The Legend of the Loch Ness Monster

In the body of Great Britain’s largest freshwater lake, there persists the belief of a prehistoric monster outliving its counterparts. For 1500 years the mystery of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, has endured in popularity both in its Scotland home and around the globe. Nessie is believed to reside in the Loch Ness Lake of the Scottish Highlands, remaining allusive over its 23 miles and 788 ft depth. The residents of the surrounding village, Inverness, can be credited with maintaining the legends desirability, most prominently through tourism efforts, insisting that there is still no evidence for the non-existence of the creature, thus come see for yourself.

The persistence of the legend rests on its longevity and contributes to its extraordinary attributes. If Nessie exists, it would counter the idea that prehistoric creatures have been extinct and prove they could survive in a modern environment, therefore, contradicting currently accepted scientific theories. Nevertheless, evidence supporting Nessie’s existence has been frequent and heavy since the legends origins. The earliest documentation can be traced as early as 297 AD in paintings by the Pict, an ancient people who lived in now modern eastern Scotland. The Pict people had an appreciation and fascination of animals, documenting them in great detail. Upon discovery their depictions were easily recognizable except for one, a creature with flippers, a round body, and an elongated neck, was unlike anything familiar in the region. These paintings would be the foundation for an evolving legend, appearing again two hundred years later in 565 AD in the biography of St. Columbia. His writing spoke of a monster in the Loch, of a creature beginning to attack a swimmer, but before it could attack again Columbia told it to return and it obeyed. In the centuries following these two tales paved the way of the legend, vague sightings of a mysterious sea creature would show pattern, enough for the belief to pass several generations. The belief would begin to attract global attention most notably in the 1930s. In July of 1933 the Caledonian Canal was being built across the Loch to accommodate traffic, on the 22nd of the month passersby George Spicer and his wife claimed to have seen “a most extraordinary form of animal” cross the street in front of their car, the description resembling that of the Pict. After multiple similar claims in the area it was decided that the construction of the bridge allowed a once isolated area to be explored, thus an increase in sightings. In the same year the first photo of Nessie arose, Hugh Grey had been walking with his dog when the picture was taken, showing an indistinguishable, blurry creature. In 1934 Nessie was told to have came ashore again, motorcyclist Arthur Grant was riding at 1am when he claims to have hit a large, round, flippered creature that retreated to the water post impact. However the greatest contribution to the legends attention occurred also in 1934, the “Surgeon’s Photograph,” taken by Robert Kenneth Wilson would show the head and neck of an unidentifiable animal among waves. The photograph would grab global attention through newspapers and radio broadcasts, bringing about eager tourists. The exponential popularity of this decade leveled out for the remainder of the 20th century, however, sonar readings, expeditions, films and photos would become frequent activities across the lake by those near and far, all contributing to over 4,000 documented accounts of claimed sightings.

Interest and research of the legend has persisted throughout the 21st century, however we are now able to dismiss some of the evidence that first sparked its infamousy in the 1930s. For example, Hugh Grey’s 1934 photograph was determined to be inadequate evidence as two positive-negative slides confirmed the shape was that of a rolling otter. Similarly, Arthur Grants motorcycle incident was decided to have been the result of another otter, whose size and features grew with time and exaggeration in

accordance with scheme of the legend. Finally, the most dramatic reversal of evidence came with Robert Wilson’s photograph being deduced to an elaborate hoax. The famous photo had been manipulated in size, the materials that of craftsmanship, and the floating movements responsible by submarine. It was a production involving Marmaduke Wetherell, an employee of the Daily Mail who wanted revenge after a previous submittal of evidence was quickly ruled to be fake. Co-conspirators Christian Spurling, Ian  Wetherell, and Maurice Chambers built, tested, and deployed the device for photography purposes, would remaining silent on its public effects until 1994.

Despite the surfacing falsehoods, the belief remains present to modern day. Its popularity hit a peak in the 1930s, but there are still believers who have taken a modern approach to tackling remaining unanswered questions. Rather than rely on testimonial answers, those persistent enough are using technology to acquire answers. For example, professor and scientist Neil Gemmell of New Zealand is conducting The Loch Ness Project, a search for DNA evidence of the present marine life. He says, “there’s absolutely no doubt that we will find new stuff, and that’s very exciting. While the prospect of looking for evidence of the Loch Ness monster is the hook to this project, there is an extraordinary amount of new knowledge that we will gain from the work about organisms that inhabit Loch Ness.” It is hopeful that the expedition will provide insight into the Lake’s biodiversity, perhaps contributing to the legends persistence or dismissal. Nevertheless, the additive lure of this potential is what invites the psychologist’s perspective. There is a wide scope of cognitive contributions that have attributed to the beliefs diligence. One method of such is post-hoc theorizing, meaning that claimed witnesses may not have understood what they had believed to seen, however, when it is suggested that it was the Loch Ness Monster, the witness asserts that they knew it had been so all along. Retreat to this explanation stems from the availability error as well, meaning the spike in sightings in the 1930s can likely be attributed to others believing they have seen something due to the bombardment of information on the matter, thus dismissing any other explanations. Along with this, a majority of the evidence presented can be argued as resembling pseudoscience, or a system of theories, assumptions, and methods erroneously regarded as scientific. The characteristics that suggest this are reliance on personal experiences, promising the impossible, and stagnation. Overturned testimonies, the contrast to prehistoric theories, and an unwavering virtue to Scottish folklore has allowed the belief to persist beyond what true scientific methodologies would suggest. It can be argued that the element of stagnation is what maintains the legends presence, having been interwoven into the Scottish culture for 1500 years suggesting a lack of proof is not enough to decay the belief, rather the modest evidence in its favor is framed extraordinarily, allowing it to persist.

The emphasis on tradition contributes to the societal perspective of the belief. Because it is asserted to be a Scottish legend, sharing in it is not limited to class, gender, or race. Rather, it is shared by the Scottish people as a unique statement of their history. This curiosity has been shared with the globe as well, perhaps making a world-wide statement of falsehood unachievable. Nevertheless, the reversal of evidence has not slowed down believers, and tourism for the purpose remains abundant. 

It is difficult to say if this scale of a pseudoscientific belief holds consequences. There is something about a tale of folklore that is appealing to humans whether they are passively or directly invested in something like the Loch Ness Monster. Additionally, those who participate in anything related to the existence of the Loch Ness Monster do not seem to be inflicting any sort of harm on anyone/anything. Whether the belief comes from an investment in one’s Scottish heritage or anecdotal experience, the prospect of an elusive sea monster can almost serve as a form of escapism, a non-consequential rabbit hole to fall down. Although the advent of pseudoscience shouldn’t be encouraged, the longevity of Nessie and her influence on Scottish culture has not resulted in any detrimental scientific malpractice thus far. Therefore, it is safe to assume that people will continue to venture to Nessie’s homestead for years to come.


10 thoughts on “The Legend of the Loch Ness Monster

  1. Growing up I always remember watching those TV shows on the discovery channel about people who claimed to have seen “Nessie” and the “professionals” who went out to try and find her. I personally always enjoyed the claim that she was just a log sticking up out of a foggy lake, I think that’s much more amusing than a giant dinosaur-esque creature.

  2. One thing I frequently think about is whether or not there was a prehistoric creature that actually looked like our modern interpretations of Nessie. With this in mind, do you think that the tendency to believe in the existence of potentially dangerous creatures was evolutionarily advantageous, leading modern-day humans to be genetically more willing to accept myths such as this?

    • Interesting question, when I read your question it took me back to one of the talks I had seen given by Professor Brendon Nyhan. In his talk he tells us why people believe in myths and fake news. According to him people believe in myths because they don’t have all the information about the topic. Well then we could just give them information. But according to him that’s not that easy. People are already so attached to there opinions that even when we try to give them the real knowledge they are not ready to listen. He says that this is due to the disconformation bias.

  3. You brought up what I think is the most important cognitive tool for these kinds of sighting-based beliefs: post-hoc theorizing. I’ve done the same thing when I drive by something without really looking and then a friend asks if I saw that dog/cat/cow, etc – I feel suddenly more assured that I had, in fact, seen whatever it was they suggested. I think it’s really cool that you aren’t sure if there is an “impact” of this belief – what does that mean for something like this that is, more or less, modern folklore? Can it have a negative impact?

  4. I think I read somewhere once that we have only explored 10% of the ocean. While the loch ness monster most likely isn’t swimming the seas, it makes me wonder what creatures do lurk below the surface that we haven’t discovered yet.

  5. I was in Scotland over the summer, and while I was not able to make it up to Loch Ness, it was definitely on my mind the entire time I was there. I love that both of the first photos of “evidence” turned out to be otters! I didn’t know that there was a New Zealand professor researching marine life in Loch Ness, it will for sure be interesting to see what he finds!

  6. I was unaware that this belief originated in Scotland. The prominence of post hoc theorizing is evident and memory is so fallible that it is not surprising that this belief continues to persist. Regardless, the folklore is entertaining to say the least. I can sympathize with those that believe in the Loch Ness Monster as well: when I was a freshman in high school and staying at a resort in Scottsdale, my dad told me there were dolphins that performed a show at night. The “Scottsdale dolphins” only came out at 2 am and I had to stay up long enough to see them. I only believed this for a short amount of time, but I believed in these dolphins that I never actually saw nonetheless. My family still makes fun of me to this day for the Scottsdale dolphins.

  7. It’s really interesting to know that the evidence of Lock Ness Monster could be made for a revenge. The motivation behind a urban legend really help us to understand the origin and development of the rumors. Just like the words, “What is real is reasonable, what is reasonable is real”, people’s reality not always equals to truth, but what they want to believe and desire. Lock Ness Monster might develop base on the local community’s desire for a selling point of their tourism.

  8. I really liked reading about this conspiracy. It was something I think every child heard of and many stories were written about it. Reading in here that the pictures were originally otters just shows how much this theory varies from one story to another. Another Loch Ness theory I read here said that the picture itself was fabricated and there wasn’t anything in the first place.

  9. I first heard of the Loch Ness monster when I was watching an episode of Scooby Doo when I was little. Just like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster has been “seen” by people but no valid proof was ever found to confirm the idea. Since Loch Ness monster isn’t considered harmful, people probably will have hopes that Nessie is alive.

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