The monster's legend dates back some 1500 years, but "Nessie's" star really began to ascend in the 1930s.
Home in the Highlands
Located in the Scottish Highlands, the famous Loch Ness just seems to lend itself to mystery. It's easy to see why any creature could elude discovery in the loch for centuries. While we may never know what the Loch Ness monster is (if it does, in fact, even exist), here are some details about the Scottish Highlands in which it reportedly lives:
Almost 22 square miles on its surface, Loch Ness boasts the largest volume of freshwater in Scotland.
It contains the greatest average depth of any Scotland loch, plunging as low as 754 feet.
The loch's high peat concentration provides Loch Ness with its legendary murkiness.
The Loch Ness contains more water than all of the lakes in England and Scotland combined.
The Loch Ness Monster's Physical Features
Most of us have at least a hazy notion of Nessie's legendary looks. The sightings are split between two iconic images: A serpent-like creature with several humps or a creature usually described as "a long necked plesiosaur." Here is a look at some of the attributes commonly attributed to the Loch Ness Monster:
- Body: Statistically, almost half of the sightings describe a creature with a small head, long neck and two or three humps in its back.
- Color: At least one recent witness reported the Loch Ness Monster to be "jet black" in color.
- Other features: A 1970s image purports to reveal that the Loch Ness Monster has rhomboid-shaped fins.
- Size: The monster is believed to be 25 to 40 feet in length and perhaps four feet high.
From Kelpie to "Nessie"
References to mysterious encounters in the Loch Ness area go back as far as 560 AD. According to a biographer, the missionary St. Columba encountered a fierce water creature while traveling the River Ness. Just after the beast attacked and killed a native, it turned on one of the missionary's own men.
Here is an excerpt of the account: "[T]he monster . . . suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open." According to legend, the future saint frightened the monster away by making the sign of the cross in the air.
Other tales emerged over the ensuing centuries, including that of a nineteenth century warlock said to possess a bridle belonging to a "water kelpie" that roamed Loch Ness. Some say kelpies were invented by parents anxious to keep children away from Britain's many deep lakes and rivers. Others claim that real events prompted the urgent warnings.
1933: A Good Year for Nessie Sightings
The year 1933 vividly brought the Loch Ness Monster legend to public attention. About 43 sightings occurred in that year alone. One couple out for a drive even claims to have seen the Loch Ness monster walking across a local road with some sort of animal in its mouth!
Many attribute the surge of Nessie sightings to highway improvements along the Loch's North Shore. It's unclear which was more instrumental in increasing monster sightings: The improved view, increased tourism or Nessie becoming perturbed by all the shoreline explosions. No matter what the reason, skeptics and believers alike were asking the same question: "The Loch Ness monster: What is it?"
Several photos of Nessie exist, the most famous of which was taken in 1934 by surgeon Kenneth Wilson. The photograph reveals a creature with a long neck and upraised head. Unfortunately, Wilson's photograph was exposed as a hoax more than 50 years later.
Sonar and the Loch Ness Monster
In 1954, a Loch Ness fishing boat equipped with sonar recorded a large object traveling at about the boat's speed at a depth of almost 500 feet.
The late 1960s ushered in the modern era of sonar and related projects to Loch Ness, several of which yielded intriguing results. Among them were sonar readings that evidenced an object about twenty feet long, moving too swiftly to be a fish.
In 1970, underwater microphones picked up a series of chirpings and swishing noises scientists could not identify as any known natural phenomenon. The recordings seemed to suggest a large animal using echolocation to find prey, with the swishing indicating tail movement characteristic of large aquatic animals on the hunt.
As recently as May 2007, a video emerged that purported to show a swiftly-moving, jet-black creature about 45 feet long. The video, broadcast on BBC Scotland, is still being analyzed.
From the beginning, Nessie-lovers who believed that the creature has a long, graceful neck indicated the Loch Ness monster was an aquatic dinosaur known as the plesiosaur, which somehow escaped the fate of its fellow dinosaurs during the mass extinction 65 million years ago.
Unfortunately, basic laws of nature seem to throw cold water on the Plesiosaur theory:
- The area known as the "Loch Ness" has been determined to be only about 10,000 years old, created by the last Ice Age. That makes it impossible for plesiosaurs to have been hiding in the loch for millions of years.
- Plesiosaur experts insist the creatures didn't lift their necks "swan-like" from the water, as Nessie-spotters so often report about the Loch Ness creature.
- Scientists believe the Plesiosaur to have been a cold-blooded creature preferring warm, tropical waters. Loch Ness, therefore, would be too cold for such a creature. Most believe Nessie to be warm-blooded.
The Loch Ness Monster: What is It
To this day, the Loch Ness monster phenomenon remains neither proven nor discredited. Skeptics continue to point to the fact that no physical evidence, such as skeletal remains or tissue samples, has ever been recovered.
However, true believers insist that the sheer number of sightings, the majority of which have not been ruled to be hoaxes, prove that the Loch Ness has yet to yield all of its secrets.