If you have been following the news in late June/early July 2016, you will have noticed some disturbing trends. Stories that divided countries and their citizens, sending seemingly normal people into passionate and close-minded fervors, unable and unwilling to see the other side of things. The tension has been palpable, and things seem to be at a boiling point.


I’m talking, of course, about the recent Loch Ness Monster sightings.

What did you think I was talking about?

As I’m sure you’re aware, there have been not one, but two Nessie related stories over the past couple of weeks. The first was a sighting made by a man in Ohio via webcam. As you can imagine, the proof is pretty indisputable.

No doubt about it

The second was a washed-up carcass that turned out to be an obvious prop from a show in an event that actually wasn’t news at all, and in fact was pretty idiotic all around.

Little known fact: Sea monster bones are made of plastic

Make of all that what you will, but it does show that interest in Nessie hasn’t waned over the years. In fact, the first recorded Loch Ness Monster sighting was made by St. Columbia in 565 AD. The most famous photo of the Loch Ness Monster is known as the “Surgeon’s photo”, taken by a London gynecologist in 1934. I’m sure you’ve seen before it before.

It’s a lot less frightening than most gynecologist photographs

It was revealed in 1994 that the photo was likely faked by a man named Marmaduke Wetherell, presumably because he was upset because he was named “Marmaduke”, but there have been countless sightings, photos, and videos that have been recorded over the years, and I encourage you to catch up on them with this site, which has a live webcam view of the Loch, despite looking like it was made with Geocities in 1995.

I could only load it with dial-up

Before proceeding, I want to mention that I once met a man named Steve who sold his house, dumped his girlfriend, and moved into a trailer on the shore of Loch Ness to search for the monster. He did that 25 years ago. And he’s still there. Honestly. He left his life behind in 1991 to go look for the Loch Ness Monster, and he’s still out there. Now, I could honestly write a 5000 word expose on this man, but I’ll save that for another day. I bring up Steve to highlight the fact that many people are absolutely sure the Loch Ness Monster exists.

He’s stood like this for 25 straight years

I’ve done more research on the Loch Ness Monster than I care to admit, in no small part because I have very little going on in my life. Very little. Now, I’m a serious scientist with a logical mind honed to reputable evidence and parsimony, so I can’t claim that I know the monster is there for sure.


I also can’t say for sure that it’s not.

They teach this reasoning in grad school, so that a scientist can never be wrong

This all puts me in a very unique position to make judgments about the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. I know a great deal more than anyone should about Nessie, and I’ve never committed to a perspective in my whole life. I can therefore see both sides of why Nessie may or may not exist, and am just socially inept enough to explain it all to anyone who will listen. Thus, I present to you the following: What the Loch Ness Monster Could Be, and Why it Probably Isn’t.

Followed by my next game: How much time have I spent thinking about this?

What it Could Be: A Paranormal Monster

For some uninitiated amateurs, the Loch Ness Monster is considered a magical being found nowhere else in time or geography, a true one-off monolithic beast that came from the depths of the unknown.


Why It Probably Isn’t:

To be clear, very few people believe the Loch Ness Monster is an actual sea “monster”, in the sense that it’s some solitary creature that showed up out of nowhere with no phylogenetic connection to any documented species. Like some magic, individual being, with inexplicable powers to move among us, completely undetected. Hahaha, who could believe in something like that?

What utter fools

What it Could Be: A Plesiosaur

This is personally my favorite theory. Plesiosaurs were actual, real-life, long-necked carnivorous sea creatures from the time of the dinosaurs, proving once again that that time was so much better than now. This is a popular theory, because the physiology of the plesiosaur closely matches the creature described in most Nessie sightings. Also, other aquatic creatures like sharks and crocodiles have survived from the time of the plesiosaur. Is it possible that a small, reproducing population of plesiosaurs swim the Loch?


Why It Probably Isn’t:

For one thing, plesiosaurs are extinct. For another, they were likely cold-blooded, so would need to swim in tropical waters. Loch Ness, like all places in Scotland, is cold and miserable, with an average temperature of 5.5 °C. Also, even if it was warm-blooded, it would need much more food than is available in Loch Ness. This guy pretty well debunks the whole thing

What it Could Be: An Otter

Loch Ness is home to a population of otters, and to be sure, otters do probably account for a number of Nessie sightings. They are dark in colour and swim in an undulating pattern that kind of looks like the rolling humps typical of Nessie sightings.

Now imagine this, after 4 or 5 whiskies

Why It Probably Isn’t:

We’re into murky waters here, because I already said otters probably account for some Nessie sightings, and also, I don’t apologize for that murky waters pun. But many reports can’t be otters. The otters that inhabit the Loch get up to maybe 3 feet, while the Loch Ness Monster is usually described as anywhere from 20-30 feet. That’s a pretty big screw-up, even for a drunk Scotsman.

What It Could Be: Wels Catfish

The Wels Catfish is a huge, ugly, freshwater fish native to the seas of Northern Europe. Wels Catfish can grow up to 16 ft and nearly 700 lbs. in good conditions, and their Wikipedia page has an awesome video of some lunging out of water to eat pigeons. The Wels Catfish isn’t that popular a theory when it comes to explaining the Loch Ness Monster, but I include it here for one reason: my man Steve from a few paragraphs back thinks that Nessie might just be these catfish. The guy who left everything to go search for a sea monster now thinks it’s probably a catfish.

It’s probably a catfish. Welp, that was worth the last 25 years!

Why It Probably Isn’t:

To be honest, I don’t feel qualified to argue with a guy who has spent the last quarter century actually living on Loch Ness, but still, Nessie is generally reported as a long-necked creature, and catfish generally do not have necks. Also, no wels catfish has ever been found in Loch Ness, which kind of leads us back to the same speculation as having a random plesiosaur swimming around. I just don’t know if I can buy it. Sorry, Steve.

What It Could Be: A Bunch of Logs, Waves, Hoaxes, and Confused People


You knew this had to be addressed. Many (probably most) people think that “Nessie” is what happens after people who know the stories see a log or unusual wave far out in the distance. This almost certainly account for a large portion of sightings. Another factor here is that some folks like old Duke Wetherell just straight up fabricate a photo, leading to more excitement, and more “sightings”. It’s the most disappointing theory, but probably the most parsimonious, and honestly, as much as it pains me to say it, probably the closest to the truth. Especially when you consider most of the actual scientific expeditions and sonar scans of the Loch have turned up with nothing.


Why It Probably Isn’t

Again, I just said it was, but if you insist, I’ll present you a reason why the Loch Ness Monster isn’t just a group of stupid logs and excitable people: The goddamn coelacanth.


The coelacanth is a 6 ft. fish that was believed to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs and plesiosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous, as no skeletons or fossils had been found from after that time. Then some guy caught one in 1938. It was rediscovered 65 million years after it was thought to have gone extinct.

“And we didn’t get one bit less ugly”

My point being, if this big fish can go so long without being spotted, than it’s possible that some other creature could too. Maybe not a full-fledged plesiosaur, but some heretofore undiscovered species that kind of looks like a long-necked dinosaur. Loch Ness is big, 36 km long and almost 800 feet deep in some places. It could hold the world’s population 15 times over. Ichthyologists believe that there are tons of undiscovered species in the deepest waters of the world, and that we won’t find them for years. So it’s entirely possible that some small, reproducing population of creatures inhabits Loch Ness, or at least visits every so often. You don’t know that there isn’t.


Then again, you don’t know that there is, either.

“Therefore, I am right again. QED”

Want to see a topic covered here? Perhaps your own research? Email Dan at dan@scienceninjas.ca. It will help him become less socially inept.

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Dan Re