History of the Search for the Loch Ness Monster Part 3

About the search for the Loch Ness monster in Scotland, history and clues about the creature in the Scottish lake.


In 1970 an expanded underwater research program used hydrophones and cameras with baited lines; hydrophones, supervised by sonar chief Robert Love, recorded strange clicks, swishes, and knocks thought to belong to the unidentified animals. That same year Robert H. Rines, president of the Academy of Applied Science of Boston, hoping to increase the number of sightings, tried a series of lures (food, scent, hormones) without success. (The bureau estimates that a sighting occurs every 350 hours of trained observation.) In 1971 Rines set up an underwater camera with a strobe light, designed by Prof. Harold Edgerton of MIT, the type used by Jacques Cousteau. In 1972 Rines used this camera to get the first underwater pictures of a Loch Ness animal, with simultaneous sonar readings. Computer-enhanced at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the pictures showed a diamond-shaped flipper estimated to be 6--8 ft. long and 2--4 ft. wide and a tail at least 8 ft. long.

In 1973 the bureau closed for lack of funds without having quite accomplished its aim of identifying the Loch Ness animal but having provided momentum for a continuing search. For the next two years the Rines team, working with new, elaborate camera equipment, came away empty-handed, as did a Japanese sonar team. But in 1975, using the older stroboscopic camera that had yielded the 1972 pictures, Rines "hit the jackpot" with spectacular detailed color close-ups of the head, neck, flippers, and front part of a large body.


The Rines photographs led to the British Parliament's being asked to enact a law protecting the unknown denizens of the loch. Sir Peter Scott and Dr. Rines proposed a scientific name: Nessiteras rhombopteryx ("Ness marvel with a diamond-shaped fin"). The 1975 photographs have convinced such experts as George R. Zug, Smithsonian curator of reptiles and amphibians, but there are still skeptics who see in them a cloud of bubbles, the prow of a Viking ship, or a decomposing highland stag. Monster hunters recognize the necessity for yet clearer pictures or an actual specimen.

What do scientists think the Loch Ness Monster might be? There is, of course, more than one individual; the loch could support up to 300, each weighing about 2,500 lb. Suggested hypotheses include giant eels, long-necked seals, wormlike invertebrates, plesiosaurs (dinosaurs thought extinct for 65 million years), and newts. Dr. Roy Mackal does not believe the animals belong to any species known to exist at present. His candidate, as explained in his book The Monsters of Loch Ness (1976), is an evolved descendant of an embolomer, an amphibian supposedly extinct for 250 million years, attaining giant size because of optimum growth conditions in the loch. He notes that the coelacanth, a primitive fish believed extinct for 70 million years, was discovered alive in 1939. However, he does not rule out plesiosaurs and eels, which have a large number of the Loch Ness animals' observed characteristics.

In 1976 Dr. Rines returned to Boston without obtaining new pictures, but local residents of Loch Ness continue to maintain the underwater camera linked with sonar. Future projects, under the leadership of Dr. Mackal, may include efforts to search the bottom of the loch for bones and bodies and the sides for inhabited caves, as well as attempts to obtain tissue samples with biopsy darts. Yet another plan is to trap a living animal employing an ingeniously engineered contraption designed by Robert Love. This device consists of a floating service platform and a submergible box, constructed almost entirely of plastic, which can snare a 30-ft.-long animal. The box has an opening on one side, through which the animal is lured by a concentrated bait fluid extracted from kippered herring. When pressure is applied to a screen surrounding the bait, an electro-magnetic mechanism drops a trapdoor over the exterior opening.

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