Friday 28 December 2018

Peter O'Connor the Taxidermist

The controversial photograph of the Loch Ness Monster taken by Peter O'Connor (pictured above) has been the subject of a number of articles on this blog and yet again, the picture comes to the fore for another round of debate. The catalyst for this one was a recent, but not unexpected comment by a long-time critic of this picture. He was recently on Facebook echoing a remark quoted in a previous work which tried to convince readers that O'Connor stuffed his canoe skin:

It should not come as a surprise that in later years he wrote a 'standard work' on taxidermy.

The implication being that taxidermy skills were used in crafting O'Connor's so called fake monster. It should come as no further surprise that anything that smacks of modelling or crafting may be used as "evidence" against Peter O'Connor. In my case, instead of sniping from the proverbial armchair, I decided to buy the taxidermy books he wrote and peruse them for anything that would suggest foul play. His first work was written in 1975 entitled "Fish Taxidermy" whose cover is shown below.

The second more comprehensive work was published in 1983 by the name of "Advanced Taxidermy" which is further shown below. This book handily had a good picture of Peter O'Connor which was shown at the top of this article and also has the following short biopic on Peter from a taxidermy point of view.

THE AUTHOR Peter Andrew O'Connor was born in London in 1933. He was introduced to taxidermy as a boy scout at Jarrow-upon-Tyne, later becoming a commercial taxidermist at Luton, Bedfordshire, in 1964, and then expanding into European taxidermy. In 1970 he moved into research taxidermy on the freeze drying techniques created by Reg Harris. He was the first successful taxidermist to do so, and developed these freeze drying techniques to a commercial level. Eventually he developed a new field to taxidermy called Combined Taxidermy.

He has been the Chairman of the Taxidermists Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, since its inception in 1973. His work appears in over seventy museums in the British Isles alone, besides appearing as far afield as Japan, Australia and the West Coast of the USA, and covers all forms of taxidermy work. Mr. O'Connor is a teacher and lecturer of taxidermy, and has written many papers on the subject, including a book called Fish Taxidermy. He has been a keen naturalist since boyhood, and is a European Wildlife Conservationist.

Coincidentally, O'Connor was born in the year that the modern Nessie story was also born and it is clear that his taxidermy interest started at a young age, though it seems his first jobs were in the Army and Fire Service. But back in 1960, this sceptic is implying taxidermy skills played a part in his alleged hoax; so let us parse that one a bit further. This is what the aforementioned critic stated in his opinion on the O'Connor picture:

A short time after the photograph was taken Dr. Maurice Burton visited the site and reported polythene bags, string and stones which could have been pressed into service as filling, buoyancy and ballast material.

A look at O'Connor's book suggests that his preferred packing material for taxidermy were items such as tow, plumber's hemp, modelling clay, silver sand, cotton wool and even rubber carpet underlay. This is on top of the wiring and cork used in the internal support. It came as no surprise to even a novice like me that rocks and stones were not mentioned as part of the packing methodology on Peter O'Connor's taxidermy. The obvious reasons are collapse of the specimen due to weight and ease of transportation.

But this means nothing to those intent on blackening O'Connor's name. In fact, stuffing rocks into a canoe as opposed to performing delicate taxidermy is a bit like saying sledgehammering and needlework are similar skills. Going back to the quote above, it is a bit disingenuous to say the materials found by Burton could be pressed into stuffing service.

The truth is Burton found little in the way of polythene ("charred fragments") or string. Mentioning stones is an irrelevancy as the entire beach is covered in stones for miles! So Burton found stones on the beach? That is quite a revelation, but overall and as explained in a previous article, it is quite improbable that the taut rubberised canvas of the presumed canoe could stretch to the dimensions of the O'Connor object's geometry. Indeed, the proposed one-man canoe was unlikely to be the one used by O'Connor as a letter (below) to Tim Dinsdale two months later suggests a two-man canoe, thus rendering the entire analysis invalid.

This letter recounts a low grade wake sighting about six weeks later when O'Connor went back to the loch (a natural thing to do if you had seen the creature weeks before). Remember, when O'Connor took his photograph, he had his friend Fred Fulcher with him, hence the need for a two man canoe to get to this inaccessible beach. Forget about any analysis about stuffed canoes, rudder points and markings, it is all irrelevant to what was actually employed in 1960.

But leaving the final say to Maurice Burton, one wonders why he didn't use O'Connor's taxidermy skills as a stick to beat him with? After all, he personally knew the man having offered his advice to O'Connor on monster matters, was closest to the investigation but was afterwards quite scathing of him. Despite all this, he stuck to his air inflated monster bag theory into the 1980s. You may suggest he didn't know about these taxidermy skills and I would reply that once Peter O'Connor published from 1975, Burton had a good chance of being aware of this especially since he was a renowned zoologist with connections to museums with taxidermy displays. So, in conclusion, it is best to say "get stuffed" to the taxidermy insinuations!

The author can be contacted at

Tuesday 18 December 2018

A New Photograph of Nessie?

Today the Sun newspaper published what is undoubtedly at face value a fascinating photograph allegedly of the Loch Ness Monster taken by a Ricky Phillips on the 13th December. The account runs as follows: 

IT'S one of the UK's greatest unexplained mysteries, with tales of the mythical beast spanning centuries. And now another reported sighting of the Loch Ness monster has been officially recorded after a creature with a "4ft neck" was spotted in the murky waters.

Ricky Phillips, who works as a guide, says he was waiting for his group of tourists to finish their cruise when he noticed the strange sight last Thursday. The 39-year-old says he was sitting at the River Oich as it flows into Loch Ness at Fort Augustus eating some chips when he heard a weird noise. Mr Phillips, who writes history books, said: "It was a grey creature - almost bird like - in a grey stretch of water."

"It's neck was three to four feet long, a head the size of a rugby ball and a ridge across its eyes. I was baffled. The previous Wednesday I had heard a strange noise as I was stood by a cafe at the edge of the loch in Fort Augustus. The noise sounded almost metallic, but like something was blowing air - like Darth Vader. I have swum and sailed with whales and dolphins, seen hundreds of seals, and it sounded like nothing I have ever heard. I spun around and saw something grey, just a side of a body and a flipper.

"Then last Thursday after my tour party went on their cruise I decided to take a walk along the river Oich, mainly to see the old bridge, and was taking a few pictures of the loch and the scenery when I again heard that curious noise. I looked up from my phone and saw a long, straight neck, all completely grey, and a narrow face, which was only about 20ft away and then it turned and disappeared all in a few seconds. I looked down and realised that it was in my picture, so zoomed in and there it was. It actually looks like a giant bird or a peacock in the face, with high ridges above its eyes and what almost looks like a beak.

"I know dinosaurs came from birds and that many had hard lips, almost like a beak - but this is simply what I saw. It seems to have almost a frill on its neck. It is very odd. All I will say is that, if I was going to fake a Nessie, I would certainly have made it look less like a bird and more like... well, more like what we think Nessie looks like!"

The image was today accepted by the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register. The previous sightin was recorded by an American tourist who saw a dark green object protruding 4.5 feet above the water on November 22. According to Google there are 200,000 searches each month for the Loch Ness Monster, which is estimated to be worth £41million to the region.

This is indeed a curious tale where the witness speaks of two sightings less than a week apart accompanied by a strange metallic sound. I must admit I have not heard of such a noise but the picture is consistent enough with the eyewitness database. Sceptics will of course question his good fortune in seeing something twice so quickly and may well tell us that there is no proof from the picture that it was taken at Loch Ness. I am hopeful that Ricky will allow any uncropped picture to be published and clear that up as well as provide reference points to make further estimates.

It may also be said that it is simply a bird like a cormorant, but I do not think those birds have such a thick neck. I am also wondering what the dark patch is to the right? Perhaps just debris, which again will be suggested as the explanation for the object - a tree branch. Anyway, it is best to get the sceptical interpretations out there in the open for discussion and dismissal of all, save perhaps one.

However, the fibre like projections from the "head" are strange as one could interpret them as small branches. I am not committing to such an explanation yet. Meantime, I await that uncropped picture for further deliberation.

UPDATE: I got in contact with Ricky via Facebook and asked him a few questions. The first point is that the Sun article got a few things wrong.  Ricky said "It looks like a bloody Peacock doing the breast stroke!" and he never said it sounded like Darth Vader breathing but jokingly said "it made a noise which sounded like a blowing of air, but metallic, kind of like Darth Vader sneezing!". I am trying to imagine what that sounds like myself.

Ricky asserted that the object was not a bird or a branch but unlike the Sun claiming that he had said he had proof, he is downplaying it more and saying this is what I snapped. As to the larger uncropped image I requested, Ricky said: "My phone is on its last legs and jam-packed with thousands of photos, mostly all Falklands War related, so nothing new seems to be storing. When I zoomed in and saw that as big as I could, I posted it straight to Instagram from the picture itself, so I could keep it.".

This will be a gift to the sceptics as they search for any reason to debunk this picture, but it goes with the territory and it was no surprise when Ricky said "I almost didn't say anything, because in my line of work, you need sincerity and integrity", confirming again that the presence of sceptics is actually a powerful demotivator against going public. I also believe that pictures can be taken with a mobile phone camera even if the memory is full but can be shared onto socila media websites.

The author can be contacted at

Monday 10 December 2018

The Loch Ness Monster and the Unfortunate Goat

Another Nessie fan had mentioned a land sighting to me which had escaped my attention but I thought should check out. The story comes from a less well known book published in 1972 entitled "The Loch Ness Monster" by Elwood Baumann which runs thusly:

The next expedition was made up of two young Germans. Their plan seemed like a reasonable one. They were going to rent bicycles and pedal round and round the loch. Whenever they saw the monster, they would hop off and photograph it from different angles. They seemed rather startled when someone pointed out to them that a bicycle trip around the loch involved seventy-two miles of pedaling. Nevertheless, they rented two light-weight English bikes and set off on their big adventure. When they returned the following evening, they were flushed with triumph. Their expedition had been unbelievably successful. They had photographed the monster splashing playfully around only a few yards offshore. They had also managed to get pictures of the monster asleep on a sandbank and eating a goat in a pine forest.

An understandably cynical Highlander listened to their story and tried to hide his smile. It was a pity, he told them, that they hadn't been fortunate enough to get a picture of the monster climbing a tree or having lunch in the Drumnadrochit Hotel. Someone else gently suggested that the Germans have their film developed in Inverness. That way, the local residents could have a good look at the monster, he told them. This the two Germans refused to do. The editor of an important magazine in Germany was going to give them a great deal of money for their film, they said, and they were anxious to get home and collect it. Unfortunately, their departure from Inverness was delayed. The police had been informed that two young monster hunters had left the Foyers Hotel without paying for their rooms, drinks, or meals. It also developed that the two men had brought the rented bicycles onto the train with them. The Loch Ness Monster expedition from Germany came to an unhappy end when the heavy door of the Inverness jail slammed shut behind its two members.

If you peruse Amazon, you will see that Mr. Baumann was a busy author in the field of mysteries during the 1970s with books published on Nessie, Bigfoot, Monsters of North America, UFOs, Vampires, the Devil's Triangle and, of course, motorcycles. In other words, he was not a dedicated expert on the monster and most likely was either commissioned to write a series of books or wrote them on his own initiative. On my list of Nessie books, I say this about his book:

This was one of several mysteries books written by Baumann. It is another boilerplate book which basically surveys the sightings history though since Mr. Elwood was a member of the LNPIB there is a bit of extra emphasis on their work. The book suffers the indignity of the Hugh Gray Nessie photograph being printed upside-down and the front cover sculpture of Nessie by Dick Dulany is intriguing to say the least!

The 1970s saw a flood of books mentioning Nessie as monster fever rose to a crescendo with the 1975 Rines pictures before abating into the sceptical 1980s. It is therefore no surprise that any author with an eye for mysteries and a buck were busily deploying their typewriters in this pursuit. But what about the actual story?

The first problem is that Baumann nowhere states the source for this story, or any others for that matter. It is a story to excite rather than research. So, I have no way of investigating it further from a purely journalistic point of view. But it hardly needs to be said that this is a story which has its tongue firmly embedded in its cheek. There may well have been two Germans making sensational claims, but the tenor of the story clearly implies we should not take it seriously at all.

I don't think Baumann made it up, I rather think it is a story that is of the same genre as the German hoax story of 1934 and I think that is where we should leave this one. As for German on bikes in the 1930s, it is now established that a lot of German youth in the early 1930s were coming over to Britain as hikers and bikers in the guise of tourists to spy out the British infrastructure for war purposes. In that light, perhaps this concocted story was a cover for more sinister activities?

The author can be contacted at

Friday 7 December 2018

Colonel Buckshot Wants You!

This email popped into my inbox recently:

Dear sir,

I wonder whether either yourself or any of your readers would be interested in my recent advert, (attached), the positions of which I am having difficulty filling. 

I am seriously considering rewarding, as further inducement, a sizeable crate of Tunnock's Snowballs to each of the successful applicants. (As you're doubtless aware, Tunnocks have been eaten, used as a binding agent re. footwear, and fashioned into bait traps during all successful monster expeditions.)

Interested parties may discover more at

Winter is almost upon us and the beast must be caught!

Yours in haste, 
Colonel Buckshot

If you are foolhardy enough, you know what to do! Sadly, I just fail to meet his age range requirements, but I find his Nessie on Land theory ... strangely compelling.

The author can be contacted at

Saturday 1 December 2018

Snaring the Monster

A news story from August 1984 exemplifies the story of a laudable attempt to capture final proof of the monster of Loch Ness. The text runs as follows:

CIVIL servant Steven Whittle plans to solve the riddle of Loch Ness - by catching the monster. Armed with a 60ft long "monster trap" Steven and his dedicated band of helpers will set out on their six-week quest to net Nessie. The £20,000 cost of the expedition is being put up by Warrington based Vladivar Vodka, a company noted for sponsoring some of life's more eccentric ambitions. But Steven, aged 25, from Blackpool is serious about his plan to crack one of the world's greatest mysteries. "I am convinced there is something down there - but the only way to prove it is to catch it." he said.

The trap is being built to Steven's specifications at the lochside and will be lowered into the water by helicopter when the hunt begins on August 28. The glass fibre tube will be suspended 30 feet below the surface. Live fish will be inside to tempt Nessie inside. A four-man crew aboard the floating platform above will monitor the tube 24 hours a day through cameras and electronic sensor equipment. When they detect something swimming into it a lever will be released to close the trap door. The plan is for Nessie to be winched to the surface and photographed, filmed and examined. Afterwards the monster will be lowered back into the loch and released.

"We don't want to harm it in any way,- said Steven. "as soon as we have filmed and photographed it we will let it go"

Steven has chosen a point on the eastern side of the loch about 100 feet from the shore to set the trap. The water is more than 200 feet deep at that spot. The device will be serviced from a base camp on shore. Steven is still recruiting students for the 30-strong team who will take turns manning the trap during the hunt.

Steven said "The various scientific exercises and sonar readings which have been made of something large moving in the loch convince me there is something down there, though I don't know quite what. The one way to find out is to catch a live specimen. There has to be some kind of breeding colony down there. We will probably find they grow to a maximum length of  25 feet. The creature obviously feeds on fish because there is insufficient plant life down there to support anything that big.

It will take a little while for it to get used to the trap being in the water, but I think six weeks should be long enough to pull one in. If we fail it won't change my mind about their existence. But until it gets a scientific name and credibility, I know most people's tongues will remain firmly in their cheeks when they talk about the Loch Ness monster".

The expedition is being aided by members of the Loch Ness Project, a scientific team engaged in a long term investigation of the mystery. Project leader Adrian Shine said "We're the most sceptical investigators so far. But we are greatly impressed with some eye witness accounts and strong, deep sonar contacts. Until we have resolved what they are, we will continue our research. There is no scientific reason why there should not be a relatively large animal in Loch Ness".

I had previously written on various attempts across the years to physically capture the creature and this was certainly one of the most ambitious. You can also read Adrian's reflections on the Loch Ness Project's involvement here which also reveals their part was more complex than the newspaper article suggests. The above photo of the trap being dropped is taken from the same website. Adrian has misgivings about such efforts due to disruption to boat traffic, possible danger to other species and the introduction of invasive species (used as live bait).

I previously gave the Vladivar trap minimal odds of 250-1 for succeeding. The trouble is I don't think the creature is a frequent occupant of the upper pelagic zones down to 30 metres and  I disagree with Steven Whittle that there is necessarily a breeding colony of such creatures in the loch. Some other technique is required and we await the possible "capture" of Nessie in the form of micro fragments of DNA floating in the water.

But there is one thing I disagreed with Adrian on and that is the matter of dredging for Nessie bones. Adrian's main argument against this is the valuable resource that the undisturbed depths of silt provide as a chronological record of the loch environment going back thousands of years. I do agree with him in that regard, but the silt bed of the loch must be about a dozen square miles or more in extent, so why can't a designated but small area of the loch bottom be reserved for the purposes of dredging and analysis?

Admittedly, care would have to be taken that the uplifting of samples did not result in silt clouds contaminating the surrounding area too much. However, even dredging up 100 square metres would constitute a minuscule portion of over 30 million square metres of loch bottom. The problem is of course the logistics of drawing up such large amounts of silt and debris. 

The alternative is the more surgical approach wherein sonar targets on the loch bed are identified and probes such as ROVs or the more recent Munin AUV are sent to investigate them. The first problem here is that only more recent carcasses could be explored as older ones are below the silt. The second problem is that a general sonar survey of the bottom may lack the required resolution to identify potential targets - hence the need for AUVs and ROVs in the first place. However, it is a viable technique that has been used in the past. 

Meantime, and as said above, we await the results of the eDNA survey.

The author can be contacted at


Wednesday 14 November 2018

Harper Smith and his Periscope Nessie

Some time back, I wrote on that curious subset of monster reports that are likened to poles or periscopes. I had listed 17 eyewitness accounts or about 1% of the entire sightings database and 8% of all head-neck reports, but one eyewitness account was missing from that list which I include today. It was a report known from the literature but it came to my attention a while back when perusing old copies of the Scottish Field magazine. The sighting was by a Mr. J. Harper Smith on June 27th 1951 as he and his son fished off Tor Point. I reproduce his letter to the magazine below:


SIR, - On Wednesday, June 27th, I arranged to fish Loch Ness with my son, who is an officer stationed at Fort George. It rained heavily in the morning, and was still drizzling steadily when we set out after lunch for Dores, which is two miles down the Loch. We took a boat from Dores Inn and fished till 9 p.m. About that time we were taking our rods down in the boat about 300-400yds. off Dores Point. The weather had improved steadily and it was quite fine and visibility was good, but there was a flat calm which was useless for fishing.

My son suddenly said that he thought he could see a periscope off a headland about a mile further down the Loch, and on the opposite side from Dores. We both watched it carefully, and saw something coming up out of the Loch. After a few moments it clearly became a large black head with a considerable length of neck below it.

No body could be seen, but the object, immediately began to move forward towards the centre of the Loch at a great speed. We estimated the speed as similar to that of the average lake steamer (say 12 knots), and there was a great wash behind it. It went roughly as far as the centre of the Loch and then turned and headed straight towards us. We decided that if it came within about half a mile we would pull into the shore. It came to what we judged to be about that distance, but just as we were preparing to bend to the oars it turned round and went back in the reverse direction. Having covered about the same distance in that direction it then did a great sweeping circle (the centre of the loch being the centre of the circle) and finally moved off towards Whitefield Point, where it submerged.

We watched it with amazement for well over 15 mins. We were both agreed that it bore no resemblance to any creature known to exist today, but that it was very similar to some of the prehistoric monsters depicted for example in Conan Doyle's The Lost World. The size of the head (bearing in mind our distance from it), its speed, and the size of the wash all clearly indicated an enormous creature. Until then I was more than sceptical of the existence of " the monster," but I now know it exists. I hope to resume the hunt for it on some future occasion with a cine camera, which 1 unfortunately left behind this time because of the rain. For the same reason I even left my binoculars. 


As it turned out, this periscope sighting was hiding in plain sight in Nicholas Witchell's "The Loch Ness Story" and I had just forgotten all about it. This is the account from the first edition of the book:

We went over to the village of Dores to enquire about hiring a boat. After arranging this we had a chat with the old lady who runs the Dores Inn. I asked her if the locals believed in the 'Monster'. She looked at me very seriously and said: 'It isn't a question of believing in it — most of us have seen it at one time or another and we know it is there.' Unfortunately (for me) I still remained sceptical. The next afternoon we went out fishing but because it was wet when we set out I left my cine camera and binoculars behind.

By about 9 p.m. the loch was like a mirror. We were just starting to take down our rods when my son pointed with his arm and said: 'Is that a periscope over there?' I looked and realised something was coming up out of the water. Within a few seconds a black head was followed by a similar coloured neck several feet long. While we were eagerly looking for the body the head and neck began moving forward at a very fast speed followed by a huge wash.

As it came nearer we noticed some oscillations of the head and neck. We began to edge in nearer the shore but when it had come to within about 800 yards 'it' turned and went back up the centre of the loch and shortly afterwards submerged. We put the length of the neck at about five feet and the diameter at about a foot . . .

Here is my map of the event based on these two reports. The witnesses were located at the star symbol while the creature went from A to E in its various motions. One gets the impression the creature was heading across the loch but took a temporary diversion north to see what the boat was before resuming its original route. Of course, there is no way of ascertaining the truth of that speculation.

Needless to say, this kind of motion is hardly reminiscent of water birds which are known to inhabit the loch. Rapidly swimming across nearly a mile of loch at about 14 miles per hour does not remind me of any such bird. Going round in a circle before heading in a straight line again is also curious and makes one wonder if it had spotted something edible within that circle? As an aside, I note that the creature submerged very close to the point where Lachlan Stuart would take his famous three humped photograph only seventeen days later. 

Sadly, there is no sketch to accompany this report as one feels this sighting occupies the ground of pole like but also classic head and neck as Mr. Smith goes from "periscope" to "large black head". Was this a result of a change in the creature's shape as we also read the statement "we noticed some oscillations of the head and neck" in the Witchell account. If that is an accurate observation, are we seeing a very malleable head and neck, if they be head and neck at all?

Or was the creature initially seen with its head looking away from the observers only then to turn perpendicular to their line of sight? Could this change in perspective account for some of those sightings which are solely periscopal in nature and thus harmonise them with the classic long necked reports?

Watching the creature at a mile away is not exactly close up but when it came to within 800 yards of the boat, we are beginning to talk about a more meaningful event. Which naturally brings us to the reliability of the witnesses. I like stories which involve anglers as witnesses as I regard them as a better trained class of observer. Was Mr. Harper Smith a seasoned Loch Ness angler who would therefore be someone familiar with the so called deceptive nature of the loch and its various aspects?

The answer would appear to be "no" as he signs off his letter as coming from Bracebridge Heath, near Lincoln in England. That of course does not make him an incompetent witness as his angling skills may nevertheless have been honed elsewhere. So the best we can assume is that he probably had some competence gained as an angler, but the degree of it is not known. His son, who was from nearby Fort George, is a different matter. It is possible he was a regular angler on Loch Ness and in fact his son was first to spot the creature. Again, there is no way of knowing.

It should be added that the creature was in view for at least 15 minutes which allows plenty of time for normal candidates such as logs, birds and boats to be considered and eliminated from their on the spot enquiries and we have two eyewitnesses assessing what was before them. Ultimately, you either believe they saw a large five foot neck with a large head speeding across the loch or you believe they somehow misinterpreted what they saw or even lied. The choice, as ever, is yours.

The author can be contacted at

Monday 29 October 2018

The B.A. Russell Sighting

I was drawn back to this classic sighting of the Loch Ness Monster by a recent e-clipping I got from the Scottish Field magazine dated 2nd June 1934. In that journal, Mr. Russell wrote to the editor describing his sighting and which appeared in the Letters column. There are several sources for this account, but this one is primary being in the witness' own words and is reproduced below.


The following is another letter from an eyewitness.

SIR, - on the morning of  Sunday. October 1st, 1933, I had taken my dog out for a walk across the rocky knolls that lie above the south-west corner of Loch Ness. I had previously heard a good deal about the large creature that was said to have taken up residence in the loch and, after a period of complete scepticism, was, at the time, inclined to the belief that some large marine animal, probably a very large seal or a small whale - had entered the loch, the general descriptions, I had heard of it as resembling an upturned boat, more or less pointing to one of these. I had, it is true, also heard stories about the creature as possessing a long neck and resembling an enormous eel but, having been unable to verify these descriptions, I did not, at the time, attach much weight to them as I knew of no creature that would answer to the description given. I was thus quite unprepared for what I was fortunate enough to see.

On reaching a high rocky point about 300yds from the water's edge I saw a huge neck and head extended from the water about 800 - 900yds, from where I was standing and about 400yds. from the waters edge. The creature was moving slowly and steadily towards the southwest, that is, at right angles from left to right across my line of sight. Its progress continued, more or less in a straight line, for twelve minutes (timed), after which it sank almost exactly half a mile from the point at which I had first seen it.

Conditions for observation were, as nearly as may be, perfect. The loch was dead calm and the water pale grey. There was no shimmer or glare from the water. The sun was shining from behind and to the right of the creature so that head and neck were visible as a dark silhouette against the pale water.

The head was small compared to the thickness of the neck and, so far as could be seen at a distance, wad rounded or oval, not angular. It was not set on the neck at a distinct angle, but appeared more or less as a continuation of the neck slightly thickened. It was carried well forward and was, I judge, about 5ft. clear of the water. The neck was serpentine and carried at an angle to the water, not upright. It tapered a good deal, being distinctly thicker at the water's edge than just behind the head. At the distance it was, of course, quite impossible to make out any such detail as eyes or mouth, as I had no glass with me. But the general appearance of head and neck was smooth. I am satisfied that, had there been any conspicuous appendages, I could not have failed to see them as some irregularity in the outline.

No sign of a body was visible, but the creature left behind it a V-shaped wake which was very noticeable on the flat water. One or two seagulls were in attendance on it, swooping down and circling round it. I could see the gleam of their wings they wheeled. The progress of the animal across the water was smooth, without any up and down motion but, so far. as could be seen, with a sideways, swaying action. From time to time it turned its head and neck from side to side. The head did not seem to pivot round on the neck but the whole head and neck swung round together.

At its nearest it was, so far as I can judge, about 700yds. from where I stood, and when it sank it did so quietly, making no great disturbance in the water. After it disappeared, I went home and returned with a telescope but failed to see any further sign of it. I was very much impressed by the size of the mass of the head and neck which I saw and concluded that, to maintain so much clear of the water, the body must either be very bulky or exceedingly long.

 I should add that all measurements of distance have been checked, so far as possible, from the O.S. 6in. map, that my estimate of the creature's head is based on a comparison with the height of a man standing in a skiff and that the period during which I actually watched the head and neck was timed accurately.

 As to the identity of this strange inhabitant of the loch the only thing of which I am satisfied is that none of the "explanations" which I have I seen in the Press - they range from killer whales to logs of wood and from walruses to masses of peat - seems to me to satisfy the descriptions given by scores of witnesses whose integrity and credibility are beyond question. And to my mind not the least noteworthy fact connected with it is that, so far as I know, not one of those "explanations" or "identifications" comes from a person who has been sufficiently fortunate to have had an opportunity of personal observation of the creature in question.

Your faithfully,


The School House, Fort Augustus, Inverness-shire.

Thus runs one of the first classic long neck sightings of the modern Nessie era. The creature was sighted at not less than 0.4 of a mile away as it progressed at a leisurely 2.5 miles per hour to its point of submergence. The map below gives a rough idea of Mr. Russell's location up in the hills and the arrow shows my guess as to the creature's south westerly swim past the observer. The yellow line shows the sun's position at about 10:10am according to Russell's own testimony gleaned from elsewhere which agrees with his statement that the sun was behind and to the right of the creature. The others sources for this story are Rupert T. Gould's "The Loch Ness Monster and Others" which was published within a short time of this letter and Whyte's 1957 "More than a Legend".

The sketch at the top of the article is taken from Whyte's book and purports to be taken from the diaries of Fort Augustus Abbey's Cyril Dieckhoff. Being a monk at the Abbey and near to the school where Russell worked, Dieckhoff was handily placed to get a first hand account. It may well be an accurate copy from his diary, although I suspect it may be redrawn. The second sketch below is from Gould's book in which he says that Russell preferred this as the most accurate of the selection of sketches extant at that time. There is also an earlier report from the Scotsman newspaper dated 15th November 1933 which I have not seen. Both sketches come out with a five foot neck protruding from the surface.

I accept this as a genuine sighting of the Loch Ness Monster but clearly others are not going to take that position. One would suspect that a misidentified bird would be a leading contender, but two points in the letter suggest this is a naive interpretation. Firstly, Russell states that some seagulls were swooping down and circling around the beast. This obviously provided a size reference for the monster and if we assume it is the common herring gull, it will have a wingspan of up to about 60 inches, almost equal to the length of the monster's neck. The second and more important size reference was Russell's comparison of his sighting with a man standing in a skiff. I don't think this distant man was nearby the passing monster, so I am assuming that this boat was observed near the monster's path but later on when he returned to the spot with his telescope.

The observation of gulls around the monster is an interesting and perhaps unique event. Sea birds are known to fly around large sea animals such as whales and dolphins in the hope of getting some fish left over from the hunting of the ceteceans. One might be forgiven for thinking the gulls had got it wrong here in expecting to get a bonus from the Loch Ness Monster, but the point is they are behaving in the same manner as they would for other large aquatic animals. In this case, their expectation regarding this giant is doomed not to follow the pattern of others. Be that as it may, the seagulls' reaction is consistent with the presence of a large creature.

The full length of the neck extending to six feet suggests we have at least an eighteen footer here, average in Loch Ness Monster terms, but a beautiful creature nonetheless. Eighty five years on, the B.A. Russell report stands out as one of those classic long neck and head accounts that typifies the classic view of the monster as a plesiosaur-like creature.

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Friday 19 October 2018

Steve Feltham - The Film

I have been wondering if Steve would ever write a book on his life at Loch Ness in pursuit of the monster, but it appears the film of his life will appear first! According to the Herald, Ridley Scott's advertising company will shoot a seven minute advert of his life for computer hard drive companies Lacie and Seagate with the theme "nothing is impossible - dream big". I look forward to seeing this.

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Tuesday 16 October 2018

Loch Ness Trip Report September 2018

It was back at the loch last month as I spent a few days camping and roving around the famous body of water looking for its even more famous resident. I brought the drone, the thermal camera, trap cameras and the old fashioned hand held camera and binoculars. It was also the weekend of the Loch Ness Marathon which kept me off road for most of that day. The extended weekend was a generally quiet time due to the reduced number of tourists who were all back at work and school. However, that had to be balanced against the colder, wetter conditions. So, I may well go back a few weeks earlier next year.

Sunday was drone day as I strapped the backpack on and went off in search of a suitable site. Dinsdale Island was now off limits to a wellington boot crossing as it had been during the dry spring. Waders will be required next time as I regard it as a good drone site in terms of isolation and a flat beach for safe landings. A walk around the wider area did not provide any adequate take off points and so I headed off to the location of the Lachlan Stuart photograph a few miles up the road and flew the drone there. With a nice backdrop of the castle, no Nessie outlines were discerned just below the surface, so I drew a blank (snapshot of drone video below).

On Monday it was time to don my tour guide hat as I took fellow Nessie lovers, Phil and Cathie around the loch on a tour of their design and with me as their guide. This involved various stops and chats and so we began at the spot where Peter MacNab took his famous 1955 photograph and heading onto other sites after that. Seeing we are on the subject of Peter MacNab, one sceptic declared some time back that the photo had to be a fake because the black hump didn't look glistening enough as he would expect from water splashing and running off it.

So is the photo debunked in one fell swoop? Shall we now consign it to the bin of hoax history? Not if we compare it with an old picture of the Gondolier cruise boat passing the castle in a similar setting. I think you would agree its black, water splashed hull is not giving off much in the way of lustre either. As a side note, if any sceptic tries to gainsay this elsewhere, please feel free to copy and paste their counter arguments here to be dealt with.

Stopping at the site of the famous Arthur Grant land sighting, I got my first chance to see the new plaque erected to commemorate that event at the Clansman Hotel. Fortuitously, there was a life size model of the monster there to add a sense of reality to that moonlit night of January 5th 1934 when Grant chanced upon the creature as he approached it on his motorcycle. As mentioned in a previous article, I had suggested erecting the plaque to local businessman and Nessie promoter, Willie Cameron. It seems this had always been on his mind and this was the catalyst to get it done. The words you can read on the plaque are the exact words I supplied to Willie, so I was pleased with that.


Onwards and as we passed through Fort Augustus and on our way to the southern shore, something was pointed out to me, or rather the absence of something. That something was Kilchumein Lodge, the residence of the Pimleys, from where their employee, Margaret Munro watched a strange creature on the shore of Borlum Bay for 30 minutes through binoculars in June 1934. All that remained was a large tanker of some description with some building materials now lying on cleared land. I recall the house being there on my last visit in June. I am sure some local will help fill in the gaps as to what happened and the site's future. Either way, a piece of Loch Ness Monster history has gone.

And here is the old house photographed seven years ago for Google Streetview.

Visiting the site of the famous Hugh Gray photograph, the site was being surveyed when an unusual object was spotted rising up and down in the water, which I show below. This was in quite deep water and could not have been a rockbed log sticking out of the water, but after a close inspection with binoculars, it was undoubtedly a large piece of tree debris with a squared off end bobbing up and down in the water. It was presumed that the log had been sufficiently saturated with water to achieve this near submerged appearance with the bulk invisible under the water. The media and forums often put up pictures of Nessie like logs as if this was some slam dunk explanation for sightings, but the truth is they are easily enough discerned after a short time.

Having said all that, the patience of this hunt of hunts was driven home again that weekend as the drone, thermal camera, trap cameras and good old fashioned eyeball watches produced no decisive evidence. So, it is time to hunker down for the winter and try again next year. Nevertheless, I hope to be back up at the loch with hopefully good news for Nessiephiles later in the year, so watch this space!

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Wednesday 3 October 2018

Summing up the Loch Ness Monster (in 1934)

Decades ago, the Field magazine ran an article by Martin Hinton, Deputy Keeper of Zoology at the Natural History Museum in London on the 27th January 1934. By then, the monster phenomenon was about 8 months old and people were asking questions of those in authority. The evidence was scant with the Malcolm Irvine film taken the previous month on December 12th and the Hugh Gray photograph of November 12th along with a few dozen eyewitness testimonies. That now lost film formed the top image of the article as Hinton assessed the phenomenon from his point of view as a sceptical zoologist and is reproduced in text below with my comments following.

Facts versus Visions - An Analysis of the Evidence
By MARTIN A. C. HINTON (Deputy Keeper of Zoology, British Museum - Natural History) 

NO zoologist would deny the possibility of discovering a large creature of "prehistoric type" (whatever that may mean) hitherto unknown to Science, in vast ocean solitudes, in imperfectly explored foreign lands, or even in the limited and completely surveyed waters of Loch Ness. But for more than 200 years zoologists have been busy ransacking this world, and the chance of finding a large vertebrate animal of a type entirely new to Science living anywhere, either on the land or in the sea, grows smaller and smaller every day.

The larger animals of the North Atlantic and the North Sea are fairly well known, and the chance of making a sensational addition to the list is now small indeed. To establish such a discovery today the zoologist would be required to furnish rigid proof based upon a personal examination of at least some characteristic portion of the alleged new animal. Without such proof Science, whose first business is the collection of cold facts, could not recognise such a claim, even though supported by an infinity of eye-witness stories, photographs and alleged "spoors". With good faith all through, such substitutes for real evidence could do no more than make every scientific man very eager to go and collect satisfactory material for himself.

Bad faith showing through, here and there, would arouse his suspicion of the whole story, and would merely tend to divert him from the inquiry. We may accept the 51 eye-witnesses interrogated by Commander Gould and the score or more later witnesses who have made statements describing what they have seen of the Loch Ness "monster" as witnesses of truth; that is to say, each of them has done his best to describe without addition, subtraction or embellishment, what he thinks he saw on the loch or on its shores. Accurate observation, even of familiar stationary things on land, is a very difficult art and accurate description of the impression left by the observation is still more difficult. These difficulties are enormously enhanced when the observation concerns an unfamiliar object seen at some considerable distance in motion in the water, when light, reflections, ripple, wind and haze change from second to second.

Considerations such as these would lead us to expect many discrepancies of detail in the stories of the witnesses; so that no adverse criticism could be based upon the variable nature of their accounts. The more honest and uninstructed the witnesses the more they will differ from each other and the more difficult it will be for the zoologist to find out what it is they are all endeavouring to describe. One fact alone does emerge from this great mass of testimony, namely that for some months the loch has been inhabited by one or more large animals not usually there. Accepting the statements of two or three of the witnesses, we find that the intruder is not confined to the water but comes on shore from time to time, crossing the road, and ascending the slope beyond. One observer surprised the creature on the roadside at night nearly 40 yards ahead. "As he approached, the creature moved, turned a small head in his direction, and then with great bounds crossed the road and plunged into the water." Further. " it had . . . large oval shaped eyes set almost on top of its head . .  a big heavy body, and there were two flippers in front. It seemed also . . . to have two legs behind, and they appeared to be webbed".

From other witnesses we learn that the "monster" chases the salmon, and that it is most frequently seen round the mouths of the streams flowing into the loch or near the exit of the Ness by which the salmon enter from the sea. Several mauled salmon have been found, including at least one "kelt", important. as showing that the injuries were sustained in the loch and not on the upward run of the fish. Now all these facts, looked at broadly, are in harmony with the view that the loch has been invaded by one or more grey seals. They are common in the Dornoch Firth and by no means infrequent in the Beauly Firth. They prey upon the salmon, and probably one or more followed the salmon up the River Ness last year. Seals have been seen in the loch on previous occasions.

The river presents almost insurmountable obstacles to any large marine vertebrate other than a seal or a salmon; but to the grey seal, capable as we know of doing a journey of 30 miles over rough country, the ascent would be easy. The general description of the individual seen on land and of its progress across the road into the water, quoted above, fits the grey seal to perfection if we make allowance for an excusable overestimate of size. Great attempts have been made to lead zoologists to a more romantic conclusion. Much stress has been laid upon the supposed colossal length of the "monster", its small head, long outstretched neck, and serpentine body indicated by humps visible above the water. Each description of the swimming animal is a simple summary of the impressions made upon the mind of each observer by a longer or shorter series of continually changing images. In no one of them could we put implicit trust.

The very agreement of the more sensational stories among themselves tells against them. The observers, despite their good faith, appear to have been influenced subconsciously by three things, singly or in combination, namely, the Kelpie tradition, the sea-serpent myth, and by the picture postcards of the "monster" on sale in Inverness. The Daily Mail, with customary enterprise, sent investigators. These included a big-game hunter. who eventually found two impressions of a large foot upon the shore. Photographs and a cast of these were submitted to the museum, where the impressions were found to have been made on a heaped-up bank of fine shingle with the help of a stuffed foot of a hippopotamus. A wag had been busy - had he used a living hippopotamus the impression would have been different and the big game hunter would not have been deceived ...

Efforts were made to "film" the "monster". Some of the first pictures were reproduced in various newspapers, and two slides made from one of them were shown to the meeting of' British zoologists on January 6th. They showed nothing that could be positively identified as an animal. Although apparently not of great scientific interest, the "monster" is of considerable importance to local industries and to the great world of advertisement. In gratitude business men are asked to address it privately as "ministering angel" reserving "monster" for public occasions.

It struck me reading this sceptical article how little has changed in so called critical thinking regarding the Loch Ness Monster. Hinton (pictured below) was an older colleague of later sceptic Maurice Burton and one senses there was not much difference in their approaches thirty years apart. The one distinguishing factor was Burton's pre-occupation with vegetable mats in the 1960s.

To start with, I agree with Hinton that the real proof is a specimen, be it dead or alive and in part or whole. Nothing has changed in that regard and I have no argument with that from an empirical point of view. However, Hinton's dismissal of eyewitness testimony echoes throughout sceptical history in his successors as a piece of poor science when he asserts that they could not possibly describe what they saw in an accurate manner. 

The trouble with this theory is its unscientific unfalsifiability, to wit, no matter how numerous, how skilled or how close the observers, the testimonies go in one end of this meat grinder and come out "unreliable" with infallible certainty each time. If you would ask Mr. Hinton what eyewitness testimony would escape this tautology, I doubt you would get a clear answer. Note I am not saying each witness will deliver a perfect description, but I am saying there will be accuracy in terms of size and power which differentiates the phenomenon from Highland norms.

Having conveniently rejected all accounts with this blunderbuss approach, Hinton does acknowledge the testimony of eyewitnesses enough to admit they were indicative of the presence of one or more large animals in the loch, though not of the thirty to forty foot variety. He considers the Arthur Grant land sighting and some instances of mauled salmon and kelt to fall in favour with some itinerant grey seals. The inconvenient problems of long necks and humps are dismissed as subconscious embellishments. 

That was his summing up some eight months into the new sensation and some eight decades on, not much has changed in the modern sceptic's summing up. But that pre-war summing up has an awkward ending for Mr. Hinton when he discussed the examination of the plaster casts he and his colleagues received from Marmaduke Wetherell. They were correctly recognised as hippopotamus prints and the product of some joker, though they did not suspect Wetherell himself it seems.

Astoundingly, the hypocrisy of this assessment was later exposed when Hinton was accused after his death of being the person behind the infamous Piltdown Man hoax. Wetherell planted his fake spoors in the cause of advocating a prehistoric monster. Hinton it seems planted his fake hominid jaw, teeth, cranium and tools in the cause of advocating a 500,000 year old fossil human. You can read the defence of this accusation in this 2003 article.

It seems it is not just monster hunters who can be accused of fakery. Even those fine upstanding, critically thinking, sceptical scientists are well capable of indulging in deception. And why should we not be surprised? After all, they are just as human and fallible as the rest of us. Does this disqualify Hinton from speaking on the matter of the Loch Ness Monster? Perhaps not, but the tinkling of broken glass houses can be clearly heard.

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Wednesday 26 September 2018

A Nessie Photograph from 2015?

Here is an interesting photograph that has turned up in the media this week. The story from the Scottish Press and Journal goes as follows.

An American mother has turned up a mysterious image of Loch Ness by trawling through Google Earth shots taken three years ago. Lisa Stout’s startling discovery has now been accepted as the ninth sighting of the monster this year by the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register – and further highlights more and more people are hunting Nessie around the world through the web. Ironically the 31-year-old from Bellevue, Ohio, has a monster – “Bessie” – on her doorstep, but has never seen it. According to Google there are 200,000 searches each month for the Loch Ness Monster.

“As a result of a recent loss of employment, I’ve had a lot of time open up. I had been searching for Nessie on/off for the past few weeks, spending an hour or so a week on Google Earth as well as other places I like to visit in the App,” said Ms Stout, a mother-of-one. “I had seen some of the latest Nessie sightings and thought that I can definitely find a better image of her than that which I used for motivation to challenge myself to find her! Last Thursday at 9.45am, I had got my daughter off to school and began to search for Nessie when I noticed a cluster of pictures taken by an Underwater Earth Contributor all in one area near the Loch Ness Highland Resort in Fort Augustus."

“I noticed what I believe may be the creature known as Nessie – or at the very least what makes up for most of the accounts of Nessie sightings that residents/ tourists are seeing and reporting.”

Ms Stout said she believes the dark figure protruding from the water is “at least three to five feet tall which I believe to be is Nessie’s neck and it also appears rather flat giving the neck a width of at least one foot.”

Gary Campbell, the recorder and keeper of the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register said: ”This is a really unusual phenomenon and our panel can’t explain what Lisa has spotted therefore we are listing it as a sighting. However, it may be that by doing this, someone else across the world can come up with an explanation. “The great thing about it being on Google is that anyone with access to the web can go on and see exactly what Lisa has captured and then make their own mind up. This means that once again, you don’t have to come to Loch Ness to be a Nessie spotter.”

A zoom in of the object is shown below and, going by the Abbey steps to the right, I estimated the height of it as something below 3 feet and various theories as to its identity have already made their way onto cryptozoological forums:

1. A log
2. One of the Google diving team.
3. Something on the lens.
4. A "photoshop" creation.
5. A bird in flight.

The log explanation naturally leapt to mind although I find it a rather odd looking log compared to the ones I have seen at the loch or in pictures, plus it looks rather dark for a log unless there is strong sunlight to the left which I doubt considering the rain which appears to be impacting on the loch surface. However, nothing else is as black as this object in the picture. Nevertheless, such a theory cannot be totally discounted.

The opinion that it is a diver requires further explanation, namely what part of a proposed diver are we looking at? That is not clear to me. However, a diver's suit may have been as dark as this object. A piece of debris on the lens seems a big coincidence as the object is lying very nicely aligned with the water surface. Photoshop also seems unlikely as I went to the Google Maps website to retrieve the original image.

The bird in flight suggestion has some more merit if one imagines the "neck" is the right wing of the bird and the "body" in the water line is the left wing. In this scenario one would assume the head and neck of the bird are obscured by the right wing. The left wing looks a bit thin and I see no tail feathers, but the idea has more merit than most so far.

Or it could be the Loch Ness Monster, but that begs the question as to why the crew did not see anything at the time? At least, we are never told they did, but if they did I would expect something more than this. That aside, the neck length to width ratio is a bit lower than I would usually expect for the neck morphology. that is, it is a bit on the thick side. I wouldn't want to dogmatic on such a ratio though.

All in all, a curious picture which doesn't quite bow down to any one explanation.

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Saturday 15 September 2018

Latest Nessie Photograph

An interesting image from Loch Ness was published by the Sun newspaper today purporting to show the Loch Ness Monster in its single hump aspect taken by a Dipak Ram from Manchester last week. The account runs as follows:

Dipak Ram, an NHS consultant from Manchester, took the image that shows a large dark “mass” in the waves of the legendary loch last week. The 33-year-old spotted the dark shadow in the water near Dores beach at 5.35pm. The medic at first believed it was a strange wave pattern but insists that when he zoomed in with his camera he found a “stationary object”. Dipak, who says the sighting was witnessed by a fellow tourist, claims that this was “Nessie’s hump or neck” and says it disappeared below the surface after 30-35 seconds.

Speaking today, the NHS doctor who works across Greater Manchester, said: “We have had a breathtaking experience of spotting Nessie and were very lucky indeed.“We noticed a dark shadow in the water which we initially thought was just a wave but the shadow remained persistent for about 30-35 seconds with water moving around it. “It was cloudy without any rain but the waves were reasonably calm and we took the picture from the rocky aspect of Dores beach.”

“When I zoomed in using my camera phone, it became much more apparent that the stationary object was indeed Nessie’s hump/long neck. “After 30-35 seconds, the shadow disappeared downwards into the water. Unfortunately, we didn’t film it as we were in shock.” Dipak named the witness as Tom Smith, a “fellow traveller” from Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, but says he does not have contact details for him.

Now if you read Mr. Ram's account, he is convinced it was no wave as it remained stationary in the midst of the water movement around it. Of course, this cannot be established from one image and it is clear he regrets not putting his camera into video mode. I would accept his testimony in the absence of contrary testimony (e..g how corroborative would Mr. Smith's account be?), but more critical assessors will ignore his words and make a judgement based purely on the merits of the image. I would point out the "hump" is more water blue that monster black or gray, but that may be my imagination.

Not only would a video have been useful to establish its independence from the waves, but also to record the submergence moment to further verify its independent existence from the water. Another useful image would have been a pan out to the Dores Bay shoreline to give an idea of how far in or out the image was (not a log in the shallows). Information is everything and the more we have, the more confident the conclusions and the less chance of fob offs. So we have one image, perhaps there are others, but there is not enough to go on with here unless anyone has any other observations or information.

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