Thursday, 21 May 2015

Sonar Hit of Nessie?

A Loch Ness researcher recently put up a link on sonar equipment for Loch Ness. That was interesting enough in itself, but a further link to the story below was more interesting from a monster point of view. To quote:

Using the bottom of the range Bronze FLS, a customer spotted what appeared to be the Loch Ness Monster moving around the loch. Mr Duffin contacted us recently with photos he had taken of his FLS Bronze in deep water at Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle asking what we thought, has he found Nessie?. It looks like a real target or something large - so who knows.....

Approximately 50 ft in length, the object spotted was moving up and down and side to side on the screen of the FLS Bronze. The pictures have been scrutinized by several of our sonar experts and would appear to be that of a genuinely large aquatic beast.

The quality of the sonar is not up to the detail of the latest equipment that can be bought at affordable prices, but what was it that was registered on the sonar that day? A rogue side echo, one of these alleged submersible logs, an algae bloom or a large creature?

Monday, 18 May 2015

Forthcoming Talk on the Loch Ness Monster

I will be giving a talk on the F. C. Adams photograph at the Edinburgh Fortean Society on Tuesday 9th June at 7:30pm. Whatever you may think of this picture, my talk will reveal new information and analysis concerning it. I will also consider the investigative tools and techniques that encompass such a subject.

Comments should be limited to the talk rather than the nature of the photograph as I will publish the details of the talk after it has been given. The venue for the talk is Downstairs in the Crypt Bar at the Jekyll and Hyde Pub, 112 Hanover Street, EH2 1DR.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

A Couple of Clippings from 1933

Cryptid researcher, Paul Cropper, sent me a couple of PDFs from the Dundee Courier from the early days of the Loch Ness Monster in 1933.

The first is dated 23rd May 1933 and this one of the earliest clippings on the subject. As a comparison, the Aldie Mackay story which kick started the Loch Ness Monster story appeared three weeks earlier on the 2nd May in the Inverness Courier.

The text reads:

LOCH NESS MYSTERY "MONSTER" - Once again a sea monster is reported to have been seen on Loch Ness, near lnverfarigaig, where the water reaches a depth of 700 feet. Mr Shaw, of Whitefield, Inverfarigaig, who previously disbelieved that there was a monster, saw it a few days ago, and, calling his son and a friend. they watched it for about ten minutes through a telescope. Photo shows Mr Shaw and his friends, who are keeping a regular look-out in the hope of seeing it again.

The Mister Shaw in question was Alexander Shaw, who was interviewed by Rupert T. Gould for his 1934 book, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others". The relevant testimony is on page 40 and is reproduced below (click on the images to enlarge).

I note that Mr. Shaw is stated to have lived in a house about 150 feet above the loch at Whitefield. I wonder if this is the same house that would later be occupied by Lachlan Stuart, who took his famous monster picture in 1951?

The second clipping is dated 27th December 1933 and concerns the discovery of a pile of bones which has been covered here before. The picture belows add some more facts, though the conclusion is still the same that these bones did not belong to a Loch Ness Monster.

LOCH NESS DISCOVERY - A quantity of bones and teeth of an animal long dead have been found near Urquhart Castle, on Loch Ness-side, by Mr A. O. M'Laren. After consultation with Mr H. E. Peters, curator of Inverness Museum, who expressed the view that the bones do not resemble those of any domestic animal, the bones have been sent to South Kensington Museum for identification. Mr E. Fraser. the custodian of Urquhart Castle, is seen examining the heap of bones.

These bones would have been sent to South Kensington Museum around the same time as the infamous casts of tracks found by Marmaduke Wetherell. Unlike the tracks, nothing more is heard of these bones.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Those Otters Again

Somebody takes a picture of an otter in a Nessie like position and the media come out saying this is a "common cause of Nessie sightings". Dr. Jonathan Wills recently took the above picture of an otter swimming around the port of the town of Lerwick on the Shetland Islands.

After a recent hoo-haa about pesky logs fooling people into seeing plesiosaurs and even the tired earthquake theory again producing a small rumble, it's the turn of the humble and unassuming otter to deceive those incredulous witnesses.

Now there is nothing new about otters and Nessie. Within months of a strange sea monster being reported in the Highland loch in 1933, otters were one of the first explanations to be trotted out in the defence of normality. It's a situation I thought was best summed up in the picture below.

Ever since then, they have occasionally been dragged out of their holts to explain various sightings. I covered one such case in 2012. It was the Harvey-MacDonald land sighting from 1934 in which it was suggested the witnesses mistook a three foot otter for a ten foot monster.

Now, don't get me wrong. People can mistake branches, otters and earthquakes for thirty foot monsters. As I have said before, if they saw the otter at 500 yards for 2 seconds in a fog, then I can entertain the idea that they got it wrong.

At the same time, such a sighting is hardly likely to make it into the Nessie Hall of Fame. In fact, it would be lucky to be recorded for future researchers. Of course, I am exaggerating to make a point. Each case is assessed on its own merits, but the principle still stands, the better the sighting the less talk of otters, please.

If we are going to approach this problem of eyewitness reports with a degree of quantifiability, I remind readers of my formula below and you can read more about it here. Sceptics tend to set W to 0.

I now await some journalist to exclusively reveal how "most Nessie sightings" can be accounted for by boat wakes.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

What is the Most Popular Cryptid?

In the last ten years, Google has scanned, digitised and put online more than 30 million books. These proved to be a valuable resource a few years back when I researched my book, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness". 

However, with an estimate 130 million titles in print, the job is a quarter done. This means forgotten and perhaps valuable references to the Loch Ness Monster and its forerunner, the Water Horse, remain undiscovered.

In the meantime, I also put Google Ngrams to use in that book and apply it again here. This is a tool provided by Google for researchers interested in tracking trends of words and phrases in the scanned literature.

Below, I show the occurrences in the printed literature of the terms Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Loch Ness Monster, Nessie, Yeti and Sea Serpent. This is an interactive chart which allows you to highlight individual trends since 1933.

Since certain terms can represent the same cryptid, they are summed to give one representative trend. Here is the equivalent static image below (click on to enlarge) and you can go here for the source.

It is clear that the Bigfoot phenomenon is more than twice as far ahead as Nessie. Bigfoot overtook Nessie in the popularity stakes in the mid 1960s which coincides with the Patterson-Gimlin film. Given Bigfoot is very much more ensconced in the American psyche than the Loch Ness Monster, its superior popularity is more or less guaranteed unless a Nessie film of the same quality of Patterson-Gimlin turns up.

Why the Yeti is so high up is a bit of a mystery since photographs and eyewitness accounts are so thin on the ground. Note that like the Bigfoot, it was an image that triggered an uptrend when Eric Shipton's famous Yeti footprint hit the media in 1951.

Also note that the sea serpent has been a pretty consistent performer since the 1930s and even jousted with the Loch Ness Monster for literature hits throughout 1933 to the mid 1960s when Nessie began an upward trajectory. Apart from a slight dip after the Rines expeditions and the onset of scepticism, the trend for Nessie did not level off until the early 2000s.

Since then literature hits has stayed pretty constant as books and articles on the creature address it from the various levels of myth, legend and reality. One wonders what it will take to initiate a new trend in Loch Ness Monster literature?

However, with three possible books on the publishing horizon this year, the trend look set to at least maintain itself sideways. Try out Google Ngrams yourself to see what trends you can discover.

Monday, 4 May 2015

A Wee Bit of Monster Hunting

I went up to Loch Ness recently for a brief one night stint. The drive up from Edinburgh took three and a half hours amidst changeable weather but there was enough periods of warm and sunny weather to enjoy the loch and its grand vistas.

I normally do not go up on my own, so I took that opportunity to indulge in some good old fashioned monster hunting. By that I mean, just drawing up the car at some quiet spot by the loch with a good view and scanning the troubled waters for its elusive inhabitant. Naturally, the camera and binoculars were at hand. I took this brief video from one of those spots just north of Inverfarigaig on the quieter south shore.

They say calm weather is "Nessie Weather" though whether that is down to the beast or the observer is a matter of opinion. My view tends to the latter, the creature is simply easier to spot on calm waters. I don't think the monster is bothered about the state of the weather above it, being a dweller of darkness. As I watched the dozens of one and two foot breakers continually agitating the waters, I could easily imagine missing a living hump surfacing briefly in a shallow manner.

I sat in my car in a very sedentary manner scanning the loch whilst eating my Pot Noodle and mulling over various matters in my head. After all, to stare at the loch for three hours like some programmed robot is a bit taxing on the physical and mental faculties. Or to put it more bluntly, boredom can set in after a sustained period. That is why it is good to punctuate the session with some other diversions.

In fact, the old met the new that weekend as I moved on from the old technique of watching the loch to collecting the trap cameras I had set up the previous August. There were three in total and they were all still in place when I got to them. Well, not quite. I had one camera strapped around a tree trained on the loch. However, when I got there, it was now pointing along the shoreline, a change of ninety degrees to the north.

I speculated that some wag had played a trick on me and repositioned the camera. That view changed when I opened the camera and water poured out. The camera had not been moved by human force, but by storm force. Then I remembered that some weeks back, Loch Ness had experienced its worst storms in twenty years. The B&B owner had told me of their ferocity and how a fallen oak had narrowly missed their house. Viewers of Steve Feltham's facebook page will also recall how the waters at Dores Bay had nearly reached his home.

Okay, I wasn't too hopeful that I would get anything from this camera, so I went back to the B&B and examined the cameras (whilst watching the Augusta Masters of course).  The dry cameras were okay but had strangely recorded next to nothing, not even swaying bushes and furry animals. The flooded camera totally failed to power up in any way, which came as no surprise. The camera had been about two foot above the ground at its lowest level, but I can quite believe that this still allowed it to be partially submerged during the storms. 

Remarkably, the SD card inside had survived and I had pictures to look at! In all, it had taken a surprising 2100 pictures before the batteries packed in by late October. That was a lot more than normal and most of these were of waves breaking on the shore beneath the camera. In terms of specification, the camera takes a sequence of three pictures on detecting motion out to 15 metres. There is also an infrared sensor which will trigger the same run during the night.

The first picture below was typical of the various images of boats that triggered the camera. Nothing remarkable there, but it gives you an idea of what to expect if a large creature swims by. The canoe below would be comparable in size to a single hump passing by and you can see there is sufficient detail in the picture to offer the hope of an unambiguous picture of a Loch Ness Monster - if it deigns to surface nearby!

Otherwise, a lot of pictures were of the type below - waves crashing into the rocks below.

At night time, the pictures take on a more surreal black and white aspect. Does the picture below depict a young Nessie trying to climb up a nearby rock? Not quite, it is the tail of a small mammal darting past the camera from left to right! I would guess it was a Pine Marten.

What the next picture depicts is not entirely clear to me, but that looks like a paw on the bottom left.

The identity of this creature is more certain - long neck, humped back, it has to be a heron!

The next picture below is a bit more puzzling, what is the object poking out of the water at about 7 o' clock near the centre of the image? Unlike the other triple trigger images, there was only one image of this object. Since there are three rapid sequences of images depicting bright sunshine, I deduce it was the brightness of the sun that triggered the snapshot.

But what was the object? Since it not a large object and its presence was fleeting enough not to trigger another image, my best guess is that this was a fish jumping out of the water.

As you can tell from the next picture, somebody came across the camera. They clearly did not steal it, so I thank them for their civility in keeping it there. This is not the first time, the camera has snapped someone having a look at it, but this is now one time too many, so I think I need to find a more secluded spot!

Overall, no Nessie pictures, but let us put this into context. The coverage of the camera is a notional 350 metres squared. The surface area of Loch Ness is about 56 million square metres meaning the camera is covering less than 0.0006% of the loch.

In fact, I need to rethink how to point cameras at the loch. Two thousand pictures of waves ensured that the unit ran out of power during a run from August to October. However, the camera is meant to run from August to April! I clearly need to position the camera higher to exclude the waves moving in below. Sunsets are also an issue as a bright sun setting on the opposite hillside can trigger quite a few pictures as well. Back to the drawing board.


Another venerable part of the tradition of monster hunting is talking to witnesses and other people around the loch.  As I was coming back up from the shores around Altsigh, I got into a conversation with a local man who had lived in the area for over six years. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, it became apparent the local was a keen angler and so I eventually asked the inevitable question about the Monster of Loch Ness.

Now, our man was sceptical of such a beast and likened it to believing in Santa Claus; however, he told a tale. Armed with torch and rod, he had gone out alone into the darkness to do some night fishing by the Altsigh.  It was during this nocturnal angling that something unexpected happened.

In his own words, he related how he heard a tremendous splash nearby accompanied by a "roar". At that point he belted up the slope and got as far from shore as he could. He demonstrated this "roar" to me and for all the world it sound like something guttural which I could not quite liken to in the animal world. It was a bit like gargling without water, if you know what I mean.

Despite all this, he offered an explanation for his experience. Since he could not clearly make out the form of the object near him, he concluded in the cold light of day, that it had been a deer which had come off the hills to swim across the loch. He explained that sometimes deer do this when shooting parties hunt them (although there was no shooting going on at that time of night). he had gone back to the shore and satisfied himself that he had found the tracks of the offending animal.

As I pondered that story in my mind, his wife came up and joined the conversation. On mentioning this strange incident, she pointed out that he suffered heart palpitations for over a week afterwards. I could understand that happening, whether it was deer or not, but then she reminded him that he had told her that the dark form had reached above his own head height!

I eventually said my goodbyes to them but immediately evaluated what he had told me. I didn't doubt that deer would on rare occasions go for a swim across Loch Ness, but the idea of deer tracks nagged in my mind. I had just come up from the beach in question and it is a mainly pebbled affair flanked by an incline of trees, bushes and grass. So I was wondering how a deer could leave tracks in that context.

No doubt there are some areas where an imprint may be left (such as around the Youth Hostel), but nevertheless, if I had pressed him more, I would have asked how he knew those were the tracks of his presumed deer and why he had not heard the sound of hoof on pebble behind him beforehand. But, I will leave it at that, having recorded the story while it was still fresh in the memory.


Meantime, the dashcam attached to the windscreen of the car continued to operate around the loch. Here is a clip of the run from Dores to Inverfarigaig. It is somewhere along this stretch of road that the Spicers had their famous view of an unknown creature lumbering from their left, only to disappear into the foliage on the other side.

Sunday morning began very wet as I left the Bed and Breakfast and I wondered whether it was worth doing anything else. But the sun was not long in coming out for a final stint of good weather and so (as mentioned above) I headed to Altsigh were two sightings of note occurred.

The first was the land sighting by Alfred Cruickshank in 1923 and I will return to that in a future article. The second was the close up sighting by John MacLean in 1938 where the Altsigh burn flows into the loch. I clambered down the bank near the Youth Hostel and made my way to the estuary to take some pictures for the MacLean article, but I also add them here.

The first picture is looking up towards the Altsigh burn from the loch.

The next view is of a small spit of land bisecting the river to the right and the loch to the left. It is not known whether this spit existed in 1938, but I could imagine John MacLean standing there casting his fishing line as a creature beyond his expectations surfaced only sixty feet from him.

And, finally, looking across the loch from this small shingle beach.

After exploring this region and just generally watching the loch under the warmth of the sun, it was time to head back south to Edinburgh. I hope to be back in May. In the meantime, I include another dashcam footage as I headed out of the village of Foyers heading south. It was along this stretch of the road that the curious case of Lt. Col. Fordyce happened.

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Thursday, 30 April 2015

A Follow Up to the MacRae Film

Copyright: Süddeutscher Verlag

Loch Ness Monster researcher, Ulrich Magin, emailed me with a three hump photograph that has been on his files for years. While it is of interest in its own right, he wondered if it could have a link to the legendary MacRae film that was recently discussed on this blog? I reproduce the picture above with Ulrich's email below. 

You might be aware of me as a person that has commented upon the monster from time to time. I have read your column on the McRae film, and just possibly I have a clue. I am not very sure myself. There has always been an alleged Nessie photo widely used in German sources that appeared to be a still from it (or, if you want, a photo created in imitation of the alleged film). It might also be something completely different, and perhaps you know it. I enclose photos of two reproductions,

photo A from: Elke Kahlert (ed): Die Urwelt lebt. dtv, Munich 1972, p. 31

photo B from: Helmut Höfling: UFOs, Urwelt, Ungeheuer. Ensslin, Reutlingen 1980, p.280

Both give as copyright holder Süddeutscher Verlag, Munich. At the time (ca 1980), I contacted that publisher, never to receive an answer. Some magazine reproductions were better than the enclosed photos, and you could just discern an almond/slit-like eye in the conical head at the left, to the left of the pointed, frill-like ears.

The photo (and it might be a still from an early SF film I am unaware of, etc.), however, contains many elements of the description: "three humps, together with the neck and head, are clearly visible. The neck is held low over the water and seems to be writhing to and fro. During the sequence, a bird flies down and lands on a stone in the foreground, which helps to give scale to the picture.

The Orm's head appears to be bluntly conical in profile - rather like half a rugger ball, to quote Mr Dallas. On the crest of the head are two hornlike sense-organs. Starting between these, and running down the neck, is a bristly mane. Mr Dallas said that this mane reminded him of baleen; it is stiff yet flexible and the texture seemed to him fibrous rather than hairy. Slit-like eyes can be made out on the head but they are not very distinct."

Clearly visible on the photo (it is the same in both books, no variation in the waves) are large, regular, very unlikely scales on the humps, which have not been commented upon by Holiday.

By the way, there are a number of "authentic" Loch Ness monster photos that are only ever published in German media, and may have their origin here rather than in Scotland. Possibly this is one of them. Kahlert's book was first published in 1970, close to Holiday's account. It might be a German forgery. It might be a still from a SF film. It might be a still of the McRae film - who knows.

I would add that I do not recall ever seeing this photo. I agree with Ulrich that we really can't take this photograph further on our own. He has done the work at the time trying to track down further information. There is no background to indicate it was taken at Loch Ness and we know nothing about the photographer or his supposed encounter.

In that light, it could be anything from a staged hoax (such as this one from Germany) to a still from the MacRae film. I would only add that it was my presumption that the creature in the Macrae film displayed a longer neck. Anyway, if anyone has further information on this photo, send an email or add a comment below.

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