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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