Despite a well-run, well-documented scientific DNA study of Loch Ness which found no DNA in its waters that could not be identified, the search for the Loch Ness Monster shows no signs of dissipating. This week, that DNA study inspired yet another one – this time statistical – on the likelihood that Nessie is a giant version of a certain small and well-known aquatic creature. Meanwhile, a large group of people with diverse backgrounds and beliefs have committed to yet another organized search effort to find the legendary monster. And if you don’t think the Loch Ness Monster is more popular than ever, a sighting of a huge, unidentifiable sea creature on the east coast of the U.S. has many calling it a lost or vacationing Nessie – even though that is probably impossible and there is a probably a reasonable explanation for it. There are a number of real celebrities who would pay anything for the publicity the mythical Loch Ness Monster receives.
"We can't find any evidence of a creature that's remotely related to that in our environmental-DNA sequence data. So, sorry, I don't think the plesiosaur idea holds up based on the data that we have obtained. So there's no shark DNA in Loch Ness based on our sampling. There is also no catfish DNA in Loch Ness based on our sampling. We can't find any evidence of sturgeon either. There is a very significant amount of eel DNA. Eels are very plentiful in Loch Ness, with eel DNA found at pretty much every location sampled - there are a lot of them. So - are they giant eels?”
In 2019, Professor Neil Gemmell, a geneticist from New Zealand's University of Otago, released the results of his yearlong DNA study on the waters of Loch Ness and concluded that the most likely real candidate for the mythical monster is the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) – a snakelike migrating fish which can reach almost five feet in length but generally averages 2.5 to 3 feet. That doesn’t sound anywhere near the 15 to 20 foot lengths of the creatures that most Nessie spotters report, nor do most photos and videos look anything like an eel. However, eh so-called “eel hypothesis” is the result of a scientific report, so refuting it requires a scientific response.
“Previous studies have estimated the size, mass, and population of hypothetical unknown animals in a large, oligrotrophic freshwater loch in Scotland based on biomass and other observational considerations. The ‘eel hypothesis’ proposes that the anthrozoological phenomenon at Loch Ness can be explained in part by observations of large specimens of European eel (Anguilla anguilla), as these animals are most compatible with morphological, behavioural, and environmental considerations.”
Enter Floe Foxon, a data analyst in the Department of Data Management and Statistical Analysis at Pinney Associates in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In a preprint paper published in the online journal bioRxiv. Foxon analyzes the probably that Nessie is a giant eel of the European kind. Using eel catch data from Loch Ness and other freshwater bodies in Europe, Foxon plotted eel body length distributions in order to estimate cumulative distribution functions, then estimated the probabilities of various eel body lengths. According to his analysis, the chances of finding a large eel in Loch Ness are around 1 in 50,000 for a 1-meter (3.1 feet) specimen – pretty good odds. However, the probability of finding a specimen upwards of 6 meters (18.6 feet) – the estimated size of most sightings -- is essentially zero. In other words:
“The existence of exceedingly large eels in the loch is not likely based on purely statistical considerations.”
OK, “not likely” means there is still a chance the Loch Ness Monster is a mutant European eel, but who wants to look for that? Not the Loch Ness Exploration (LNE) group. The organization was founded by Alan McKenna, who told The Inverness Courier that his interest in searching for Nessie came from a “frightening experience” as a young boy when, while wading in the loch near Urquhart Castle, he fell off of an underwater ledge and plunged into the depths. Was he saved by an unseen beast that used its wet snout and massive flippers to push Alan back to the surface and to the safety of the shore? That would make a good movie … a fiction one.
“My dad got me out and I just got a big fright.”
Now he’s afraid of the water but in love tithe the Loch Ness Monster. That seems like an illogical and unwieldy combination for a Nessie hunter but that is the charter of Loch Ness Exploration – to bring together similarly fascinated volunteers for a series of observations once or twice a month at different spots and elevations along the loch side.
“We record, study and analyse all manner of natural behaviour and behaviour that may be more challenging to explain. It joins up sceptics and believers who don’t have to sit in two camps. You can work quite comfortably and have that respect.”
Can a group of believers, skeptics and in-betweeners do what no other group has done before … find and prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster? It can’t hurt, and having skeptics in the group will help remind the others about the eels.
Now, if only someone would remind people in North Carolina that the Loch Ness is in Scotland.
“No way it is any of the animals mentioned, including a baby whale or alligator. Its motion is too graceful, it has protrusions on head and a long feather-like flipper in the rear. I honestly don't know of any sea creature that fits that description.”
This story keeps resurfacing like a sea monster since it was first reported in early January 2023. A giant, snake-like creature that some claim looks like the Loch Ness Monster has surfaced, but not in the Scottish Highlands where you might expect. A giant snakelike creature was photographed (see it here) with its head out the water off Atlantic Beach in North Carolina. A video posted on social media (see it here) quickly went viral – even though most wildlife and marine experts disagreed with anonymous social media commenters and said it was a most likely a baby whale. That didn’t stop The Mirror and other media sources from promoting the idea that “The Loch Ness monster has reportedly been spotted in foreign waters just off the coast of North Carolina, leaving monster hunters to fear that Nessie has moved away from the Scottish Highlands.”
Really? We can believe it is not a giant eel. We can hold on to the remotest of hopes that the mythical beast of Loch Ness is real. But vacationing in North Carolina? Even if the Loch Ness Monster played golf, that would still be hard to believe. Good luck to the Loch Ness Exploration (LNE) group … but have a backup plan ready. The odds are not in your favor.