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Page last updated at 07:13 GMT, Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Nessie mystery turns 75

More than 1,000 people claim to have seen the Loch Ness monster since a mysterious shape was first photographed 75 years ago.

References to a monster in Loch Ness date back to St Columba's biography in 565 AD.

But the myth only took its modern form when reports of a strange object and then a series of mysterious photographs appeared in press during the 1930s.

Adrian Shine, from the Loch Ness and Morar Project, has led many scientific studies into the depths of Loch Ness but has not found any evidence of a monster.

Below are his pointers to understanding the iconic images of the Loch Ness monster.


First known photograph claimed to be of the Loch Ness monster by Hugh Gray, 1933

It was this picture, snapped by Hugh Grey on 12 November 1933, that is credited as being the first photographic evidence of the Loch Ness monster. It appeared on the front cover of the Scottish Daily Record on 8 December that year, under the headline "Monster photograph of the mysterious Loch Ness object".

It is the first picture and bears that distinction, but it is also the least easy to interpret.

It has been suggested that it is a double negative, perhaps of a Labrador dog with a stick in its mouth, but it could be anything.

The "surgeon's photograph" of the Loch Ness monster, from April 19 1934

The "surgeon's photographs," of the Loch Ness monster have come to define the image of Nessie, and for many years no conclusive proof could be found that they were fakes. The photographs were supposed to have been taken by gynaecologist Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson and were published in the Daily Mail on 21 April 1934.

This is the image in most people's minds, but it is a fake.

Firstly, if you look at the water texture you can tell the waves are very small, not to scale with the size of the monster.

Secondly, it was owned up to by Christian Spurling, one of the hoaxers, in 1994. He was asked to make a model to go on top of a toy submarine by Marmaduke Wetherell, who with a small group of collaborators planned the hoax to get back at the Daily Mail, who had fired and publicly humiliated him for a previous hoax.

It is such a beautiful picture and may well have found its inspiration in the Brontosaurus in King Kong. It led to the expectation that the Loch Ness monster would have a long neck.

Loch Ness monster photo by Lachlan Stuart

Lachlan Stuart's photograph taken on 14 July 1951 was of a different kind of Loch Ness monster, with a long thin body arching out of the water.

The remnants of this hoax were witnessed by local author Richard Faire. He spoke to Lachlan Stuart the next day, who confessed that he had constructed the image from hay bails and tarpaulin. Researchers later recreated the image and found the water where the monster was seen was in reality very shallow.

This didn't stop people from speculating as to how the creature could contort its back in such a way.

Peter MacNab

Respectable bank manager Peter MacNab took this Nessie photograph on 29 July 1955.

This is a huge object. If it were an animal it would be more than 60ft (18m) long, which is colossal. If you think of the amount that would be under the water, it would be a creature of the most improbable proportions.

It could possibly be a portion of a boat wake and if you look behind it you may see a faint line in the water. There may have been some retouching, but the photographer never admitted to a hoax.

Given the improbability of an object of that size, you have to seek alternative hypotheses, but there is no definitive proof that the image is a fake.


R. H. Rines picture of The Loch Ness monster's flipper
Picture of The Loch Ness monster's flipper taken underwater in 1975
With the advent of colour photography and a total lack of definitive proof, classic photographs like these stopped appearing after the 1950s.

A rigorous 10-year project to watch the surface of the loch in the 1960s turned up no evidence whatsoever of the mysterious monster.

Instead, the search went underwater, with sonar sounds and submarine exploration of the loch's dark depths.

"In hindsight, you can see that the classic pictures are different to each other, hence unlikely to be real pictures of one animal," says Adrian Shine.

"You may not believe that Loch Ness is Jurassic Park, but that doesn't mean that there isn't something in Loch Ness that is yet to be explained."

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