DRAGON, prehistoric reptile or water beast – whatever you want to call it, the Loch Ness Monster has become one of the most popular legends in UK history.
And with more than 1,000 reported 'sightings' over the last few decades, the mystery of the mythical beast is showing no signs of fading into history.
Two people have come forward with their own claims in the last four weeks alone – with experts this week revealing they've captured a sonar image 500ft below the surface, giving the “most compelling” evidence yet.
The image was caught by Cruise Loch Ness director Ronald Mackenzie while he was skippering a catamaran.
If the image is correct it could mean Nessie is around 33ft long, although an expert said it could just be a shoal of fish, according to The Daily Record.
Just weeks earlier, a long distance walker and lifelong sceptic from Inverness claimed he'd seen a long shadowy shape in the water, moving against the direction of the waves.
The legend of the monster lurking in the depths of Loch Ness dates back to the sixth century when, legend claims, it killed a man.
However, as yet, there is not enough hard evidence to be sure of Nessie’s existence – and, if the thing is in fact real, what type of creature it is. Here, we investigate the top theories and 'sightings'…
One of the most popular theories is that Nessie is a living dinosaur that escaped the last Ice Age 160 million years ago, before being stranded in the 23-mile-long loch which was then connected to the sea.
Advocates specifically claim the Loch Ness Monster is a plesiosaur – a marine reptile with a small head, long neck and round body – which may have sought refuge in Loch Ness.
However a palaeontologist at Cambridge University’s Sedgwick Museum has since debunked the theory and told experts at a meeting of the Society of Vertabrate Palaeontology in Canada that it's not possible.
The expert explained that the prehistoric creature used its long neck to feed off the sea floor but the "osteology of the neck makes it certain the plesiosaur could not lift its head up, swan-like, out of the water" – like many myths claim the Loch Ness Monster does.
A slightly less exciting theory is that the Loch Ness monster is a giant catfish. The Wels catfish were introduced into the UK by Victorians and can grow as long as 13ft and 62 stone.
Steve Feltham – who made the Guinness Book of Records for the longest continuous monster hunting vigil at the loch, dedicating more than 25 years of his life to finding Nessie – believes this theory is more likely than the dinosaur theory.
He said: “It is known they were introduced into English lakes by the Victorians for sport.
"They are very long-lived and it is entirely possible they were introduced by Victorians to the loch – which would explain why the main sightings of Nessie really started in the 1930s, just as the animals were reaching maturity.
“I think the Wels catfish is the most likely theory but I still hope it’s more exciting than that.”
In the 1930s, whisperings of the Loch Ness Monster reached fever pitch – with spooky photographs surfacing and hunters tracking Nessie around the loch.
Construction of the A82 along the north shore of the loch had begun and believers say the drilling and disruption forced Nessie up from the depths and into the open.
The most infamous picture is the ‘surgeon’s photo’, taken by London-based physician Robert Wilson on April 19, 1934.
The long craning neck and pointy head of Nessie is stretching out of the murky waters in the grainy photograph.
Months earlier Marmaduke Wetherell, a big-game hunter, was hired by a newspaper to track down the monster and he claimed to have discovered footprints on the banks of Loch Ness.
Both the photograph and the tracks have since been discredited as part of a hoax however, and in 1994 the stepson of Mr Wetherell confessed he played a part in a plot to fake the photo using a toy submarine and a sea-serpent’s head.
However, other sightings and photos from the same decade remain.
Apple's Map monster
In 2014 an image emerged on the Apple Maps app, after it was captured by a satellite. The shadow in the loch, located just south of Dores, was 100ft long with what looked like two giant flippers propelling it through the water.
Experts at the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club discounted theories that it could be the wake of a boat – as there was no boat nearby – and also said it could not be a floating log or a seal causing ripples.
Club president Gary Campbell said at the time: “Whatever it is, it is under the water and heading south, so unless there have been secret submarine trials going on in the loch, the size of the object would make it likely to be Nessie.”
Lurking on the live feed
The introduction of webcam technology around the loch has led to several more reported sightings from around the world.
Most notably, in 2018 business consultant Caroline Barnett from Farmborough, near Bath, claimed she saw something the size of a boat popping up and down in the loch and splashing about.
It was the 18th sighting of the monster that year – the record number of sightings since 1996 – and came days after military historian and author Ricky D Phillips saw a creature with a four foot neck and head the ‘size of a rugby ball'.
Both sightings were accepted on the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register.
Meanwhile in July last year, two mystery objects were caught on a webcam operated by Loch Ness scientist and researcher Mikko Takala.
The sighting was backed up by enthusiast Eoin O’Faodhagain who was also watching the pictures live and estimated them to be 20ft long each and poking 5ft out of the water.
Loch Ness is not the only freshwater lake which is said to have a mythical serpent-like creature. Zimbabwe has its own version – Nyaminyami – which has the head of a fish and a snake’s body.
The ‘River God’ as Zimbabweans refer to him is said to live in a man-made stretch of water in the north-west of the country, near the town of Kariba, and legend has it he was cut off from his ‘wife’ during construction of the Kariba dam in the 1950s.
In the local Tonga language, Nyaminyami means ‘pieces of meat’ as the story goes that during times of drought, he would let villagers cut pieces of meat off his body to eat.
A local fisherman told local media: “I saw, with my own eyes, a monster snake that was almost 200 metres long.”
Sea serpents are said to live in lakes in the US and Canada too, most notably Ogopogo, who is said to live in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia.
Analysis of filming from under the water in 1968 revealed the cameraman Art Folden captured a sold three-dimensional moving object, which further fuelled the folklore theories.
Increase in sightings
There has been an increase in sightings over the last few years – with 2017 starting the trend.
The tally of 15 sightings was more than in any other year since 1996. There were 18 official sightings logged on the register in 2018.
Scientist Mikko Takala, who has been researching Loch Ness for over 20 years, said the increase over the past decade could be due to climate change.
He said: “There has been a slight increase in surface temperatures in Loch Ness due to climate change.
“It is possible that a cold blooded creature like Nessie may be encouraged to return and or stay longer in the warming waters of Loch Ness.
“I’ve always believed there has to be a family of unknown creatures in the loch, albeit a small one.
“It’s too much of a stretch to believe that a single creature can live for hundreds, if not thousands of years or more.
“Also, there are cave like formations near Urquhart Castle, known as Edwards Deep and no attempt has ever been made to see if these are navigable.”
In 1968 the journal New Scientist published evidence by a team from the University of Birmingham that a large creature, or creatures, may roam at the depths of the Loch Ness.
Using a monster detector – sonar equipment which projected a beam of high-frequency sound waves through the water – the team defined large moving objects.
One object which traced a clear pattern on the sonar screen could have been ‘several meters’ in length, moved through the water up to 17mph, and dived at a rate of 450ft per minute.
Two other large bodies were also detected.
Electrical engineer D Gordon Tucker said: “The high rate of ascent and descent, makes it seem very unlikely they are fish.”
In 2011 boat captain Marcus Atkinson photographed a sonar image of an unidentified object which appeared to follow his boat for two minutes at a depth of 23m – the depth ruling out that it could be a seal.
The object was 1.5 metres wide. However, it has since been suggested the image could be a bloom of algae.
Sonar investigations in 1972, 1975, 1987, 2001, 2008 and 2003 were inconclusive.
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