by Kurt Burchfiel
Rogue NessieOne way may be to hypothesize that the creature in Loch Ness is a rogue. Consider the possibility that Nessie is representative of some as yet unidentified speciesof ocean-going animal. These animals are responsible for the numerous sightings of “long-necks” at sea and may be either a much-evolved prehistoric reptile (i.e. a plesiosaur) or perhaps some sort of large unknown mammal.
An immature animal swimming, say in the Moray Firth, becomes intrigued by the large numbers of salmon migrating into the loch through the River Ness. Being a relatively small juvenile, perhaps only five or six feet long and possibly not yet possessing the characteristic long neck, the animal follows the salmon up-river. Once in Loch Ness, the animal finds plenty to eat, decides to stay a while, grows to maturity, finds it either impossible or undesirable to leave, and lives out its life as a permanent resident.
This same course of events may be recurrent, having been experienced by several animals in the past. If these animals possess a life expectancy of one-hundred years or more, and this seems reasonable given their reported size, then the animal in the loch today could well be the same animal responsible for the rash of sightings in the 1930s, the same animal filmed by Tim Dinsdale in 1960, the same animal photographed by Robert Rines in 1972 and 1975. The rogue theory does not preclude the possibility that several animals could be in the loch at the same time. The same set of circumstances could have conceivably befallen more than one animal during the course of a one-hundred year life span.
Getting into the Loch from the SeaA juvenile Nessie would have three possible routes of entry into the loch from the open ocean; the southwest end of the Caledonian Canal, the northeast end of the Caledonian Canal, and the River Ness.
Making its way unobserved through the numerous locks of the Caledonian Canal (twenty-four at the southwest-end and seven at the northeast-end), while possible for a animal perhaps not much bigger than a large salmon, would require a good deal of perseverance and luck. Either it would need to move through the locks in the company of a vessel making the passage, passing through each gate unobserved by the locksmen, or it would need to maneuver through the small permanently-open sluices in each lock gate. These openings average around four square feet in size, although they are often closed up to less than this. A small and motivated animal could make the trip. After making its way through the first few gates, perhaps in pursuit of a fish, one could imagine it becoming so frightened and confused by its unfamiliar confinement that it presses on through the remaining gates in desperation until it final makes the loch.
The River Ness, under the right conditions, provides an easier channel of access to the loch. This would require the animal swimming up-river from the Beuly Firth some seven miles and passing over two weirs, one at Holm Mills and the other at Dochfour. While these weirs and the shallowness of the river, only knee-deep in parts, would seem at first glance to make the Ness an impossible route, bear in mind that each weir possesses a fish gap to allow for the movement of the salmon. At Dochfour the weir is sixty feet wide at the bottom and thirty feet wide at the top. At Holm Mills it is a bit smaller, twenty-four feet wide at the top and twelve feet wide at the bottom. Under normal river conditions the velocity of the water moving through these gaps is considered too vigorous to be overcome by any swimming creature.(1) But when the river is swollen by heavy rains (common in January and February) the weirs are practically submerged and the current runs through the gaps at a much reduced speed(2). A small animal that was a powerful swimmer, that drew no more than five feet of water, that made its way into the river during a spate, and that was able to negotiate its way either around or over the shallower portions could, particularly at night, make the passage unobserved and without a great deal of difficulty.
Adapting to a Fresh Water EnvironmentAs the water in Loch Ness is fresh, validation of the rogue Nessie theory requires an explanation of how a marine creature used to living in salt water could quickly adapt to a fresh water environment. There are precedents for ocean-going animals successfully making the transition to a fresh water environment and vise versa. Bull sharks inhabit the fresh water of Lake Nicaragua. Ringed seals live successfully in lake Baikal in Russia. Seals periodically make their way into Loch Ness as well. Manatees freely enter lagoons, estuaries, and rivers, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles from the sea. Dugongs generally do not enter rivers but can survive in fresh water. The salmon in Loch Ness enter annually from the sea either through the Caledonian Canal or up the River Ness and congregate in the loch for a month or so prior to making their spawning run. Adult fresh water eels are commonly seen in the sea and in estuaries.
As far as the plesiosaurs themselves go, while most fossilized specimens have been found under marine conditions some have also been discovered under conditions from which we can infer a fresh water environment, particularly in rivers and estuaries.(3) This suggests that Cretaceous plesiosaurs moved up rivers and into lakes either pursuing prey or eluding predators which were unable to make the speedy adaptation to fresh water.(4) The ability to exist in both fresh and salt water environments would have been of great benefit to ancient plesiosaurs and may speak favorably to the possibility that they have survived in some form to present day.
EvidenceRecorded sightings of unidentified animals in the River Ness serve to validate the notion that the river, when swollen by heavy rains, is indeed a viable route of entry into Loch Ness from the sea.
In 565 AD (or 580 AD according to Dr. Karl P.N. Shuker) the Irish missionary Saint Columba encountered a beast in the River Ness that had already killed one man and was in the process of going after a second. Seizing upon the gravity of the situation Columba commanded, “Go thou no further nor touch that man. Go back at once!” With that, the creature reportedly sank out of sight only fifty feet from its intended victim. So here we find the first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness monster occurring not in the loch proper, but rather in the River Ness.
In February 1932 Miss Kathleen MacDonald of Inverness observed an animal swimming up-river towards the Holm Mills weir. She reported an animal six to eight feet in total length, with a very short neck and long toothed jaws, generally crocodile-like in appearance. Miss MacDonald reported seeing a second unknown animal two years later in May of 1934 between Lochend and Abriachan, although she described this one as possessing three distinct humps, an undulating neck, and small head. In The Loch Ness Monster, Rupert Gould uses the distinct morphological differences noted in these two reports to suggest that the animal seen by Miss MacDonald in the River Ness was not the monster proper and not the same animal seen by here two years later, although he makes no attempt to identify it. A possibility which Gould fails to address is that during the two years separating the MacDonald sightings the animal may have grown and developed in shape. While Gould does not report an estimated length of the animal observed in the second sighting he does provide a silhouette drawing, based on a sketch provided by Miss MacDonald, which suggests a size greater than the six to eight foot estimate given for the animal seen in 1932. The animal in the drawing also possesses a pronounced neck, although one decidedly shorter than that reported in subsequent sightings. Could Miss MacDonald have had the privilege of seeing Nessie entering the loch via the River Ness as an infant in 1932, and then again observed the same animal in a more developed state two years later? Gould certainly offers no evidence that would disqualify the possibility.
Three decades later, something unidentified would again be seen swimming in the Ness. In his 1969 book, The Great Orm of Loch Ness, F.W. Holiday reports:
During April 1965 there was a period of heavy rain lasting several days. The loch rose and the River Ness was in spate. A salesman, Mr. George McGill, had business in the YMCA building on Bank St. in Inverness. At 11:45 a.m. the rain was so heavy that Mr. McGill stood in the doorway with a friend watching it. Mr. McGill wrote to me [Holiday]: “Just as we got to the door I looked across the River Ness. What I saw was a large, thick, ridged neck looping out of the water. The height of the neck above the water would be about four feet six inches and it was about eight inches in diameter. There was a disturbance where the neck re-entered the water and another disturbance some distance to the rear. What it was I cannot say, but it was not a fish. It was very unusual and I have never seen anything like it before. I shall try to draw what I saw.
Holiday does not reproduce Mr. McGill’s drawing in the book, but he reports that it shows, “What appears to be the neck of a smallish Orm which seems to be going down-river on the flood water.”
Finally, an incident that may support the possibility of an animal trying to pass through the canal locks. In 1900 (the exact date is uncertain) an odd animal was reportedly found at the bottom of Corpach Lock on the Caledonian Canal. It was assumed to have come from the loch, although it could just as easily have been trying to get into the loch. To my knowledge, this incident was first reported in print by F.W. Holiday in The Great Orm of Loch Ness . It is also mentioned by Peter Costello in In Search of Lake Monsters. The two versions of the incident differ in that Holiday states that the animal was killed by the workmen who found it, while Costello contends that it was discovered dead by workmen who were engaged in clearing out the lock. Both reports state that the animal resembled a large eel and both describe it as having a “mane.” This incident is not mentioned in Ulrich Magin’s comprehensive listing of recorded sightings, which means that it was not picked-up by the contemporary local papers. According to Fortean Times publisher Mike Dash, the story my have been originally reported to Dom Cyril Dieckhoff, a highland Catholic priest in the 1930s who had a great interest in lake monsters, by one of his correspondents.
When these reports are considered in relation to the veritable wealth of recorded long-neck sightings in the coastal waters of the British Isles it seems reasonable to suggest that the animals in question are capable, under the proper circumstances and at an early stage of development, of making their way into Loch Ness from the open ocean. It would be logical to assume that they would be capable of entering other lochs as well where a navigable link to the sea exists.
Lack of Evidence for More than One Animal in Loch NessAdditional support for the rogue theory comes from the relative scarcity of reports of more than one animal being observed in the loch at the same time.
On 14 July 1951 Lachlan Stuart claimed to have observed and photographed three humps moving in the loch close to shore in the vicinity of Foyers. He also reported seeing a long thin neck although his single photograph does not show one. Examination of the photo reveals that the three humps are obviously not in alignment, suggesting to some researchers that they may belong to three separate animals swimming together. In 1952 Stuart disappeared and recent attempts to locate his whereabouts have failed. In the late 1980s it was reported that shortly after the photo was made public Stuart admitted to author Richard Frere that he had constructed the humps by covering bales of hay with tarpaulins.(5)
Sonar evidence in general tends to be contentious given the complexities involved in interpreting it. In brief, traces that might show more than one large unknown animal moving in the Loch at the same time have been obtained by the University of Birmingham in 1966, the Academy of Applied Science in 1972, and the Partech Ltd. expedition in 1976. They might just as well be the result of parallel traces of a single animal, misinterpretation, or equipment anomalies.
Additionally, there seem to be around eight reported sightings of what the observers felt were multiple animals. Among the more notable, in 1937 two boys reported that while boating in the vicinity of Fort Augustus they observed three small, approximately three-foot long, lizard-like, long-necked, animals with flipper-like fins swimming submerged away from the wash of the boat. In May of 1982 a local farmer, his wife, and sister-in-law reportedly observed three large long-necked animals, one animal being markedly larger than the other two, milling about off Aldourie Castle. The animals were also observed by two other witnesses from another part of the loch. Some have suggested that these animals may have been birds, which when seen from a distance and under certain conditions have resulted in misidentifications in the loch before.
If these multiple sightings are in fact legitimate, they would in no way invalidate the rogue theory. Quite the contrary, it is easy to imagine that if one juvenile animal could make it into the loch from the open ocean and thrive then certainly others could as well. This simply makes for a collection of rogues and not a viable breeding population. For those who are strongly drawn to the image of a family group of Nessies, there may be consolation in speculating that if a male and female rogue of similar maturity were in the loch at the same time chances are probably good that they would find each other and find love. There is, however, a great deal of difference between a small family of animals successfully producing a generation or two of offspring and a large, resident, isolated breeding population thriving for thousands of years.
ConclusionsOf all the world’s alleged cryptids, the Loch Ness Monster claims the most impressive pedigree. This is due in part to the considerable amount of effort that has been expended searching for it and also to the relatively large number of recorded sightings. No other mystery animal can claim the same degree of sustained perseverance on the part of its hunters. These efforts have yielded a considerable volume of compelling evidence, yet frankly not enough to persuade mainstream scientists to risk their reputations by actively pursuing Nessie. Regrettably only the universities and government agencies that these scientists work for have the resources, both financial and technological, necessary to bring the Loch Ness Monster debate to resolution.
Believers in Nessie do have some valid defenses against the lack of conclusive evidence. It is true that what photographic evidence there is has been obtained largely either by lucky, unsuspecting, and ill-equipped observers or by amateur researchers operating on minimal budgets. The few large-scale, high- profile expeditions that have been mounted seem to have been plagued by media pressure to quickly produce spectacular results. It is also true that, contrary to what many might believe, the surface of the loch is not under constant scrutiny by dozens of researchers armed with cameras. In the absence of a well-financed, well-coordinated, and sustained expedition it is surely no small wonder that any hard evidence has been obtained at all.
Yet after recognizing these handicaps it is still reasonable to ask why after thousands of hours of surface and subsurface surveillance and hundreds of eyewitness sightings the most significant evidence that has been obtained of Nessie’s existence are some grainy and contentious photos and motion film footage. In all fairness, if somewhere between twenty and one hundred, thirty to forty foot predatory animals were living in Loch Ness they should be encountered more often. To suggest otherwise strains most people’s sense of credulity. In this the age of the camcorder, surely some lucky tourist should have by now obtained some photographic evidence that could stand up to mainstream scrutiny.
The rogue theory provides an acceptable solution to this dilemma. While the loch may not have enough food for an entire herd of Nessies, it surely has enough for one or two animals. While it might be impossible for a large population of Nessies living in the loch to effectively conceal themselves from human scrutiny, one animal or perhaps a loosely associated collection of individuals could surely keep themselves fairly well hidden. While a herd of isolated animals could never hope to overcome the laws of genetics and survive an indefinite period of inbreeding, this would not be a concern for non-breeding rogue individuals who periodically find themselves trapped in the loch.
If Nessie is in fact a sea-going animal and representatives of her species are only periodic and unwary residents of Loch Ness, beyond helping to explain the difficulty involved in obtaining strong evidence of her existence this revelation could have major implications for the way researchers at the loch approach their work. On the down side, the prospects for finding and photographing a single animal hiding in the inky depths of the loch are certainly poor for the amateur monster hunter. On the up side, an amazing and unidentified marine creature may be effectively trapped in a closed and relatively small body of water. Perhaps others like it are in similar situations elsewhere around the world. While the chances of finding and studying these animals in the open ocean may be low, they are considerably better in a place like Loch Ness, particularly if the appropriate technology is brought to bear.
The means to solve the Loch Ness mystery certainly exist. The Royal Navy could probably locate Nessie in a weekend. An M.I.T. expedition could then figure out a way to capture her, on film or in person, within a week or two. The difficulty lies in convincing organizations like these to involve themselves in the search. The reluctance of mainstream science to engage in so-called fringe research like monster hunting is perhaps Nessie’s best defense against human detection. In the final analysis perhaps the rogue Nessie theory’s message to amateur cryptozoologists is simply to keep doing what they have been doing for the past seventy years; keep watching the water with camera at the ready. In the absence of Nessie coming ashore and introducing herself to a vacationing marine biologist, the only way the scientific mainstream is ever going to play a role in identifying the Loch Ness Monster is if they are confronted with a compelling high-quality surface photograph or video.
4). Ibid., p.171.
5). Witchell, Nicholas, The Loch Ness Story (London: Corgi, 1989), pp. 86-87.