theories from the fantastical to the more mundane abounded while plans to trap the creature ranged from large, baited hooks to huge steel cages. Plans were afoot to set up long term observation platforms with cine cameras and send divers down to explore the murky and intimidating depths. The creature even merited mention in the British parliament as questions were asked as to the protection the law afforded to a creature as yet unidentified.

Expeditions of varying seriousness and complexity were organised as people proactively sought to obtain conclusive evidence, not only of the creature's existence, but also it's identity. However, given the loch's wide range and the creature's apparent shyness, nothing that would convince the likes of the Natural History Museum was ever forthcoming. It seemed there was no need to consult protection laws while Nessie successfully eluded all insipid attempts at capture and by 1935 the story began to slow down and almost disappear as the country moved onto a war footing.

Q. Was there any monster legends before the Loch Ness Monster became news?

A. Like a lot of other lochs in Scotland, Loch Ness was feared as the abode of a Water Horse. This creature would capture people by pretending to be an ordinary horse ready for use by the wayside. On mounting the beast, the victim would be stuck to the monster which would then race into Loch Ness to feast upon its drowned victim. There are a lot of reference to this unworldly beast in old Victorian books and it is also sometimes referred to as a Kelpie or the more benign Water Bull. Loch Ness is the most often mentioned home of a Water Horse in old Highland literature, exceeding other lochs such as lochs Lomond, Morar, Tay and Awe.

Q. What about Saint Columba and the Monster?

A. Adamnan's "Life of Saint Columba" mentions the saint invoking the name of God to drive away a "water beast" that had killed one man and threatened to take another in the River Ness. The account was written in the 8th century but the event probably took place in the middle of the 6th century. The incident perhaps took place at the Bona Narrows just north of Loch Ness though other tales of Columba tell of further encounters with the beast in Loch Ness itself.

Some say the tale is fabricated or speaks of a bear or walrus. The story itself does not identify the animal though it is reasonable that the story presents it as an aquatic-based animal and not something demonic like the Water Horse.

Q. How many times has the Monster been seen?

A. In terms of reports starting in 1933 that appears in books, magazines and newspapers, the total runs to about one thousand seven hundred (1,700). Doubtless, there are others which have gone unreported. This would average out at about twenty sightings a year, but the actual numbers per year can vary enormously from over a hundred to none. Indeed, it seems that the number of reported sightings has been on a continuous slide since the 1970s with various explanations being offered as to why. Is Nessie dead or do less witnesses come forward now?

Undoubtedly, a proportion of these reports fall into the hoax or misidentification category. It is generally agreed that witnesses are sincere in what they claim to see and so hoaxes form only a small part of the overall number. As to how many of the remaining reports are monster or misidentification depends on who you ask!

There are also reports of the monster before 1933, most of which were revealed by witnesses coming forward after 1933. These come to about seventy in all since the St. Columba story.

Q. What is usually described?

A. The majority of reports describe a large humped like object in the loch. Sometimes the object has two or three or more humps which can change shape. Perhaps a fifth will describe a long neck seen with the humps or on its own. More rarely a long tail and flippers or webbed feet are described. The object can be described as moving in the water and producing a noticeable wake. Sometimes it simply sinks vertically back into the loch.

The skin is usually described as dark in colour and can be smooth or rough in appearance. Horns are mentioned in very rare circumstances as are small eyes and mouth. Finer details of the creature are not usually expected since it is normally seen hundreds of metres away (unless the witness has binoculars or telescope).

Q. Has the creature been seen out of the water?

A. Yes it has, but on even rarer occasions than water reports; about 29 times in the last 81 years. There are about 55 water based sightings for every land based sighting. The last claimed report was in 2009 and most were in the 1930s. What witnesses describe is in keeping with water based reports, though there are some exceptions which are weird to say the least.

Q. What is the evidence for the Loch Ness Monster?

A. There is a large volume of eyewitness testimony as well as a range of films, photographs and sonar readings. However, the quality of the evidence is disputed. It is said that the testimonies are unreliable and untrustworthy while the photographs and films are deemed inconclusive or hoaxes. Sonar readings are disputed as being illusions created by sound reflections and refractions as well as lacking resolution.

To some extent the evidence is in the eye of the beholder as personal bias and prejudice enters the assessment on both sides. Because a number of sightings, photos, films and sonar have been found to be erroneous, there is always a small chance that someone has lied or misperceived. However, this should not be used as a reason for wholesale rejection of all evidence. One bad report does not invalidate 100 others. Each has to be assessed on it own merits and that is where the debate begins and continues to this day.

Ultimately, zoological experts will require a piece of the creature, dead or alive. It may be that even close up shots of the creature in this digital age will be disputed, so in the tradition of the Wild West, it is a case of "Wanted, Nessie: Dead or Alive".

Q. Where can I get the latest sightings of the Loch Ness Monster?

A. There are various outlets. Online newspapers will carry stories as will this blog from time to time. Gary Campbell's sightings website is also recommended (link). For the latest news on any aspects of Nessie, you could always set up a Google News alert to your mail inbox when news items appear on the Web.

Q. Why has no carcass of the monster been found?

A. The nature of the loch does not allow for carcasses to rise and drift ashore. Anything that dies will sink to the bottom aided by the loch's sheer high sides. Once the body is hundreds of feet below, the cold waters of the loch arrest the decomposition process, allowing scavangers to strip the carcass. This also defeats the buildup of gases in body chambers and the remains will not achieve buoyancy and float to the surface. The high water pressure at the bottom of the loch will also compress any decomposition gases, which again defeats buoyancy. If the monster has a skeleton, it will eventually be buried in silt or even dissolve in the water's slightly acidic environment if they are cartiliginous.

Q. Is there enough food in Loch Ness to feed the monster?

A. That again depends who you ask and how you frame the question. If by that you mean a herd of 50 plesiosaurs then the answer is "No". But if you specify a different kind of monster and lower the presumed population, the answer moves towards "Yes". Various attempts have been made to estimate the biomass of Loch Ness (excluding monsters) by sonar counting fish or extrapolating mathematically from samples of various animals from various points in the food chain. The only exact thing known is that no one knows exactly how much biomass is in Loch Ness. 
The best estimate for fish in the top layer of the water column is up to 24 tonnes but this does not account for fish along the sides, near the surface and closer to the bottom. This would include migratory salmon, trout and bottom feeding eels. These will increase the total number multiple times (my own estimate is over 160 tonnes). 
The other factor is Nessie dietary requirements. One estimate suggests the Loch Ness biomass can sustain a monster population one-tenth in mass which could range from 2.4 to 16 tonnes. But there are other ratios depending on the type of creature which allows a small population of monsters. The answer is not as clear cut as some make out.
But some Nessie believers do accept there is not enough food and these people tend to believe in a monster that is of paranormal origin or is a regular visitor to the loch which feeds in the oceans. More information can be had at this link.
Q. Will the Loch Ness Monster mystery ever be solved?

A. This again depends on who you ask. Some feel that the mystery was solved in the 1980s when people such as Adrian Shine synthesised a theory based on various misidentifications of known and not so well known natural phenomena plus the additions of hoax explanations and the occasional visit to the loch by Atlantic Sturgeon. Others think this theory is too simplistic and makes unwarranted assumptions about the observational abilities of the eyewitnesses. The manner in which photographic evidence is handled is also seen as too dismissive by those on the monster side of the debate. The accusation that something should have been found by now is also levelled, though without a convincing explanation as to why this should be the case. 


Note it is not being claimed here that all these are proof of the monster. Some are not but some will be. Also, there are a number of lesser known photos which I don't about which briefly "surfaced" in the 1980s and 1990s in one particular newspaper only to disappear from view.

Total number of known sightings: about 1800
Total number of land sightings: 35
Total number of sightings before Nessie "Era": about 70
Total number of photographs: about 30
Total number of films: about 30
Total number of sonar contacts: over 20


Earliest account of Monster: 565AD by Adamnan (link)
First newspaper report of a "huge fish" in Loch Ness: Inverness Courier 8th October 1868
First "modern" sighting: 14th April 1933 by Aldie Mackay (reported 2nd May) (link)
Land sighting by Spicers on 22nd July 1933 which made international news
First photograph by Hugh Gray: 12 November 1933 at Foyers
Marmaduke Wetherell investigation for Daily Mail: November 1933 to January 1934
First organised expedition by Sir Edward Mountain: July-August 1934
The Surgeon's Photograph published April 21st 1934 by the Daily Mail
Rupert Gould publishes "The Loch Ness Monster and Others" in June 1934
Loch Ness Monster news goes into hibernation during war years
Lachlan Stuart photograph of three humps taken in July 14th 1951
Peter MacNab takes a picture of the monster swimming by Castle Urquhart on July 1955.
Constance Whyte publishes "More Than A Legend" in 1957.
Tim Dinsdale takes his famous monster film in April 1960.
The Loch Ness Phenomenon Investigation Bureau is founded in 1962 spending 10 years on the hunt
The Academy of Applied Sciences expeditions take their famous flipper photo on 8th August 1972.
They repeat the feat with the gargoyle and body pictures in 1975.
Operation Deepscan sweeps the loch with a line of boats in October 1987 with three unidentified sonar hits.
Nicholas Witchell fronts Project Urquhart in 1993.
April 1994: Surgeon's Photo exposed as hoax by Alistair Boyd and David Martin.


Best year for sightings: Five on the 24th July 1934 (link)
Best month for sightings: August (about 20%)
Worst month for sightings: January (about 3%)
Best day of month for sightings: 27th (5% average is 3%)
Worst day of month for sightings: 31st (1.5% but only 7 months have that day)
Best time of day for sightings: 3pm-4pm (10%)
Worst time of day for sightings: 3am-4am (0.5%)


There are a multiplicity of candidates which attempt to identify what the Loch Ness Monster is. Though some may be drawn from known animals, be they existing or extinct, some kind of modification was required to fit the Nessie identikit. Here is a selection of them. Note that questions about the lifecycle of the monster very much depend on which (if any) of these creatures best describes the monster.

Plesiosaur or Elasmosaurus

Tullimonstrum Gregarium

Giant eel

Long Necked Seal

Paranormal Entity


 Embolomeri Amphibian

Atlantic Sturgeon

Misidentification of common phenomena

Monster Statistics

Average Length: 20-25 feet
Maximum Length: up to 60 feet
Minimum Length: A few feet!
Humps: Generally up to three, 3 to 10 feet in length and up to several feet high.
Neck: Typically 5 to 6 feet which tapers to about one foot where it joins body. Can be described as pillar or pole like.
Head: Sometimes described as small or even a continuation of the neck.


The Loch Ness Monster has had its supporters and detractors throughout the decades. From the earliest days in 1933, when investigator Rupert Gould turned up at the loch to interview eyewitnesses through to today when a plethora of all types can be found with a simple Google search, finding an opinion on the monster is not difficult to find. Here we categorise some past and present names according to for, against or just simply in it for the publicity. The decades they were/are active in these roles is an estimate in some cases.

The Monster Men

Rupert Gould (1930s - 40s) Wrote first book on Nessie in 1934, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others"
Alex Campbell (1930s - 70s) Water Bailiff at Loch Ness who claimed 17 sightings.
Constance Whyte (1930s - 70s) Wrote influential book "More Than a Legend" in 1957.
Tim Dinsdale (1960s - 80s) Took most famous footage of beast in 1960 and wrote five books.
David James (1960s - 70s) Lead founder of Loch Ness Investigation Bureau
F. W. Holiday (1960s - 70s) Author of three books on or relating to Nessie.
Robert Rines (1970s - 2000s) Led the famous underwater searches in the 1970s.
Nicholas Witchell (1960s - 90s) Wrote the book "The Loch Ness Story".
Steve Feltham (1990s - today) Longest serving monster hunter living by the loch since 1992.

The Sceptics

Tony Harmsworth (80s - today) Former curator of the Official Loch Ness Exhibition
Adrian Shine (80s - today) Leader of Loch Ness Project and curator of Loch Ness Centre
Dick Raynor (80s - today) Loch Ness Researcher and author of various articles.
Maurice Burton (1960s - 90s) Author of "The Elusive Monster" and first major sceptic.
Steuart Campbell (1980s-today) Author of  "The Loch Ness Monster - The Evidence" and various articles
Ronald Binns (1980s) - Author of "The Loch Ness Mystery - Solved"

The Dubious Men

Marmaduke Wetherell (1930s) Lead conspirator in the Surgeon's Photo fake.
Frank Searle (1960s - 80s) Faker of many a Nessie photograph.
Anthony "Doc" Shiels (1970s-80s) Faker of various Nessie and Sea Serpent photos.
George Edwards (1980s-today) Loch Ness cruise boat operator ans self confessed hoaxer.

Noted Eyewitnesses

Aldie Mackay (1933)
George Spicer (1933)
Hugh Gray (1933)
Kenneth Wilson (1934)
Alex Campbell (various years)
Tim Dinsdale (1960)
Greta Finlay (1952)
Marjory Moir (1936)
James McLean (1937)

Noted Photos

Hugh Gray (1933)
Kenneth Wilson (1934)
F. C. Adams (1934)
Lachlan Stuart (1951)
Peter MacNab (1955)
Peter O' Connor (1960)
Jennfier Bruce (1982)
Anthony Shiels (1977)
James Gray (2001)
Roy Johnston (2002)

Noted Films

Malcolm Irvine (1933 and 1936)
G. E. Taylor (1938)
Tim Dinsdale (1960)
Peter Smith: (1977)
Gordon Holmes (2007)
Dick Raynor (1967)

Total number of books on monster: Sixty Three (and counting!)

Loch Ness Facts

Maximum Depth: 227 metres
Average Depth: 132 metres
Max Length: 36.2 kilometres
Max Width: 2.7 kilometres
Height above sea level: 17 metres
Volume: 7.5 cubic kilometres

Rivers: Oich, Moriston, Tarff, Foyers, Coilte, Enrick, Ness (outflow)

Towns (population estimates in parentheses): Fort Augustus (646), Invermoriston (264), Drumnadrochit (1020), Abriachan (120), Dores (109), Foyers (276), Inverfarigaig (74)

Total Loch Ness human population Estimate: over 2,500.

Total Loch Ness monsters population Estimate: ???

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