Did scientists finally kill the Loch Ness monster?

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Scientists say they have finally found a “plausible theory”For sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. It is not a Jurassic-era aquatic reptile or a circus elephant that entered the water to bathe with its trunk in the air. If Nessie ever existed, she was probably a giant eel, according to a new scientific study of the loch.

Starting with a Irish Missionary Report of a monster in the River Ness in AD 565, repeated sightings in the modern era have kept Scotland’s greatest myth alive. The most famous of these is a grainy photo from 1934 that appears to show the dark silhouette of a long-necked creature floating on the surface of the water.

The fake photo of the Loch Ness Monster taken in 1934 by Colonel Robert Wilson.
Robert Kenneth Wilson / Wikipedia

Until now, such previews were all people had to go on. But a new technique allows scientists to sample all of the life in Loch Ness by bring together environmental DNA, or e-DNA as it is called. It is genetic material present in the cells of organisms and released into their environment. Finding and identifying electronic DNA can tell scientists which organisms live in a habitat without them having to observe or capture them.

Speaking of Drumnadrochit, a village on the west side of the loch, scientists have announced the results of their Loch Ness e-DNA survey. The team took more than 200 one-liter water samples from across the loch – including surface and deep water – and compared them to 36 samples from five nearby “monster-free” lochs. Their census provides a list of all the species that inhabit Loch Ness – from bacteria to plants and animals.



Read more: Monster Hunting: Using Environmental DNA to Study Life in Loch Ness


What did they find?

The study detected more than 500 million individual organisms and 3,000 species. According to Neil gemmill from the University of Otago in New Zealand, which led the study, there is no DNA sequence match for shark, catfish or sturgeon. This rules out a large exotic fish in the loch.

There are DNA matches for various terrestrial species that you would expect to see around Loch Ness, including badgers, deer, rabbits, voles, and various birds. Sheep, cattle and dogs also feature on the record alongside humans. This suggests that the sampling is good enough to pick up species that would rarely visit the water – so it should be able to detect a monster permanently living in the loch.

The most popular depiction of Nessie is that of a plesiosaur – an ancient long-necked marine reptile that became extinct alongside dinosaurs in the last great mass extinction 65 million years ago.

Nessie’s most popular theory – that she is a plesiosaur who somehow survived the dinosaurs extinction event – may have finally been dismissed.
Mark Witton, Author provided

Scottish geologist Hugh Miller discovered the first British plesiosaur bones on the Scottish island of Eigg in 1844. But according to Gemmill, there is “not a single reptile in our vertebrate data, and nothing that is sitting in the place expected by a plesiosaur [DNA] the sequence could be predicted – somewhere between birds and crocodilians ”.

The most likely candidate for Nessie who has surfaced in media reports about the research is a giant eel. It seems to be based simply on the fact that Eel DNA was detected at “just about all locations sampled“in Loch Ness.

A large European eel, but not monstrous.
Gérard M / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

A lot of eel DNA doesn’t confirm that Nessie is a giant eel – only that there are a lot of eels. Scientists don’t have monster DNA to compare with anything they’ve found in the loch, so no one can say for sure whether or not there is a monster there. But the absence of anything unusual in the Loch Ness DNA record suggests there is nothing to get excited about – and that includes a giant eel.

What future for Nessie?

If Nessie doesn’t exist, why do eyewitness accounts of the Loch Ness Monster persist? The answer is probably a psychological phenomenon called “expected attention”. It happens when people who expect or want to see something are more likely to misinterpret visual cues like the thing they expect or want to see.

Could Nessie still be there in Loch Ness?
Jason gilchrist, Author provided (no reuse)

This probably also happens with recently extinct animals. The last known tasmanian tiger died in 1936 and extensive scientific investigations have revealed no evidence that they still exist. Even so, people still often report seeing them.



Read more: Why Scientific Evidence Won’t Change the Minds of True Loch Ness Monster Believers?


Still, Gemmell acknowledges that there is uncertainty. Seals and otters – two species known to appear in the loch at least occasionally – were not detected, while 20% of the DNA collected was “unexplained”. This is normal for an e-DNA study, but it leaves room for a monster.

A YouGov poll in August 2018 found that 24% of Scots believe that Nessie exists.

Science being science, one can never say with complete confidence that there are no Loch Ness monsters. The Loch thriving tourism industry can still count on a little mystery to attract true believers. Rest assured, monster hunters. Nessie lives on.



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