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Monday, 18 March 2013

Loch Ness Book Review by Scott Mardis


by Scott Mardis

 In the 80 years since the claims for the existence of a group of "monsters" or unknown creatures in Loch Ness came to the world’s attention, two primary versions of the story have emerged: the Tim Dinsdale/Robert Rines/Henry Bauer narrative (that there is a resident population of unknown animals resembling the presumably extinct marine reptile plesiosaurs inhabiting Loch Ness, trapped in Loch Ness since the post-glacial period after entering Loch Ness when it was briefly connected to the sea in the Moray Firth) and the Adrian Shine/Tony Harmsworth/Dick Raynor narrative (most of the evidence used to support the first hypothesis is grossly in error, but other evidence can be used to make a thin case for the existence of some kind of less exotic "monster", probably a fish). Relevant to the second interpretation, Tony Harmsworth’s book LOCH NESS, NESSIE AND ME is the best presentation in book form of that version I have ever read (I have not read Shine’s own book, LOCH NESS, but it is next on my shopping list). At the risk of facing the wrath of the author, who I greatly respect and am friendly with, I must admit that I lean toward the alternate hypothesis. I should know a little about the subject. I have spent the last 20 years investigating similar claims of creatures in Lake Champlain, Vermont, U.S.A. Nevertheless, I highly recommend any serious student of the subject to get all viewpoints and though much of Harmsworth’s book is concerned with peripheral autobiographical subject matter (much of which is of interest in it’s own right), the portions dealing with the major evidence commonly argued pro and con in the case for Loch Ness "monsters" is dealt with in much technical detail. The work of Robert Rines and his organization, the Academy of Applied Science, are heavily criticized and, to a less harsh degree, the Tim Dinsdale film. The late Rines and Dinsdale are not here to address these criticisms and alternate views on the subject are to be found in the Loch Ness books by Henry Bauer, Tim Dinsdale, Nicholas Witchell, Roy Mackal and Dennis L. Meridith. Many salient points of contention regarding the Loch Ness "monsters" are discussed by Harmsworth: the pre-1933 historical record, the validity of "classic" Nessie photographs, the claims of amphibious sightings, etc.. The prime focus of the book is the founding and history of what would eventually become the Loch Ness Centre by Harmsworth and his partner, Ronnie Bremner, in 1980 and Harmsworth’s subsequent involvement with Adrian Shine’s Loch Ness and Morar Project. Many important events in the history of Nessie are here from a first person perspective: the fraudulent activities of the infamous Frank Searle, the 1984/85 controversy over the validity of the Academy of Applied Science "flipper" photos, Operation Deepscan and the discovery of a tree stump alleged to be the object in the 1975 Academy of Applied Science "gargoyle head" photo, Project Urquhart and the 1994 "surgeon’s photo" hoax claim. There is an interesting arc in the story narrative that traces Harmsworth’s belief in a plesiosaur-like Nessie (based on such things as the Zuiyo Maru carcass, Dinsdale’s film and the Rines evidence) to a rejection of that in favor of a less exotic "monster", probably a large fish such as a large sturgeon or possibly a giant eel. (Recent additions to that category, not mentioned by Harmsworth, include the Wels Catfish and Sleeper Sharks). Though many who wish for a plesiosaur may find much in the book disheartening, Harmsworth does make much of his own 1986 sighting of something unusual in the loch and arch-skeptics, such as Steuart Campbell, are taken to task, as well as Rines and Dinsdale. Regardless of one’s views on the interpretations of the evidence made by Harmsworth, one is impressed by the author’s sincerity in his expressed intentions of wanting to get at the truth behind the stories of the Loch Ness "monster" and the story of his 30 year search is of value to any serious student of the controversial subject.

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