Monday 13 November 2017

Follow up to the 1975 Underwater Photos

The last article on the Rines photographs from 1975 certainly stirred up a discussion amongst people with myself tending to view them in a sceptical manner. However, Lake Champlain researcher, Scott Madris, posted a photograph which reminded me (once again) that the subject of the Loch Ness Monster is not the clear cut, objective process that we often try to make it out as.

Professor Roy Mackal, in his seminal book "The Monsters of Loch Ness", had discussed the "gargoyle" and "body" shots and concluded both were "positive evidence" for the cause. I have already stated my opinion on the gargoyle, but was more reticent on the body shot on the basis that the object looked too "white" for a Loch Ness Monster.

Scott posted a picture of an eel taking by the AAS equipment which is shown below. Now it goes without saying that eels at Loch Ness are not albino either, but this one is very white and that is down to the reflection of the lights on the camera rig.

Roy Mackal made this comment on the eel image in relation to the controversial body picture:

P 17. (Sec Chapter VII.) Aside from the identity of the animal, one of the most important questions regarding this photograph is the animal's size. Unfortunately, as was also the case with P 16. a precise site estimate cannot be made. However, some estimate can be made based on comparison with other photographs taken of known objects under the same conditions at comparable ranges. For example, the same strobe-camera rig took a picture of an eel (Illus. 9) at a range of 20 ft. (estimation by Rines and Wyckoff). The eel is probably 18 in. long (the most common size encountered in Loch Ness as determined by our eel studies: see Appendix G). On the basis of degree and character of the lighting. Wyckoff estimates the range in P 17 to be 25 ft. 'Therefore, a comparison between the two photos permits an independent size determination of the animal in P 17: head neck region about 71/2 ft. in length.

So, perhaps a dark object can be bleached into a far whiter object under a strobe flashlight and I should be more open to the Rines body picture. One question on my mind was the possible natural colour of the eel in said picture. Of course, that cannot be determined now as the European Eel can present several different aspects to that 1975 camera rig. A look at the Wikipedia page on this creature shows that it could present three shades to the camera.

From the picture above, you can see the general olive green colour of the creature. However, it can also presents a yellowish underside and when it is sexually mature, more silvered sides and a whitish belly. Which of those three colours was closest to that camera is not clear. However, it is clear that the luminance of the strobe does create a whitening effect.

Roy Mackal's point is that this whitening diminishes with distance allows an estimate to be made of the "body" giving a tentative 7.5 feet. I will come back to that number shortly because all this controversy about whether this image showed the Loch Ness Monster or nor prompted me to go back to the original sources and basically start again. That process begins here with Mackal's book.

I preferred as original as possible as reading recent accounts would be subject to 40 years of failing memories and hardening prejudices. To that end, I consulted the late great Tim Dinsdale who was there and had seen it all and participated in those AAS expeditions many years ago. What did he say in his books? The answer came in his last book, the 1982 edition of his most popular "Loch Ness Monster". In Appendix D, he says this seven years after those heady events:

I now hold the view that only one of these pictures is potentially interesting from a "monster intrusion" point of viewpoint. It is the single frame showing an apparent long-necked body ascending from below, photographed at a distance of about 25 feet and having a visible extent of some 20 feet.

Note he gives a different length estimate to that of Roy Mackal. The other pictures he says are subject to valid alternative explanations but declines to go into further details, doubtless because of the "verbal conflict" that he had already mentioned and from which he wanted to move on.

Now my take on this picture was mainly down to the opinion that any large creature would be largely indiscernible at longer distances. I compared the Rines picture of a diver near the strobe camera to the body photo, the diver occupies 80% of the height of the frame and the body occupies about 50%. There was about 4.5 feet of the diver visible and I assumed 15 feet for the "body". Using the rule that an object's apparent size reduces in proportion to its distance, if the 15ft object was the same distance from the camera as the diver, it would occupy a theoretical 267% of the frame height.

Since it only occupies 50%, it must be 267/50 time further away or 5.33 times further away. So, if we assume the diver was, say 6ft from the camera, that places our "body" 32 feet away, which I said was too opaque for any distinct image. It looks like the technical team at the time place the object 25 feet away, so my own estimate was not far off this.

I needed more technical information and so I consulted my copy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's "Technology Review" Vol.78 No.5 dated Mar/Apr 1976. This was a report compiled by Robert Rines, Martin Klein, Charles Wyckoff and Harold Edgerton going into the details of the 1975 expedition and in this 16 page article we get more information.

The events which sparked such a furore occurred in a small time frame during the AAS expedition between 9:45pm on the 19th June 1975 and 4:50pm on the 20th June 1975 or an interval of about 17 hours. During this time six pictures of interest were obtained and printed. In others, the bottom of the boat supporting the camera rig is seen indicating the rig had been tilted upwards by some force. The speculation being it was the creature buffeting the strobe and camera. The chronological sequence of pictures is shown below with the time and date underneath each one:

1. 9:45pm 19th June 1975
2. 10:30pm 19th June 1975
3. 4:32am 20th June 1975
4. 5:40am 20th June 1975
5. 11:45am 20th June 1975
6. 4:50pm 20th June 1975

The article estimates the "body" in the famous picture to be 25 feet away and 18 feet long. This is more in keeping with what Dinsdale said. Mackal's apparent disagreement of 7.5 feet is more likely referring to the bulbous part which the MIT article puts at 8 feet long.

Note the proposed setup for this expedition taken from the same article below. The rig suspended in 40 feet of water was the backup to the sonar-triggered device fixed to the loch surface. Indeed, this was the equipment used for the 1972 expedition which produced the "flipper" photograph. This backup flashed automatically every 75 seconds and it was this rig alone that produced the pictures of interest. During the same period, the fixed rig apparently only produced pictures of silt storms.

The article pointed out at the beginning that it was fixed at 40 feet above the other rig and pointing horizontally and therefore was not capable of photographing the surface of the loch bed. The implication was that anything photographed was in mid-water and animate. On that basis, the second picture of a rough looking surface was taken to be the skin of the monster (complete with parasites and anal fold). There were several other inconclusive pictures followed by the now famous gargoyle and body shots.

Reading wider, a look at Dennis Meredith's 1977 book "Search at Loch Ness" pretty much stated the same thing in a more narrative kind of way as it recounted the story of 1975. The problem was whether this backup rig had indeed managed to stay fixed in its position over that 17 hour period. If it had, then these pictures were indeed of great interest. However, the fact that the aforementioned "skin" picture looked more like the loch bed suggested the boat had managed to drift under prevailing winds towards the shore, collided with the rising loch bed and titled upwards, photographing the boat above and rolling over to snap nearby items on the underwater surface.

The MIT article takes the stance that such a thing was not possible and hence anything with a surface must be mid water. What could other contemporary sources reveal about potential problems with the rig? To this I resorted to Rip Hepple's Ness Information Service newsletters.

NIS issue No.9 (June 1975) reports Robert Rines and his team would stay until early July and leave the equipment operating automatically until their return in the Autumn. The weather was described as "wet and windy" which does suggest the potential for boat drift.

Rip Hepple's "Nessletter" further reported in October 1976 (issue 18) how gales at the loch can adversely affect mooring operations as a huge gale ripped the AAS equipment from its moorings and it drifted from Urquhart Bay to Dores, apparently without being seriously damaged.

So, it seems the images we see are all down to the camera snapping objects near it on the loch bed. However, there are some questions that still need to be answered. After all, Tim Dinsdale did not think that all was so cut and dried with the famous "body" picture. Though he did not outright call it "monster", neither did he offer a so called rational explanation for it.

The thing about the body picture is that there appears to be the underwater equivalent of "clear, blue sky" all around it. There is no suggestion in the picture that this object is connected in any way to the loch bed. The best picture I scanned is shown below and, in my opinion, there is water to the left of it as there is water to the right of it.

Objections are raised to the object being out of focus (and hence close up) and being lit from 12 o'clock due to claimed shadows and hence must be very close to the camera. The problem here is that if it was close up the MIT article says it would be outside the light cone of the strobe and hence in relative darkness, dependant on scraps of scattered light. In other words, it is more likely to be inside the strobe light cone to be seen illuminated and hence a lot further away (see diagram below).

Neither should one presume the object is out of focus. My opinion is that any indistinctness in the image is due to it being at the limits of the range of the strobe light and hence beginning to disappear into the darkness. You know, I think I am beginning to warm again to this photograph, but it has to be noted that the body photograph was taken in between two shots which show the loch bed and hence will always have this "guilt by association" even if it could be argued that the camera rig could have intermittently drifted back into open water.

Finally, two questions came to my mind which muddied the waters on this boat dragging business, to coin an appropriate phrase. I do generally accept that the boat dragged the camera rig towards the loch bed, but there are niggles.

Firstly, I note that the pictures of interest were taken on Thursday through to Friday and any boat drift would have begun in daylight hours before the first picture taken at 9:45pm. Sunset was at 22:20pm and sunrise was at 4:30am (note again our episode ran from 9:45pm to 4:50pm).

So one wonders how this proposed drifting was not seen by anyone? The AAS team was still around the loch along with their local volunteers. How could they not have noticed the boat had drifted out of position when it was allegedly still snapping in shallow waters at 4:50pm? Surely if drift had occurred, this would have been logged and any pictures taken during this time discounted? Either that or the locals and the Americans were not up to the job of keeping an eye on the setup!

Secondly, the rig was left there until the autumn. The obvious question here is that there was a good chance that more drift would have occurred and similar pictures would have been snapped. However, there is no mention of such pictures. Surely if the AAS team were taken in by these pictures, they would have been taken in by others or realised their mistake and dropped the whole thing?

So, I would suggest that the mystery of those murky pictures taken in 1975 continues and I would not take anyone to task who thinks that bright bulbous body is none other than the Loch Ness Monster passing within range of Robert Rines' camera. Indeed, I am inclined to join them myself!

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