Wednesday 13 October 2021

An Interesting Video from 1992


It was back in August 1992, that the British ITN news network channel ran an item on their late news program. It was the latest piece of video taken of a strange looking object in Loch Ness. To be more precise, in Urquhart Bay. The item caused a bit of a flurry at the time, but as with most pieces of monster evidence, it soon faded from view. 

Unfortunately, back in those days, if you didn't see it at the time, you were not likely to see it at all. At the time, I was working for a software company just outside London. My preferred channel for getting the news was the BBC, so I missed it. There was no Internet of any substance to publicize the event, no YouTube to rerun the video, and were there any discussion groups to tell others about it? There was email, but how many had email addresses in 1992?

Furthermore, my own interest in the Loch Ness Monster was at a low ebb as I concentrated on my career and had not been at the loch for about eight years, Also, the 1990s was generally not a great decade for positive discussions about large creatures in the loch (the top book of that decade was the expose of the Surgeon's Photograph). If I had been still subscribing to Rip Hepple's Nessletter, I would have eventually learnt of it in his January 1993 edition (No.111).

Finding sources 29 years on will always prove difficult without specific details. Internet archives tend to have a blind spot around the 1990s in my experience. It is just before media began to go online and the paper to digital archiving services seem to be busier with earlier decades. Thankfully, we have another contemporary source and that is Malcolm Robinson's Enigmas newsletter which was published under the banner of his Strange Phenomena Investigations organisation or SPI. The Nov-Dec 1992 issue ran an article on the video which we shall refer to later. Malcolm is known in Nessie circles for his 2016 book, The Monsters of Loch Ness.

As to the actual footage, it has been preserved for us via Nessie documentaries of the time with one preserved in YouTube at this link about 14:40 minutes in. It was fellow Nessie enthusiast, Alan McKenna, who contacted me about this old camcorder footage, and I thank him for also creating the clip of the video below. As you can see, the footage begins with part of the ruins of Castle Urquhart, but the eyewitness' attention is soon drawn to something out in the waters of the bay. 

Alan also improved the video clip to introduce a degree of stabilization to help us analyse the sequence more readily. This is shown below.

But, having initially thought any newspaper story on this was beyond reach, Steve Feltham came to the rescue with a clipping from the Sun newspaper dated August 17th, which he had kept since that day and which he sent to me. The story is reproduced below.

Amateur snapper may have filmed monster


AN amateur cameraman may have filmed the Loch Ness Monster by mistake - while telly newsman Nicholas Witchell splashed out a fortune trying to find it.

Nessie experts - who admit the film shows a large water-living animal — have used hi-tech gear to enhance the pictures. You can see the result for yourself when the clip is shown on all of today's ITN's news programmes and STV and Grampian bulletins. The cameraman - who doesn't want to be named - thought he was filming a diver splashing about in the water. He trained his £400 camera on it for a few seconds before getting on with the rest of his summer holiday. But when he played the tape back at home in Balornock, Glasgow, he realised it was something much more exciting. He said: "At first I thought it was a man pushing something in front of him but then realised it was too big to be a diver. I don't believe in monsters myself and want to remain nameless so I don't become the butt of jokes in the pub."

But two mates who were on holiday with him have backed up the Nessie claims. Ian Hay and Arthur Alcorn are convinced their pictures prove the monster does exist. The startling piece of film shows a dark-coloured object thrashing about in the loch around 300 yards from shore. It has now been passed on to a team of university boffins in Glasgow. They used the latest electronic gear to try and solve the riddle and say it's definitely a living creature.

Team chief Peter Meadows - Glasgow University's senior zoology lecturer - said; "I was extremely sceptical when I first looked at the film. But I have now studied it and I'm amazed. There is definitely some form of water-living creature there." Two weeks ago we revealed a huge object tracked by newsreader Witchell may have been a 20 year-old model. The fake Nessie was made as an April Fool Joke by prankster students. It sank as soon as it with launched. 

Ian Hay and Arthur Alcorn

As to the question of how the video ends, it looks like the video simply ended when the owner concluded it was a diver and stopped or panned away. That was not an explanation proffered by anyone, but the owner discounted it himself later. I would agree it does not look like a person swimming. The phrase "a few seconds" also suggests there is little in the way of unseen footage. 

However, there are a couple of unknowns. There is a statement that "Nessie experts" used technology to enhance the pictures. Of this, we know next to nothing. Was the video seen on ITN enhanced or was it the original? I suspect they are just referring to video player equipment which can host a camcorder tape and has slow motion play, etc. The second unknown are pictures taken by his friends, Ian Hay and Arthur Alcorn. These may prove valuable in analyzing the object as a camera image will be more stable and of better resolution.

Getting to see such pictures is usually a difficult endeavor after such a long time. A look at the statutory records shows an Arthur Alcorn died at the age of 61 in Glasgow in 2009. This would appear to be one of our photographers and so the task becomes finding his next of kin. Ian Hay is a more common name and so more difficult to find him on the Internet. A resolution of this problem will have to be left to another day.

The quoted expert is Professor Peter Meadows who seems convinced of the film, but no other expert is quoted despite them being mentioned in the plural, it seems he was the "team chief" of the experts. So having perhaps viewed the video yourself, we will go onto those opinions as Malcolm Robinson hit the phones for his article.

First was the previously mentioned Professor Peter Meadows of Glasgow University stated as the senior lecturer in marine biology there.Again, he said he was initially sceptical of the film, but the more he watched it, the more it did not match anything he had ever seen before. He suggested the monster could be a warm blooded fresh water animal in the range of four and twelve feet in length. He ruled out seals, logs or waves and was very impressed by the video. I note that Professor Meadows was involved in the 1960s sonar work at Loch Ness.

Next up in the telephone directory was Professor Archie Roy of the Astronomy Department of the same university. He had seen the video on the news and was also of the opinion it was no wave but was not prepared to speculate further. This led to phone calls to two people who took a different view of affairs and are well known to Nessie researchers.

First was Steuart Campbell, who had published his sceptical book on the monster a few years before. Steuart was convinced that what we had here was "a rare interference effect between wakes". Since the video shows the wakes of previously passing boats, a scenario arises where these waves meet and constructively interfere results in a bulge of travelling water where the white portion is breaking waters. Steuart also stated a steep sided loch helps in these matters and he believes this is the first time such an effect has been filmed at the loch.

To complete the roster came Adrian Shine. He agreed with Steuart that a wave effect had been seen. However, unlike Steuart's observation that such effects were rare, Adrian said he saw such a thing a few weeks before. He also thought the poor contrast of the film added to the illusion of a solid object. Interestingly, Adrian said he was told by ITN that the original video had been mistakenly destroyed when being analysed! At this point in time, perhaps Adrian could be described as sceptically undecided on what the monster may be. 

So, we had two for and two against. Malcolm cast the deciding vote and went with Campbell and Shine. The other source mentioned before was Rip Hepple's Nessletter. Rip confessed he had not seen the ITN piece but subscribers wrote to him with the unanimous opinion it was yet again a wave effect and nothing more was said about it.

So now let us take a look at this video nearly three decades on. I will confess first that I have seen the video before Alan contacted me. I don't know where and when, but at the time I also put it down as a wave effect and moved swiftly on. Now I am not so dismissive of this clip. However, we do lack some context here. There may be some missing video, so some vital piece of information may be missing, but the quality of the video is likely inferior to the original.

So all we really have are the clips above which I played over a number of times with certain things in my mind. The idea of constructively interfering boat wakes to produce unexpectedly large waves is a perfectly valid theory. However, my thinking is that something is missing. In the video we can see two wakes above and below the water disturbance. Steuart's explanation of wakes interacting and interfering obviously begs the question of where are these interacting waves?

If you look closer, you can see typical boat wakes around but well beyond this object. This water disturbance has a very solitary look to it with nothing around it to suggest waves coming together. In fact, I cannot see anything indicating this is the product of constructively interfering wakes. Therefore, in my opinion, this interpretation of what is in the video should be dropped.

Where does this leave us? Actually, still stuck in the domain of general wave effects, as Adrian Shine more cautiously put it. One could add windrows, cats paws and wind devils, but I do not think anyone is suggesting these. That leaves one more proposed theory and that is soliton waves. These are an unusual phenomenon where the bow of a vessel can under certain circumstances generate a standing wave which can travel for long distances without deformation or diminution. 

They are generated when a boat reaches what is called the Froude Height, which can be calculated for certain bodies of water. This basically equates to the speed of the bow waves in that water. That speed is given by the equation below where V is the speed of the wave, g is the acceleration due to gravity and h is the depth of the water below.

If this water disturbance in the loch is a soliton wave and since it is very deep at that point out in the loch, I estimate about 100m deep, then the speed comes out at about 31 metres per second or about 70mph or 60 knots. It is fair to say that the object in this video is not going at anywhere like that speed. Though I suppose one may argue that it is a soliton in its death throes.

The next equation is the Froude Depth and when this number reaches 1, a soliton wave is produced. Or to put is more simply, when the boat catches up with its own bow wave, the soliton takes shape. That will happen when the boat speed equals the wave speed. As we saw, this was about 70mph on that part of the loch. Needless to say, no regular boats do that kind of speed on the loch. The usual cruisers don't go much above 11 knots and even the fast RIB boats only go up to the 40 knots. Even if they did reach such speeds, it is doubtful that the loch is narrow enough to allow solitons.

That does not mean soliton waves are impossible at the loch but they are more likely to occur at shallower depths around the narrower rivers and canals. Assuming a depth of about 3-4 metres in those parts, soliton waves could theoretically be produced. In fact, the first soliton wave was observed in the Union Canal in Edinburgh by John Scott Russell in 1834.

If a boat was at its Froude Depth as it entered the loch from the north or south waterways, it is conceivable that in some circumstances, a soliton wave could enter the loch. But how it would look and behave as it entered deeper waters is a matter of speculation. One would also expect it to be quite close to the originating boat unless the boat stopped or dropped speed when docking. I am no expert in wave dynamics, but that is the way I see it.

Of course, some other wave theory could be brought to the fore, I invite comments to that effect. Meantime, what is to be made of what we see minus the water effects? If I could describe some abstract object to explain what I was looking at, it was like one of those dumbbells you see in old strongmen pictures - except they are buoyant and bobbing along but also rotating about each other, one sphere submerging while other bobs up. A bit strange, but the best I could sum it up.

Alan thinks he can see a long dark neck at about 40 seconds in the second enhanced video but I am not sure if it is shadow or solid. Could these two "dumbbells" be construed as humps? Perhaps, though I am trying to think of another eyewitness report which describes two humps moving in this mutually "orbital" fashion. I do recall some reports from the 1930s where one hump would go round in circles, but not two. If it was alive, one would think two creatures were involved. It is a hard image to interpret in biological terms, though just defaulting to our wonderful shape shifting water seems too simplistic and lazy to me.

Double hump sightings form a good proportion of the total reports, indeed, the Aldie Mackay report which began the modern trend was such a sighting (below). It is not always clear whether one or two creatures are involved, it partly depends on how far apart they are. The video "humps" seem too far apart to be connected, but this is something one cannot be sure about.

As to size, there is a lack of frame of reference to make an estimate, though if it is as far out in the bay as it looks, it is likely as big as one of the boats that regularly traverse the loch. The white water breakers can be as much at home breaking against a solid object as they are part of a bigger water formation. Perhaps there is more to this footage than meets the eye, but whether we can take this further forward may be down to an erudite comment from a reader or two.

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