People have always had a fascination with the mysterious. The unexplained holds a lot of draw to those easily fascinated by it, whether it be things such as Bigfoot, UFOs, or Dennis Kucinich. And a lot of new press has recently been generated over one of the oldest mysteries of the Western world: the Loch Ness Monster.
Of course, the people of Loch Ness want to believe. The proprietors selling little plastic Nessies really do believe. The existence of the monster is ingrained in the history and the culture of Scotland, and people continue to believe even though the frequency of sightings appears, on average, to be somewhere in the likelihood of once every seventy years.
The field of investigation imaginary animals is called “cryptzoology,” a word I’m very uncomfortable with. It makes me think that these are people interested in collecting animal carcasses and devising new and creative ways to preserve them in giant stone monoliths. I mean, yeah, it sure as hell beats scrapbooking, but you gotta wonder what disturbing Ranger Rick article they read when they were nine to make “proving creepy-ass fictional animals actually exist” a valid career choice.
The first sighting occurred in 565 AD when the legendary Columba, no doubt uninfluenced by the fermentation of mead, saved the life of a Pict being attacked by the monster. The monster, not being savvy in PR management, ducked undersea to appear infrequently to newspaper reporters, the only additional appearances being those told by husbands when searching for an excuse as to why they came home at five in the morning smelling of beer and rotting oak.
This all changed in 1934, when what is euphemistically known as the “Surgeon’s Photo” was published. (Robert Kenneth Wilson, the surgeon in question, was a gynecologist; apparently, no one wanted to get too specific about his branch of medicine to avoid awkward questions, or at least anything more awkward than “You’re a professional doctor, and you’re wasting your evenings taking pictures of shadowy figures in murky lakes?”) This was famously revealed to be a hoax in the mid-90’s, when a confidant of the doctor, on his deathbed, declared that it was a “project” (read: an idea cooked up with airtight preparation one drunken stupor with an overly imaginative friend) which concluded with making the figure from a “submarine” (read: random piece of floating junk he found in his garage) with “molding” attached to it for the head (read: some elongated cylinder-type thing he picked up at a flea market).
Since all of the sightings have been in poor lighting, from a distance, or by disreputable sources, not unlike Marlon Brando, any claims to its existence have to be taken with a grain of salt and a lot of whiskey. This widely cast net of supposed sightings also leaves a rather large cast of characters as to what the Loch Ness monster looks like: a long-necked seal, an eel, a dolphin, a largish dog, a plesiosaur, an enormous salamander (!), an otter, a mollusk of some sort, a mysterious coelacanth, trees (?), the fictional kelpie, and, apparently, a brick of Styrofoam with a Pringles can superglued to the top of it.
I’m particularly intrigued with some of these theories. Many of these suggestions represent animals that are extinct—namely, the long-forgotten plesiosaur. The coelacanth lends itself to this particularly well, since it was thought to be extinct for a few million years but turned up off the coast of Madagascar (his excuse: “Had a dentist’s appointment up in Yorkshire”). If the eerie-looking coelacanth (He looks like a fish pasted together for a grade school project, and the last kid who was absent that day got to glue on all the extra remaining fins) can come back from being extinct, well, why can’t Nessie be “extinct” (please note pretentious quotation marks)? I’m also a bit puzzled about the dog theory. Sure, I’m certain that Scots can spend their evenings in various stages of being where their perception may be, ah, altered, but even the wispiest of denizens could tell the difference between a legendary reptilian creature and a Great Dane who forgot his boogie board.
The most recent sighting is a video uniformly described as a “jet black thing” that looks like a “forty-five foot long eel-like creature” and is “moving quite fast.” There is, rather remarkably, a good bit of skepticism about the new video. For once thing, the video does not exactly give any kind of reference to length or lighting, so it’s nearly impossible to determine whether it’s forty-five feet or really all that black. One suspects the video has the quality of that episode of ALF I taped back in 1988 and have left on the dashboard of my car for the past ten seasons.
But, still, any press is good press for the Loch Ness tourism industry. Any few bits of information that leak out are always good for some rampant speculation. And it’s mostly harmless fun, anyway: despite major scientific efforts through SONAR, undersea expeditions, and an infinite number of BBC documentaries, the evidence is inconclusive at best. It’s not Nessie they want; it’s the thrill of ambiguity. Most hedge funds, dollar-store pregnancy tests, and California-based religions have been founded on much less.