Tuesday 31 December 2019

Nessie Review of 2019

It is time to look back on another year of Loch Ness Monster related news as we head into a new year and a new decade. The obvious place to start was the eDNA results put out by Professor Neil Gemmell and his team in September. It was back in June 2018 that Neil arrived at the loch to collect a large number of water samples to pass onto various laboratories for DNA extraction and analysis. Fifteen months later, the main results were published and I put out my thoughts on these a short time later.

The take home was no reptile DNA was found or anything of an unusual nature. Giant eels could not be excluded, mainly because such samples would be indistinguishable from smaller ones and that dominated the headlines. Note that the results did not prove the existence of mega-eels.

The published data set is still incomplete and my focus was on the lower benthic regions where it appeared little sampling was done. There was also a large proportion of unidentified DNA which people locked onto, though even if this did contain something of interest, one would have thought such DNA would also turn up in the identified 75% - unless there was an anomaly in the sampling regime. As such, I await the publishing of Professor Gemmell's scientific paper and full data set in pursuit of a final opinion.

Back at the loch, I resorted to Gary Campbell's sightings register to get the final count with only a few days left of 2019. He has logged seventeen reports which is a hefty number compared to recent years. Examining these reports roughly breaks down into eleven lochside reports, five via webcam and one involving sonar. Comparisons with historic annual totals should take into consideration these online viewers.

My own take on webcam reports is ambivalent. I had a look at one of the webcam clips taken by Eoin O'Faodhagain on the 10th of July. The objects in the webcam are as always a long distance from the camera and therefore inconclusive. My main point was that below the crest of the hill in every webcam footage is Urquhart Castle and its Visitor Centre - a major hub of tourist activity. In that light, I would like to see corroborating eyewitness evidence from down below whenever interesting webcam footage appears. There is no guarantee somebody below will concurrently see anything, but over the years, some testimony should appear.

Of the various shoreline sightings, most were too far away to draw any real conclusions. The fact that a circle is often added to show you where the object is says it all. Two of the reports were, in my opinion, a log which has been stuck in the shallows of Urquhart Bay for a long time. The two most interesting items were wakes taken by Rory Cameron and a Mr. Horsler.

Mr. Cameron's was of prime interest because it was a video, but it does suffer from being about a mile from the observer. However, the video clip includes Urquhart Castle and so estimates of size and speed can be estimated giving an estimate of two white water disturbances each fifteen feet long in a space sixty feet long and a speed range dropping from 10 mph to 1.5 mph. The full analysis can be found here.

Meantime, the image taken by the Horslers was perhaps the clearest image, being that of a wake of unknown origin. The reason it is clear is because the witnesses were on the roadside and the presence of the buoy on the left suggests it happened near the top end of Lochend where the loch narrows significantly suggesting the wake was about 200-300 metres away. Nothing is visible at the head of the wake which Gary Campbell suggests is bigger than the usual bird wakes. The buoy in the picture is no more than six feet high in my estimate and perhaps twice as far away. It is an interesting picture, but the lack of a physical object in the image renders it inconclusive.

The sonar image (below) taken by Mike Bell from his fish finder in June was covered by myself at this link back in August and certainly is a curious image to add to the various anomalous sonar images which should not be readily dismissed as false echoes, fish or waterlogged tree trunks. Of the eleven lochside eyewitness reports, eight produced still images, two produced video clips and one had no recorded images.

So the argument about not enough mobile phone images being taken is proven false again. But the problem remains, out of these eleven lochside reports, only one had the eyewitness close enough to the object to produce an image with any kind of clarity. Unfortunately, it was only a wake formation and we will just have to continue to wait for a human-creature encounter which ideally occurs within 200 metres or so.

One video that did not make it into Gary's list was the curious underwater video of an eel-like object in the River Ness (below). The owners of the camera said it was just a stick passing by, but that was an explanation I did not find convincing as I thought the object was descending in the water. The actual object was in relatively shallow water and was no 30 footer, but it was big enough. What was curious was that the eel-like object glided by the camera only a few days before Neil Gemmell promoted the giant eel theory at his press conference!

In terms of this blog for 2019, having entered its ninth year, it was a somewhat quieter year with 44 articles published, which is the smallest since the inaugural year of 2010. This was due to other projects which are non-Nessie related, but it did begin in February with the publication of my third book, "Photographs of the Loch Ness Monster" which surveys most but not all of the pictures claiming to be of the creature. The subtitle "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" suggests that not all is what it may seem, but not all are fakes or misinterpretations either.

Meantime, a party to a famous eyewitness report was tracked down by myself and that was Harry Finlay who had a classic AAA sighting of the creature from the astonishing range of 25 feet back in 1952 alongside his mother, Greta Finlay. That makes recent reports from half miles away pale into insignificance. Harry was still sticking to his story 57 years on and that conversation was blogged here and I hope to soon video interview Harry, who is now about 80 years old.

Back in July, I also put online a long lost audio tape of famous Nessie researcher, Ted Holiday, interviewing eyewitnesses which formed part of his later book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" (1968). Thanks to Will Matthews, these were found in an archive of the late Ivan T. Sanderson. It was great to hear the words of witnesses going back to the 1930s in one's own ears. The research also continued as articles from the past such as Alex Campbell's reply to Maurice Burton was put online as were reports from the 19th century. I am not sure Alex Campbell wrote anything else apart from his Inverness Courier reports.

But I also note with sadness the recent passing of Kevin Malek, lover of mysteries, including the Loch Ness Monster, on which we exchanged views over time and concerning which I appeared on his Paraversal radio show last year.

I sometimes wonder if those who cross the Great Divide will be any wiser about those mysteries once debated about so much here below. Then again, I am not sure such questions even get near the top of the list once new realms are revealed. Either way, Rest in Peace, Kevin.

Many related to the hunt have passed on since the great mystery of the Loch Ness Monster began in 1933. As we now enter its 87th year, will 2020 be like others years with perhaps one or two good sightings or pictures but again not good enough for all? The year of extraordinary proof could come at any time, just don't bet the house on it being the year to come.

I wish all readers a happy and prosperous 2020.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com