Sunday, April 14, 2013

Nessie (or the Nessie legend) turns 80

14 April 1933: the first publicized sighting of the Loch Ness Monster starts a scientific mystery, a local industry, and a legend.
I was sure about Nessie for a long time. The Dinsdale film, the sonar traces, the Rines photographs - how could you doubt it?
Theses days, I more than doubt it. But I'm not happy about consigning Nessie to the mists of time.  I wanted the monsters to be there. I still do.  But there's not nearly enough food for a colony of large predators to eat. There's no tunnel to the sea.  There's no logical construct by which a group of creatures, cut off as the ocean receded and Ness' connection to the sea dried up, bred successfully for thousands of years and were hardly ever seen until the modern era and evaded every tool of science applied in the quest for definitive proof.
I agree there are oddities. The Dinsdale film doesn't look to me like a boat, and all the enlargements and enhancements have failed to resolve its identity.  Some of the sonar traces are still anomalous.  But that's about it.  Beyond that, all we've done is pile more accounts on top of each other.  Some of these accounts are unquestionably sincere, A graduate student I knew whose opinion I took very seriously saw a roundish head pop up behind her tour boat.  (She thought it looked orange-ish, which I assume was some trick of the light... orange monsters are too much to expect even from the ever-inventive Mother Nature.)
Now, a thousand sighting reports didn't all spring from nothing. Dr. Charles Paxton of the University of St. Andrews is doing a new statistical analysis now, looking for patterns.  But he doesn't expect a real creature to pop out of them.
I no longer believe in the monster. But the legend, and the continuing hint of mystery, and enough for now.


Laurence Clark Crossen said...

"I no longer believe in the monster"- is poor quality skepticism. You should never have believed in it in the first place until the evidence was in. You also should not presume your readers believe in it rather than assigning a degree of possibility or probability. I take it you now assign a vanishingly small probability of its existence, presuming it lives primarily in the loch.

Matt Bille said...

Well put. Twenty years ago, I would have assigned it an 80% probability of being a large unknown species. Now I put it at 5%.

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

I found my copy of Ulrich Magin's Pursuit article, "The 'Sea Serpent' of Loch Ness- Resident or Visitor"
While Magin is a die hard skeptic, he gets down in the trenches more than most any do. He acknowledges that "at least two sightings suggest that they do not always swim through Inverness unnoticed." And he says that "other marine creatures came to the loch via the same route. Seals were seen in the lake in 1934 and 1985... Two porpoises were spotted near Foyers in 1917, apparently again without being reported in the river..." Also, "I personally think they spend some time of their life-cycle in the sea, and some time in fresh water...the highest number of sea-serpent reports in Scotland comes from the Sound of Sleet and the waters surrounding the Isle of Skye- only 500 yards... from Loch Morar."
-Pursuit #159 Fourth Quarter 1985.
I am sure he does not have such positive views any longer yet the evidence remains. They evidently dwell in the ocean and visit lakes only occasionally.