81 years ago Colonel Robert Wilson made a grainy black and white photo of a shape that resembled a prehistoric creature that was emerging from the icy waters of Loch Ness. The photo was published in the Daily Mail and since then the sightings of Nessie, perhaps the most famous monster in the world, became almost impossible to keep up.
Up to the present day, people are still searching for “Nessie” and even Google has joined the search.
Will they find “Nessie” or is “Nessie” just another legend?
The Monster of Loch Ness
Loch Ness, in the Scottish Highlands, is a relatively large and deep freshwater lake about 23 miles in length. Sightings of its most famous resident, the Loch Ness Monster (affectionately referred to as “Nessie”), go back nearly 1500 years. In 565 A.D., an Irish monk named Saint Columba first reported encountering a “water beast” in the vicinity of Loch Ness … and the legend was born.
It is similar to other supposed lake monsters in Scotland and elsewhere, though its description varies from one account to the next, with most describing it as large. Popular interest and belief in the creature’s existence has varied since it was first brought to the world’s attention in 1933. Evidence of its existence is anecdotal, with minimal and much-disputed photographic material and sonar readings.
The most common speculation among believers is that the creature represents a line of long-surviving plesiosaurs.
About 10,000 years ago, a glacier pushed through the Loch. That scotches the idea that Nessie is a plesiosaur left over from the Days Of The Dinosaurs. Fishy creatures don’t usually survive well in solid ice. And, the dinosaurs and their relatives died out about 65,000,000 years ago.
Much of the scientific community regards the Loch Ness Monster as a modern-day myth, and explains sightings as misidentifications of more mundane objects, outright hoaxes, and wishful thinking. Despite this, it remains one of the most famous examples of cryptozoology.
The creature of Loch Ness has been affectionately referred to by the nickname Nessie (Scottish Gaelic: Niseag) since the 1940s.
Saint Columba (565)
The legend of the Loch Ness monster goes back to the Middle Ages. There was a tale that the Loch had a mysterious creature called a “water horse” or a “kelpie”, that would supposedly lure travellers to their death.
The earliest report of a monster associated with the vicinity of Loch Ness appears in the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán, written in the 7th century. According to Adomnán, writing about a century after the events he described, the Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he came across the locals burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man had been swimming in the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” that had mauled him and dragged him under. They tried to rescue him in a boat, but could only drag up his corpse. Hearing this, Columba stunned the Picts by sending his follower Luigne moccu Min to swim across the river. The beast came after him, but Columba made the sign of the Cross and commanded: “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.” The beast immediately halted as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and fled in terror, and both Columba’s men and the pagan Picts praised God for the miracle. The oldest manuscript relating to this story was put online in 2012.
Watson, Roland. "The World's Oldest Loch Ness Monster Document". Retrieved 16 August 2012
Believers in the Loch Ness Monster often point to this story, set in the River Ness rather than the loch itself, as evidence for the creature’s existence as early as the 6th century. However, sceptics question the narrative’s reliability, noting that water-beast stories were extremely common in medieval saints’ Lives; as such, Adomnán’s tale is likely to be a recycling of a common motif attached to a local landmark. According to the sceptics, Adomnán’s story may be independent of the modern Loch Ness Monster legend entirely, only becoming attached to it in retrospect by believers seeking to bolster their claims. In an article for Cryptozoology, A. C. Thomas notes that even if there were some truth to the story, it could be explained rationally as an encounter with a walrus or similar creature that had swum up the river. R. Binns acknowledges that this account is the most serious of various alleged early sightings of the monster, but argues that all other claims of monster sightings prior to 1933 are highly dubious and do not prove that there was a tradition of the monster before this date.
1933 – The First Reports
Loch Ness remained relatively isolated for the next 1,400-or-so years.
It wasn’t until early 1933 that the Nessie myth really took off, following the opening of a new road that ran along the side of the loch, making it more accessible to public.
In April 1933, Mr. and Mrs. Mackay drove on this new road along the side of the loch. They were astonished to see the water surging and boiling in the centre of the loch for several minutes. The Inverness Courier reported on May 2 1933 that the Mackay couple saw “an enormous animal rolling and plunging”. The news of this modern viewing of “Nessie” rapidly spread around the world.
A sighting by George Spicer was reported on July 22 1933. When Mr George Spicer and his wife saw ‘a most extraordinary form of animal’ cross the road in front of their car. They described the creature as having a large body (about 4 feet (1 m) high and 25 feet (8 m) long), and long, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant’s trunk and as long as the 10-12 foot width of the road; the neck had a number of undulations in it. They saw no limbs because of a dip in the road obscuring the animal’s lower portion. It lurched across the road towards the loch some 20 yards (20 m) away, leaving only a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake.
On 5 January 1934 a motorcyclist called Arthur Grant claimed to have nearly hit the creature while approaching Abriachan on the northeastern shore, at about 1 am on a moonlit night. Grant saw a small head attached to a long neck; the creature saw him and crossed the road back into the loch. Grant dismounted and followed it to the loch, but only saw ripples where it had entered. However some believe this was only a joke to a friend of Grant.
In another 1934 sighting, a young maidservant named Margaret Munro supposedly observed the creature for about 20 minutes. It was about 6:30 am on 5 June, when she spotted it on shore from about 200 yards (200 m). She described it as having elephant-like skin, a long neck, a small head and two short forelegs or flippers. The sighting ended when the creature reentered the water. Sporadic land sightings continued until 1963, when a poor-quality film of the creature was made from a distance of several miles.
Tales of sightings of the Monster before 1933 do exist, but recorded occurrences are relatively rare. Since then, over 1,000 sightings have been recorded.
1933 – The first photographed sighting sparked a furore
This is the first known photograph allegedly taken of the Loch Ness Monster.
Highlands man Hugh Gray, an employee of the British Aluminium Company, was walking back home from church on 12 November, 1933, when he spotted something on the shoreline.
A large creature rose up from the lake. Seizing his camera, he took the picture (left). Gray took several pictures of it, but only one of them showed up after they were developed. This image appeared to show a creature with a long tail and thick body at the surface of the loch. The image is blurred, suggesting that the animal was splashing. Four stumpy-looking objects on the bottom of the creature’s body might possibly be a pair of appendages, such as flippers. Although critics have claimed that the photograph is of Gray’s labrador retriever swimming towards the camera (possibly carrying a stick), researcher Roland Watson rejects this interpretation and suggests there is an eel-like head on the right side of the image. The picture was first published in the Mirror’s sister paper, the Daily Record
Although met with instant scepticism from the scientific community, it caused a storm of publicity and inspired further ‘monster hunters’ to visit the shores of Loch Ness.
Watson, Roland. "The Hugh Gray Photograph Revisited".
1934 – The “Surgeon’s Photo’s”
Shortly after, in 1934, the Daily Mail newspaper had a scoop – a fuzzy black-and-white photo given to them by the respected Harley Street gynecologist, Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson. He had been driving on the new road around Loch Ness on the morning of 19 April. To his surprise, he said, the water near him began to surge and boil – so he quickly grabbed his camera and took two photos. Neither photo was very sharp, but one photo did seem to show Nessie’s head slipping beneath the waves, while the other one showed a long neck and head stretching up out of the waters of Loch Ness.
That photo, fuzzy as it was, gave the legend of the Loch Ness monster an enormous boost. It provided evidence of Nessie’s existence for nearly 60 years.
The historic “Surgeon’s Photo” Hoax
Reported sightings of the mysterious creature continued sporadically throughout the years. However, Nessie didn’t gain worldwide attention until 1934, when Robert Kenneth Wilson took his famous picture (also known as the “Surgeon’s Photograph”) that supposedly shows the head and neck of the monster. Even though experts believed the photograph to be a hoax, and some claim it wasn’t even Wilson who took the actual photo, it didn’t slow the rapidly growing interest in Lock Ness and the legend of Nessie.
What most Nessie-Believers don’t realize is that the famous never-since-duplicated first photo was a fake.
The legend took a beating in November 1993. That’s when a Mr. Christian Spurling confessed on his deathbed, that he had made the monster with his own hands. He told this to David Martin, a former zoologist with the Loch Ness and Morar Scientific Project, and his fellow researcher, Alastair Boyd.
The “Surgeon’s Photograph” is purported to be the first photo of a “head and neck”,and is one of the most iconic Nessie photos. Supposedly taken by Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynaecologist, it was published in the Daily Mail on 21 April 1934. Wilson’s refusal to have his name associated with the photograph led to it being nicknamed the “Surgeon’s Photograph”. He claimed that he was looking at the loch when he saw the monster, so he grabbed his camera and snapped four photos. Only two exposures came out clear: the first one shows what was claimed to be a small head and back, while the second one shows a similar head in a diving position. The first one became iconic, while the second attracted little publicity because it was difficult to interpret what was depicted, due to its blurry quality.
For many years, the photo was regarded as good evidence of the monster.
In 1993, Christian Spurling, stepson of the flamboyant movie maker and big game hunter “Duke” Wetherell, admitted he’d made the “monster” out of some plastic and a clockwork, tinplate, toy submarine. The picture (often referred to as the “Surgeon’s Photograph,” because Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson, a physician, claimed to had taken it by the Loch in April of 1934) had withstood careful scientific examination. Monster fans had speculated that the pictures showed a plesiosaur, while skeptics said it must have been an otter head or tree trunk. Nobody seems to have suspected it was actually a toy submarine.
According to two Loch Ness researchers, David Martin and Alastair Boyd, in 1993 they’d heard Wetherell’s son, Ian, in a 1975 article, had alleged that his father had faked one of the “Nessie” photographs. A couple of things seem to ring true about his statement. First he named Maurice Chambers as a part of the conspiracy. This was the very man Wilson had said he was going to visit the day he took photo. Also Ian Wetherell had mentioned that some of the photos taken that had been included the far shoreline in the image.
Since, with only one exception, every version of the published pictures had the shoreline cropped out, it seemed likely that Ian only knew about it because he’d been there when the photo was taken. Since by then Ian Wetherell was dead, the two men decided to talk to Ian’s stepbrother, Christian Spurling. When Martin and Boyd visited him, Spurling, then 93, admitted he’d been approached by Duke Wetherell to build a fake monster.
Duke Wetherell apparently concocted the plan as revenge upon the London Daily Mail newspaper. In 1933 the Daily Mail had hired Wetherell to find the Loch Ness Monster. Soon after arriving at the lake Wetherell found some strange tracks of a four-toed creature in the soft mud near the water. Wetherell estimated that whatever left the tracks must be twenty feet in length. Plaster casts were taken and sent to the London Museum of Natural History. While the world awaited the Museum’s analysis, however, hundreds of monster hunters and tourists showed up at the Loch. Unfortunately after a few weeks the Museum announced that the tracks were not that of an unknown monster, but those of a hippo. Apparently Wetherell himself had been hoaxed. The dried foot used to make the print was probably part of an umbrella stand or ash tray. The Daily Mail was angered at Wetherell and ridiculed and humiliated him.
It was soon after this that Spurling, who was a model-maker by trade, was approached by his stepfather to build the “beast.” Construction was done with plastic wood over the conning tower of the toy submarine he’d purchased. The neck, estimated by some from the photograph to be over three feet high, actually measured between 8 and 12 inches.
“We’ll give them their monster,” Duke told his son. Ian Wetherell and his father took the completed contraption and a camera to the Loch and photographed it on a quiet bay, then sank the evidence in the mud at the edge of the lake. The undeveloped film was then passed to Chambers and on to Colonel Wilson, who had them developed. He then sold them photo to the Daily Mail. The conspirators were quite unprepared for the publicity the photo generated and apparently decided not to admit the hoax. The story stayed unknown for over sixty years.
Not everyone thinks that the photo is a fake. Some have questioned why Martin and Boyd waited to announce the story until Spurling was dead, making it impossible for others to question him. As far as the beast itself goes, not even Boyd thinks that the end of the Surgeon’s photo is the end of the Loch Ness Monster. Boyd, who has seen the creature himself, remains a believer.
Robert Kenneth Wilson, a First World War veteran, and his friend Maurice Chambers were paid £100 for the picture (over £6,000 today), but he was fined £1,000 by the British Medical Association for allowing his name to be associated with it.
Little is known about the second photo and how it came to be. It is often ignored by researchers, who believe its quality is too poor and its differences with first photo too large to warrant analysis. It shows a similar head to the first photo, with a more turbulent wave pattern and possibly taken at a different time and location of the Loch. It has been speculated as to what appears in the second photo, with some believing it to be an earlier, cruder attempt at a hoax, and others (including Roy Mackal and Maurice Burton) believing it to be a genuine picture of a diving bird or otter that Wilson had mistaken for the monster. Morrison reported that when the plates were developed, Wilson wasn’t interested in the second photo, allowing him to keep the negative and the second photo to be rediscovered some years later. When questioned about the second photo by the Ness Information Service Newsletter, Spurling “… was vague, thought it might have been a piece of wood they were trying out as a monster, but [was] not sure.”
The hoax story is disputed by Henry Bauer, who claims this debunking is evidence of bias, and asks why the perpetrators did not reveal their plot earlier to embarrass the newspaper. Alastair Boyd, one of the researchers who uncovered the hoax, argues that the Loch Ness Monster is real, and that although the famous photo was hoaxed, that does not mean that all the photos, eyewitness reports, and footage of the monster were as well. He asserts that he too had a sighting and also argues that the hoaxed photo is not a good reason to dismiss eyewitness reports and other evidence.
Untold sums of money have been spent on the hunt for Nessie, with zero definitive results.
There was the Sir Edward Mountain Expedition (1934), Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau (1962–1972), the LNPIB sonar study (1968), the Andrew Carroll sonar study (1969), the Viperfish submersible expedition (1969), the Roy Mackal Expedition (1970), the Robert Rine studies (1972, 1975, 2001, 2008), Operation Deepscan (1987), Discovery Loch Ness (1993), the BBC study (2003), and the list goes on. These searches have involved thousands of volunteers, dozens of scientists, sonar, boats, submarines, satellites, massive multi-million dollar corporations and tens of millions of dollars… but, to date, the most famous evidence of Nessie still remains the 1934 “Surgeon’s Photograph” which has been proven to be a hoax.
.Amateur investigators kept an almost constant vigil, and in the 1960s several British universities launched expeditions to Loch Ness, using sonar to search the deep. Nothing conclusive was found, but in each expedition the sonar operators detected large, moving underwater objects they could not explain. In 1975, Boston’s Academy of Applied Science combined sonar and underwater photography in an expedition to Loch Ness.
A photo resulted that, after enhancement, appeared to show the giant flipper of a plesiosaur-like creature. Further sonar expeditions in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in more tantalizing, if inconclusive, readings. Revelations in 1994 that the famous 1934 photo was a hoax hardly dampened the enthusiasm of tourists and professional and amateur investigators to the legend of the Loch Ness Monster.
Around one million people visit Loch Ness each year, putting around £25 million into the local economy. It is estimated that more than 85% of them come because of the Monster.
Nessie Sightings Through The Years in Pictures
The Loch Ness Monster – the video evidence in 60 seconds
(Followed by a documentary playlist of the Loch Ness Monster)
Now Google is helping out with the search for Nessie
Now, 81 years after the historic photo, Google has been helping out with the search for Nessie. Google Maps, leveraging their Street View camera technology, released the new 360-degree imagery of Loch Ness. Amateur monster hunters can now explore the famous body of water from the comfort of their own living rooms. Google even thoughtfully included imagery looking out of the water onto land, called “Nessie’s Perspective”.
Google commemorated the 81st anniversary of the release of the “Surgeon’s Photograph” with a “Google Doodle“,and added the new feature to their Google street view in which users can now explore the Loch both above water level, and below. Google reportedly spent a week at Loch Ness collecting imagery with one of their street view “trekker” cameras. They attached the camera to a boat to photograph above the water, and collaborated with members of Catlin Seaview Survey to photograph beneath the water.
The blog of Google Maps reported on the quest for the sample on the 35 square kilometers and 250 meters deep Loch Ness.
Google also partnered with resident Nessie expert Adrian Shine to create and review the new digital content. Shine has been searching the area for the Loch Ness Monster since the early 1970s and has reportedly logged more than 1000 sightings (see the video overview below).
With the powerful search and mapping technology of Google, partnered with potentially millions of monster hunters searching the lake, how long can Nessie stay hidden? Sure enough, he seems already spotted
Do you think the Loch Ness Monster could be real? Do you know someone who has seen it? Let us know in the Comments section below.
Loch Ness Monster wiki
Loch Ness Monster in popular culture wiki
Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition
Loch Ness Webcams
New Google 360-degree imagery of Loch Ness
Adrian Shine and Loch Ness Information
Loch Ness Project and Adrian Shine Index
The Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club | The Officially Original Loch Ness Monster Blog