Nessie & The Surgeon’s Photograph

Like me, you may have been tickled by today’s Google Doodle, which features three little-grey men, pedaling an underwater craft, topped by one of the most infamous images of the Loch Ness Monster. Known as the surgeon’s photograph, it quickly gained notoriety, first as definitive proof that the monster existed, and then in the late 70’s as an exposed hoax.


It was on this date in 1934 that the surgeon’s photograph was published in The Daily Mail. But Google isn’t just celebrating the fact that 81 years ago the nation was gripped by Nessie-fever. They’re celebrating their own endorsement of the famous cryptid, as the vast expanse of Loch Ness is now accessible on Street View. They’ve even added a Nessie-shaped peg-man to help you navigate your way through the images.

Of course, no Nessie-nonsense would be complete without a sighting of the beastie, and in keeping with that tradition, The Daily Telegraph has spotted ‘something’ lurking on the surface of the Street View images. (image courtesy of Google).

Nessie - Google Street View

I will remind you that today, when both Google and The Telegraph have chosen to go public with the images and story, is the anniversary of probably the most infamous monster hoax of its time, and one that The Telegraph itself exposed in 1975.

Having spent some of my childhood on the shores of Loch Ness, it is already a very special place to me. The landscape is haunting, eerie and just the kind of country you’d expect to find monsters. I remember taking an interest in a man who was on a constant vigil of the water, ever ready to take that definitive photograph. I was in awe that he’d practically given up his ‘normal’ life to go monster hunting. I was fascinated by such a prospect.

I can only presume some thirty years later he is still there, with a somewhat arthritic finger hovering over the shutter. I do know that he has now been joined by many others, camped out semi-permanently and with ever-growing gadgetry at their disposal. There is even a permanent webcam fixed in a spotter’s hot-spot above the water at Urquhart Castle.

The Loch Ness Monster is a strange cryptid for me, in that it is probably the one I have the most love for, and is certainly the one I want to be there the most. But in my heart, I have a hard time accepting it. The facts are just stacked against it.

In it’s favor, the Loch is nearly 23 miles long and between 1 and 1.5 miles wide. It’s also an impressive 754 feet deep, and holds more water than the rest of the lakes in England, Scotland and Wales put together. So there is certainly space for a monster, and it would easily be hidden by the dark, peaty waters. But that’s where the problems start too.

When light can’t penetrate water, photosynthesis becomes impossible. At around six feet deep in Loch Ness (and I know from personal experience), light disappears, and there is nothing more than pitch darkness. It’s similar to swimming in oxtail soup. That makes it terrifying, (but potentially tasty), and very easy to imagine that something large may be looming just a few feet away. But in reality, it means that the amount of life the loch can actually support is very limited. There is no bed of lake grass at the bottom, only a thick layer of yet more peat. The water is very cold and very dark, not exactly hospitable.

The loch does have a good population of arctic char, who are especially adapted for the frigid, dark depths and found themselves a permanent resident after the last ice age. Migratory salmon and sea-trout also pass through its waters. It is also a well-known location for eels, as well as the more humble brown trout. But populations of these fish are kept relatively low by the natural barriers of the environment, which makes feeding a population of carnivores somewhat difficult.

The loch is connected to the sea by the River Ness and the adjoining Loch Dochfour, but navigating it is not straight-forward, with a weir and central Inverness to get through first. But that hasn’t stopped the odd seal, sturgeon and other oddities occasionally turning up. So in theory at least, the dwindling diet of the monsters could be refreshed from time to time by new arrivals.

Some have suggested that Nessie is also migratory, although it seems odd that nobody has noticed what has been reported as a 30 foot long, 6 foot high creature splashing through the shallows of the River Ness and the canals of Inverness town on an annual basis if so.

Or should I say creatures, as surely a legend that goes back 1500 years to the times of St. Columba, if based on truth, revolves around a breeding group of animals? It has been estimated that for there to be a viable population, there would need to be approximately thirty of them.

And what exactly are they? If there’s thirty of them, surely they can’t be reptiles or mammals – as hopefully one of the shore-hugging monster-spotters would have had the good luck to see at least one of them come up for air.

So that leaves fish. And with sightings on both land and in the water, pretty much only one species might fit the bill. Perhaps we’re dealing with some kind of giant, unknown eel. This is something explored in Steve Alten’s book The Loch, one of the better novels based on the legend. Well, at least until I have a crack at it at some point!

So the odds are stacked against it, but as Google are showing, the legend lives on. And with every investigation and exploration, no matter how definitive the results, there is always a lingering, unanswered quantity. Be it the mysterious, unidentified large masses discovered in Operation Deepscan, never to be found again, or the image now circulating street view, the case is never completely closed. I therefore can’t say for sure if something serpentine (or otherwise) lurks in Loch Ness, but just like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s