Celebrating 1,447 Years of the Loch Ness Monster

An artist’s depiction of a Plesiosaur, the same species Nessie reportedly belongs to.
An artist’s depiction of a Plesiosaur, the same species Nessie reportedly belongs to. The Berlin Aquarium

Yesterday, 1,447 years ago the Gaelic Irish missionary monk Saint Columba was poking around the Scottish highlands when he reportedly stumbled upon a creature no man had before seen: an ancient, long-surviving plesiosaurs, better known now as the Loch Ness monster. According to Adomnan, the ninth Abbot of Iona who later recorded Columba’s adventures, the Saint came upon a group of locals digging a grave for a man recently killed by a monster said to inhabit the River Ness. All fired up, Columba took off for the river and promptly saved a swimmer from the monster by invoking the sign of the cross and declaring, “Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.” The beast halted as if it were “pulled back with ropes” and fled in terror. Columba saved the swimmer and won over a few converts from the grateful villagers.

Thus, the legend of the Loch Ness monster was born. Of course, the fact that Adomnan also recounts adventures in which Columba calms storms, expels evil spirits and raises people from the dead made no impact on the legend’s believability, nor did the fact that Medieval water monster stories were a favorite gimmick used to instil the fear of God in quaking believers. And somewhere through the passings on of local lore, Loch Ness, Scotland’s second-largest loch, or lake, took over as the monster’s home rather than the originally reported River Ness, which runs off the lake.

After the Saint’s close call, the monster was not “spotted” for another 1,368 years, when Mr. and Mrs. George Spicer reported seeing “a most extraordinary form of animal” cross the road in front of their car on July 22, 1933. According to their account, the creature was about 25 feet long and 4 feet high, with a long, spotted neck that resembled a thick elephant trunk.

Their account sparked a frenzy of similar sightings, including hunting parties determined to catch the animal “dead or alive.” As technology developed, so too did the various ways in which people tried to depict the monster, including by film, video or sonar. Later analysis revealed each one to be a creatively staged hoax.

Just in time for Nessie’s anniversary, however, a new photo – the “best yet” – emerged. ABC news reports:

George Edwards takes his boat, “Nessie Hunter,” out onto Loch Ness nearly every day, often with tourists who hope to see the creature for themselves. Early one morning in November of last year, Edwards was turning his ship back to shore after spending the morning searching for an old steam engine on the lake floor, when he saw something else.

“I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and immediately grabbed my camera,” Edwards told ABC News. “I happened to get a good picture of one of them.”

Edwards said he watched the creature for about 10 minutes, but does not explain why he only snapped one photo during that window.

Rival Loch Ness monster enthusiast Steve Felthman already called foul and debunked the photo to STV News:

He says he is convinced Mr Edwards took the picture during the filming of a documentary on the monster which he participated in, and has sourced the film’s fake fibreglass hump which he believes is the star of Mr Edwards’ snap.

Mr Feltham said: “There’s absolutely no doubt that this is the same thing. Look at the step slope on the front – it’s got several ridges on it. The number of ridges is the same as on the model.

Edwards countered, claiming to know nothing about any fake hump although admitting Feltham is “entitled to his opinion.” Even at 1,447 years old, the legend of the Loch Ness monster just keeps on giving.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Yes, We’re Actually Still Looking for the Yeti

Crop Circles: The Art of the Hoax

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