How scientists debunked the Loch Ness monster


Many people know that the most famous photograph of the Loch Ness Monster was a total hoax. The “creature” pictured in Robert Wilson’s 1934 photo turned out to be nothing more than a toy submarine with a plastic head stuck on it.

But for some reason, the legend has persisted over the decades – and, of course, a fake photograph doesn’t prove it. is not a monster.

So, more recently, a pair of scientists decided to take it upon themselves to prove once and for all that the Loch Ness Monster cannot be real.

In their book An abominable science! : The Origins of the Yeti, Nessia, and Other Famous Cryptids, Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero offer an in-depth demystification of a menagerie of mythological animals, from Nessie to Bigfoot. Prothero, a paleontologist and geologist, explained to me all the reasons why the Loch Ness monster couldn’t exist.

1) There hasn’t been a single convincing sighting of “Nessie”

Observers scanned the Loch in 1968 (without success). (Fox Pictures / Stringer /Getty Images)

Start with the most obvious point: according to legend, there is a giant sea monster that (probably) looks like a dinosaur living in Loch Ness, a freshwater lake in the Scottish highlands. Although the monster was most famous photographed in the 1930s, fans say the myth has been around for centuries.

The monster, affectionately known as “Nessie,” is one of the most formidable examples of “cryptozoology,” the study of animals whose existence has not been proven. For a giant dinosaur-like animal that lives in a lake, we would need a lot of evidence. But we haven’t found anything yet.

There is a long history of “sightings” of monsters around Loch Ness. In 1852, for example, the villagers pulled out real pitchforks to fight a “sea serpent” (it turned out to be a pony taking a bath). In 1933, a Londoner named George Spicer said he saw the beast carrying a lamb in its mouth. From there, the accounts exploded and took a life of their own.

But these accounts have always been unreliable, and often differ wildly on the appearance of the monster itself (early reports suggested that the Loch Ness monster was a seal-like creature, not a dinosaur). So far, hoaxes aside, no one has produced a single genuine photograph. This should make us extremely suspicious. But this objection is only the beginning.

2) If Nessie were real, we would find the bones of her ancestors. We did not do it.

A 1951 drawing of a plesiosaur, the dinosaur many consider a model for Nessie.  (Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

A 1951 drawing of a plesiosaur, the marine reptile many consider a model for Nessie. (Universal Images Group /Getty Images)

“The biggest problem,” says Prothero, “is that the biological, geological and physical evidence is against the existing thing.”

As the myth of Nessie developed, many cryptozoologists promoted the theory that he was a survivor plesiosaur – a marine reptile which swam in water and which would have disappeared for 65 million years. But there’s a big problem: We couldn’t find any plesiosaur bones in Loch Ness.

“We have an incredibly good fossil record of animals,” says Prothero, “and a plesiosaur bone has never been found in the lake.” Since the 1970s, scientists have dredged, dug and explored the soil of Loch Ness for bones. The flat bottom of the lake would be ideal for finding bones, but no one has found them. Sonar scans of the lake also failed to find any Nessie fossils.

If Nessie existed, it would appear to be the first and only of its kind. For many reasons, this is unlikely.

3) Even if Nessie existed, Loch Ness would not be big enough to support it

A picturesque view of Loch Ness in 2014 (DEA / S. Vannini / Getty Images)

A picturesque view of Loch Ness in 2014. (DEA / S. Vannini /Getty Images)

“This is something any biologist could tell you right away,” says Prothero. “We need a wider range. “

If there was a Loch Ness monster, it would take an entire population of creatures for them to reproduce. But no one has ever produced any evidence that there is a herd of monsters – there aren’t even any wild rumors or hoaxes to that effect.

Most importantly, Loch Ness is simply too small to accommodate a plesiosaur or similar sized creature. Researchers with the Loch Ness and Morar project say there are only about 22 tonnes of fish in the lake. Sounds like a lot, but for breeding giant plesiosaurs, it would be nowhere near enough. Loch Ness is simply not big enough or fertile enough for a monster of this size.

4) Loch Ness is also too cold for a reptile to inhabit it

There is another bigger problem. Nessie is generally described as a reptile, like the plesiosaur. But Loch Ness is simply not a suitable habitat for such a creature.

“The water is too cold for a reptile,” says Prothero. “There are only a few species of reptiles that live in Scotland, and a cold-blooded animal can only live there if it is adapted. Plesiosaurs are tropical creatures, which we know from their evolution and where the there are fossils. “

Of course, Nessie fans could respond by saying that the beast is actually warm-blooded, similar to the dolphins and seals spotted in the loch. But a gigantic warm-blooded lizard-like creature that looked like Nessie is even Following unlikely to be a plesiosaur, as it would be unlike anything we have encountered in the fossil record. And that’s even more unlikely given that the lake hasn’t existed long enough for such a unique animal to evolve on its own.

5) Loch Ness was covered in ice until relatively recently

A snowy model of the Loch Ness Monster is one of the ways to demystify the monster.  (Glyn Kirk / Stringer / Getty Images)

A snow-capped model of the Loch Ness Monster is an apt illustration of one of the ways the monster is debunked. (Glyn Kirk / Stringer /Getty Images)

One of the most damning arguments against the Loch Ness Monster is that it should have moved to Loch Ness relatively recently. This is because Loch Ness was completely covered in ice just 18,000 years ago. “All the lakes were under at least a mile of ice,” says Prothero. “There was no lake there – these lakes are characteristic young, and there is no place for this animal if there is no lake.”

Now, in theory, Nessie could have come from the Atlantic Ocean and then settled in Loch Ness for the past 20,000 years. But that raises another issue: There’s not really a plausible path the monster could have done.

“Loch Ness has at least a little connection to the sea, but it’s a trickle, and it’s above sea level,” says Prothero. And it was even more difficult to get from the sea to the Loch. “When the ice melted, the sea level was even lower and the water would have been even colder.”

This means that Nessie would have had to swim against the current in extremely cold water to get to the lake, which is unlikely for a giant monster (reptile or mammal). Possible routes such as the River Ness are far too shallow for a sea monster to be able to go back and forth. Finally, as Loch Ness is above sea level, even an underwater tunnel leading to the Loch would be difficult to cross due to the differences in elevation.

For a sea monster, such a trip is a tall order. For a gray seal, however, it’s more likely (and maybe that’s why people see them and maybe confuse them with Nessie).

Why did the Nessie myth spread? Blame King Kong.

The Loch Ness Monster in King Kong in 1933 (Ernest Bachrach / John Kobal Foundation / Getty Images)

The sea monster in the 1933s King Kong. (Ernest Bachrach / John Kobal Foundation /Getty Images)

Despite its utter implausibility, however, the legend of Nessie persisted throughout the 20th century. And there are some possible cultural explanations.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Loxton and Prothero point out, dinosaurs were becoming popular – thanks to everything since Arthur Conan Doyle The lost World to breathtaking exhibitions in museums. So maybe it’s no surprise that people wanted to find a dinosaur-like creature in the lake.

Then in 1933 the film King Kong was released, showing foolish prehistoric creatures. Shortly after, we had the first modern sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. Loxton and Prothero convincingly argue that the early accounts were influenced by the imagery and mythology seen in the film.

“People are influenced by whatever the culture is about,” says Prothero. “If there’s a big enough meme and everyone sees it, whatever they actually see is tempered in light of their cultural expectations.”

What is surprising, however, is that the myth always persists today. There may be economic reasons for this. The Loch Ness Monster attracts a million people a year to the region, grosses around £ 25million to the local economy, and remains an icon. The strange persistence of the Loch Ness myth isn’t just a story about a creature, it’s a story about a culture that wants it to be real.


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