Fact Checked

What is Nessie?

G. Melanson
G. Melanson

“Nessie” is a nickname given to the Loch Ness Monster, a legendary aquatic creature that purportedly inhabits the waters of Loch Ness, Scotland. Alongside other creatures such as Bigfoot and Chupacabra, Nessie is one of the most iconic subjects of study in Cryptozoology.

Nessie first gained public attention in 1933, after a chilling eyewitness report from a London resident was published in Scotland’s Inverness Courier. The witness claimed that he and his wife had spotted what they could only describe as a “pre-historic animal” or “dragon” crossing a road near the Loch with an animal in its mouth. Similar stories from other eyewitnesses soon surfaced, and Nessie began grabbing international headlines.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

One year after Nessie first made the news, the most famous alleged photograph of the creature made its debut. “The Surgeon's Photograph,” taken by London gynecologist, Robert Kenneth Wilson, depicted what appears to be a swan-like neck and small, lizard-like head emerging from the waters of the Loch. Although The Surgeon’s Photograph went on to become the most iconic photo of Nessie, it was revealed to be a hoax in 1994.

Throughout the mid-late twentieth century, several attempts to scientifically prove the existence of an unidentified creature in Loch Ness were organized, including underwater sonar scans, around-the-clock land surveillance, and other expeditions. In 1962, a society of self-funded researchers, The Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau (LNPIB), was formed. Despite attempts to gather physical evidence of Nessie in an organized and scientific fashion, so far there has been no convincing photographic or forensic evidence of any unidentified animal living in Loch Ness.

Based on the Surgeon’s Photo and other sighting descriptions, many have theorized that Nessie is a Plesiosaur that somehow survived the Ice Age. Opponents of this theory cite the fact that the Plesiosaur was likely cold-blooded and required warm, tropical waters; as well as the fact that a creature with the anatomy of a Plesiosaur would be spotted much more frequently than Nessie is, as it would need to surface regularly throughout the day for air.

Those who believe that Nessie is a misidentified animal rather than an unknown animal have put forth various theories to try to explain the strange hump shapes and water breaks spotted in the Loch. For example, grey seals are sometimes attributed to Nessie sightings, due to their extendible necks. Other animals, such as otters, large eels, and even swimming deer have also been put forth as possible causes of animal misidentification. Misidentified inanimate objects have also been blamed for Nessie sightings, such as fermenting Scots pinewood from the bottom of the Loch, which shoots to the surface of the water when propelled by gas emissions.

Like The Montauk Monster, Nessie has been singled out as having huge promotional and viral marketing potential. In 2005, Nessie grabbed headlines again after two students reportedly discovered a large, unidentified tooth embedded in a deer carcass on the Loch’s shore. Further study showed that the tooth was actually an antler and the incident was subsequently revealed to be a hoax orchestrated to promote a Steve Alten horror novel, titled The Loch.

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