Friday 20 September 2019

Review of eDNA Documentary

On the heels of the recent eDNA results announced at Loch Ness came a documentary on Sunday covering the whole undertaking as well as the mandatory history of Nessie and her detractors and proponents. The name of the program was "The Loch Ness Monster: New Evidence".

Like a movie, the cast of Neil Gemmell, Eric Verspoor, Charles Paxton, Gordon Holmes, Val Moffatt, Loren Coleman and Steve Feltham (below) is introduced. Others will follow but the groupings are there to see with scientists, sceptics and believers with eyewitnesses in the middle somewhere. Will any of them offer a reasonable explanation as to what these people saw?

Neil Gemmell will feature throughout the documentary measuring rope lengths, surveying the scene and collecting water samples. The results will come at the end of the hour and a half program where we judge if it merits the subtitle "new evidence".

Four hypotheses are considered, two hundred and fifty water samples were taken and eighty five years of Nessie history is covered as a tale familiar to many who read this blog is once again recounted. Not surprisingly, the story begins with Marmaduke Wetherell, his fake Hippo tracks and the controversial Surgeon's Photograph. It seems every Nessie program must feature that photograph and being the most iconic image of the mystery, this is no surprise.

Everyone denounces it as a hoax except Loren Coleman (below) who puts a defence for the "hoax is a hoax" theory. Some. but not all, of that theory's points are raised, including the matter of when plastic wood was around. I covered that topic some seven years ago. The only curious matter for me was why Alistair Boyd was not on doing this as he was the man most responsible for exposing this fraud?

Having introduced the monster in an albeit negative way, the subject of cryptozoology was explained by Loren and we saw Steve Feltham as such a researcher at the loch recounting his only sighting to date. That happened in his first year, which encouraged him into thinking it was only a matter of time before the next sighting. Twenty eight years on, Steve has seen nothing more to this day as the loch refuses to yield up any more to him. Monster hunters throughout the years will know that feeling well.

Being slightly out of step, the documentary realigns to the beginning of the modern story with the Aldie Mackay sighting reported on May 2nd 1933. Adrian Shine (above) took us through this seminal event and makes an error by first stating that Aldie saw some ducks fighting. This is not true, she told Rupert Gould she initially thought it was two ducks fighting only to dismiss it. However, Adrian did state they saw a "humped body" or to be more precise a two humped body (from Gould). It was not televised what Adrian though they saw and to be fair to the producer, a lot of potential sceptic negativity seems to have ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. Indeed, this mystery should appeal to a broad audience, not just those dedicated to its destruction.

We were told the construction of a new road in the 1930s opened the loch up to new sightseers. It did indeed, though it has to be pointed out it was not a new road but an existing road which was upgraded. However, it was near the old southern road that the first photograph was taken and finally -  finally - a documentary showed the best version of the Hugh Gray attributed to a Mr. Heron-Allen. Mind you, did anyone consulted see fit to mention the eel like head in the picture? Either that or the producer saw fit not to mention it. But given how the rest of the program panned out, I doubt that.  But for all you fans, here it is once again, grinning back at you. Is it the face of a giant eel? I couldn't possibly comment.

It was time to speak to some people who had claimed to have seen the old beast, and, after all, it is the likes of them that are the lifeblood of the mystery. We were regaled by tales from Val Moffatt, Karen and Gordon Taylor, and Richard White. We would also hear later from a Mamie McDairmaid. Val had featured on some documentaries before (e.g. Jeremy Wade's "River Monsters") and Richard White took some well known photos back in 1997 (below).

I don't think most of the witnesses were given much time to say anything at all, so here is Richard's account from the Nova PBS documentary from years back:

Right, I'm driving along the Loch side, glancing out of the window. You can see the rock formation, I was just down on the road there, it just rises. I saw this boiling in the water. I thought, "No, it can't be anything," and I carried on a wee bit. Then I looked again, and I saw three black humps. I mean, you know, there's the chance, I've seen something in the water. But what is it?

So I'm gobsmacked, I'm looking out the window, I just didn't know what it was. Then the people came behind me, and they obviously wanted me to move. But I didn't want to lose sight of this thing. So I just pulled over to the side, grabbed my camera, and I thought I was being very cool and very nonchalant and took two or three photos. In fact, as I say, I had taken nine or ten, without realizing, I just punched the button. It was just a pity it was a small camera.

NOVA: Did anybody else see anything?

WHITE: Yeah, the other two people who were there—I was just so excited I didn't get their name and address or anything—they saw it exactly the same as me. Because the wee wifey, who would have been a lady in her fifties, on holiday, she was Scottish, she said to me, "I've not been in the bar this morning!" And her husband said, "Ach, it's an eel! It's an eel!" And I said, "There's no eels that big!" And he said, "Ach, it's otters!" And I said, "You don't get otters swimming out like that!"

I saw what I saw, and I'm not going to be dissuaded. It wasn't just an imagination. I'm a sane guy, and I've got no ax to grind. As I say I sell pet food! What use to me is the Loch Ness monster? Unless I can invent a food called, I don't know, Monster Munchies perhaps?

Back to the documentary under review and we moved nearly 30 years into the 1960s beginning with Tim Dinsdale's famous film. Little was said about the classic photos apart from the Surgeon's photo. We had flashes of the Lee, Stuart, MacNab and Gray pictures with no mention of the Cockrell or O'Connor pictures. On the other hand they were not really dismissed either, mainly fulfilling the role of eye candy for the viewers.

Naturally during this period the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau was discussed along with Dan Taylor's mini submarine (which Loren said collided with Nessie - cough!) and the arrival of a young fame seeking Adrian Shine. His statement that this "should have been the end of it" after the failed attempts of the LNIB, Robert Rines and others ushered us into the 1980s and the Loch Ness Project's experiments with sonar culminating in Operation Deepscan in 1987.

The three sonar contacts that were not there when revisited were mentioned which led into a discussion on seals which come into the loch every few years. Since it is unlikely a seal was in the loch plus the fact that they spend about 20% of their time at the surface allied with the fact that a whole fleet of cruisers were on the loch for the operation suggests this is not a persuasive theory.

At which point the documentary took a left turn down a dark alley and by that I mean paranormal theories about the monster. This led us into talk about wormholes, a hollow earth entry point, a spaceship lying at the bottom of the loch, Saint Columba's supernatural control of the beast and the demon raiser, Aleister Crowley. Another attempt was made to link him with the mystery, though he left the loch about 100 years ago. I take the view he had nothing to do with it because we have people claiming they saw strange creatures in the loch before Crowley was born.

It was then onto the home straight and back to modern times as we revisited Gordon Holmes' 2007 video of a strange object in the loch. Neil Gemmell reviewed the video with Gordon and admitted to a "torpedo shaped" object moving through the water. It seems he wasn't accepting the strange theories about wind devils some have come up with to get rid of this troublesome video. Giant eels were mentioned in regard to this video and I knew where this was leading to!

Before the program got into the final results, Charles Paxton (above) was brought in to talk about his statistical analysis of monster sightings. This is a project he started quite a while back and hopes to publish. What he said on the documentary was brief and not given to critique and we shall wait for that to come out before saying anything else (I have seen his draft paper and have my own draft reply).

Finally it was on to the eDNA result and they occupied about seven minutes of the entire documentary! If you didn't know already, there was no reptile, sturgeon or catfish DNA detected. There was, of course, eel DNA found and so the best one could conclude was that giant eels could not be excluded (or proven). This would appear to be the "new evidence".

In conclusion, Neil Gemmell admitted the experiments could not guarantee 100% coverage of the loch and guesswork always enters into the areas which have not been examined. Adrian Shine added that eyewitnesses were honest and accurate - but I think he and I have different ideas about the meaning of the word "accurate", but I will cover that in another article.

The program ended by pointing out that there had been more than two dozen sightings of the monster since Professor Gemmell had been to the loch and there was the matter of  about 25% of the sampled DNA being unidentifiable.  It seems between these two sets of data, the monster will continue to have quite a bit of wriggle room, I will cover than in another article summing up things for me.

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  1. Thanks for an informative review.
    I do find things like your "dark alley" annoying. Any physicist could tell them that if there were a Nessie-sized wormhole in Loch Ness it would be perfectly obvious.

  2. Nothing further gleaned from this programme,for me anyway.The constant publishing of the fake *surgeons * photo has done untold damage to serious research and even now is ,as said,still rolled out on every search engine,print media and TV...with the BBC being the biggest culprit. The two big elephants in the room are dismissed or given a cursory mention. How can a quarter of all e DNA in the loch be non identifiable? How can countless eye witness testimony be "forgotten"?
    How can this blog discover very pertinent facts and information curiously ignored by other researchers and "experts"?
    The truth is of course in who's interest is the suppression of the truth ?
    What are these sceptics gaining?
    I'm up around the loch at the moment. The views and fresh air are well worth the trip.

    1. It's not so much suppression as "science" has found nothing, so it doesn't matter what a photo, film or eyewitness says.

  3. Re: Gray pic. OK, GB if you couldn't possibly comment, I will. Yeah the supposed creature could be a giant eel, well, big in any case. But, unfortunately, sigh... we'll never know because without a foreground and background there is no way to estimate size. The LNIB offered very little in terms of hard evidence, but did help bring the matter to the forefront of worldwide attention The Rines expeditions came up with some credible sonar hits, maybe one genuine pic and two questionable ones. Deep Scan provided some vague hits and nothing else. And now this latest attempt at a solution. Okay, they came up with a giant eel as an explanation, fits better than any other suggested possibilities, what else could they say. Curious that they would mention the paranormal angle, given that it is considered fringe science and they needn't have bothered with it. Maybe they just wanted to politically correct by covering all bases. The idea that giant eels may be involved just doesn't hold water.(pun intended!) based on witness testimony. To sum up my feelings, the status quo remains, the giant eel remains a very much debatable contender.

  4. I said it before that there are too many variables with Loch Ness and I stick to it. 20 - 25% unidentifiable's like the sonar errors stating a new depth of over 800 ft. Why can't efforts be made that don't include such room for guessing? - Because Loch Ness will not allow it !!

    I could accept some form of giant eel as an explanation even though it contradicts many eyewitness reports. Sure we have over a thousand reported sightings but the descriptions are so varied it all becomes a tangle of confusion, hair, scales, elephant grey, yellow like a camel, tusks, no facial features, flippers, no flippers, walking on legs, no legs, whale like, 25 ft back, small humps...similarities and far out feature descriptions.

    Of course nobody captures anything clear on film ever. Not one clear photo or video - anyone give me an example of something CLEAR. Something may have found its way into the Loch on occasion but not within the last few decades. Suggesting a " paranormal " Nessie is just damaging the topic.

    I was certain years ago as a child that there was a Loch Ness monster but now I have to look at the lack of evidence and question it all. Something might have lived there until the 1980's and there is access to the sea.
    Step back and look at it all - not one clear photo or video, sonar and submarines. Nothing but stories ( interesting yes ) from eyewitnesses. I hope I'm proven wrong one day

    1. No clear photos? How about James Gray or Roy Johnston for starters - despite the hatchet job by (in this case) paid sceptics? I was amused by leading sceptics' comments about Johnston - "we are very dubious about these photos". LOL, they're dubious about EVERY Nessie picture!

    2. Well if those pics are genuine GB, that sure as hell ain't no eel that can rise out of the water like that. Maybe not even a giant one. The only question is: Is that a head and neck of something, or a proboscis of something.

    3. The Gray and Johnston photo's are interesting yes but unfortunately not enough to prove Nessie exists. There are no visible features like eyes or mouth, just a strange shape that resembles a neck. These are not close enough or clear enough to reveal a living creature, too distant.
      I think the Holmes video is also interesting but inconclusive. Every piece of visual evidence so far is not enough to convince most people. After all this time there yet remains to capture a close and clear photo or video of an unidentified creature in the Loch. Photo's like the Gray and Johnston pics should be monthly if something is living in the Loch, by now we should have multiple clear photographs and videos.

      Film any sea turtle, seal, shark, whale or aquatic creature and it appears as they are in plain sight. All we have are blotchy and dark blurs from a distance on the Loch.

      More and more I believe somehow these creatures spend little time in the Loch and most of their lives at sea.

    4. Nice contribution Jordan and your last line about the creatures living mostly in the sea could well hold water (excuse the pun).
      As an interested observer can I ask your opinion about the following ?:
      The 1958 Cockrell photo.
      The 2002 John Gillies video.
      The 2006 photo of a fast moving creature taken from a car( comprehensive article on this blog).
      Finally the single still which Maurice Burton allowed to be published in the book "The elusive monster"1961,and which was taken from the 1938 three minute film by Mr.Taylor,from Durban,South Africa.
      (He wasn't the only witness but that's another story.)

    5. Is the John Gillies a proper video? I mean if its real then surely this would be one of the best bits of evidence 4 a monster in Loch Ness. It looks 2 good to be true. Is it faked?

    6. I'm sure eels cud surprise us John.. Av u seen documentary with Mr raynor when he puts cameras down and finds eels standing straight up on their tails!!, if I hadn't of seen that I'd neva believe it! And after watching vids of new Zealand eels I'm convinced they cud give off a hump plus stretch their front bits out to resemble a head and neck! I'm sure a big eel cud fool a few people into seeing a plesiosaur type creature... Cheers

    7. Phoenix man regarding all four of your mentioned sightings my opinion is we have nothing that looks like a lake monster unless we are aiming for blurred smudges with interesting stories.
      Cockrell photo - anything, probably a stick
      Gillies video - interesting still of a head looking thing but so shaky it induces seizures watching the video
      2006 from car video - right size for a monster but inconclusive, dark blot
      Taylor film still - anything, dark blotch

      The legend of the Taylor film is interesting, hopefully we get to watch it in full one day.

      I don't want to rain on the Nessie parade but where are photo's of Nessie that depict a large creature? Not a blotchy dark blob but an aquatic animal.

      Loch Ness has a Bermuda Triangle effect on all camera and video quality, it all vanishes!!

    8. Phoenix man - What do you ( or any other Nessie enthusiasts here ) see in aforementioned LNM images ?

    9. The Dinsdale film to me has what I would expect of a Nessie film - the proper size of a large animal. Before the boat is filmed for comparison yes BEFORE he filmed a boat for scale, the object looks like a large hump of an animal. Reading Simon Dinsdales book, Tims son gives the back story of the event. Tim watched NOT A BOAT in binoculars and saw a massive back of what had to be an animal.

      However...of course..the film is grainy and not clear. Good but far from great. We need another sighting like this one but from steady hands and a quality camera. Soon I hope.

    10. I accept your premise that good quality photos of what clearly looks like a creature are hard to come by.
      My research of Prof.Tuckers two week sonar echo of a part of the loch in 1969 is suggestive of twenty feet creatures. They travelled from the loch bottom to mid loch on multiple occasions never rising to the surface.
      Similarly Andrew Carroll's 1969 sweep off Foyers producing another 20 foot creature . All on the net. Professional opinions said they had to be creatures and fish was dismissed as an answer.
      Regarding my opinions of the four incidents I put to you :
      The Cockrell photo was taken on a mirror calm loch( several other encounters were observed in a similar situation).
      I believe it's a creature creating a wash / wake ,barely visible itself.
      It's not a stick. Frankly I think that's an absurd suggestion. The photographer himself did talk about a stick but this photo isn't one.
      The Gillies video shows a turtle head neck animate creature.
      I'm not a techie....I'm useless.
      I asked an IT/ graphics/ animator friend of a friend for an opinion as to manipulation or CGI without saying anything about the Loch.
      Answer was "doesn't seem to be manipulated".
      The 2006 photo is a moving animate creature. I asked (very politely!)
      The same man about it. He said it's an object which is above the loch surface and moving, creating a wake. Taken from a height from a vehicle and estimate of object is twenty feet.
      The still from the Taylor film shows a small and a larger hump.
      We won't get to see it as it was handed over to Maurice Burton in its entirety. Convincing himself of the exploding vegetable mat theory he showed it privately to a group of fellow scientists. To his great consternation not all of them agreed with his methane gas theory with several stating the object in the film was "clearly animate"....thus ensuring us humble enthusiasts will never get to see it.

    11. Over the decades there have been multiple sonar hits of moving contacts as we all know. Enough to accept as evidence. However they seem to be decreasing in regularity - how many cruise boats armed with sonar tour the Loch every year ? I have attended one from Fort Augustus and enjoyed the cruise while watching the sonar screen. How many boats? How many cruises per week/month/year? There should be more contacts. We get one a year maybe worth mentioning like the Atkinson photo.
      The Cockrell pic reveals nothing unfortunately. Too distant, too little, too vague. Step back and examine these photo's as they are. What do you actually see? The Gillies video would be something if it was not filmed during an earthquake and we had some clearer video.

  5. Is there a single eye witness who's description corresponds in anything other than the must vaguest of shapes in relation to an eel? Do eels undulate? I thought they wriggled from side to side?

    1. Eels are fish, so as all fish, they "wiggle" from side to side.

  6. Is there anywhere i can find the full results of living things they found?

  7. Thanks Roland.So no birds of prey found?

  8. Just back from Loch Ness.. Had a great time and as the weather was fantastic I spent a lot of time sitting outside my cabin overlooking the loch doing bbq's and having fires with a few beers!! I was surprised at the amount of different wildlife I saw within yards of my cabin.. Highland cows. Horses.. Oystercatcher..loads of waterbirds aand common birds and heard owls at night.. A great sight was a couple of buzzards always over inch Bay and made me wonder if any buzzard dna was found if they sampled near that area? Saw a few fish jumping early morning too! Didn't see Mr gemmells TV show so just wondering what was made of the 20% unknown dna? Any chance this was off any unknown creature?? ...cheers

  9. Roy, the 20% got upped to 25%, and IIRC Professor Gemmell did mention in passing that those who believe that Nessies' are something other than giant eels could cling to that belief based on the 25% unknown. But I might be mis-remebering.

    1. Cheers a whole quarter of their Edna was unknown? A bit double Dutch to me all this uncoded dna lol does it mean it was too weak to be coded to an exact creature or can it be of an unknown creature that's why it cant match a code? If the latter then bingo!!

    2. He also said we could believe in the paranormal Nessie. LOL

  10. I think that this documentary was ill-timed (they seemed to me to not have all the data processed that they had), and underwhelming (most of this was ho-hum, not useful--7 or 8 minutes of new information about the eDNA does not a documentary make, maybe a news segment instead). The case was not made at all that "Nessie" is a giant eel. Nope.

    Let me explain my view, which I think counters the eel hypothesis (there are many sightings in the water which preclude this "Nessie" being an eel--long neck that sticks up, funny protuberances on its head, etc.).

    But one thing that sticks out for me like a sore thumb is behavioral patterns, and those that relate to shoreline activity. Please look at the behavioral patterns of the creature in Loch Ness, and compare that with known eels.

    I just picked up from ebay a poor-quality condition copy of "The Monsters of Loch Ness" by Mackal. On page 291, I saw an extended mention of a film (second one taken that day) of June 6, 1963. This film, which apparently shows a dark, cylindrical object emerging from the water and laying in the shallows on a beach 2.25 miles distant on the opposite side of the loch from where the film was shot.

    The eyewitnesses observed a serpentine head and neck. The object also seen to move in the water both up- and down-wind before going onto or close to the beach. Total episode time, 30 minutes.

    The key thing is this: The film was examined by JARIC. They put together a report. It was viewed by an independent panel who agreed, insofar as possible, considering the extreme distance involved, that the shape observed in the film corresponded with the eyewitness descriptions.

    These eyewitnesses were part of an expedition organized by David James, and spent two weeks at the Loch in early and mid-June 1963.

    What this film depicts is not what eels behave like.

    I have attempted to learn whether eels exhibit the behavior where they would attempt to temporarily come ashore and lay on the beach. I could not find any such data for this type of behavior linked to eels.

    This tells me that "Nessie" is not an eel--whether super sized like a Big Mac hamburger, or otherwise.

    I would like to know what happened to this film. Where is it now.

    I found no evidence that eels exhibit behaviors of wanting to come out of their watery environment to bask on the shore, etc.

    1. You may be referring to the long distance footage captured by a member of the LNIB. The last I heard mention of it was here on this blog and if I remember correctly, is under the control of Adrian Shine? I may be wrong there.

  11. The film was shown on television in the mid 1960s. As I've mentioned before on this site I think it may have been in a feature on the LNM on the children's programme Blue Peter.Although it was more than 50 years ago I remember it was intriguing as it clearly showed an apparently animate object on the edge of the water. It was so distant it was difficult to reach any firm conclusions. What is so frustrating that with modern technology it would surely be possible to improve the size and quality of the image if the film could be located.
    Chris Morris

  12. I think this is a tenuous argument. The square-cube law means that some behaviours which are possible for a 2-foot eel are impossible, or very inconvenient, for a 20-foot one. And vice versa - a 20-foot eel could bask in the shallows without fear of predation.

  13. Steve Alten author of “The Loch”, a novel about a giant mutant killer eel terrorizing Loch Ness was on the American paranormal talk show Coast to Coast am last night. The sandman won out, so I missed it. Here's a summary of what was discussed:

    “Steve Alten is a bestselling author of fifteen novels, including the Meg series, and the DOMAIN series, about the Mayan doomsday calendar. In the latter half, he discussed his latest research in cryptozoology, including news about the Loch Ness Monster. A few weeks ago, a team of scientists from New Zealand presented the results of DNA tests taken at Loch Ness that indicate the creature is not a plesiosaur but possibly an eel. They even suggested a giant 30-foot eel, which is similar to what Alten wrote about 14 years ago in his thriller, The Loch. The idea of an eel was first suggested to him by cryptozoologist and forensic artist Bill McDonald, who had studied track marks in the frozen mud around the Loch in Scotland.”

    Bill McDonald had investigates the claim by Canadian tourists who said they witnessed a huge, slimy serpentine creature on shore. There are various accounts to this story, suggesting it could have been a hoax. Very convoluted and makes my head spin. Well, now that I've plugged his book, I'm sure he's happy with the giant eel hypothesis.

  14. David E., I disagree with you. Usually a species of creature hold to the same behavioral patterns, no matter their dimensionality. Case in point: Dogs. Scottish wolf hounds have pretty much the same behavioral patterns as West Highland whites as an example. Geographical locations will cause some behavioral patterns to differ, as a species adapts to the environment that they find themselves in. An example of this are bird mating behaviors.

    So this all depends. But if a behavior changes, it is, based on my readings on the subject, not due to the size of the creature, but more often the environment causes behavioral pattern changes.

  15. Correction: It is Irish wolf hound, and Scottish deer hound. But both very large dogs.

  16. Didnt mr gemmell do this test on lake windmere a few years back? It wud be intrestin to see if they got any unknown dna there as well!! Talking to my friends in Fort Augustus last week they wer surprised no otter dna was picked up as they have seen them in the loch but they wer also surprised at lamprey dna bin found as they didn't know they lived in the loch!

  17. Hello!
    To comment the earlier comments here; I've been racking my amateur knowledge of biology to find an analogy in the fossil record or modern animals to the LNM (as described by witnesses). It's not an easy task. The plesiosaur is in fact a poor fit, current scientific thinking is that their necks were too stiff to be raised out of the water in "periscope" fashion. The closest I've found in terms of body plan is this Shell-less turtle ancestor:

    (No, I'm not saying this is the LNM, living fossils are far more rare than convergent evolution.)

    Also Darren Naish (of all people) has a very interesting discussion on the possible evolution of long-necked seals which you can read here:

    Of course he doesn't mention the LNM but there are many things in his post which "ring a bell" so to speak…


  18. A giant tullimunstrem wud fit the bill Ken... And maybe other unknown creatures we know nothing about!! I've always favoured an unknown creature in the loch so I'm personally happy with 25% unknown dna.. As Mr Feltham says..we stil have a mystery! I do think a huge eel cud be behind some of the sightings but doesn't fit the bill of some of the classic sightings like Alistair boyd.. Inspector Cameron and Bob rines... And lots of others who describe a huge whale like object!! The dna has now gone quiet but the mystery carries on.. Great stuff... Cheers