Aug 02, 2022 I Nick Redfern

More on the Matter of Nessie and Those Plesiosaurs That Could Never Live in Loch Ness

The Loch Ness Monsters: just about everyone has heard of them. A large number of people claim to have seen the long-necked, humped leviathans of the deep. Some have even photographed and filmed them. Nessie, as the beast is affectionately known, has been a staple part of the world of the unexplained since 1933, when the phenomenon of the monster exploded in spectacular, planet-wide fashion. Since then, millions of people have flocked to the shores of the 22.5 miles long and 744 feet deep loch, all in the hopes of seeing the elusive creature. Attempts have been made to seek out Nessie with sonar-equipment, aircraft, balloons, and even submarines. Theories abound as to what Nessie is – or, far more likely and correctly, what the Nessies are. Certainly, the most captivating theory, and the one that the Scottish Tourist Board, moviemakers, and the general public find most appealing, is that which suggests the monsters are surviving pockets of plesiosaurs. Sadly, things just don't stand up, as we'll see. They were marine reptiles that the domain of zoology assures us became extinct tens of millions of years ago. The possibility that the monsters are actually giant-sized salamanders holds sway in more than a few quarters (the salamander angle theory is actually very intriguing) . As does the idea that perhaps massive eels are the culprits. Then there are scenarios that involve sturgeon, oversized turtles, catfish, and even crocodiles, giant frogs, and hippopotami! And, there is the theory that I very much adhere to: namely, the paranormal / occult side of the Nessie controversy.

Numerous Nessie enthusiasts, investigators, and authors have spent years – decades, in some cases – pursuing their quarry. They have done so in a fashion that uncannily mirrors the obsessive actions of the fictional Captain Ahab, in Herman Melville’s acclaimed 1851 novel, Moby Dick; or the Whale. But, it’s all, and always, to no avail whatsoever. No matter the number of days, hours, weeks and years spent, and no matter just how advanced the technology utilized to find the animals might be, it forever ends in failure. After more than years of intensive investigation, the Nessies still evade capture, discovery or classification. Is this all down to sheer bad luck and inept investigations? Certainly not. Rather, it’s a case of people looking for the answers in the completely wrong direction. And, that's what we'll address today. 

(Nick Redfern) The Loch Ness Monsters: Not Plesiosaurs

Since this new development in the saga of the Loch Ness Monster is revolving around plesiosaurs, it's only right to provide a description of the creatures. Britannica stae the following: "Plesiosaurus, an early plesiosaur, was about 4.5 metres (15 feet) long, with a broad, flat body and a relatively short tail. It swam by flapping its fins in the water, much as sea lions do today, in a modified style of underwater “flight.” The nostrils were located far back on the head near the eyes. The neck was long and flexible, and the animal may have fed by swinging its head from side to side through schools of fish, capturing prey by using the long sharp teeth present in the jaws." Now, let's get to the heart of the monstrous matter. After all, that's what we are after, right? Right!

It was a late night in 1934 when a keen motorcyclist - twenty-one-year-old Arthur Grant - was on the roads and heading home at around 1:00 a.m. Grant, allegedly, very nearly became the first person to ever have a head-on collision with a Nessie! Fortunately, however, neither monster not motorcyclist were injured. That the night sky was dominated by a powerful, eerie moon meant that Grant had a very good view of the beast, as it loomed before him, and caught in the glare of his motorbike’s headlight. It was at a distance of around 120 feet that Grant caught sight of something unusual in front of him. Exactly how unusual it was near-immediately became apparent. Grant said of his sighting that he was practically on top of the monster when its tiny head – sat atop an elongated neck – suddenly turned in his direction.

Evidently just as shocked as Grant was, the monster made two bounds across the road, headed down to the loch and vanished into its depths with an almighty splash. Grant brought his motorbike to what was literally a screeching halt and, demonstrating his spirited character, gave chase! It was quickly clear to Grant, however, that, as a result of the huge splash, the monster had made good its escape. Nevertheless, in the time between it was first seen and when it fled for the dark waters, Grant was able to get an excellent view of his quarry.  He described the monster as having a bulky body, flippers rather than legs, and an approximately six-foot-long, thick tail that looked like it could inflict significant damage. As for its overall size, Grant suggested somewhere close to twenty-feet.

Skeptics claim that Grant fabricated the story; however, it should be noted that he was insistent that he saw a monster and even made a statement to that effect to the Edinburgh-based Veterinary Society. Given that Grant was a student-veterinarian, it seems unlikely that he would have taken the risk of recklessly lying to the Veterinary Society. A prank on the press is one thing. Risking one’s entire future career in front of the society would have been quite another entirely. Grant’s statement is an important one, as it adds some additional, intriguing data to his original report. As he said, given his profession he knew more than a bit about the world of natural history. As a result, he had pondered deeply on the nature of the monster. Interestingly, Grant said that the beast seemed to be a chimera – that’s to say a combination of several creatures. The head of the monster, explained Grant, was eel-like. Or, it could have been more snake-like; he wasn’t altogether sure. The body resembled that of a plesiosaur. The eyes were large – although, admittedly, Grant only saw one. Logic dictates, however, that both eyes would have been uniform in nature and appearance. The skin of the animal, meanwhile, said Grant, was like that of a whale.

(Nick Redfern) A Nessie on the land?

It was reports like those of Arthur Grant and the Spicers that quickly led to the development of the theory that the Loch Ness Monsters represent nothing less than a relic population of plesiosaurs. There’s no doubt that this is the most popular and engaging theory for the Nessies, and one which the Scottish tourist industry, Hollywood, and the media love to promote whenever possible. Unfortunately for those willing to put their money on this admittedly likeable theory, the bad news is that the chances of the Nessies being plesiosaurs are slim to the point of being almost impossible. First, there is the not insignificant fact that the plesiosaur surfaced around 250 million years ago and died out around 66/65 million years ago. Plesiosaurs, the fossil record has conclusively shown, lived in saltwater environments: our planet’s oceans. Loch Ness, however, is a freshwater loch. Yes, there is evidence of the occasional plesiosaur in a freshwater environment, but the bulk of the cases are not suggestive of entire colonies of the beasts inhabiting freshwater bodies. It’s far more likely and plausible that they wandered into them and died there. And, yes, there are both a freshwater crocodile and a saltwater crocodile. But, the comparison is meaningless without evidence that plesiosaurs were 100 percent comfortable in both freshwater and saltwater.

Still on the matter of extinction vs. non-extinction: let’s take note of the fact that – as the fossil-record shows – there is not a single bit of evidence to suggest plesiosaurs (anywhere on the planet) survived beyond 60-plus million years ago. Yes, we have fossilized examples of plesiosaurs. But, no, they don’t date from – for example, and hypothetically – 20 million years ago, or even 5 or 1 million years ago. They all date from the precise period in which science tells us they came to an end. And even if plesiosaurs did survive – against just about all the odds conceivable – into the modern era, they could not have made their way into Loch Ness until around the end of the last Ice Age. For one simple reason: Loch Ness didn’t exist until then. Up until that time, the area (the Great Glen) was – for all intents and purposes – a vast block of ice. So, if they didn’t enter the Loch until approximately 10,000 years ago, up until that point they must have lived in the ocean waters. But, then there’s the problem of why we haven’t found any ocean-based remains of plesiosaurs dating back – for example – 13,000 or 20,000 years.

If evidence had been found of plesiosaurs off the coast of Scotland, and just before the end of the last Ice Age, each and every one of us should be even a bit impressed. But, nope, the evidence is always tens of millions of years old. If the plesiosaur survived beyond 65 million years ago, why is the evidence to support such a scenario 100 percent absent? Because there is no evidence, that’s why. And, now, we come to the final observation on this monster-matter. Plesiosaurs, despite what some might assume, were not fish. They were reptiles. That means they had to surface to take in oxygen. Crocodiles – which, of course, are also reptiles – can remain underwater for up to around 2-hours at a time. So, keeping that in mind, how about a bit of hypothesizing? If the Nessies are plesiosaurs, then let’s say that at any given time there are around twenty of them in the loch, ranging from (a) young and small to (b) large and old. That would be a reasonable figure to ensure the continuation of a healthy herd. Let’s also say they, like crocodiles, can stay submerged, and without taking in oxygen, for up to 2-hours at a time. This means that in any one-day, each plesiosaur would have to surface around twelve times. Twenty plesiosaurs, surfacing twelve times a day (at a minimum, I should stress), would equate to 240 surfacing events every single twenty-four-hour-long period. Multiply that by a week and the figure is elevated to 1,680.

Then, multiply that by fifty-two weeks in a year and the figure becomes a massive 87,360 annually. Even if ninety percent of the surfacing events went unnoticed or unreported (for fear of ridicule, perhaps), that would still mean in excess of 8,000 reports per year of every year. But, the fact is that the number of sightings reported per annum equates to barely a handful. And let’s say there are only around ten plesiosaurs at any particular time in the loch (rather than my suggested twenty), well, that still means a potential 43,680 cases of the animals surfacing across 365 days. Finally, there is the matter of Nessie’s famous, long neck. A study of fossilized remains of plesiosaurs has demonstrated that the animals simply were not built to raise their necks high out of the water in the proud and prominent fashion that has been attributed to the Loch Ness Monsters. Clearly, there is something very wrong here. And what is wrong is the reliance on the plesiosaur theory, which is without doubt woefully inadequate when it comes to trying to explain what lurks deep in Loch Ness. If only this inadequate theory could become as extinct as the plesiosaur itself. Yet, it has endured since the year in which Nessie became world-renowned, 1933, without a single shred of evidence to support it.

There's no doubt that the latest news about Nessie has provoked a great deal of interest - and there's nothing wrong with that. But, as the statistics demonstrate, well, they just don't count when it comes to the matter of living plesiosaurs. With all of that now said, I'll just add this:  I'll stay with my "paranormal monster" theory. As I see it, that's a far more likely answer to the never-ending mystery.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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