Tuesday 29 December 2020

Nessie Review of 2020


Looking back on 2020 can only leave one with a sense of good riddance to a bad year from just about every perspective. As the coronavirus swept across the world, vast swathes of the population hunkered down and battened down the hatches. Social distancing became the norm and many of the places we love to visit became off limits. Some levity was required as a debate ensued as to whether UFOs, Bigfoot or Nessie was the time honoured champion of social distancing as we only too well know.

You can make your own mind up on that, though in the year past, we did have one story from 1922 where Nessie and eyewitness seemed to break that two metre distance and even touched. That story may never be corroborrated but looking back on the Nessie highlights of the year, we first look at the claimed sightings from the last twelve months.

A look at Gary Campbell's Loch Ness sightings register has Gary reckoning on twelve reports this year. Five of these were from the webcam positioned high above Urquhart Castle, Those occupied the first half of the year when the loch was either quiet due to winter or due to the coronavirus lockdown which forbad any non-locals coming to the loch for anything but essential reasons. My opinion on webcam reports has been stated before. They may or may not show the monster, but they are too far away to make any difference and we await the day when a camera is installed somewhere near the shore to provide greater clarity (and I suspect fewer claims).

Next up was a smartphone recording by Ross MacAulay on the 8th July of which the best frame I could see is shown below.  This shows a white water disturbance in the centre of the loch described as twelve feet in extent and four foot wide. It had appeared near some kayakers nearer to the shore and the progressed to the centre where it was filmed.

Unfortunately, the witness was about a mile away from the object and so the recording is of little value in determining what it was. No doubt what he saw with the naked eye was better than what was recorded but herein lies the problem with surveillance. Having a high vista of multiple square miles of loch surface may improve the chances of seeing something but what you see is going to occupy a very small part of a smartphone's field of view. Conversely, getting closer to the shore brings the object into closer relief but less surface to survey.

Another image shown below was taken on the 29th August by Mr Van Scheurbeck from Point Clair. I was wondering if this object was a buoy to warn boaters of shallow waters. On enlarging what is a low resolution image, it did not appear that the object could be seen against the trees in the background on the opposite shore, which suggests it is not very tall as one sees in long necked sightings. 

The following month led to more pictures of a water disturbance taken from Bunloit Farmhouse which again were inconclusive. A video of an object in Dores bay by Trevor Ross in October was nothing more than a bobbing log though the large hump seen by Corey Sturrock in the same area sounded more genuine to me. 

Moving into November and another indistinct object was photographed by Karen Scott on the 24th which is shown below. On the original picture, you would not know where to look to find the object as it is so small, so the triangular object is not big, and as we know, size matters when it comes to Nessie. I covered a similar picture back in July when I was emailed a photo by Jeremy taken from the same vantage point of the Grant Tower at Urquhart Castle. If it did submerge and reappear further on then that does not suggest debris such as logs. Birds obviously submerge and resurface, but the witnesses claim it was not a bird. If you wish to see anything monstrous in this photo, you would be confining yourself to a small part of its anatomy.

Now even as I was typing this article, another report came in as reported by the Sun newspaper concerning yet another water disturbance filmed by local lady Louise Power some days before near Drumnadrochit. In the words of the Sun:

Louise, a school clerical assistant, said they saw “something strange” in the water less than half-a-mile away. She said: “There was a wake after it and it just kept moving slowly. Then it turned and just went under the water and disappeared. It was big and whitish grey. I did believe there was something unexplained in the loch — now I know there is!”

Again, being about half a mile away, we are not going to get much detail from a smartphone camera and mark this interesting but inconclusive. So not a great selection of images but that all changed on the 30th September when Ronald Mackenzie got this sonar image from his cruise boat at a point near the Horseshoe Scree opposite the village of Invermoriston. The object is at a depth of about 570 feet below and about 43 feet off the bottom of the loch. Monster Hunter Steve Feltham persuaded Ronald to go public and we are glad he did. I estimated the object was eleven feet thick in the vertical axis. The horizontal axis on the sonar display is time, but the manufacturers of the equipment estimated the length of the object was 15-20 feet. 

This excellent image was certainly covered in this blog, initially here and here where we suggest from Adrian Shine's own mouth that this is the kind of convincing image he was looking for in Operation Deepscan in 1987! We then dismissed theories about floating organic debris here. A few other sonar images turned up after this were publicised and the impression I certainly got was that the panoply of unexplained sonar hits that boats had picked up over the years are more likely to be large creatures than people are letting on.

So far to date, the sceptics have said very little about this image and would love it to just go away. They are quite happy with distant pictures of water disturbances, but not this. But what is the next step for sonar? Let us see what 2021 brings. 

As for me, the coronavirus restrictions meant I was limited in my trips to Loch Ness this year. But once the lockdown was eased in June, I headed off asap to the area. It was a good trip and as far as water disturbances are concerned, my game cameras caught their own version. What it was I am not making any assessment of.

What was more tantalizing was the large thirty foot depression I found at the estuary of the River Foyers. What had caused it? Canoes, wild campers or something else? The possibilities are considered in my trip report.

In terms of other research, the lockdowns must have had their effect as 2020 was the lowest count for blog postings in this its tenth year. I had published only 41 times (including this article). That compared with 104 in 2012 and the lowest ever of 33 in 2010, but 2010 posts began in July. However, there were one or two gems in that 41 including a video interview with Harry Finlay who had one of the most famous sightings of the monster with his mother, Greta Finlay, in 1952. That post is here and this is a sketch of the creature he saw at a distance of about twenty to thirty feet. Harry is not just a believer, he is a knower!

I also had the pleasure of talking to Arthur Kopit who had a land sighting back in 1961 which was related here. If you scroll down to the right of this page you will see the Blog Archive and you can click on the arrows to unpack various date ranges to see all the articles for this year and others.

So what will 2021 portend? Will one of those game cameras of mine snap something up close and personal? Will more exciting sonar hits aggravate the sceptics even more? Will some very lucky eyewitness get close enough to one of these shy creatures with a decent camera to snap something to rival or even exceed the photos of the past? 

I don't know, but I look forward to being back up at the loch no earlier than April this year ... coronaviruses allowing.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Friday 18 December 2020

An Article on Sandy and Hugh Gray


Nessie enthusiasts will know about the first photograph of the Loch Ness Monster taken by Hugh Gray in November 1933. This blog has also covered the sightings claimed by his brother, Sandy Gray. But a fuller account of Sandy Gray and events mainly around the Foyers area of Loch Ness has been written by journalist and author, Paul Brown.

I helped Paul with a few questions regarding his article and I commend his article to readers interested in Sandy Gray and various events that surrounded Loch Ness in those late months of 1933. You can access his article here. There you can also find a "Listen" button if you prefer audio.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Sunday 13 December 2020

A Monster Tale from 1981

I received an email some days back from a Pete Sylvester who had a tale to tell from nearly forty years ago. He was helping out with a school trip to Loch Ness and was aged thirty nine back then. He recorded the details of the event at the time and so it come to us with a recall much better than perhaps something retold from memory four decades on. I quote his story in full.

Once upon a time...I always have to start this way for if I told you the truth - as truth - you wouldn't believe me. So - once upon a time - long ago - (it was May 31st 1981 - at two minute past nine) - we were on the banks of Loch Ness. 

We were a school party of fifteen to sixteen year old pupils finishing our Natural History Projects on heather, bugs, insects and - oh yes - water voles - though our experience of these was restricted to slides. Fifteen of our seventeen had gone to a nearby village (and as rough young teenagers God knows what they could be up to). So Dave Simpson and I (he the Biology teacher - me the helpful other) and the two remaining lads - were travelling along the road - in sight of the Loch - looking for our missing pupils. Dave was driving us in the minibus - a task he cordially hated. As always he was driving astride the central white line when - on an instant - he screamed to a halt. 

We immediately turned our eyes this way and that. Had Dave hit a cow? (Surely we'd have felt it). Forced another car into the ditch? (No sound and looking back we could see no car). Hit a walker? (aaarrrggghhh!) Or maybe seen a watervole (no - don't be silly). Meanwhile - in the middle of the road - he was gazing with rapt attention at the Loch. Now the Loch was a hundred feet below us and perhaps three hundred yards away but Dave was looking way out across the water to the other side. The distance was at least a mile. But what he saw - when we focused on it - we saw too! A visible V wave - nothing at the point - was weaving along the Loch on the far side. 

We watched for a couple of minutes and then it vanished. "What on earth was that?" asked Dave. "Sir - I bet it was the Loch Ness Monster," said one of the lads and to my surprise Dave replied "I don't know - but it could have been." Hmm - daft sod! We were about to clamber back aboard the minibus when the other lad cried out excitedly "There it is again, sir - in the middle!" We looked where he pointed and sure enough something the size of a football was making a V wave towards us. What it was I couldn't see - but the light was clear enough for me to identify boats and even birds on the far Loch's side. We watched as it came nearer - nothing stirred and not a sound could be heard. Then suddenly a cow bellowed. At least that is what I took it to be - but nevertheless we all jumped! 

"Ok - let's get back in the bus," said Dave - but at that moment I had a better idea - and though we were a hundred feet above the Loch and three hundred yards from the water's edge - I shouted "Come with me!" And leapt over the stone wall. When they saw what I landed in - they remained on the tarmac. It was a bog. I sank to my ankles in the mud and having got wetter than a porter's pint - and seeing no easy way to return - I ploughed on. Getting more determined and wetter I continued on my unfortunate descent to the Loch. it was a slow journey! 

And about half way down I had a sudden decision to make. As I drew towards the Loch I got lower and the trees on the water's edge got taller. What should I do? Staying where I was I was one hundred yards from the water and whatever was approaching I couldn't properly observe - yet if I descended then for perhaps a minute I would lose sight of it and it might vanish!

After a moment I thought - it had crossed the Loch for some five minutes - what the hell - I'd trust it to be there for another sixty seconds. So I went on. At last and I was on the shore - and to my surprise there was a slight water mist over the Loch - just enough to make what I was looking at not quite as clear as it should be - but it was obviously large and approaching fairly rapidly. Without thinking I waded into the Loch - water sloshing over my boots. I was truly excited and wanted IT to come nearer. What was coming I couldn't tell - but it was emerging and I knew it could be the .......

Then - at a distance of perhaps sixty yards - a motorboat started up and the object simply turned and sped away. I assumed the two things were one and the same. I was furious! It had been bloody motor boat! And I had travelled down three hundred yards of soaking bog! Idiot! I got on to dry land and looked back - already knowing what I had seen I gave it little more than a brief, disgusted glance and turned away. I trudged wearily back up the hill to the minibus. 

"Rotten blooming motorboat!" I intoned - curbing the language I would have liked to use if the youngsters hadn't been there. "Yes" they all said. "it scared the monster off!" "Don't be silly" I snapped "That was the motorboat!" Dave put a restraining hand on my shoulder. "No Pete - that boat started a quarter of a mile away - over there. So that - that - thing took off." I was startled. They were unanimous.

Oh my good God! I thought back to what I had seen - a man leaning over the front of the boat and a man hunched in the back. And then things began to click in my mind ...... How long had it taken the object to cover, say, half a mile of Loch? Eight, maybe ten minutes - probably less. And then the motorboat started up  ..... but there had been no engine noise before - nor any sign of paddles or oars - nothing to indicate any sign of propulsion. And the thing had turned from the size of a football to the size of what I what I took to be a boat. I thought back to what I had heard - a sudden sound of the engine and my immediate thought - the swine - they've made a fool of me. 

I played the scene back in my mind - the figure leaning forwards over the bow - the man hunched in the rear. And suddenly I could not picture the boat. The two figure shapes - yes - but what they should have been perched on - no, I could not see. Damn me for being wet, tired and stupidly turning away. There was something - and I had blown it. Immediately - without further discussion - we found some paper and wrote it all down. The three accounts were remarkably similar. Three of them used the word monster - no underlining no inverted commas, no apology for the identification. 

Hmmm. Hmmm. 

What had I seen on that misty but still light evening - so long ago? But then the glorious news - we had been saved. While I had been at the Loch side Dave had taken forty seconds of cine film of the monster. When we returned to Birmingham we ploughed through thirty four minutes of Loch Ness stuff - to discover  

...... forty seconds of blank screen - with flashes of light across it - as proof it was perfectly useless! It seems as though Dave had left the cover on the cine - or maybe at that distance it had been too dark (no - it was light - it was nine o'clock on a summer's evening) so whatever - we had failed. And so in truth my story ends.

Once upon a time - a long time ago - there could have been ......

So ends Pete's tale. Obviously it is left to readers to form their own opinion. It is one of those few accounts that takes place in a real monster like setting. Ancient castle towers over a mist laden scene as a large shadowy shape approaches the eyewitness only to turn at the last second. All we needed was a full moon shining above. However, sunset at that time of year was still an hour away. Mist forms when warm air encounters cooler air at the surface of the loch. The water droplets in the warm air condense to form a visible layer of condensation. 

So were the two presumed men Pete saw actually a long neck and hump? We will never know for sure, but thanks for the story, Pete.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Friday 4 December 2020

Some sightings of the Monster from locals


I was alerted by Michael Alberty that there were some stories of the Loch Ness Monster by residents of the loch published in a local newsletter back in 2004. This was the Boleskine Bulletin which ran from 1997 to 2014. A letter was published in the Spring issue requesting any readers to write in with their own sightings of the monster. A few brave souls were prepared to put their heads above the parapets. The first letter ran the request and note the writer adds the postscript that they may have seen the beast themselves from the Foyers Hotel.

The Loch Ness Monster seems to make a tantalising appearance on occasion. By all accounts quite a few people in the area have seen it. These sightings would make an interesting article for the next BB. Please contact Buddy MacDougall, Coach House, Foyers, Tel. 01456 486366. P.S. My late husband, Stewart and I were sure we saw something (through binoculars) back in the 70's from Foyers Hotel.

The next issue details a clutch of reports numbering five in all:

Following my letter in the last B.B. asking for sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, there has been some response. The objects vary considerably. Our sighting was from the Foyers Hotel and could be seen out in the middle of the loch. We watched with two hotel guests and passing binoculars around we saw a strange object the size and shape of an upturned cabin cruiser. It was a dark grey shiny colour and you could see little waves lapping against it. It submerged for a few minutes and then came up again for a time before submerging again and disappearing completely.

A friend from Inverness, Elma Kay, saw, along with a group of friends, a long neck topped by a small head emerging from the loch at Dores Bay. 

Buddy MacDougall


Travelling from Ardachy back into Fort Augustus, at Borlum Bay, I spotted what appeared to be a black long neck of some creature about 4 to 5 feet out of the water which at the time was flat calm. I stopped the car and it remained in view for several seconds; it then went down leaving behind ripples on the surface.

Gordon McDonald


Within a few days of the above sighting, Ana and I were in the car at Borlum Bay and clearly saw a shiny black semi-circular hump probably about a quarter of a mile to the North. By transit observation on the far shore, we established that this hump was moving in a north-easterly direction. At this distance it is difficult to estimate size but would think that the hump had a length of about 5 feet and stood some 3 feet out of the water. We can only conclude that what we saw was some form of sinuous creature.

Ana & Peter Arrowsmith


In the early 1980's, I was with a friend having a picnic by the ferry pier at Foyers when I saw three distinct shiny black humps followed about six feet behind by two further similar humps moving through the water towards Dores and about 30 feet from the shoreline. Shortly afterwards, the humps submerged at which point I turned to my friend enquiring if she had seen what I saw - she confirmed that she had. I wondered at the time if I had witnessed Mother Nessie being followed by her offspring.

Muriel Lees, Inverness


Finally, the Autumn issue had another three sightings, including one from the pre-Nessie era of 1916:

I write this in reply to your request for Monster sightings - with some reluctance for I have only discussed these matters with my family and close friends. My father, whilst on leave from the Lovat Scouts in 1916 had a sighting near Urquhart Castle.

Then 30 odd years ago, en route to Inverness, my sister, nephew and I saw a black shape with a long neck and head with a considerable wash behind it in Urquhart Bay. But when we reached a lay-by, we could see nothing.

Then on a sunny morning in July 1979 when the loch was flat calm, I was rowing on the other side with my husband. When we were in mid loch, I suddenly saw what appeared to be an upturned boat just beyond Foyers Point. I handed the binoculars to my husband who said he was looking at a black shape like an upturned canoe and handed the glasses back to me. Shortly after the object submerged and we both agreed we had not been looking at a freak wave but the back of a living creature. And so we agreed with the late Sir Peter Scott and the naturalist Gerald Durrell that there may be a small breeding herd of these creatures which has survived for centuries in the loch.

Kay McGee, 36 Scarba Drive, Glasgow


This small number of accounts is doubtless the tip of the iceberg of encounters that will go unreported and never go beyond the family or perhaps even the eyewitness themselves. I suspect there are overall more unreported accounts than those reported to the media and other publications. 

As far as I can tell, these eight accounts do not appear on the database I use and can be classified as single hump (3), long neck (2), multi-humps (1),  back plus neck (1) and unclassified (1). Two sightings involved binoculars.

Of course, some locals will go their entire lives by the loch never seeing anything unusual which makes me wonder what proportion of the population have seen the beast? I would guess the proportion has been going down over the decades as people live more hurried lives and spend less time looking at the loch, but I am speculating.

Copies of the newsletter can be viewed here.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Sunday 22 November 2020

Bobby the Sea Serpent of Loch Ness


On my usual strolling through the Internet in search of Loch Ness Monster curiosities, I came upon this item for sale on eBay. It was a copy of the Chicago Sunday Times dated 18th March 1934. The item can be found here. You can zoom into the article and read it for yourself, though the seller has only put the first page of the article on display.

By then, the Loch Ness Monster phenomenon was about ten months old and news of this Highland creature was now a worldwide topic of discussion. However, the memory of sea serpent tales from last century lingered in the American mind as the journalist presumed this to be an ocean going monster which had somehow got stranded in the loch. This was a line of thinking which has persisted in some form to this day.

The catalyst for the article was the recent offer of a reward of £20,000 by circus owner Bertram Mills for the capture of the monster with that famous cage to hold her in shown. This equates to £1,440,000 in today's money. The article says this was equivalent to $100,000. What are the odds of getting five US dollars to the pound any time soon? 

Fifty one sightings are referred to, relying on Rupert Gould's compilation researched a few months before. George Spicer's famous land sighting is given not a few words and Arthur Grant and W. Goodbody's sightings are given some publicity too. Spicer's sighting is stated as happening at 4pm.

With reference to its sea serpent characteristics, mention is also made of two sea serpent accounts. The first being the 1915 account of the U-28 submarine commander, Baron Von Forstner, followed by the 1918 account by another submarine commander, Captain Werner Loedisch. Finally, the only photograph of the monster to that point, taking by Hugh Gray, is discussed. 

The other fact of interest is the sentence "What is it which has affectionately has been christened 'Bobby'?". This is a name of the monster which has long been lost to the mists of time as the public coverage of the creature evolved. The origin of this name is likewise a bit of a mystery and even Loch Ness historian, Nicholas Witchell, admitted in his book, "The Loch Ness Story", that he did not know where it came from. 

I have seen the name used of the creature before, but its use is rather fleeting. After all, "Bobby" seems a ridiculous name to use for the monster and this is enough to explain why it faded from view. One clue as to its origin comes from the contemporary sea serpent researcher, .A. C. Oudemans, who says the name was given to the beast by the Daily Mail newspaper on the 12th December 1933. I have not seen the original source, but it nicely ties up with the expedition to the loch by Marmaduke Wetherell which was sponsored by the Daily Mail.

In fact, newspapers of the time stated that Wetherell was to leave London for the loch on the 16th, a few days later. I would therefore speculate that the Daily Mail felt they had to christen the monster which they thought they were about to shed light on - but never did. The name "Bobby" never got past 1934 but what about its better known name of "Nessie"?

Oudemans makes a similar claim for the Daily Mail, saying they first used this name in their Sunday edition dated June 24th 1934. Again, I have no sight of that edition, but further research showed this not to be the case. The oldest reference I found to "Nessie" was from the Edinburgh Evening News dated 9th January 1934, over six months before which discusses the then recent film taken by Malcolm Irvine. In those days, there were no YouTube clips to view, it had to be at the cinema or private cine reel showings.

Looking at the old newspaper archives suggests the name began in Scottish publications and slowly percolated down south to other British newspapers over the years. But I found no 1933 references to the name "Nessie" which makes me wonder if this was a Scottish response to the London Daily Mail's insipid attempt to use "Bobby" only weeks before? This further report from the English Tamworth Herald dated 31st March 1934 shows the name heading south.

Here is a tale of a group of Scottish rugby fans down for the Scotland-England match towing a model monster named "Nessie". Having said this, the Inverness Courier continued to use the appellation "The Loch Ness Monster" or simply "The Monster" since it had come up with this original formulation which has stuck to this day. But what did Loch Ness Monster researchers think of the name "Nessie"?

Rupert T. Gould as far as I can tell, makes no mention of the name "Nessie" is his June 1934 book "The Loch Ness Monster and Others" preferring the term "Loch Ness Monster" which he attributes to the Inverness Courier. It is possible he had not heard of the term from his London base or perhaps he thought it a term too vulgar to use in serious research.

Twenty years later in her book "More than a Legend", Constance Whyte associates it as a name beloved of press reports but regards it as "undignified" preferring again "The Monster" or "The Loch Ness Monster" . However, she thinks it transliterates well with the local Gaelic name for the beast "An Niseag". This aloofness seems to continue with Tim Dinsdale in his first edition book who only mentions "Nessie" once in quote marks in reference to a letter from an eyewitness.

Ted Holiday is more contemptuous of the word when he also mentions it only once in his 1968 "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" when putting it in the context of comic tourist postcards. In fact, Holiday preferred the term "Orm" or "Dragon" on line with his more exotic views. It seems that least in the 1950s and 1960s, the word "Nessie" was not regarded as a label for the monster to be associated with serious research.

Doubtless, other monster hunters have and had their own preferences for how they mixed their monster terms. I myself prefer "Loch Ness Monster" but will also use "Nessie". Thank goodness "Bobby" never caught on,

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Wednesday 11 November 2020

A Close Encounter with Nessie?

I received a message from another Nessie fan, Paolo Boccuccia, about a story he heard back in 1983. This was Paolo's second visit to the loch in four years and he wanted to ask various local people who were older whether they had seen the monster. One lady, who Paolo thinks was a Mrs. McKenzie claimed to have had a land sighting back in the summer of 1922 near Borlum Bay. Paolo from here refers to the notes he made at the time rather than remembering the conversation thirty seven years later.

She stumbled upon this creature which was no more than six feet long and had the general appearance of a salamander but not quite the same. It was very dark in colour and she noticed it had two extended "nostrils" on a head which she described as like that of a snail. Paolo said this reminded him of the famous Greta Finlay sighting of 1952, though the neck did not seem quite as long.

Having watched the creature for a good five minutes, she drew nearer to it and the inertness of the creature made her think it was either dead or asleep. Since she was now so near to it she reached out and touched its tail. She told Paolo it was like touching a snail. Like a flash the animal fled back into the water and she saw two distinct front paddle-like limbs. There is no mention of rear limbs, though that is not an indication that they were not present. She was startled but waited to see if the animal would resurface. She said her hand was slimy.

That is the story and Paolo met Mrs. McKenzie (or Mackenzie) in Drumnadrochit when she would have been about 80 years old. One presumes she was a young woman or teenager back in 1922. She never saw the beast again and, not surprisingly, she was not believed when she told others. One would presume the lady has long passed away and so we have Paolo's account and no more, though I presume she must have told others when the Loch Ness Monster phenomenon took off 11 years after her encounter.

Of course, we have no corroboration of the event and it is really down to the reader to make their own judgement. I have no note of this eyewitness account in my records, though we do have two land sightings at Borlum Bay. One is the famous Margaret Munro account of June 1934 and there is a more terse account of a girl who saw another creature hauled up on the beach in the late 1920s, but that does not sound like this one.

This looks like a third one from that area, though it is placed near the bay which makes me think it happened at the strip of land between the River Tarff and Borlum Bay. I say that because the river bank is tight enough to allow a creature of six feet long and a person could reach out from the undergrowth between the river bank and a path.

Being six feet long, some may be inclined to conclude it was only a seal that she encountered. However, seals do not have snail like heads with protuberances. Neither are they slimy to the touch nor very dark in colour. Which brings me to the uniqueness of this report. She says she touched the Loch Ness Monster. No other account going back over a century or more makes this claim and one presumes the size of the creature allowed this boldness as opposed to a situation where it was in excess of thirty feet long.

A covering of mucus of some description could only be deduced by the sense of touch. If this is a genuine account, what does this indicate? The late Ted Holiday would have seized upon this report as proof of his invertebrate theory of the monster. The fact that he does not mention this report suggests Mrs McKenzie did not report it to the LNIB in the 1960s.

All manner of animals excrete mucus and nearly all fish do which explains their slipperiness. Amphibians also do this as do slugs but it is not so prevalent with reptiles and mammals. It is exuded to help movement, prevent skin drying out, as a defense mechanism and a protection against pathogens. One speculates it is likelier to be the latter for a large creature.

Ted Holiday had something to say about this mucus property in his book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" which championed the giant mollusk theory. He thought he could make out wart vesicles on the skin of the creature photographed by Hugh Gray in 1933. From this and other stories he concluded these vesicles exuded an irritable slime to deter attackers. You may ask why a creature that can grow to fifty foot long would need such protection?

I don't think so and it is debatable what surface features can be resolved on the Hugh Gray creature. My view is that any slime/mucus is more to protect against parasites and so on. Note also our witness, Mrs McKenzie did not state that she suffered any skin complaints after receiving this substance on her skin.

So is this the only instance of an eyewitness becoming a touch-witness? That is something you will have to decide for yourself.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Monday 2 November 2020

Another Book and its relation to the latest Sonar Contact


A month or so ago, I was looking for four small books to complete my collection of Loch Ness Monster books. I wrote on how I got Constance Whyte's 1951 booklet on the monster and now I have obtained a copy of Ben Sensical's 1982 booklet, "Loch Ness: An Explanation". As it happened, I was contacted by another Nessie fan who was lucky enough to have bought a copy last May and he sent me a photo of the cover for my occasionally updated article on Loch Ness Monster books. Fortunately, he was kind enough to let me buy it from him for the price it cost him, so thanks again! That now leaves me with two remaining books to find. I wonder how easy those ones will be to find?

But this booklet turned out to be a well timed purchase given the publicity concerning the latest sonar picture of the Loch Ness Monster taken by Cruise Loch Ness. I say that not in the sense that the author has anything to say about sonar, but because the theory he expounds is being expressed in some form by those trying hard to debunk and dismiss this important sonar contact. To cut to the chase, there is a sceptic by the name of Dick Raynor who was once a believer in monsters in Loch Ness but departed from such a mindset, probably in the 1980s, when scepticism began to rise in influence. This is what he recently said on Steve Feltham's Facebook group:

... there is every reason to recognise this as a sonar target, but there are lots of things that get washed down to the bottom of lakes. The wrapping from silage and straw bales could be carried down by the inflowing river currents and be buoyed up from the bottom by natural gases from the sediment. Genuine sonar target, yes. ID as a 'creature' - I'm not so sure.

How does this connect with Ben Sensical's book? Well, Ben was an advocate of the Vegetable Mat theory to explain monster sightings. This was not a new theory as it had been expounded over twenty years before by Maurice Burton in his 1961 book, "The Elusive Monster". Ben Sensical had spent some time working for the Forestry Commission which took him up to Loch Ness in the 1960s. Using his experience of forestry, he proposed a plausible theory about how various aggregations of organic materials from forests such as leaves and branches can sink to the bottom of the loch, decompose and then rise on their own methane gases to the surface of Loch Ness to form a hump like display. Add a protruding branch to the mass and you have your legendary head and neck. We even get the bonus explanation of gases ejecting horizontally to move the object forward!

Raynor's theory looks to be a variant on this original idea in that it is organic material from agriculture rather than forestry that sinks to the abyssal region of the loch. Furthermore, the material is propelled upwards, but not to the surface. It is not clear whether he is implying that the gases that subsequently buoy up the original material was as a result of the decomposition of this material or from the general sediment.

Burton and Sensical's theory sounded logical enough but out in the field, no one seemed to have ever seen any of these mats of organic matter. One or two would eventually be spotted, though I have yet to see a picture of one. At the time of Sensical's book, the Loch Ness and Morar Project began to conduct ecological studies of the loch under the leadership of Adrian Shine. One paper by them reveals the true state of affairs as regards this phenomenon:

Burton suggested that gas such as methane could bring decaying vegetation, perhaps including branches resembling necks, to the surface. In the main, the Project's work has shown little gas production in deep Loch Ness sediments. There are two exceptional areas, however; one is a small area in Urquhart Bay, and there is a larger one off Fort Augustus, where great quantities of organic material accumulate and emit gas continuously during the summer. On one occasion gas was detected from a source as deep as 97 m, which remained active for two weeks. It seems that vegetable debris, including branches, could break the surface in this particular 'Monster spot'.

So there you have it, the bottom of the loch was not productive enough to generate enough methane gas to energise the effects suggested in Burton's theory. Going back to the current sonar images, it was suggested that the object in the image could be gas bubbles on their own, minus organic debris. This image taken from Adrian's paper shows a trace which bears little resemblance to the recent image. Note this 1988 image was taken at Fort Augustus near this highly productive area. The recent image was taken miles away opposite Invermoriston in an unproductive area.

Further information on gas production was expanded upon in another paper after some work had been done with ROVs at the bottom of the loch:

It can be stated immediately that hours of television observation of the loch floor in deepwater have revealed no more than occasional twigs projecting from the fine silt. If logs are present here, they are a rarity. Intact leaves find their way into the sediment, but at a temperature of 5‑6 oC decomposition is slow. No sign of gas bubbles can be provoked by probing the sediment in front of the camera and no gas has been observed in cores or other mud samples brought rapidly to the surface. Loch Ness should not be visualized as a stagnant pond.

Note here two things. Again, gas production is next to non-existent. Secondly, there was no or little trace of anything which could register on sonar, be it tree trunks, silage or hay bales. It seems that if they even make it to the loch bottom at all, they just sink without trace, never to be seen again. We can now say the same about Dick Raynor's theory. Nevertheless, I am surprised he even suggested this theory. After all, he is put forward as an expert, so why was he not aware of this work by his long time associate, Adrian Shine? Then again, perhaps he was. While we are here, here is another paragraph from the work of the Loch Ness Project sonar work:

In shallow water, Trout have been observed to shoal on the approach of a diver or television camera. Fish concentrate inshore, within the scattering layer and in autumn loose shoals are to be found at the near surface. None has been observed in deep water. Shoals often exhibit 'tails' on echo‑sounder records, due to inter‑reflections between the fish returning over an extended period. Only one of our contacts showed any vertical extent on the record.
Nevertheless, contacts of interest, in terms of strength (sometimes considerable), depth and possible movement, do occur. By establishing a background against which anomalies may be judged, it is recognized that overlaps sometimes exist in all three criteria, with the presence and behaviour of the known fish population. On the other hand, superficially pedestrian explanations, such as a record‑class salmon in the main water column, deep swimming fish shoals and midwater logs, can all be seen to represent anomalies in themselves.

There you have it, anyone trying to fob off this new sonar contact as a big salmon, fish shoal or a floating log is deemed to be peddling "superficially pedestrian explanations" by the Loch Ness Project. We can now add silage and hay bales to the list of superficially pedestrian explanations. 

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Monday 26 October 2020

Adrian Shine describes a good Nessie sonar contact


Back in October 1987 we had the million pound Operation Deepscan run by Adrian Shine. It was a worldwide media event as attention focused on what a line of cruise boats armed with Lowrance sonar units would reveal in the depths of the loch below. If you jump four minutes and zero seconds into this typical media piece on the Loch Ness Monster at this link, it shows an archive piece of Adrian discussing the kind of sonar contact the operation would be looking for. To quote Adrian:

What we really want to see right now is a lovely crescent shape about half way down the chart.

So has Adrian's wish now been fulfilled? That looks like a lovely crescent shape to me. Now speaking of Adrian, in the light of Cruise Loch Ness producing a second, but not as good, sonar image, Craig Wallace of Kongsberg sonar products has offered their services in a more precise search. It looks like my previous article where I suggested his company's products could make a return visit has become a bit prescient.

Well, not quite, he also added "If any groups would be willing to sponsor the attempt, I would love the opportunity to attend with these types of sonar". Sponsors means money and since I stated previously that renting out their equipment and experts could run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds, that needs a commercial company or government agency to stump up the cash. Like Operation Deepscan, the equivalent of the Highland and Islands Development Board could stump up the cash to restimulate the Highland economy after the covid-19 recession. If they get stingy and just go for a week's operation, this could backfire.

Going back to Adrian, Kongsberg used the local expertise of Adrian and the Loch Ness Project when they last ran tests here. If this becomes an "official" search for the Loch Ness Monster, who do you want as the spokesman for the hunt? A believer or an unbeliever? My money would be on Steve Feltham. The Loch Ness Project can still offer their services, but they are never going to interpret any sonar data as a large, unknown animal! And, Steve, catfish do not tend to be 15-20 feet long, the record for a catfish is about nine feet long. Whatever this is, it would eat that catfish for lunch.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Thursday 22 October 2020

The Latest Sonar Contact of Nessie


It has been a while since we had a sonar contact story from Loch Ness, but we have a good one here. The Mail on Sunday got a hold of the story and published on the 5th October. The gist of the main story is reproduced here for the record (these original links do sometimes disappear after a while) and I suspect the original print article had more information:

A sonar has detected a mystery 30ft long shape 500ft below the surface of Loch Ness - immediately sparking excited speculation from Nessie hunters. The 'solid and pretty big' sonar contact was picked up by a boat owned by Cruise Loch Ness. The mystery creature is likely to feed on trout and eels at the bottom of the loch, which has the largest volume of freshwater in Britain.

Director Ronald Mackenzie, 48, said: 'Who knows what it is, there is quite a lot of fish at the bottom of the loch, there is carnivorous trout and eels. I believe that there is something big living deep down in the Loch, who knows what it can be but I would love to think it's Nessie. It is something which is feeding on eels or trout. It is quite unusual.'

The mass was picked up around 4pm on Wednesday when Ronald was skippering a boat with technology from two years ago, about six miles from Fort August. The father-of-three added: 'A sonar expert has looked at it and says it's genuine. There is definitely something there. I'm going to give the image to the company which made the equipment to look at.

There were 18 'confirmed' sightings of the monster last year, making it the busiest year for claimed sightings since the peak of Nessie-mania in 1983. Last September, researchers from New Zealand claimed that the Loch Ness Monster could be a large eel, extracting DNA from water samples to test for this. Research carried out in 2018 revealed that the mythical creature is worth £41 million a year to the Scottish economy.

The Sun newspaper adds a few more details from Duncan:

We were at our halfway point off Invermoriston, where we turn around. The water is 620ft deep there. The passengers were quite excited because we had just spotted a sea eagle, but then I saw on the sonar something more eye-catching. It was right in the middle of the loch at about 558ft down. It was big – at least 33ft. The contact lasted 10 seconds while we passed over.  I’ve been on the loch since I was 16 years old and I have never seen anything like it. We have real state-of-the-art sonar on the new boat. It doesn’t lie. It captures what’s there. All the dots nearer the surface are shoals of Arctic char and deeper down there are ferox trout, so it gives you a good idea of the size of this large crescent shape.
Cruise Loch Ness posted the day after on their own Facebook page and monster hunter, Steve Feltham, has also been pushing this sonar contact on his own blog and talks about his involvement in persuading Ronald to release the image to the mainstream media. Cruise Loch Ness have been in the news before with their sonar contacts. Back in September 2011, Marcus Atkinson recorded an unusual trace near Urquhart Castle which generated some headlines as well. That article can be read here and is part of a sequence of articles over the last ten years following news of various anomalous contacts. I also wrote on their cruise business last year here.

I am not sure whether Ronald believes this is the Loch Ness Monster, but as a director of the cruise company he was keen to send it off for analysis to the manufacturers of the sonar hardware and we await further information. The article initially estimates the length of the object as ten metres or about thirty feet, which is a typical Nessie size. I blew up the image to full screen size and using a simple ruler against the depth axis you can see on the right hand side, an estimate of the area the object notionally occupies on the screen can be made. This comes out as about 2.3 metres per millimetre giving us a horizontal extent of about 9.3 metres and a vertical extent of about 3.4 metres or thirty by eleven feet.

I say notionally because dimensions are not all they seem on a sonar display. The depth at about five hundred feet can be taken as accurate enough using the depth scale. I estimate the object is at a depth of about 175 metres and the bottom of the loch is at 188 metres, so the object is about 570 feet deep and about 43 feet off the bottom. The problem is whether the object is actually thirty foot long and eleven foot thick and this lies in the fact that a sonar image is not like an optical image because though the vertical axis measures depth in metres, the horizontal axis measure time.

So what you may intuitively think is a large underwater mountain to the right of the creature is nothing of the sort for the loch is a flat basin. What actually happens is that the sonar machine under the boat sends out sound pulses at regular intervals at a frequency of 200KHz which are echoed back and analysed by the onboard hardware. Sonar records variations in density (water, gas, solid) and so what is rendered on the screen shows such variations. Now since animal flesh is mainly water, it does not register so well. In fact, when it comes to registering fish, it is their gas filled swim bladders that display the strongest signals on the screen. If this anomalous trace is a swim bladder, the overall creature would be enormous. But we do not know if it is a swim bladder.
Nevertheless, looking at the smaller specks on the screen, at the top near the surface and around the bottom, we can take these to be char, trout and eels amongst others. If relative size is anything to go by, then that gives us another ruler estimate that the contact is ten to fifteen times bigger than the fish contacts. Large fish sizes at Loch Ness can vary from one to three feet or more. But remember it is just the area of largest density variation that is being displayed. The actual object could be multiple times longer than the trace size and the more accurate vertical measure of over three metres is itself an indication of something large in the horizontal.

Going back to the overall trace, I can't quite remember if the constantly updating screen display goes from right to left or left to right. I will plump for left to right which means the oldest part of the display is on the right. Based on that assumption, we can see how the boat moved from deep water to the shore where the side wall of the loch rises to a depth of zero metres. Obviously, the sonar can only register land mass that is in water and not above. The peak then tails off and drops back down to about 200 metres and this is consistent with the testimony that they had reached the halfway point and turned around to head back into deeper waters.

The object then makes its appearance and then the contour of the loch begins to rise again suggesting the boat was moving a bit closer to land for a time, but not as close. I recall on my trip we stopped just off the Horseshoe Scree which is a bit south and opposite to Invermoriston. One well known Nessie sceptic who analysed this image suggested the new rising contour was the opposite side of the loch and hence this image was a complete profile of the loch bed from west to east. Using the known width of the loch at this point he calculated the object's width was a gigantic 50 metres - a number designed to cast doubt. This is incorrect as the boat would not have crossed that far over. This is an erroneous interpretation verging on disinformation and so we shall move swiftly on.

The next issue is the time axis and the dimensions of the creature. For example, if the object had stayed under the boat and tracked the same route as the boat, it would never leave the screen and form a long streak. One may presume the vertical size of the object would remain fairly constant. If it went off at a perpendicular direction to the boat, we may have a somewhat extended version of the object. However, looking at the zoom in of the object and its uniform crescent shape, there is a symmetry to the shape which suggests to me that it was closer to stationary that in motion. Note that smaller fish can also register this kind of crescent shape which may suggest a similar motion, though on this screen they are too small to be clear.

Since the horizontal axis is time, it does not measure distance. The display screen shows that the speed of the boat at the time of the snapshot was 10.7 knots or 12.3 mph or 18 feet per second. The witness states "the contact lasted 10 seconds while we passed over". So the object is bound within a maximum sonar cone with a diameter of 180 feet. But it is not clear what the speed was when over the object as the 10.7 knots was displayed further on and this would have been the speed quoted in the article. Since the boat would be heading off from a standing start at the turnaround point, it would be gaining in speed until the contact was hit. One assumption in all this is that one second of updating on the sonar screen display equates to one second of boat travel, which is not actually certain.
So what could it be? A large bubble of gas? The low decomposition rates and high water pressure at the bottom of the loch mitigate against this. Even if it was a gas release, this would travel upwards and so a angled vertical streak should be visible on the display as it heads up. A tree trunk floating over forty feet above the bottom? The abyssal plain of Loch Ness is very quiet and does not invite the kind of underwater currents that stir the waters above at the thermocline. To put it bluntly, no one has observed this phenomenon and it is not clear what a waterlogged tree trunk would look like on sonar as the variation in density with the surrounding water is far from that of a gas filled swim bladder. A shoal of fish seems unlikely at this depth and looks too "dense" to portray a loose aggregation of fish.
The manufacturers of the sonar will give their own analysis, but initial suggestions via Steve Feltham is that they think it is not a group of fish and it is likely a solid object between fifteen and twenty foot long. I would inquire as to whether that "solid" refers exclusively to the possible gas filled void or a larger estimate?

Now having considered various alternative explanations, one question to ask is where are all the other sonar contacts like this? If this is the best sonar contact in decades and we have various sonar-equipped boats sweeping the loch most days of the year, why have other similar contacts not been captured? Does the monster only pop up from the depths of the silt laden bottom a few times a year? That does not seem consistent with the amount of eyewitness testimonies on the surface over the last 87 years.

I suspect sonar hits such as this should not be as rare as the record suggests. I went over the discussions I have had with the Cruise Loch Ness crew in times past and this does indeed seem to be the case. When I went on a trip with them in April 2016, I was told by a crew member that they get large, anomalous sonar reading perhaps once every two years. On a return trip last year, a similar discussion with one of the older staff led to the statement that the boats have had about 600 sonar contacts over 10 years, most of those which were GPS tagged and when revisited were gone. That is one on average every week. Moreover, one crew member said he had once seen a sonar contact on the screen which required his thumb to cover it. That sounds similar to this latest contact!

That does not mean ever single contact is a monster, but I took a shot of an interesting blip on the sonar screen that day in 2016 which I reproduce below. The circular blip is seen above the big number "6". Measuring the object against the depth axis again gives a vertical extent of 3.33 metres or about eleven feet. The depth is estimated at about 130 metres or 420 feet. It is not as good as the latest image, but if I got that on a rare trip, what other interesting game changing images have Cruise Loch Ness obtained over the months and years but never get published? I was told that one of the senior crew has a private collection of these images collected over the years. I would love it if he released the best images to all Loch Ness researchers with no fear or favour for us all to pour over. 

The point being such a collection - not a single rare image - confirms that if there are large creatures swimming deep in the loch, you are not going to get one hit every thirty years. It is going to be a regular event and the images will range from interesting but inconclusive to very interesting and positive evidence. Let's face it, boats may be obtaining these sonar traces a lot more frequently than supposed, but they do not make it into the public domain unless they are more impressive.
So Steve Feltham says this is game changing evidence and "potentially the best indisputable evidence for large unidentified animals swimming about in Loch Ness". I think what constitutes best evidence in the eyes of each Nessie follower can be influenced by what genre they regard as most important be it video, picture, sonar or testimony. 

But I would say game changing evidence is determined with hindsight. For example, the Tim Dinsdale film was game changing evidence. We know this by what happened in the years following. Because people from all levels of society reacted to it in terms of attitudes and actions. The Loch Ness Investigation Bureau and all the other expeditions of the 1960s would not have happened if that film never saw the light of day. That is what I call game changing. Will this sonar contact have the same effect? I am not so sure.

I say that because we live in a much more sceptical age and the activity of the 1960s is unlikely to be reproduced as a result of evidence today. People are harder to convince today. What we may hope for is a like for like reaction. Various sonar manufacturers in the past have visited the loch to test their equipment. This may encourage some more to mount a more thorough and technical visit. However, the issue here is that the loch is already regularly swept by sonar by the various tourist boats from the top to the bottom of the loch and I suggest there are enough sonar images in the public eye or held in private. What are another few boats going to add?

The reaction has to be in superior equipment deployed at the loch such as the cutting edge Kongsberg family of autonomous underwater vehicles such as the MUNIN variant shown below which was trialed at Loch Ness back in 2016 when it found the remains of the 1969 Sherlock Holmes movie monster prop. The ability of this device to approach objects and areas of interest and thus produce more detailed sonar images is an obvious advantage to surface bound emitters.

The quality of the prop image below means a real monster could be resolved from a mere crescent shape to something approaching its real shape and form. There is however one problem as I found out when I contacted Kongsberg. If you want to buy such a sonar torpedo, it will set you back about £1,750,000 ($2,300,000). What if we just rented it for the duration of the search? That would be about £8,000 per day ($10,500) not including the specialists you would have to pay for to operate the complex equipment. 

That is probably not surprising for such cutting edge equipment and one would also have to consider how long the UAV would have to be deployed for in order to finally obtain a viable target to pursue? Days, weeks or months? A month's rent would cost £240,000! Also, could the monster out swim the maximum speed of the unit which is about six knots (7 mph)? Clearly, throwing such a large amount of money at this heightened level of search carries its own risks.

How game changing does evidence have to be to move some tech company, rich individual or sponsor company to put their resources or money at the loch's disposal? Only time will really tell on that score.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com