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The Loch Ness Monster (aka “Nessie”)

The original Loch Ness Monster photo - "Surgeon's photograph" of 1934.

Early “Nessie” Sightings

The earliest report of the Loch Ness Monster, a large amphibious anomalous creature associated with the vicinity of Loch Ness, appears in the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán, written in the 7th century.  According to Adomnán, the Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he came across the locals burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man had been swimming in the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” that had mauled him and dragged him under.  Hearing this, Columba sent his follower Luigne moccu Min to swim across the river.  As expected, the beast came after him, but Columba made the sign of the Cross and commanded: “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.”   The beast immediately halted as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and fled in terror.

Many years later, in October 1871 (possibly 1872), Dr. D. Mackenzie of Balnain spotted what looked to him like an overturned boat ‘wriggling and churning up the water.’ Eight years later (1879), two separate groups of people reported a similar sighting and described what the modern-day world envisions ‘Nessie’ looks like – a large gray beast with a small horse-like head at the end of a large neck, large flippers, and two humps on its back.

Modern interest in the monster was sparked by a sighting on 22 July 1933, when George Spicer and his wife saw “a most extraordinary form of animal” cross the road in front of their car.  They described the creature as having a large body (about 4 feet high and 25 feet long), and a long, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant’s trunk and as long as the 10–12-foot width of the road.  The mysterious creature lurched across the road towards the loch 20 yards away, leaving only a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake.  News of Spicer’s sighting made it to The Inverness Courier newspaper, where the creature was first reported as “The Loch Ness Monster”.

These were the first recorded sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. To date, there have been well over 10,000 reported sightings of Nessie, who lives in the largest freshwater lake in the world – Loch Ness, over 20 miles long, 1 ½ miles wide, and 1000 feet deep.

Other Loch Ness Monster Sightings

Aldie Mackay (1933)

The most well-known article that brought attention to the Loch Ness Monster was published on May 2, 1933, in The Inverness Courier. The article, written by Alex Campbell, a part-time journalist and water bailiff for Loch Ness, discussed a sighting by Aldie Mackay of a large “beast” or “whale-like fish” with the body of a whale rolling in the water of the loch. Mackay made the sighting on April 15, 1933, while driving on the A82 with her husband John. Although some reports claim that the word “monster” was coined by editor Evan Barron, it was reportedly used for the first time in Campbell’s article.

In 2017, The Courier published excerpts from Campbell’s article, which was titled “Strange Spectacle in Loch Ness.”

“The creature disported itself, rolling and plunging for fully a minute, its body resembling that of a whale, and the water cascading and churning like a simmering cauldron. Soon, however, it disappeared in a boiling mass of foam. Both onlookers confessed that there was something uncanny about the whole thing, for they realized that here was no ordinary denizen of the depths, because, apart from its enormous size, the beast, in taking the final plunge, sent out waves that were big enough to have been caused by a passing steamer.”

According to an article from 2013, Mackay claimed that she yelled, “Stop! The Beast!” upon witnessing the spectacle. In the late 1980s, a naturalist interviewed Aldie Mackay who admitted that she was aware of an oral tradition regarding a “beast” in the loch well before her claimed sighting. Alex Campbell’s article from 1933 also stated that “Loch Ness has been credited with being the home of a fearsome-looking monster” for generations.

George Spicer (1933)

Interest in the monster began after a sighting on July 22, 1933. George Spicer and his wife say they saw “a most extraordinary form of animal” cross the road in front of their car. They described it as having a large body (about 4 feet high and 25 feet long) and a long, wavy, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant’s trunk and as long as the 10–12-foot width of the road. They saw no limbs. It lurched across the road toward the loch 20 yards away, leaving a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake. Spicer described it as “the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life” and as having “a long neck, which moved up and down in the manner of a scenic railway.” It had “an animal” in its mouth and had a body that “was fairly big, with a high back, but if there were any feet, they must have been of the web kind, and as for a tail, I cannot say, as it moved so rapidly, and when we got to the spot it had probably disappeared into the loch.”

On August 4, 1933, the Courier published a report of Spicer’s sighting. This sighting triggered public interest and an increase in alleged sightings, leading to the name “Loch Ness Monster.” The legend of the loch ness monster had begun

Hugh Gray (1933)

Hugh Gray photo of Loch Ness Monster 1933
Hugh Gray photo of Loch Ness Monster taken on November 11, 1933

Hugh Gray took the first alleged photograph of the Loch Ness Monster on 12 November 1933 near Foyers. The photograph was slightly blurred, and upon closer inspection, the head of a dog can be seen. Some believe that the photograph shows Gray’s Labrador fetching a stick from the loch. Others speculate that it depicts an otter or a swan. Unfortunately, the original negative was lost. However, in 1963, Maurice Burton obtained two lantern slides, contact positives from the original negative, and when projected onto a screen, they revealed an otter rolling at the surface in characteristic fashion.

Arthur Grant (1934)

Arthur Grant Loch Ness Monster sketch 1934

On January 5, 1934, a motorcyclist named Arthur Grant claimed to have nearly hit a creature while approaching Abriachan (near the north-eastern end of the loch) at about 1 a.m. on a moonlit night. Grant, a veterinary student, described it as a cross between a seal and a plesiosaur with a small head attached to a long neck. He said he dismounted and followed it to the loch but saw only ripples.

Grant produced a sketch of the creature that was examined by zoologist Maurice Burton, who stated it was consistent with the appearance and behavior of an otter. It has been suggested that the long size of the creature reported by Grant was a faulty observation due to poor light conditions. Paleontologist Darren Naish has suggested that Grant may have seen either an otter or a seal and exaggerated his sighting over time.

Taylor film (1938)

G. E. Taylor South African tourist three-minute film of Loch Ness Monster

On May 29, 1938, G. E. Taylor, a South African tourist, captured a three-minute film of something in the loch using a 16 mm color film. The film was obtained by Maurice Burton, a popular science writer who did not share it with other researchers. A single frame from the film was published in Burton’s 1961 book, The Elusive Monster. Burton’s analysis concluded that the object was floating, not an animal.

William Fraser (1938)

On August 15, 1938, William Fraser, the chief constable of Inverness-shire, wrote a letter stating that the monster definitely existed and expressing concern about a hunting party that had arrived with a custom-made harpoon gun, determined to catch the monster “dead or alive.” Fraser believed his power to protect the Loch Ness Monster from the hunters was uncertain. The National Archives of Scotland released this letter on April 27, 2010.

Sonar readings (1954)

In December 1954, the fishing boat Rival III recorded unusual sonar readings. The crew observed a large object moving with the vessel at a depth of 146 meters (479 ft). The object was detected for 800 m (2,600 ft) before contact was lost and regained.

Peter MacNab (1955)

Loch Ness Monster coming to the surface of Loch Ness in 1933

On July 29, 1955, Peter MacNab took a photograph of two long black humps in the water at Urquhart Castle. The photograph was published by the Weekly Scotsman on October 23, 1958, after it appeared in Constance Whyte’s 1957 book on the subject. Ronald Binns wrote that the phenomenon MacNab photographed could be a wave effect resulting from three trawlers traveling closely together up the loch.

Some researchers believe the photograph is a hoax. Roy Mackal requested to use the photograph in his 1976 book. MacNab gave him the original negative, but Mackal discovered it differed from the photograph that appeared in Whyte’s book. The tree at the bottom left in Whyte’s book was missing from the negative. It is suspected that the photograph was doctored by re-photographing a print.

Dinsdale film (1960)

Tim Dinsdale Loch Ness Monster film 1970

In 1960, Aeronautical Engineer Tim Dinsdale captured on film a hump that left a wake crossing Loch Ness. Dinsdale, who had the sighting on his last day of search, described the object as reddish with a blotch on its side. When he mounted his camera, the object began to move, and he shot 40 feet of film. According to JARIC, the object was “probably animate.” However, others were skeptical, saying that the “hump” could be a boat, and a man in a boat can be seen when the contrast is increased.

In 1993, Discovery Communications produced a documentary called Loch Ness Discovered, which featured a digital enhancement of the Dinsdale film. The person who enhanced the film noticed a shadow in the negative that was not obvious in the developed film. By enhancing and overlaying frames, he found what appeared to be the rear body of a creature underwater. “Before I saw the film, I thought the Loch Ness Monster was a load of rubbish. Having done the enhancement, I’m not so sure.”

“Loch Ness Muppet” (1977)

Anthony "Doc" Shiels Loch Ness Monster Loch Ness Mupper

On May 21, 1977, Anthony “Doc” Shiels took photographs of what he claimed was the Loch Ness Monster while camping near Urquhart Castle. Shiels, who was a magician and psychic, asserted that he summoned the creature out of the water and that the long neck shown in the photo is actually the squid’s “trunk,” with a white spot at the base of the neck being its eye. He called it an “elephant squid.” However, due to the lack of ripples, some people have declared it a hoax, and it has earned its name due to its staged appearance.

Holmes video (2007)

On May 26, 2007, laboratory technician Gordon Holmes recorded a video of what he believed to be a “jet black thing” that was around 14 meters (46 ft) long and moving quickly in the water. Adrian Shine, a marine biologist at the Loch Ness 2000 Centre in Drumnadrochit, described the footage as some of the best he had ever seen. The video was broadcast by BBC Scotland on May 29, 2007. STV News North Tonight also aired the footage on May 28, 2007, and interviewed Holmes. Shine was also interviewed and suggested that the creature in the footage could be an otter, seal, or water bird.

Sonar image (2011)

On August 24, 2011, Loch Ness boat captain Marcus Atkinson took a sonar image of an unidentified object that measured 1.5 meters wide (4.9 ft). The object appeared to follow his boat for two minutes at a depth of 23 m (75 ft), and it was determined that it was not a small fish or seal. In April 2012, a scientist from the National Oceanography Centre stated that the image was a bloom of algae and zooplankton.

George Edwards photograph (2011)

On August 3, 2012, skipper George Edwards claimed that he took a photo of “Nessie” on November 2, 2011. Edwards claims to have searched for the monster for 26 years and spent 60 hours per week on the loch aboard his boat, Nessie Hunter IV, taking tourists for rides on the lake. Edwards said that it probably looks like a manatee but not a mammal. He added that when people see three humps, they’re probably just seeing three separate monsters.

Other researchers have questioned the photograph’s authenticity, and Loch Ness researcher Steve Feltham suggested that the object in the water is a fiberglass hump used in a National Geographic Channel documentary in which Edwards had participated. Researcher Dick Raynor has questioned Edwards’ claim of discovering a deeper bottom of Loch Ness, which Raynor calls “Edwards Deep”. He found inconsistencies between Edwards’ claims for the location and conditions of the photograph and the actual location and weather conditions that day. According to Raynor, Edwards told him he had faked a photograph in 1986 that he claimed was genuine in the Nat Geo documentary. Although Edwards admitted in October 2013 that his 2011 photograph was a hoax, he insisted that the 1986 photograph was genuine.

A survey of the literature about other hoaxes, including photographs published by The Scientific American on July 10, 2013, indicates many others since the 1930s. The most recent photo considered to be “good” appeared in newspapers in August 2012, allegedly taken by George Edwards in November 2011, but was “definitely a hoax,” according to the science journal.

David Elder video (2013)

On August 27, 2013, tourist David Elder filmed a five-minute video of a wave that he found mysterious in the loch. Elder saw a 4.5m (15ft) solid black object just below the surface of the water that caused the wave. Elder, 50, from East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, was taking a picture of a swan at the Fort Augustus pier on the southwestern end of the loch when he captured the movement. He said, “The water was very still at the time, and there were no ripples coming off the wave and no other activity on the water.” Skeptics suggested the wave may have been caused by a gust of wind.

Scientific Theories

Many researchers believe there may actually be several of these creatures living in the Loch Ness lake. The most common theory is that the animals are holdovers from the days of the dinosaurs – surviving plesiosaurs that became trapped in the Loch’s murky waters when the water formation was first formed. This very plausible explanation, combined with photographs, films, and sonar recordings, give this strange anomaly much credibility.

Notes about the Hugh Gray Photo

The first photo of Nessie, taken by Hugh Gray in 1933, is generally regarded as authentic. It shows the body of a large animal with a long neck extending out of the water, swimming in the Loch.  Gray was walking along the loch after church when he spotted a substantial commotion in the water.  Gray says that suddenly, a large creature rose up from the lake.  He had a camera on his person and quickly snapped the historic photo below.  The image is blurred, suggesting that the creature was moving or splashing about as Gray had described.

The Colonel Robert Wilson (the “Surgeon”) hoax photo

The original Loch Ness Monster photo - "Surgeon's photograph" of 1934.

The famous ‘surgeons’ photograph (taken by Lt. Col. Robert Kenneth Wilson), the “original Loch Ness Monster photo,” seen on the newspaper cover in the photo below, made headlines after a highly respected British surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson, came forward with a picture that appeared to show a sea serpent rising out of the water of the Loch.  Wilson claimed he took the photograph early in the morning on April 19, 1934, while driving along the northern shore of Loch Ness. He said he noticed something moving in the water and stopped his car to take a photo.  Wilson himself refused to have his name associated with it. Therefore it came to be known simply as “The Surgeon’s Photo.”

For years, many were sure that the photo was a hoax. But no rigorous studies of the image were conducted until 1984 when Stewart Campbell analyzed the photo for a 1984 article in the British Journal of Photography. Campbell concluded that the object in the water was only two or three feet long, far smaller than Wilson had claimed.

The truth about the hoax came out in 1994 when Christian Spurling, before his death at the age of 90, confessed to his involvement in a plot to create the famous Surgeon’s Photo, a plot that involved both Marmaduke Wetherell and Colonel Wilson.  According to Spurling, he had been approached by Wetherell (his stepfather), who wanted him to make a convincing model of the Loch Ness Monster.  He did so using a small plastic model and a toy submarine.  The model was then placed in the Loch Ness Lake and photographed. The picture was then given to Wilson, whose job it was to serve as a credible frontman for the hoax.  In the original version of the image (see photo above) the diminutive size of the Nessie model in relationship to the Loch can be easily seen.  The original image that was given to the newspapers was cropped to hide this perspective, making the “monster” appear larger than it actually was.

First sonar contact with the Loch Ness Monster

In December 1954, the crew of the fishing boat Rival III observed unusual sonar readings while moving across the Loch.  The ship’s sonar recorded a large underwater object keeping pace with the boat.  Sonar showed the object to be 480 feet below the surface.  The object then dove to 2,600 feet, and contact was lost.  The incident is widely believed to be the first sonar contact with Nessie.

Conclusive Evidence of the Loch Ness Monster?

Is the loch ness monster real? What should have been regarded as the final conclusive evidence of the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, still failed to convince some scientists. In 1972, the Academy of Applied Sciences took the first underwater photos of the creature. After suddenly picking up two large objects on sonar, cameras were dispatched to record underwater photos of the objects. The undeveloped film was rushed to the head office of Eastman Kodak in the United States. The developed photo showed what looked like a large flipper attached to the right side of an apparent body. Other photos clearly showed the long neck and bulky body.

Some of the detail of the creature was obscured due to the peat-sogged murky waters of the Loch. For this reason, the photos were brought to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where state-of-the-art photo enhancements could be performed. Much of the graininess of the originals was successfully removed. The pictures that appeared in Nature magazine and elsewhere were these cleared-up versions, not the grainy originals. Skeptics quickly refuted the ‘doctored’ photos crushing their potential impact, even though the original untouched photos still clearly showed the creature’s details.

The Academy team produced even more astounding photos in 1975 but were still unable to win over skeptics who continually referred to the incident of the doctored photos three years earlier. The mystery of the Loch Ness Monster legend remains unanswered…

Photos of the Loch Ness Monster throughout history

Check out the collection of the loch ness monster images in the picture gallery below.

  • The original Loch Ness Monster photo - "Surgeon's photograph" of 1934.
  • Loch Ness Monster coming to the surface of Loch Ness in 1933
  • Hugh Gray photo of Loch Ness Monster 1933
  • Underwater photo of Loch Ness Monster May 1976
  • Flipper of Loch Ness Monster November 1972
  • George Edwards captured this photo after 26 years of searching for the Loch Ness Monster
  • Apple satellite photo of Loch Ness Monster
  • Consuela Ross video of Loch Ness Monster

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Anthony "Doc" Shiels Loch Ness Monster Loch Ness Mupper via Anthony "Doc" Shiels with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use). 1977
Tim Dinsdale Loch Ness Monster film 1970 via Tim Dinsdale with usage type - Fair use with modification
G. E. Taylor South African tourist three-minute film of Loch Ness Monster via G. E. Taylor with usage type - Public Domain. 1938
Arthur Grant Loch Ness Monster sketch 1934 via Arthur Grant with usage type - Public Domain. 1934
Hugh Gray photo of Loch Ness Monster 1933 via ABC News by Hugh Gray with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Flipper of Loch Ness Monster November 1972 via Robert H. Rines by Academy of Applied Science with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use). November 1972
George Edwards captured this photo after 26 years of searching for the Loch Ness Monster via George Edwards with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use). August 2012
Loch Ness Monster coming to the surface of Loch Ness in 1933 via Ullstein Bild
Consuela Ross video of Loch Ness Monster via Daily News with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)

Featured Image Credit

The original Loch Ness Monster photo - "Surgeon's photograph" of 1934. via with usage type -


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