Tuesday 27 December 2022

The Believing Sceptic

Today, the debate about the Loch Ness Monster is to be found scattered across various websites and forums, but particularly on the various discussion groups set up on Facebook over recent years. Gone are the days when books from recognised experts or occasional updates from newsletters plus some headlines on TV or newspapers shaped the debate. I use the word "shaped" as there would not have been much in the way of open debate unless newsletters published readers' letters several months later - a bit slow by any measure.

Who shapes or controls the debate is important as that can influence sufficient followers of the mystery down one path or the other. Back in the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s, the plesiosaur believing cadre more or less held sway with the odd side path down to invertebrates, the paranormal and scepticism. The number of believers swelled as the plesiosaur meme took hold in society and even the unconvinced thought it at least bore further study.

Then came the sceptical times and the narrative shifted the other way as those who did not think there were any exotic beasts in Loch Ness took control of the debate. I would symbolically place the start of this era with Tim Dinsdale's final edition of "Loch Ness Monster" and Ronald Binns' "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved" about 1982-83. This was kept going by the publications of people like Adrian Shine, Steuart Campbell, Tony Harmsworth and Boyd/Martin. By the turn of the century and the coming of social media, the debate became democratic as anyone could enter and have their say, thus both sides lost control.

The ensuing melee led to a certain degree of uncertainty when the difference between speculation, deduction and empirical facts could become blurred, depending on who you are reading. The well defined channels of control warp as more heat than light can be generated, the inane and ridiculous enter, repetition is indulged and anonymous trollers seek to disrupt and deceive. In the midst of all this, reasonable people ask reasonable questions and may get reasonable answers, but the innate bias in all of us to push our own agendas is never far away.

Having watched the debates ebb and flow over the years in various Facebook groups, and participated in not a few of them, there was one underlying theme which was evident to me, perhaps to others as well and it regarded the matter of purported photographs of the Loch Ness Monster. If you're going to have a debate, then you need a subject. If you wish to offer speculations and opinions, you need the raw data and nothing adds grist to the mill like a digital or silver nitrate image showing something unusual somewhere on Loch Ness.

Which brings me to the tentative title of this piece. The classic photographs of the monster turn up frequently in group discussions. In fact, they tend to turn up too frequently sometimes. One thread of debate finishes and before you know it another turns up a few weeks later asking the same questions, perhaps an FAQ archive of appropriate discussions would be appropriate. That is mainly down to the way discussions can quickly disappear from the top page and scroll out of sight once the last comment is made. Another reason is multiple groups not knowing what the other is doing. 

But whatever the reason, I wondered how the modern brand of monster believer differed from the ones that frequented the scene in the 1930s or the 1970s? One main difference for me is the fact that they have been exposed to a level of sceptical rhetoric not seen by the two previously mentioned generations. They have seen the writings of Shine, Campbell and Binns plus the various websites of other sceptics which dot the digital landscape. The general sceptical arguments and the specific arguments against cryptids are posted, read and processed on the forums, they have an effect, seen and unseen. But that is the way of it, multiple opinions on all sides are read and we all process, filter and file them in our own particular ways.

Let me get to the centre of the argument here and I am concentrating on the photographs here. Imagine for a moment that there are no cine films, videos, sonar or whatever else - only still images. This genre gets panned regularly by the sceptics on the forums, but also by various people who believe in the Loch Ness Monster. Well, that is okay you might say, we're not going to be the gullible believers of the 1930s and 1970s, we are going to be enquiring and critical believers who don't jump at the latest evidence without having a good look at it.

Now, I do not have trouble with people assessing the latest item of evidence and putting it through some stress tests (though some of the stress tests need stress testing themselves). After all, there is some rubbish out there passing for evidence of the Loch Ness Monster.  However, it is the approach to retro-analysis of evidence going all the way back to 1933 that bears thinking here. Some people are digging themselves into a hole they will not get out of.

What do I mean by that? In such debates, it is usually the case that a sceptic will turn up with their prepared arguments about why this photograph and that photograph should be rejected as evidence. Their motive here is not to apply the fine sieve of logic in the search for the best evidence. Their motive is to trash all and every piece of evidence by fair means or foul. People say we need sceptics to keep us on our toes and grounded in some kind of reality. I can see the reasoning there but I do not think they think they are there to keep you on your toes. Since day one, they have been there for one reason only and that is to turn you into one of them.

Maybe you think you are nimble enough to outwit them with a bit of ducking and diving? Perhaps like those crowds on the Pamplona bull runs of Spain, you think running alongside will sharpen your reactions and fitness - until they stick their horns in you and you become an ex-runner. But let me now list most of the photographs presented as evidence for the Loch Ness Monster since the media story began.

N. Dundas, Hugh Gray - 1933

Kenneth Wilson, Alistair Cummings, Anonymous (Daily Express), Mountain Expedition - 1934

Gordon Powell - 1936

John King (?) - 1938

Lachlan Stuart - 1951

Peter MacNab - 1955

Herman Cockrell - 1958

R. Lowrie, Peter O'Connor - 1960

Peter Hodge - 1964

Frank Searle - 1972 to 1976

Tony Shiels - 1977

Jennifer Bruce - 1982

Alex Crosbie - 1987

Anonymous (Daily Mail) - 1992

Helen Cowers, Andrew Wallace - 1993

Richard White - 1997

Alex Crosbie - 2000

James Gray - 2001

Roy Johnson - 2002

William Jobes - 2010

John Rowe, Jonathan Bright - 2011

Kate Powell - 2016

This is not a complete list of still photographs as some are not known to me such as those only seen in physical newspapers which were too late for the pro-Nessie books of the 1970s and too early for the Internet of the 2000s. Others are the masses of mobile phone pictures of distant objects which are not even worth marking as inconclusive. To be clear, I am not suggesting every photo listed here genuinely shows one of these creatures. I am saying this is the entire list as I can best create it totaling at least twenty nine pictures over eighty three years.

So, the best known of these pictures have been dismissed with various explanations. Dogs, swans, dolphins, windrows, hay bales, boat wakes, sticks, hoax models, birds and debris. Looking over the Internet discussions on such pictures over the years, it became apparent that some people who believed in the Loch Ness Monster were accepting these sceptical explanations. The appropriate description may be the oxymoronic tag of sceptical believers, a tension between two positions. Are some on the road to becoming believing sceptics?

You may have noticed I did not include the underwater photographs of 1972 and 1975 produced by the AAS team of Robert Rines in the list above. The reason for that was because I am only considering surface photographs here which leads me to the main statement here. If you do not believe any of the above photographs you know about portray the Loch Ness Monster, then you have implicitly admitted there is no Loch Ness Monster. You may well be a dead man walking, going through the motions and the hole you have dug for yourself will become a grave as you finally move into full blown scepticism.

Are these harsh words, exaggerated sentiments or something closer to the truth? This brings us to the central question. Statistically speaking, how many surface photographs would you expect to have been  taken of the Loch Ness Monster since 1933? The answer is of course not calculable since we are not in full possession of all the required facts. There are over 1000 eyewitness reports of which we can say certain things:

  1. A proportion are misidentification or hoax.
  2. A proportion have witnesses with a camera to hand.
  3. A proportion use it and take some snaps.
  4. A proportion do not come out due to distance or malfunction.
  5. A proportion do not publish them.

You can play around with these numbers and come out with a varying number of photographs, but what proportions do you use to arrive at zero? Perhaps you decide 50% of these 1000 reports are real, 30% had a camera, 50% used them, 70% turned out and 80% published. That gives you forty two pictures over eighty three years. Or maybe you turn the screws and decide only 10% of sightings are viable, 20% had a camera, 50% were used, 30% turned out and 90% published. That gives you about three pictures. However, the more one turns the screws on the accounts to justify their position that no still photos have ever been taken, the more they diminish their own reasons to believe in the monster.

But then you may name the Taylor, Dinsdale, Raynor, Smith or Holmes films as your particular favourite piece of evidence. But how can that position be justified? If you think all of the pictures ever presented are inadmissible as evidence, how can you expect zero photos but any number of films? Since still cameras have been more abundant that cine cameras over this period, statistically we should expect more photographs that film or video footage. 

Finally, you may retreat to the underwater photos, the various sonar contacts or maybe just the best of the verbal eyewitness accounts which had no recording device. But again, it does not matter how good these are since the way eyewitnesses describe what they see on the surface demands that such scenes are photographable. You cannot escape the conclusion - if you cannot in good faith name some good photographs from nearly ninety years as positive evidence, you have implicitly said there is no monster.

I do not know who is or is not on the edge of this as I do not know anyone who would confess that none of those twenty nine photos are of the Loch Ness Monster - apart from sceptics of course. I know my position on that list and it is at least sixteen out of the twenty nine. Where do you stand? Shoulder to shoulder with every sceptical attempt to erase such history or on the side of the testimony of the cameras as well as the eyewitnesses?

Comments can also be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Sunday 18 December 2022

Loch Ness Mystery


Back in 2012 when I first started compiling a list of books about the Loch Ness Monster, there was one book which continued to prove elusive and that was "Loch Ness Mystery" authored by Captain Donald Munro in 1938 and the fifth book published on the monster chronologically. You can find the book list at this link and a profile of Donald Munro at this link.

This is a follow up to the Donald Munro article which mentioned that he had published this booklet on the Loch Ness Monster, explaining his views on the creature and more importantly, proposing plans and costs for up to three camera stations placed at strategic points around the loch in the attempt to obtain conclusive photographs or cine film footage of these mysteries of the loch. The aforementioned book list had a blank image for Munro's booklet with the explanation: 

Why no image? I can't find a copy of this book for love nor money! Not even the mighty National Library of Scotland or British Library have it.

As you can see by the image at the top of the article, I have found that booklet after looking for it on and off for ten years. I would say it did not require any love or money to find it. Anyway, it is a humble affair, consisting of a mere six pages of text, not including the above cover. You can read the pages yourself below where I reproduce them and make some further remarks.

First is the confession that Donald Munro was brought up in the Fort Augustus area of Loch Ness fifty years before. He says that reports of a strange creature in the loch began about that time in the 1880s. I wish he had said more about this statement as he admits that as a kid back then, he didn't know about it. He was born in 1865, so would have been aged between fifteen and twenty five during the 1880s. 

A Times newspaper article from 14th June 1938 says he joined the navy in 1880, so it looks like he missed all the fun, nevertheless he sounds a bit sceptical of Nessie putting in an appearance back then as he insists that John Murray's bathymetric survey of the loch would have surely seen the creature. I don't agree with that assessment myself, having the benefit of hindsight of another eighty four years,  the monster is more elusive than that.

Munro speculates on various aspects of the possible identity and behaviour of the creature and perhaps wisely stands back from nominating a direct candidate having observed various reported features in a diversity of animals that Munro had had close contact with himself on his various naval journeys. For instance, the sensitivity of the creature to noise was something Munro noted in large marine creatures across the oceans.

Another debate concerning whether the creature could lay close to the surface of the loch, largely unobserved unless one is in close proximity to it, was also something Donald notes in his observations of other aquatic creatures. Food supply is then discussed and then the manner in which the best observational conditions could be achieved and what needs to be primarily observed.

At this point, Munro's experience as a maritime man who knew observation was an important skill when all around you was water, brings in his suggestion of observation posts around the loch. The concept itself is pretty simple and had already been done to varying degrees from individual observers up to the twenty men of the Edward Mountain expedition of July 1934. It is noted that the Mountain group was also organised on the ground by another military man, Captain James Fraser.

Munro attempted to define carefully a working setup, down to equipment and men required and how they would be employed plus the final costs. Those costs were to be raised from a shares subscription under a limited liability company of a cost of one shilling per share with an initial total capital of £1500 to be raised - or a total of 30,000 shares (20 shillings to the pound in old pre-decimal money).

It seems that the endeavour only managed to raise a mere £90, despite the prestigious London Times publicising it and other respectable newspapers. In today's money, the target £1,500 would be about £80,000 and if 1938 was 2022, he would have been more likely to seek crowd funding for such a venture. But events were against Donald Munro's project.

The country was still recovering from a major economic depression and so money was short plus the dark clouds of war were already diverting the attention of the public to more serious matters. Three months before, Nazi Germany had occupied Austria and would occupy the Sudetenland four months later. Europe would be plunged into war 15 months after Munro published his proposals and that was the end of any venture that was regarded as not necessary to the war effort.

As it happened, even if the funds were raised, Loch Ness would become an area under military restrictions and you needed a good reason to be there. Back in 2010, this blog began and acquired the web address lochnessmystery,blogspot.com. It wasn't a direct tribute to Donald Munro, the address lochnessmonster.blogspot.com had already been taken (and looks long abandoned by its owner). However, I cannot recall why I choose that name. Perhaps there was a subconscious recall of Captain Donald Munro's long forgotten booklet?

So have a look at the writings of a man whose ideas preceded those of the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau by a quarter of a century. I use the google chrome browser and to enlarge each booklet page, I click on an image below, right click and select "Open image in new tab" and then click on that to zoom in.

Comments can also be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Tuesday 22 November 2022

Did James Gray photograph a car bumper?


Whenever close up pictures purporting to be of the Loch Ness Monster appear, the "too good to be true" tag is almost without exception immediately applied. That goes with the territory and of course some are too good to be true. The photographs taken  by James Gray on the 9th May 2001 are no exception. I covered this story in my book on Loch Ness Monster photographs, but I wanted to add something here which was not fully covered in the book.

A recent Facebook post has revived the idea that this was a picture of a car bumper slowly descending into the water. To be specific, a Morris Minor bumper. As it turns out, James Gray, who has now passed away, was indeed a classic car enthusiast and was a member of Morris Minor fan forum. You can see his car here and what a Morris Minor car bumper looks like.

The car bumper theory goes back to the beginning of this particular story and was first posited by Dick Raynor to Rip Hepple. However, it appears to be a semi-serious suggestion as Rip discounted it and Dick Raynor does not propose it as an explanation on his own website where he analyzes the photographs. This view of the pictures slips from view until Colin Veacock, a member of Steve Feltham's Facebook group, recently revived it (see link).

I don't think this theory holds and the object is not a Morris Minor bumper used as a hoax prop. One may argue it is another car bumper and given there are hundreds to choose from, you may feel confident that you will come across a perfect match. The reason I do not think that will work either involves Dick Raynor and some extrapolations.

In the aforementioned analysis by Dick, he attempts an estimate of the length of the object based upon some principles of photographic trigonometry using the camera angle, height above the water, the distance to the horizon and so on. James Gray had also supplied the specifications of the camera at the time of shooting which led Dick to estimate the vertical height of the object as 1.72 metres or 5 foot 8 inches - which was very close to Gray's estimate of 6 feet.

Assuming all of this to be accurate, some further calculations can be made. Since the object is inclined at an angle to the calculated vertical, a right angle triangle is roughly drawn below. A ruler is then employed to estimate the length of the horizontal line as 1.05 metres. A simple trig calculation gives a hypotenuse length of 2.01 metres. The object is yet even longer than that number as it is arcing. I could do a further calculation where the neck/arc forms part of a wider circle, the radius is estimated and hence the circumference. But I will leave that as an exercise for anyone so minded.

The next step is to assume this is a car bumper and the curious double "notch" visible about two thirds of the way down the object is the midpoint of the bumper. That being the case, this would imply another quarter of the bumper is underwater. Adding the missing quarter gives a total "bumper" length of 2.68 metres or just under 8 feet 10 inches. Now let us compare some bumper sizes.

In such a case, it is sufficient just to know the width of the vehicles and maybe add ten or twenty percent for the bumper ends. A Morris Minor is about five feet wide. A Volvo Estate is just over six feet wide and a DAF truck cab is about seven and a half feet. These example demonstrate sizes rather than whether such bumpers are suitable for such a supposed hoax.

The conclusion would be that if this was a bumper, it would have to be of an excessive length and certainly not one belonging to a car. Based on these numbers, any idea of a bumper should be excluded. In fact, no one I am aware of has offered an explanation as to what this was. Dick Raynor in his analysis could not find fault with the photograph and in fact had to resort to guilt by association because Gray knew Roy Johnston, who took another series of photographs a year later. James Gray explained to me before he died what that was all about.

But when you have decided a photograph is too good to be true, you are then obliged to look for solutions that remove the problem.

Comments can also be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Whatever Happened to Jeoff Watson?

Monster hunters come and monster hunters go. Some you know about and outlast the years they spent at the loch, others may spend as much time at the loch but go out as quietly as they came in, known only to a few. Of course, we know about Tim Dinsdale, Nicholas Witchell, Ted Holiday, David James, Rupert Gould and so on and so on. Today there are people continuing the work such as Steve Feltham, Gordon Holmes, Alan McKenna, myself and so on again. 

A name came up by chance in recent correspondence with Paul Cropper, a cryptid researcher from Australia, who had sent me some material gathered by Tony Healey, a mutual acquaintance. Amongst some creature reports was one by a Jeoff Watson from 1978 in which he had taken some photos of a V-wake formation at Loch Ness. The pictures were inconclusive when analyzed by the Loch Ness and Morar Project. What is also inconclusive is what happened to Jeoff Watson.

He shared the same surname as me, but he was no family relative. The relation came through the monster fraternity for he was a dedicated cryptid hunter from the moment he took those pictures. I knew of him only through his trip updates to Rip Hepple who regularly informed Nessie hunters of each other's activities through his Nessletter newsletter.

Jeoff was a sociology student from London, aged about 21 years when he took those pictures - according to newspaper clippings included in the material sent by Paul Cropper. Jeoff was a man determined to solve the mystery of not only the Loch Ness Monster, but other aquatic cryptids across the United Kingdom. His trip reports tell of repeat expeditions to Loch Ness, Loch Morar, Loch Shiel, Bala Lake in Wales, Falmouth Bay in Cornwall and Barmouth Bay on the west coast of Wales. In 1980 alone, he had planned nine separate trips to all these locations.

Regular articles in local newspapers, contributions to the popular Fortean Times and the formation of his own Association of Loch Ness Explorers suggested that this was a man who would continue the work done at Loch Ness and beyond. Now the fact that I had completely forgotten about Jeoff until that recent email made me ask what had happened to this guy?

I went through the various editions of Rip's nessletters to follow Jeoff's activities. These began in October 1978 as I traced the timeline. He visited Rip in 1979 and Rip tells us he was a person very keen, earnest and anxious to get something done at Loch Ness such as a group surface watch. Rip further mentions Jeoff visited him at his caravan while on holiday at the loch in July 1982. I was also stated as visiting him there during that stay. So I may have missed the only opportunity of meeting Jeoff at the loch!

Rip writes of another visit by Jeoff to his Durham home in December 1983 and adds that Jeoff was seriously considering moving to Loch Ness. However, he ends that report on a worrying note:

Jeoff is a very intense young man, very keen on the whole water monster scene. But I am concerned about him, during his short stay it was obvious that he is living with a great deal of nervous strain. This I feel, could lead to problems with his health, both physical and mental. 

After that, there were no more trip reports from Jeoff in the Nessletters. He simply disappeared as if he had never existed. So whatever happened to Jeoff Watson? A cursory google search does not reveal anything of note, though I must admit it was not an intensive search. His is not a name I have seen since I started this blog in 2010. Rip also mentioned that Jeoff was looking to start up a music project to give him income to spend more time monster hunting. That project only allowed him one monster trip in 1982.

So what happened to this fellow who promised much in terms of monster hunting? Did the rock music project completely take over his waking hours, as aquatic cryptids had done? Did Rip's concerns about mental and physical health bear undesirable fruit? Perhaps he read Ronald Binns' 1983 hatchet job book on Nessie and "deconverted"? People do just drift away from the monster scene, though this looks more like a cliff edge drop than a drifting away. Perhaps someone could enlighten me as to his current status?

Whatever the end story may have been, are there lessons to be learnt here for us? I guess the first lesson is to cut your cloth according to the material you have. Did Jeoff throw himself at the subject so much that it became apparent to Rip Hepple that he was over extending? Perhaps it had become an obsession which interfered with his sociology studies. Obsession and the Monster can become strange bedfellows, especially if you have had a sighting of the beast. I have always wondered what would happen if I did have a good sight of the creature. Would it trigger a psychological response that one could even term an obsessive compulsion disorder?

Jeoff had his V-wake sighting as well as perhaps something seen in Falmouth Bay. Such things can drive you on in a good way or a bad way. It really depends on the personality of the individual. I have always been a bit of a lazy sod, so I suspect the monster rearing up in front of me would not stop me doing the other things I like to do ... maybe. When I graduated around the same time as Jeoff disappeared, I also did my own disappearing act as I focused on my career and did not visit the loch for over ten years and even let my Nessletter subscription lapse. However, the old monster hunting verve revived again in 2010 and I am up there several times a year.

With all that in mind, I wish perseverance, persistence and preservation to all today's monster hunters. May we last the course and collectively have a story to tell that outlasts the years.

UPDATE: Sadly the answer has come to me from Adrian Shine. Jeoff Watson died in 1984 amidst tragic circumstances. What these were I do not really care to know and we are left wondering what this young man could have achieved. Well, it is a belated RIP to Jeoff from a fellow monster hunter.

Comments can also be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Sunday 9 October 2022

Loch Ness Investigation and Loch Ness Exploration

I was back up at the loch last month with various intentions on my mind. The first and perhaps most important task was trap cameras. As readers may recall, these automated monster hunters gaze over the loch waters, strapped to trees waiting for something of noteworthy dimensions to pass in front of them. They operate on a twenty four hour basis as they switch to infra-red mode as night descends.

Now admittedly, having reviewed the night time shots from past excursions, the quality of them is not that great as the only objects visible tend to be any flapping branches right beside the camera or rain, as shown below. Unless the creature came right up to sniff one of these cameras, one wonders if it would register at all at night. However, the sequence of lunar pictures below would give us a sensational monster pose if it decided to surface under the moon shine. Actually, we have a claimed sighting of the monster in such circumstances you can read here. Well, for the time being I will leave the timer on 24 hour duty.

The daytime shots had the usual selection of boats, paddle boarders, kayakers and the odd bird, which at least shows these cameras are doing their job. I had left one camera ticking away over the summer period as the risk from hoards of tourists finding a camera and deciding it was theirs is too great. But it was still there when I came back for it. I am still going through the many images of waves. It was noticeably warmer than when I was there for the same time period last year. The foliage was more extensive and the flies were annoyingly greater in number. Definitely keep the trousers and long sleeves on when walking through that stuff lest a tick alights on you!

After that I drove over to meet up with Adrian Shine at the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre. I had asked him if I could view some of the old Loch Ness Investigation Bureau films from the 1960s that had been scanned and digitised. To reprise, the LNIB had set up various camera stations around the loch from 1962 onwards armed with telephoto lenses and 35mm film. The hope was obviously that the creature would stray into the view of one of these rigs and convincing evidence would be obtained.

As we know, no game changing film was recorded. The best known was the 1967 sequence taken by Dick Raynor, but the rest have never been seen. Back in 1976, Roy Mackal reviewed some of these films for his book, "The Monsters of Loch Ness". He mentions ten films and labelled them as films F8-F11, F13, F16-F18 and F21-F22 taken between 1962 and 1969. Unlike the Raynor film, none of these were classed as "positive evidence" but rather as inconclusive, birds or waves. 

With all that in mind, we pulled up some chairs at the Drumnadrochit Hotel and Adrian ran the videos in his laptop. The sequence of films ran for some ten minutes, with some being repeated or zoomed in. This was interspersed with the odd footage of LNIB people. I am not sure how many of the ten were shown, perhaps no more than five. One of them was certainly the Raynor film, but it was impossible to line up what films we saw against the Mackal list above. It seems the film canisters were not labelled with the necessary information. Indeed, trying to identify the locations by markers on the far shores would have helped somewhat, but this proved difficult as well, especially with the passage of up to sixty years,

The quality of the films varied but were all generally poor and what was in the water looked like either water disturbances or water fowl. Quite frankly, they didn't look much better than other inconclusive videos seen over the years and decades. One film I am sometimes asked about is film F10 taken on June 6th 1963 and claimed as the only film of Nessie on land. The observers reported that a dark cylindrical object took to shore on a beach and lay in the shallows at a distance of about 2.25 miles. A long neck and head were observed for about half an hour.

I am fairly certain that film was not on the video run I saw and so I cannot speak to that or the others I did not see. Obviously, one has to point out the stupendous distance, well above what is normally stated in eyewitness reports and one would see next to nothing at that range with the naked eye. Using binoculars of 8x magnification would bring the object to an apparent distance of about 450 metres. The specification of the camera telephoto lends described by Mackal suggests a 9x magnification or an apparent distance of 400 metres but with attenuation of details.

Having said that, JARIC and a panel of experts examined the film but the great distance precluded all but acknowledging that the form of the object generally agreed with the observer testimony. I would imagine this is the film one would want to see above all the others, but it would be brave or foolish to state without reservation that it was the Loch Ness Monster being filmed. Some other matters were discussed, such as the Dinsdale film and the interesting sonar contact of September 2020 which will form an article in its own right. A final matter was discussed which shall be expanded upon in another future article.

Having taken my leave of Adrian, the second part of the article title becomes relevant as I met up with Alan McKenna from Edinburgh who heads up the Loch Ness Exploration (LNE) group. In the spirit of the old Loch Ness Investigation, Alan's new venture invites people to join him at Loch Ness for various surface watches as well as any other observational techniques that modern technology offers. You can find the Loch Ness Exploration group on Facebook at this link

We were going to head off to the next LNE observation spot beyond Temple Pier having mentioned my meeting with Adrian. Alan said he would love to meet him and, lo and behold, Adrian appeared in the distance and the rest is history. We spent a good hour or so discussing various aspects of the monster story, including the matter of sonar and the trials of surface observations. A couple of guys from New Zealand joined in who said they were also cryptozoologists investigating such matters down under. 

Having concluded the conversations, I was right out of time and had to pick up my family in Inverness who had hitched a ride for a day trip up north. I took them for some sightseeing around the loch before heading back south. Did I see Nessie that day? No, nothing broke the surface but all in all it was a good day amongst the people of the great Loch Ness mystery.

Comments can also be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Wednesday 14 September 2022

Analysis of the Hugh Gray Photograph


I was invited by the Society for Scientific Exploration to write an article on the famous Hugh Gray photograph of the Loch Ness Monster for their Journal of Scientific Exploration. This has now been published online and is available for viewing from their Summer 2022 issue at this front cover link. The article is basically a revised and updated work on a collection of various pieces I wrote for my blog over the last eleven years. Arguments have been added, removed or modified and hardened where they needed to be. 

Needless to say, like any picture claiming to be a close up of the creature, it has generated controversy from the first day it was published in December 1933. Unlike any other picture, it had no predecessor, it was the first claimed photograph of the creature coming about seven months after the Inverness Courier article which started the mystery off. Here we have a picture which has levels of details that others do not have, yet it frustrates as people debate what they are actually looking at. You may have your own opinion, read over the article and see if that opinion is confirmed or changed.

As a bonus, look down the journal contents and you will find a review of my book, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness" by Henry Bauer,

Comments can also be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Tuesday 6 September 2022

Eoin moves to the new Webcams

The new webcams from Visit Inverness and Loch Ness went live eight days ago on Monday 29th August and I wrote a piece on them a day later. So what is not to like? More webcams to watch, better quality, and closer to the action overall. I did however warn that the days of blobby Nessies were not necessarily over. Nevertheless, I recommended watchers such as Eoin from the old webcam moved over to the new ones.

Just three days after the webcams launched, Eoin emailed me claiming what could be his first sighting on one of the webcams.

To be fair, he did not outright label it as a monster sighting, but rather described it as something large round and black which arose from disturbed water then into a wake before submerging. This happened at 1118 on September 1st on the Shorelands Lodge webcam which I had indicated looked one of the best situated cameras. This is one of the images he sent me and you can also watch his video at this link.

There are several things I want to say about these pictures and the accompanying video. The first is the poor quality of the video and images. Now this is not the fault of the webcam, it is because Eoin continues to use his mobile phone to record images. The glare bouncing off the monitor into the mobile lens, the shakiness of the video and the unfocused images all conspire against assessment. Why is this happening? There is a snapshot feature on the webcam to capture quality images, here is one I took a few days ago.

The difference is obvious, mobile phones are bad enough as recording devices at the loch and are no better here. The result of this extra recording layer is more loss and corruption of data introducing artefacts into the original images. Neither is this acceptable when it comes to video. There are various free software packages you can install to capture video from your monitor. 

I installed one called OBS Studio which I downloaded from a review website and had it running within the hour and it recorded the full screen video of the chosen webcam perfectly. This is what is required, not mobile phones which introduce uncertainty and doubt. The video and photos given cannot be properly assessed due to the problems they introduce. I urge Eoin to start using these and ditch the mobile phone.

Now I understand that this was taken on a work computer by Eoin and so there may be issues installing video recording software. There should be no excuse using the snapshot facility. The solution is simple, start using the home computer or perhaps the mobile phone has a use here as it can be watched at work and doubtless there is some android or apple app which can also record screen video.

As to what is in the video and pictures, I cannot tell because of the quality of the images. That there is water movement is not in doubt, but the dark object is seen to disappear after one frame indicating an artefact. Blockiness has been introduced into the mobile video processing, so observe the vertical blocks on the general water surface and how they flicker in and out of view as the video progresses.

This may not have been observed by Eoin at the time and may be errors introduced when the video was compressed for storage. Either way, the mobile phone video recording layer needs to be eliminated. But all is not lost, if something anomalous can appear at the far end of the webcam, one assumes there is an equal probability it will appear at the near end of the webcam and the usual blobby issues will vapourise (once the mobile is dropped).

If that never happens, we can assume the far end objects resolve into recognisable objects which are not going to be presented as evidence of monsters. Be that as it may, I encourage webcam watchers to continue their observations, just as a lochside watcher would not contemplate using a camera or binoculars with smudged or scratched lenses, so the mobile phones must go.

Comments can also be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Tuesday 30 August 2022

New Loch Ness Webcams and an Appeal


This week saw the arrival of a welcome facility at Loch Ness - better web cameras. In fact, five have been installed at various points around the loch to enhance the remote Nessie hunting experience. As you can see from the screen grab of the Visit Inverness and Loch Ness website, these are located at the sites of private businesses. These are listed below with their corresponding numbers on the map giving their locations and an idea of loch coverage.

  1. The Clansman Hotel
  2. The Airanloch Bed and Breakfast
  3. The Shoreland Lodges
  4. The Craigdarroch Hotel
  5. The Drovers Lodge

So, most of the cameras are on the busier north side of the loch, but this is likely in proportion to the number of commercial enterprises around the loch. However, as you can see, they are all nicely spread out to give different views of the loch surface. The webcams can be accessed at this link and this is where we go next to try each one out.

As each selection was clicked into live stream mode, the quality of the video was of good quality. Each can be expanded into what looks like full screen 16:9 and the square 4:3 aspect ratios. A zoom button moves in on the centre by a factor of 1.50 for a closer look. I assume this was a digital rather than an optical zoom. A click of the camera icon downloads an instant snapshot of the scene you are looking at in 4:3 format complete with date and time stamp. There is no option to record what you see or rewind or fast forward, but one could install an appropriate application to record the screen.

Most of them had a panning motion enabled apart from the Shoreland Lodges camera. All panned right to left but to varying degrees. Some would pan until 20% to 40% of the previous view was out before they reversed the pan. Some would pan with a greater sweep until a complete new view was seen. This has its pros and cons. The main pro is that more of the loch is under surveillance in a wider sweep and so more chance of seeing something of interest.

The reverse of this is that if you do see something, it may pan out of view before you get the snapshots you want. Given the rarity of seeing the monster surface before you on a live stream, I think I prefer the panning option to see as much of the loch as possible. The distance from camera to loch also varied as two were over 500 metres from the shoreline but the others were very close.

But all told, it is a great scheme that is up and running and I think my two favourites are the Clansman and Shoreland. The question is whether they will deliver game changing images? I think if the monster surfaces close to the shore nearest to some of these cameras, we will get some very interesting images that will not be so easily dismissed as the webcam fare we have been subject to in recent years. 

Obviously as an object surfaces further away from the webcam, the more uncertain the image. So snapshots of objects on the other side of the loch from any webcam should be treated with the same caution as before. Likewise, new images such as unfamiliar water patterns, passing branches and logs will get undue attention, but it should be no trouble to identify them as such.

However, it is the opportunity now to see objects much closer than before that open up possible new opportunities. So congratulations to those who put in the effort and money to get these projects going. Webcam users may now switch to the new webcams. With tongue slightly in cheek, perhaps each should sit a test to identify common objects and repeat to themselves daily, I will not pass off any old rubbish just to get my name in social media. I suggest a compilation of everyday objects be collected from the webcams over the year ahead and are published as a guide on the Visit Inverness Loch Ness website!

And now for that appeal. A film maker I know is producing a documentary on the Loch Ness Monster and its Hunters. He has asked if anyone knows of any film footage taken by tourists or locals of the loch from the 1960s to the early 1980s. This is just general footage of the loch and its surroundings, not anything to do with the monster. Email me at the address below if you have relevant information or leave a comment.

Comments can also be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Sunday 21 August 2022

The Surface of Something


Forty seven years ago, a private meeting in the USA was held by Robert Rines of the Academy of Applied Science to which author Nicholas Witchell was invited to view the best of the underwater pictures taken at Loch Ness on June 19th 1975. Penguin Books subsequently rushed a new paperback version of Witchell's "The Loch Ness Story" to tell of the photographs which would now place the Loch Ness Monster under the discipline of zoology and not cryptozoology. The final chapter tells us that the order of notable slides was an upwards view of the boat from which the camera rig was suspended, the body and long neck, the gargoyle head and one final slide:

The final good picture showed the underbelly of the animal as it passed immediately above the camera. A cylindrical object stretched across the whole frame. The most noticeable feature of this was the covering of what were evidently parasites hanging off the belly. As we went through the whole sequence of pictures again, Bob described the reaction of a group of experts from the Smithsonian Institute who had flown over from Washington the previous day to see the pictures. Headed by Professor George Zug, the head of the Reptiles and Amphibians Department, they had been utterly amazed at what they had seen. They had, he said, noticed details which only the trained zoological eye would see; for instance on the underbelly picture they had been particularly interested by the parasites and there had been speculation that a dark area towards the left end could be the creature's anal fold.

This is the third in a series of articles on the 1975 underwater photographs taken by Robert Rines and the Academy of Applied Science. You can get the background on these famous pictures from the two previous articles here and here. I actually had not intended to write any third article until a fellow Nessie researcher got in touch with me. He pointed me to an archive of photographs maintained by MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which includes photos taken by the technical people from MIT involved in the 1975 search, namely Martin Klein on sonar and Harold Edgerton on optics.

Most are pictures of people directly and indirectly involved in the hunt, places around the loch, Martin Klein's sonar work and Harold Edgerton's underwater camera work. It is a fascinating collection of a time when people thought the monster was almost within their grasp. The Edgerton collection homes in on the underwater camera work done in Urquhart Bay under the auspices of the Academy of Applied Science. Most of the photos revolve around the ones we know about, the gargoyle head, the long necked body and so on. 

I had looked through some of the hundreds of pictures in the archive and then my fellow researcher pointed me to the image at the top of this article which could be a candidate for that "final good picture" mentioned by Witchell above. The fascinating thing is that I have never seen this photograph before in any book, magazine, discussion, web page or TV documentary in the decades I have been following this mystery. It was perhaps mentioned in words in some publications, but I would have assumed it was something else. The classification of the picture on the MIT website is as follows:

Water surface, Loch Ness (?) (Scotland, UK) - n.d.

Major collection: Science & Technology

Named collection: Harold E. Edgerton Collection

Object type: color slide

Maker: Edgerton, Harold Eugene

Place made: United States

Materials: 35mm film; plastic

Site location: Scotland, UK

Measurements: 2" x 2"

Surface of water on lake at Loch Ness (?) in Scotland, UK. DUPLICATE (CC)

I will now look at the pros and cons of whether this is a photograph from the 1975 expedition and if it is of the loch bed. The classification is uncertain as to when and where this was taken and suggests it is the surface of the waters of Loch Ness. It appears as if the curator has no backstory to it from anyone involved in 1975. Having looked at untold number of pictures of the watery surface of Loch Ness, I am certain the features on this surface have little to do with water and more to do with a solid surface. Let me now explain why I think this photograph could be the one described by Nicholas Witchell. First, he says the object is above the camera. To give some context here, the setup of the 1975 camera rigs is shown below.

The camera in question was the old 1972 strobe light camera rig here suspended at a depth of forty feet. It had been reconfigured to put the camera five feet below the strobe and tilted upwards to avoid back scattered light. Nicholas described the surface as stretching across the whole frame as this image does. He describes it as cylindrical and this could be argued from the bottom of the feature where we see what looks like a foreshortening perspective of surface features as they recede into shadow consistent with a cylinder. 

He also describes the surface as "above" the camera. Since the camera is pointing upwards, one may take this as a given, but if, for example, only the top of the surface was visible and it occupied the lower part of the picture, one could say it was in front of the camera rather than above it. Then we have the speculative mention of parasites and an anal fold to the left. The annotated picture below explains how these descriptions would line up well with the image.

Of course, the matter of anal folds and parasites is secondary as to what we are actually looking at in its entirety and so such speculations are set aside. Thus if we assume that this is the image that Nicholas Witchell was talking about, that leads us now to speculate on what is in the picture. Back in 1975, the AAS team were sure the mid-water camera rig never went near the loch bed and so anything photographed was also in mid-water. 

However, it is now accepted that the boat from which the rig was suspended was prone to drifting under the loch winds and could reach shallower waters and drag the rig along the loch bed whilst taking pictures at about one minute intervals. What is uncertain is how much this coincided with the photos taken on the night of June 19th into the 20th. For comparison, here are some shots of the loch bed taken during that time. The first was a calibration shot and the second was taken on the 19th June (we shall return to this shot later). The third shows the effect of silt disturbance which was especially evident in the famous gargoyle shot.

It is evident that there are differences between the surface of the image in question and the loch bed. The silt that accumulates on the loch bed basically gives it a smooth appearance which is punctuated by the appearance of rocks, branches. rubbish and so on. The rough textured surfaces gives no indication that any silt is present there or indeed objects such as rocks and branches. In fact, when I first saw the image I thought it looked more like the surface of the moon from a satellite!

I would also suggest the presence of the gouges on the image to the top left and top right dictate against a silted surface as the volatility of disturbed silt will not leave such sharp features. I say this in anticipation of suggestions that the gouges are produced by the camera rig dragging along the surface. The other point to make is that if this was the bed of the loch, it is almost as if it was a plan view of the surface, as if the camera rig was parallel to the bed hovering a few feet above it. That does not seem a likely scenario. If the camera was going to be parallel to the surface, it would be face down and probably in a cloud of silt.

However, the clarity and quality of the image under scrutiny is clearly superior to the other images which begs the question as to what circumstances allowed this to happen? Why is the image so sharp and detailed compared to the loch bed images? It could be because it is in a silt free region such as mid-water, thus aiding clarity or it may be a lot closer thus reducing attenuation of detail by the volume of water between camera and object. 

Or perhaps it is an image of the camera pointing up at the disturbed waters of the loch surface? The image below is of the loch surface during those days when the camera was titled up. Clearly, this lacks the clarity, detail and texture of the image and thus we should discount the surface of the loch as an explanation. The one remaining explanation related to the loch bed is the possibility that the camera rig did not hit the bed but had rotated in the water to face the loch wall. 

This is a theoretical possibility, though the sides are not vertical but slope to varying degrees. I could not find an image which shows the sides of the loch underwater in close detail, but I doubt the sides would look like this image since I still expect silt to lie inside clefts and indeed expect gravity to ensure surface features are more vertical in appearance. Nevertheless, I will keep this view on hold until suitable side wall images turn up.

But there are arguments against the image. One is that it has been accepted that the image described by Witchell was the loch bed image previously shown which we show again below. This was actually printed in the MIT journal, Technology Review, in March 1976 which discussed the 1975 images and was interpreted by the AAS as a cylindrical object ten feet away but they made no mention of parasites or anal folds. Now it could be that image, though I see nothing to the left to suggest an "anal fold" and the proposed creature would be swimming upside down, though this is not unheard of in the marine world. Then again, what should an anal fold look like? What did George Zug have in mind? Nevertheless, I can see features in both photographs which line up with Witchell's description. Obviously, the most expedient solution is to ask the man himself.

Now if this was the rough skin of the Loch Ness Monster, then it would be an astounding win for Rines and the Academy, but some questions have to be answered before we go that far though the rough texture of the surface evokes various thoughts, as it did with those zoologists back in 1975. My curiousity was aimed at the almost star shaped scar or gouge to the top right. Is than an animal like feature or something else? Also, the superior clarity of the image may be so good as to mitigate against it being taken by the same camera.

But no sooner was this picture possibly mentioned by Witchell and perhaps Meredith in his book, "Search at Loch Ness" than it disappears from view, if indeed it ever appeared in the public space. And therein lies the biggest problem concerning this image, if it was believed to be the underbelly of the creature, why was it not published? Robert Rines ought not to have passed up on such an opportunity. 

The fact that the curator puts a question mark against it being from Loch Ness and has no date for it should make us pause before going further. Indeed, this article is probably more an appeal for further information to corroborate this picture than claiming it is the monster. I can confidently say it is not a photograph of the loch bed of 1975, it is something else. It may have been taken during that expedition or maybe another year or at another spot at Loch Ness or maybe not at Loch Ness at all. The bottom line is that more information is needed to determine the provenance of this photograph. If that comes, a follow up article may be required.

The original image can be viewed at the MIT archive here.

Comments can also be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Friday 12 August 2022

Upcoming Loch Ness Monster Talks


Let me update you on a couple of upcoming talks related to the Loch Ness Monster in chronological order. First up is a talk by Charles Paxton next Tuesday organised by the Edinburgh Skeptics as part of their Edinburgh Fringe meetings. The talk is described above which he tells me will refer to the beast at various points. You may wonder why I am promoting a talk by a skeptical society and indeed, Charles himself does not believe there are any large animals in the loch. However, I am interested in how he will define the gap between science and pseudo-science in the context of the search for unclassified animals. That is a conversation all cryptid hunters should engage in rather than reject it just because zoologists don't go near their chosen subject. The talk is free at the Banshee Labyrinth Pub just off the Royal Mile at 7:20pm, first come, first served with a donation encouraged.

The next talk is more for believers in our favourite cryptid. On the 29th October, Malcolm Robinson will deliver a lecture on the Loch Ness Monster as part of his monthly series of talks on mysterious subjects. Malcolm will be known to readers as a leading UK paranormal and UFO researcher and author of various books on those subjects - including one on the Loch Ness Monster shown below. Indeed, Malcolm is not long back from a trip to Loch Ness looking for its famous denizen.

The talk is in the town of Sauchie, about five miles east of Stirling. Further details of the meeting are in the promo image above and I have already booked my seat. I also aim to be at Charles' talk, so it should be a series of interesting events all round.

Comments can also be made at the Loch Ness Mystery Blog Facebook group.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com