Loch Ness Monster may be giant eel, say scientists


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The modern myth of the monster gathered pace in the 1930s but this famous 1934 photo was later revealed to be a fake

The creatures behind repeated sightings of the fabled Loch Ness Monster may be giant eels, according to scientists.

Researchers from New Zealand have tried to catalogue all living species in the loch by extracting DNA from water samples.

Following analysis, the scientists have ruled out the presence of large animals said to be behind reports of a monster.

No evidence of a prehistoric marine reptile called a plesiosaur or a large fish such as a sturgeon were found.

Catfish and suggestions that a wandering Greenland shark were behind the sightings were also discounted.

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Science Photo Library

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The researchers found no evidence that Nessie could be a plesiosaur

The aim of the research was not to find Nessie, but to improve knowledge of what plants and animals live in Loch Ness.

European eels are among the creatures in the loch, and whose DNA was picked up by the new research.

Juvenile eels, known as elvers, arrive in Scottish rivers and lochs after migrating more than 3,100 miles (5,000 km) from the Sargasso Sea near the Bahamas, where the animals spawn and lay eggs.

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Ness District Salmon Fishery Board

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Young eels arrive in the River Ness and Loch Ness every year as part of their life cycle

Prof Neil Gemmell, a geneticist from New Zealand’s University of Otago. said: “People love a mystery, we’ve used science to add another chapter to Loch Ness’ mystique.

“We can’t find any evidence of a creature that’s remotely related to that in our environmental-DNA sequence data. So, sorry, I don’t think the plesiosaur idea holds up based on the data that we have obtained.”

He added: “So there’s no shark DNA in Loch Ness based on our sampling. There is also no catfish DNA in Loch Ness based on our sampling. We can’t find any evidence of sturgeon either,

“There is a very significant amount of eel DNA. Eels are very plentiful in Loch Ness, with eel DNA found at pretty much every location sampled – there are a lot of them. So – are they giant eels?

“Well, our data doesn’t reveal their size, but the sheer quantity of the material says that we can’t discount the possibility that there may be giant eels in Loch Ness. Therefore we can’t discount the possibility that what people see and believe is the Loch Ness Monster might be a giant eel.”

How Nessie came to grip the public imagination

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AF archive/Alamy

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Nessie made an appearance in the 1969 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

The Loch Ness Monster is one of Scotland’s oldest and most enduring myths. It inspires books, TV shows and films, and sustains a major tourism industry around its home.

The story of the monster can be traced back 1,500 years when Irish missionary St Columba is said to have encountered a beast in the River Ness in 565AD.

Later, in the 1930s, The Inverness Courier reported the first modern sighting of Nessie.

In 1933, the newspaper’s Fort Augustus correspondent, Alec Campbell, reported a sighting by Aldie Mackay of what she believed to be Nessie.

Mr Campbell’s report described a whale-like creature and the loch’s water “cascading and churning”.

The editor at the time, Evan Barron, suggested the beast be described as a “monster”, kick starting the modern myth of the Loch Ness Monster.

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The 1934 “Surgeon’s Photograph” was claimed to be the first image of the creature’s head and neck

In 1934, highly respected British surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson, claimed he took a photograph of the monster while driving along the northern shore of Loch Ness.

Known as the “Surgeon’s Photograph”, 60 years later it was confirmed as a hoax hatched in revenge after a newspaper ridiculed a journalist for finding “Nessie footprints” on the shore.

The “monster” caught on camera was apparently a toy submarine bought from Woolworths, with a head fashioned from wood putty.

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Swimming circus elephants have been offered up as an explanation for Nessie

Explanations for the monster offered in the past include it being swimming circus elephants.

In his research of Nessie, Glasgow-based palaeontologist Neil Clark found fairs and circuses were a common occurrence in the Inverness area, particularly from the early 1930s.

He said elephants may have been allowed to swim in the loch while the travelling carnivals stopped to give the animals a rest.

Another theory is that large fallen branches floating in the loch are the cause of monster sightings.

Steve Feltham, who is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records for the longest continuous monster hunting vigil of Loch Ness, is not convinced the scientists have yet identified the creature behind the sightings.

Mr Feltham, who made childhood visits to the Highlands and moved from Dorset almost 30 years ago to look for Nessie, said he had seen seals in Loch Ness.

He added: “A 12-year-old boy could tell you there are eels in Loch Ness. I caught eels in the loch when I was a 12-year-old boy.”

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On average about 10 sightings of unexplained creatures on Loch Ness are received a year

Gary Campbell, keeper of a register of Nessie sightings, receives on average 10 reports a year of something unexplained being spotted in the loch’s waters.

He welcomed the latest research and hoped more scientists will examine what lives in Loch Ness.

Mr Campbell said tourism that has developed around the story of the monster would be unaffected by the new study. He said: “The Loch Ness Monster has evolved into a world-wide icon.”

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