Tuesday, 1 October 2019

A Review of "The Loch Ness Sea Lion"




Author Rob Cornes is better known for co-authoring the cryptozoological work, "The Seal Serpent" which investigates the possibility of a currently unclassified long necked pinniped being responsible for some sightings of aquatic cryptids. In that book he also mentions the possibility of some known pinnipedia playing their part in this mystery and that has been developed in this smaller book devoted to the Loch Ness Monster and seals with a diversion to other Scottish water monsters.

Two families of pinnipeds are discussed, the first being the phocid family which are classed as earless seals and includes the harbor seal which lives near Loch Ness, The other is the otariid family which are the various species of sea lions and are characterised as having pointed ears and being more slimline. However, sea lions are not indigenous to the North Atlantic.


Phocidae: Harbor Seal

Now, Rob is a sceptic insomuch that he gives no credence to the idea of an indigenous air breathing cryptid in Loch Ness, but neither does he go down the road of ascribing all monster sightings to known phenomena at the loch. In other words, he thinks that some sightings, especially in the 1930s, were down to an outside visitor to the loch he believes to be a sea lion.


Otariidae: California Sea Lion

But, as just stated, these animals are not known in the waters around Great Britain. Rob suggests this objection can be resolved by the history of captive sea lions from zoos, circuses and private collections escaping into the seas of the United Kingdom. That such escapes have occurred he proves from newspaper articles dating before the 1930s and beyond. Many were recaptured but it is reasonable to assume some forged out into the seas and survived. Rob reckons at least a dozen made their way into European waters.

So, we are taken through some of the well known land sightings of the Loch Ness Monster from the late nineteenth century onwards and some features are noted as sea lion like such as the waddling motions described by some witnesses or a caterpillar like or lurching motion. The MacGruer incident of 1919 is speculatively correlated with the Mackintosh Bell sea serpent sighting of that period and a recently escaped sea lion. Could these three incidents be one and the same creature?

Meantime, Rob speculates further that the Alfred Cruikshank event of 1923 was more likely a resident phocid of the old bull male variety due to the apparent absence of a long neck. What was more irreconcilable to seals was the Fordyce sighting of April 1932 which looked more like a grey camel with next to no head. But I do feel Rob overindulges in speculation by linking the event to a large rail delivery of livestock to a show in Inverness and therefore the escape of some kind of non-local cattle. 

As he gets into the busy Nessie period of 1933-34, Rob makes some statements that can be challenged. He attributes the seminal Aldie Mackay report as no more than a "mild disturbance in the water" which is not the case if one reads Gould's interview of the witness. Moreover, a sighting by three anglers in 1930 is dismissed as an embellishment while a follow up letter describing a "very large seal" is accepted because it has the relevant keyword "seal" in it. Should one set of witnesses be discriminated against another on this basis?

Rob toes the sceptics' canonical line that a combination of events such as King Kong, untrained eyewitnesses, sensationalistic journalism all contributed to a fabricated monster. So, for example, the Spicers are dismissed as seeing only an otter. Interestingly, he also mentions the old tales of water horses as being part of the kindling that ignited the phenomenon. Most others look to contemporary influences as the only factors. 

As suggested above, sightings which report seal like features are given greater credence such as those by Janet Fraser and Mrs MacLennan which are shown below from contemporary sketches. In these cases, the protuberances on the Fraser creature are suggested as like the ears of the sea lion and the tail on the MacLennan creature is seen as possible rear flippers of said creature.




And herein lies the conundrum of the sceptical position. On the one hand, sightings of large creatures are dismissed as inaccurate due to inexperienced eyewitnesses and wishful thinking. However, Janet Fraser is presented as an eyewitness who could have discerned seal ears from half a mile and MacLennan gave a credible description of rear flippers. The problem is obvious - if they are credited with getting those smaller details right, then why not the rest of the description?

Indeed, if one or more seals did venture onto the shores of Loch Ness over the years, why is there not one report from anyone saying they saw seals on land? Is the "expectant attention" effect so pervasive that no one was ever capable of simply reporting a bona fide seal? I think not, and perhaps it is safer to conclude seals were never seen on land by anyone (though that does not preclude seals beaching on the loch with no eyewitnesses).

But the story that gets the most attention is the famous account by Arthur Grant in January 1934. Rob is correct in taking the view that Grant did encounter an aquatic animal. Investigators of the time plumped for a tuskless walrus which is the only surviving member of the other pinnipeds, the odobenidae family. Rob plumps for the otariid sea lion and notes (among various points) the bounding action described by Grant is reminiscent of that seal.

I concede that is true but the main issue is that what Grant describes does not look like a sea lion and again we visit the issue of eyewitness reliability. Rob gets around this by suggesting Grant knew what he saw but embellished his account with a cryptic clue when he said the creature looked like a plesiosaur-seal hybrid. This is somewhat contradicted when Rob further suggests the webbed feet described may have been misperceived hind flippers. In my view, unintended misperceptions and intended embellishments do not usually co-exist.

But the nub of the argument for me is size. Sea lions are relatively small compared to the beasts described at Loch Ness and, as said before, some eyewitnesses to terrestrial sightings had one outstanding frame of reference - the road. Or, if you like, the creatures were moving over a giant ruler.

So the challenge before any investigator is deciding what is inaccurate and what is not. Unfortunately, that is susceptible to selection bias, If you are prone to a given theory, then features described by eyewitnesses which favour your theory can be deemed to be accurate. Those which are not tend to be ignored or dismissed. It is a condition that afflicts all of us.

Did a sea lion once make its way into Loch Ness and confound the people around the loch decades ago? Rob cannot prove it, but neither can I prove what Arthur Grant perceived, misperceived or embellished, so it is really down to the eye of the beholder and their own degree of intellect and emotion.

What I would ask is whether he considers his other theory of a possible large and long necked pinniped being the alternative explanation for monsters seen at Loch Ness? Rob has given a book with some novel thinking and some interesting tales of creatures known and unknown from newspaper reports of old. It also helps to add to the store of knowledge on the seal as Nessie theory. So, I am happy to include it in my library of books and recommend it to others.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com









37 comments:

  1. Thanks Roland. Coming from the custodian of the most detailed and relevant site on the Loch Ness phenomena I am glad that you found it interesting. I do diverge slightly looking at other aspects and information which I havent seen published before.

    As you state the theory can`t be proved one way or the other, however the basic fact that sea lions have escaped or been released in the UK and Europe can, and is historically verifiable. I do include some reports of sea lions which have been mistaken for lake monsters (from the American Press) and it is not hard to see how this could happen.

    The Spicers report originally described a 6-8ft animal moving in jerks (the size of a sea lion and possibly a description of movement), the February sighting on land by Harvey and MacDonald is the same sort of size and fits the morphology of a sea lion. If Grants account actually occurred then his description of movement in my eyes can only be attributed to a sea lion and if you remove the tail which I feel would be a hindrance in the way he describes the animals movement the rest of the morphology (apart from size) also fits.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU-NQMhwnEs

    https://giphy.com/gifs/attack-washington-frolicking-IzZfOXIFVDg08 (note dragging hind-quarters re Grant)

    What is more a sea lion exploiting the loch in the 1920s/30s would also help explain some pre 1933 reports such as the Henderson account in 1925 and the MaGruer one. I am sceptical of any large unknown, air breathing animal, currently undiscovered ever having been resident in the loch but I do feel that the die hard sceptics who dismiss everything out of hand have completely missed this theory which might at least explain some of the mythology. And if the land accounts were of unidentified animals which suddenly stopped after 1934 then again it fits in with a transient visitor rather than a long-term resident.

    And yes there are still a lot of people today who call a sea lion a seal and a seal a sea lion so a witness may have simply got the terms confused!

    Anyway Thanks again and best wishes.

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    1. Actually you are not a total sceptic, Rob as you only disbelieve in indigenous *air-breathing* candidates in the loch?

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    2. Hi Roland, yes quite right. I find it frustrating that diehard sceptics dismiss the whole thing out of hand. I was one until we stumbled across the sea lion angle by surprise while writing the Seal Serpent which at least might justify the confusion and lore surrounding the loch. As for a long necked pinniped, if such an animal did or had existed and we can build a purely theoretical case for it, then it again it would be an itinerant. A fur seal with a slightly longer neck than extant species with a mane, ears and galloping like a sea lion might be mistaken for a waterhorse.....Keep up the investigation and I am currently trawling through various archives. I will let you know if I come across anything of interest like the Henderson encounter.

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    3. Nessie displays characteristics of a water / skin breather.

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    4. Mr. Cornes makes some very plausible and strong arguments is all I got to say.

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  2. That's a good review. By which I mean that it agrees with me! It picks up all the points that occurred to me when I was reading the book. Still, the book is a useful addition to the literature and I'm glad to have it on my bookshelf.

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  3. Another good post GB.

    I've been reading through some of your older blogs, so informative. I'd never seen the Dinsdale film for a start, one question I have for you, have you or anybody you know ever seen the 2002 video from Bobbie Pollock, the one that supposedly conclusively proves something big is in the water? The article I read stated he won a prize for it.

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    1. I am not sure I have seen it. I have seen stills and short excerpts of videos which claim to be it. It may another video that has submerged without trace.

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    2. After posting here, I read somewhere a forum post purporting to be from his niece claiming he only lets people see it if they pay, it apparently was only ever on the TV twice and is not on any online video sources (apparently).

      Keep up the awesome work.

      Have you ever seen anything strange in your visits there? I've been there a few times whilst working in the area and never (not for lack of wistful gazing :-) ) seen anything weird at all (apart from lots and lots of weird looking tourists :-) ).

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  4. I remember reading literature on the LNM going back to the 60s and 70s when one of the giant, long necked Sea Lion theories was a cover all explanation for the LNM, as well for sea serpent sightings out at sea.

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  5. Latmman there is a clip from the Bobby pollock video shown in the old exhibition centre in drum... Or at least there was!! Also one of the documentary on Loch Ness shows it.. Can't remember which one! If I find it ill let u know! Nothing conclusive though in my humble! Cud be a person in a swimsuit splashing about!

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    1. Roy have you seen the full film?
      Supposed to be 3.5 minutes long.
      Apparently it shows a very seal like creature but too much above the surface to be a "conventional" seal.
      I think Latman is correct in saying it's not available online. Apparently only for private viewing following payment .
      At the time it was shown selectively in 2002 it was declared as near positive proof of an unclassified creature in Loch Ness.

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  6. If it is declared as near positive proof then why isnt it available to see? That in itself is a little suspicious.

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    1. Maybe ask Mr.Pollack?
      Did you see what Latman and I said about payment?
      Why isn't the 1963 film( although taken at 3 km distance) generally available to see? In the sceptics possession?

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    2. Have you seen any of the film phoenix man ?

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    3. I'm afraid not....either film.
      I was up at the loch recently and I can't add anything other than hearsay. I was told the Pollack film was shown in it's entirety back in 2002 and maybe more convincing than the excerpt which Roy referred to.
      The LNIB film has been referred to by other posters and definitely shows a black animate object hauling itself ashore .
      My main purpose in visiting was to talk to a relative of a woman who was with Mr.Taylor when he filmed his famous footage way back in 1938.
      She had another independent sighting in 1943 which largely mirrored the two humps seen in the film 5 years before .
      If my very amateur efforts amount to anything I'll be forwarding to Roland .

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  7. Why? Is Mr Pollack a sceptic?

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    1. I think he said he didn’t believe until he caught whatever it is on camera. Unfortunately he’s monetised his footage meaning unless you pay you won’t see it.

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    2. Pay to watch it? Ive heard it all now.

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    3. There’s a poster here: https://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/topic/50056-bobbie-pollock-nessie-video/ who claims to be Pollocks niece. She’s the one who states he’s charging per view. Post #21 & 27 on 7/10/12

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    4. You just beat me too it Latman...was just about to post the same.
      The film must have been shown in full back in 2002.
      From the Scotsman,March 12,2002:
      'It was viewed 30 times by Mark Stewart ,Scottish sea life sanctuary,Argyll.....
      "...after viewing the video,along with other members of my staff,and noting the unusual movement of the creature,we could not say that what we were seeing was a seal".
      Also Gary Campbell stated,having viewed the video," we were sure it wasn't a seal because it comes so far out of the water".

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    5. Well after watching the clip i can safely say i would not pay to watch it.

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  8. Roy, you mentioned the exhibition centre showing the film, is it the one that showed there was a red canoe on the shore nearby? If it is then i have seen that myself.If it is the Bobby Pollock one then i can confirm it is indeed not conclusive.

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  9. Phoenix man no I avnt seen full vid only prob 10-15 seconds of it..i know wer ur coming from cus I heard it was the real deal so imagine my excitement wen I was at the Loch and heard a clip from it was on the film in drum...sadly I left dissapointed to be honest!!! Doesn't proove a creature never mind a large one... .In my humble opinion of course. Its on a documentary on YouTube.. a clip from it...see what u think. . Cheers

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  10. Just had a good scour thru vids I've watched and good news I've found it... Soz I'm working away and only got my phone so can't share link... But go to YouTube and type in 'Naked science Loch Ness and its there... Vid is 50 odd minutes and ull find it roughly just after 31 mins.. Its Mr raynor analizing it... Enjoy... Cheers lads!!

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    1. Thank you Roy.
      I just watched it.
      Certainly the little clip shown is not impressive as evidence of a creature. Just leaves me wondering about the entire sequence.
      I'll inquire about Mr.Pollack.

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  11. The Pollock video is of zero significance. A black dot/blur barely visible from a shaky video. A floating dark sock would be more impressive.

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    1. It was heralded as definitive proof, he won a prize for best sighting or whatever as well. I think there’s been many clips claiming to be his. Have you definitely seen his?

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    2. Definitive proof? Of what?

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    3. Just for the record, I don’t know for a fact as I haven’t seen it. That being said, it’s supposedly definitive proof of something large in the loch. I’m sure I read somewhere that Mr Shine approved of the video as well, though typically I can’t find the bit I read that on.

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  12. Looking back at the Pollock video I must admit I may be mistaken - I'm thinking of a video Dick Raynor critiqued. I found a film still on this site from a post of Rolands from 2017. A frame of the Pollock video and it is a dark blur of something at least above the surface. Nothing impressive but I should give the video a chance!
    I believe there is a mystery unsolved as yet within Loch Ness but I have yet to see a film or photo of something convincing.

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  13. Aren't pinnipeds by and large gregarious animals? If the LNM was of this family wouldn't they be seen a lot more and wouldn't they become used to people and probably begging for food all the time?

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  14. Cheers phoenix man..glad I cud find it for u! Its defo unusual as u don't get many vids like that but intrestin Mr raynor pointing out maybe a canoe nearby.. It cud be a person swimming and splashing about! It certainly isn't definite proof of a large creature in the loch.. Far from it! Summit different though.....cheers

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  15. Anyone making you pay for a video of a cryptid is at it. Both a charlatan and a liar. Just look at the litany of pay per view frauds in the Bigfoot community. If you had something worth watching you'd sell it for a good fee and so far every single case has turned out to be a poor fraud.

    PS good review GB.

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  16. I've had no success in trying to locate Mr.Pollock using social media. My inquiry to Glasgow postal service yielded nothing. Most of us have seen the clip referenced above but I'm curious about the entire 3.5 minutes film. It must have been impressive to have evoked such positive reactions as stated in my earlier post.
    If anybody can help to locate Bobby Pollock please let us know.

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