Feeding the Beast: 10 Facts About the Hunt for the Loch Ness Monster
Over the last eight decades, dozens of photos of the phenomenon known as the Loch Ness Monster have been published, turning skeptics around the world into Nessie believers. The first of these images was released on this date back in 1933. Below, a few facts about the Scottish beast, and the lore that surrounds it.
1. THE LEGEND GOES BACK 1500 YEARS.
When the Romans encountered a tribe called the Picts in Scotland’s Highlands way back in the first century CE, they saw carved stone renderings of a strange water creature referred to as a swimming elephant. There were also mentions of a creature seen by Saint Columba, an Irish missionary who introduced Christianity to Scotland and, on a journey to the Highlands, invoked God’s name to stop the monster from dragging a man to his death.
2. A SCOTTISH NEWSPAPER EDITOR FIRST CALLED IT A "MONSTER."
A sighting by a local couple of a creature in the Loch made its way into the May 2, 1933, edition of the Inverness Courier, whose editor used the term “monster” to describe the massive animal splashing in the water. The beast became a national sensation when the London Daily Mail ran a December 1933 story about Nessie, declaring, “Monster of Loch Ness Not a Legend But Fact.”
3. THE PHOTOGRAPHER BEHIND THE FIRST IMAGE CLAIMS HE SAW A "BIG SPLASH."
Hugh Gray captured a blurry image of the purported monster on November 12, 1933, when he was walking back from church. Gray said he saw “an object of considerable dimensions, making a big splash with spray on the surface of the Loch.”
4. A DOCTOR SNAPPED THE MOST FAMOUS PHOTO OF NESSIE.
London-based gynecologist Robert K. Wilson was vacationing in Scotland and took a photograph of a commotion in the water. The “surgeon’s photo,” as it came to be known, showed an animal’s long neck peeking out of the waters of Loch Ness. The fact that it was sold to the Daily Mail by a respected physician was more than enough for some people to accept the monster's existence as fact.
5. A RUINED CASTLE OVERLOOKS THE LAKE.
Loch Ness is huge. At nearly 23 miles long and more than 750 feet deep, it contains the largest volume of fresh water of any body of water in Great Britain. Measured in surface area, Ness (21.71 square miles) is the second-biggest lake in Scotland after Loch Lomond (27.45 square miles).
Urquhart Castle sits about 13 miles south of Inverness and a mile from the village of Drumnadrochit, right on the banks of Ness. It was founded in the 13th century and saw centuries of conflicts and invasions, from King Edward I to the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles, before being abandoned in the late 17th century. Today the castle houses a tourist center.
6. THE DAILY MAIL HIRED AN ACTOR TO HUNT "NESSIE."
In 1933, with monster fever running high, actor, filmmaker, and big-game hunter Marmaduke Weatherell ventured to Scotland after being hired by the Daily Mail to capture the monster. After just a few days he claimed to have found footprints of the creature and sent plaster casts of the prints to the Natural History Museum in London for analysis. The next month, however, the Museum revealed that the prints were of a hippopotamus foot, likely stuffed and used as the base for an umbrella stand.
7. WEATHERELL'S FORGERY WOULDN'T BE THE LAST.
Along with Weatherell’s phony Nessie foot, Robert Wilson’s famed photo also turned out to be a fake. In the 1990s, stories appeared that indicated Wilson’s photo was actually that of a toy submarine with a manufactured head and neck placed atop. Other fakes include the Loch Ness “Muppet” photo from 1977; P.A. MacNabb’s iconic photo from 1955, published in Constance Whyte's More Than a Legend in 1957; the Rines-Egerton flipper photos from 1975; and George Edwards’ hump photo from 2012.
8. REAL SCIENTISTS HAVE JOINED THE HUNT.
Whyte’s book spawned a new generation of Nessie hunters, and the creation of the Loch Ness Investigative Bureau in 1961. Several British universities (Oxford, Cambridge, and the University of Birmingham), as well as Boston’s Academy of Applied Science, applied sonar technology and underwater photography to the searches, and the BBC has also sponsored a number of investigations. Nothing conclusive has ever been found, and longtime Nessie hunter Steve Feltham told the Daily Mirror that he believes the mysterious sightings were caused by large Wels catfish, which can grow up to 13 feet long.
9. NESSIE IS BIG BUSINESS.
More than 1 million people visit the area surrounding Loch Ness every year, generating up to $38 million in revenue. Towns like Drumnadrochit highlight the monster with a Loch Ness Monster Exhibition and a lake cruise called the "Nessie Hunter." A conference was arranged in 2014 by University of the Highlands, Islands Management School, and Visit Scotland to assess the monster’s impact on tourism.
10. THERE HAVE BEEN FOUR SIGHTINGS THIS YEAR.
Despite the preponderance of evidence that Nessie is merely a series of misidentifications and hoaxes, sightings continue to this day. The latest occurred in September when a man claimed to see a 15- to 20-foot-long creature emerge from the water for six to seven seconds before returning to the depths of the Loch.