Tuesday 12 March 2024

Follow Up to MacLennan Land Sighting


Having published the article on the MacLennan creature recently, I thought I would go over any comments made on it by way of reply. The last time I looked there were 167 comments attached to the article on Facebook which was a very large amount, but then again I did not know how many generated more heat than light. So having trawled through them, I picked out some for further discussion here.

The main one would certainly be from Colin Veacock who applied his artistic skills to produce the sketch at the top of this article. I had made my own attempt previously and Colin added his impression as well. His sketch certainly sums up MacLennan's statement when she said "A more ugly sight you never saw". I think he got the "neck" better than me as the eyewitness did say it was somehow "flopped" over its back but still somehow pointing towards the loch. Colin also made that ridge on the back more visible. But I am still wondering how "floppy" this "neck" was. Sometimes, I get the impression it was thrown over the back like a scarf. 

Regarding the description of "hooves", all we have is "with a kind of hoof very like a pig's, but much larger." Colin has a go and is more literal in his rendition than I was. My problem was that this was related for the first time 25 years after the event. If you think her recall was pristine after that time, think again. I was accused of taking liberties with my sketch but the point for me was that aquatic animals do not have hooves and she could have interpreted a three webbed toe arrangement as a hoof. However, in the time I had, I could not figure the best way to show that, so the limb extremities on my sketch became an ambiguous set of lines. I include below Colin's wider field of view sketch of the creature.

Now let us get onto the matter of seals and some people suggested a large seal. When seals are proposed as an explanation for an eyewitness account, two questions should be asked, but rarely are. Shouldn't the witness have recognised something as well known as a seal? Secondly, was there a seal in Loch Ness at the time? The answers generally should be "Yes" and "Not likely". Seals should be readily recognisable thanks to images in books and magazines. Circuses were known to visit Inverness and local seals were not hard to spot along the local Moray Firth coastline.

Seals are not indigenous to Loch Ness and were rare visitors to the loch, especially back in the 1930s. So, statistically speaking, at the time MacLennan saw her creature, it was more likely there was no seal in the loch. In other words, in both cases, since we expect people to know a seal when they see one and seals are generally not in the loch then the burden of proof is on those who suggest a seal to explain why the normal situations do not apply. A comment elsewhere by Dick Raynor on this matter said:

It is a good idea to rely on the earliest witness statements and to concentrate on the object's reported behaviour and shape, ignoring size as that is notoriously difficult to gauge in a brief observation. Here we have a creature on the beach - later described as sitting on a rock - which fled into the water with a considerable splash, and the recent artists' impressions show it lacking a noticeable tail. That spells "seal" to me.

Now there are problems with this interpretation (apart from what I just mentioned). Firstly, we are asked to ignore any attempt at size estimation. This is crucial to most sceptical arguments as size is a most inconvenient parameter to them. Unlike other attempts to disqualify size estimates due to long distances involved, that is not an issue here as the creature was on the narrow strip of land between road and loch. Here we are asked to accept size estimates cannot be accepted as it was a brief sighting or "little more than a glimpse" according to Gould. But that is a subjective assessment and we ask how short a visual experience has to be to discount size estimates? That question is not answered and therefore there is no obligation to accept such a statement.

The other inconsistency is where the commenter readily accepts the description was accurate in mentioning no tail, which is helpful to a seal interpretation, but ignores the other descriptions which totally exclude a seal interpretation such as a flopped over "neck", a ridged back and humps. This selective approach is not explained. The author of the comment then attaches a video clip of a seal, but this proves nothing as none of the unusual features described by MacLennan are visible.

In terms of the consistency of the eyewitness reports. A comment was made that the weather was described as stormy, so how could they row over to the other side of the loch in those conditions? The answer is simple because the weather was described as stormy at the time of the sighting which was hours after the boat trip. Finally, I must mention Steve Plambeck who is an advocate of the Giant Salamander theory and had this to say concerning the creature Mrs. MacLennan saw:

The stubby feet may be the most important give-away. MacLennan's description is morphologically closer to a Cryptobranchid (like the Chinese Giant Salamander) than possibly any other account I've ever read. Glance at the pictures I'm including. Viewed from the FRONT end, the head is almost a featureless rump shape -- the mouth lines are invisible if the mouth isn't open, and the eyes are indiscernible unless you are close and the light is just right. And the legs, feet and toes are very, very stubby indeed - pig-footed would be a more than apt description. There is also a slight ridge down the back. Much more importantly though is the behavior MacLennan described, which includes small but precious details almost always unreported. If it was a Giant Salamander, and it was facing rather than turned away from her, it moved EXACTLY as a salamander startled from the front will do in lab studies of early tetrapod locomotion: (1) front legs flat on the ground for pushing back, (2) chin down for pushing back too, (3) rear legs and (4) tail lifted because they can't help with rear-ward thrusting and would only be in the way if they weren't lifted. The MacLennan report checks ALL the boxes. Amazed I never knew of this sighting before now.

The largest of the Cryptobranchids was a Canadian species that grew at least 10 feet long, and disappeared after the Ice Ages started. The living Chinese species currently top out at 6 feet. There were European species as well, but remains are very few and maximum size still unknown. And then there were much earlier, fully aquatic salamanders, even marine species, that grew up to 30 feet.

Now the giant salamander theory has a long history and indeed was the subject of the very first book on the Loch Ness Monster. As I understand Steve, the proposed salamander's tail was flopped over its back and the witness mistook its large wide head as the lower back. The stubby legs obviously are a better fit than flippers or webbed feet. When startled, the salamander crawled backwards into the loch. I admit I am not an advocate of this theory, but I would be interested to see video clips of this creature's backward motion. Steve runs a blog on this very subject which is here.

So hopefully I have covered the main responses here. Feel free to add missed responses on what this creature could have been to the comments.

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

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com