Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Is Nessie Dead?

In July of 2012 I posted an article suggesting that the Loch Ness Monster might be a very large sturgeon. Even bigger than the sturgeon shown in my lake monster article, the common or European sturgeon can grow to a length of 20 feet and live for more than 100 years. It also is critically endangered, its numbers suffering from pollution and habitat loss. Like the salmon, it is a seagoing fish that returns to rivers to spawn, and as a result is adapted to both salt and fresh water. And the monster has to be a fish if it's a real animal at all. An air-breather like a seal, cetacean, or even a plesiosaur would have to surface often enough that it would be seen all the time, and photographed nearly as often with cell-phone cameras everywhere.

The earliest confirmed modern sightings of Nessie took place in the 1930's. The oldest story of a "water beast" in the River Ness dates all the way back to the 6th century, but as similar stories were not uncommon in that period all over Europe it's hard to see a connection to modern sightings. As such, the monster has only been observed for about the last 80 years. As astonishing as it may seem, if the creature is a sturgeon witnesses might have been observing the same fish this whole time. At least, that is, up until now. As an article from USA Today notes, during the last 18 months there have no confirmed sightings of the monster.

"It's very upsetting news and we don't know where she's gone," Gary Campbell tells the BBC. "The number of sightings has been reducing since the turn of the century but this is the first time in almost 90 years that Nessie wasn't seen at all." Three purported photos of the beast from last year turned out to be a wave, a duck, and a picture not even taken on Loch Ness. But Campbell, who cites a total of 1,036 sightings, thinks the monster is just taking a break.

But Campbell may be overly optimistic. If we are talking about a sturgeon or sturgeons that came upstream to spawn and then found themselves somehow trapped in the loch in the 1930's, it is true that by now they would be reaching the end of their natural lifespans. The lack of food in the loch may have prevented population growth, or there may simply not have been enough individuals for a breeding population to develop. Still not convinced? Take a look at this picture:

That's at twelve feet long. Imagine what that same fish would look like at twenty, apply those dimensions to the real alleged Nessie photograph at the top of this article, and it seems to me that there's your monster. Or, I suppose, you could believe something like this instead:

Meanwhile, Britain's "High Priest of White Witches" has an alternative explanation, the Scotsman finds. "I personally believe Nessie is a ghost of a dinosaur, who has been regularly seen on the loch," he says. "But the spirit of the creature has been so exploited in recent years I decided to carry out an exorcism, hence no sightings of the monster." The witch says he plans to lift the spell this summer.

Now seeing as a ghost can appear or disappear at will, it's unclear to me why anyone would bother with something like that. If such a monster felt exploited, presumably it would just vanish. And, for that matter, why would the ghost of a dinosaur wait around 65 million years and then start appearing in the 1930's? The whole supposition just gets dumber the closer you look at it. I may be an occultist, but that doesn't mean my critical thinking skills are on holiday.

We'll have to see, I suppose, if sightings start up again this summer. I would also suggest, if this "High Priest" is who I think he is, that any sightings be closely evaluated to make sure that they aren't being made by his buddies as part of a publicity stunt to make it look like he has actual powers. Up until now, his only documented paranormal ability seems to be getting himself misquoted in the papers.

Speaking of hoaxes brings up one last interesting point. If the skeptics are right and the monster is some sort of mass delusion, why would the sightings stop? From the three photographs mentioned it sounds like the hoaxers never did, but rather that their handiwork was easily identified. Still, only three photos in 18 months? That's pretty unusual.

It seems to me that witnesses spotting a large sturgeon in the loch makes a lot more sense than than trying to argue that a substantial percentage of the witnesses are essentially hallucinating. If that's indeed the case, and there is no real animal, I would expect the sightings to continue at a relatively constant rate regardless of external circumstances.

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