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Is the Loch Ness Monster Real? The Facts, Fiction, and Everything In-Between

Dip your toe into the intriguing mystery surrounding Scotland's most famous lake.

is the Loch Ness monster real
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  • Photo Credit: Katy Kristin / Flickr (CC)

What is left to be said about the Loch Ness Monster? So much has been written, speculated, and fabricated whole cloth about the strange creature purported to haunt the lake in Scotland from which it takes its name that it seems impossible to shed any new light on the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. 

The 1987 spoof film Amazon Women on the Moon even had a segment (jokingly) speculating that the monster—or Nessie as it is more casually known—was in fact the infamous Jack the Ripper. What more could you add to that?

So, is the Loch Ness Monster real? The jury is still out, though most experts agree that, if there is in fact anything unusual at all in Loch Ness, it probably isn’t a monster, or a leftover plesiosaur, or an “elephant squid,” or any of the other fanciful explanations that have been lobbed about over the years. If nothing else, with reported sightings going back a hundred years or more, Nessie would have to be getting up in years by now if it did exist.

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Is the Loch Ness monster real
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  • Photo Credit: Jaleel Akbash / Unsplash

The Loch Ness Monster’s fame can be traced back to a report in the Inverness Courier in 1933, when a man named George Spicer reported seeing “the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life.” According to Spicer, the creature crossed the road headed for the loch, carrying some sort of animal in its mouth. (It’s a notable deviation from formula that one of the earliest popular reports of the monster places it outside the water, rather than in.)

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While George Spicer’s sighting may have popularized the myth of the Loch Ness Monster, it wasn’t the first time that strange sightings were associated with the highland lake. In fact, tales of unusual creatures in the water go back as far as a hagiography of Saint Columba, written in 565 CE. 

This account of the Life of St. Columba, as it is called, details an encounter between the saint and a “water beast” in the nearby River Ness. When Saint Columba encountered some locals burying a man who had been slain by the beast, he went to confront the creature himself, sending one of his followers to swim across the river. When the beast approached, Saint Columba made the sign of the cross and told the beast to “Go back at once,” at which time the beast retreated.

While believers have used this tale to bolster their claims of a strange creature living in the lake, skeptics are quick to point out that such stories are not exactly uncommon in hagiographies. And even if the creature in the Life of St. Columba really was the Loch Ness Monster, that would make Nessie old indeed by 1933, let alone the present day.

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By far the most famous image of the Loch Ness Monster is a blurry photo as synonymous with cryptozoology as any grainy shot of Bigfoot. Popularly known as the “surgeon’s photograph,” it originally appeared in the Daily Mail in 1934 and has been attributed to a London gynecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson. Today, the photograph is widely considered a hoax, though it remains the most “classic” representation of Nessie on film.

Is the Loch Ness monster real
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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

In April of 2016, a diving robot sent into the loch by Norwegian firm Kongsberg Maritime as part of the Loch Ness Project, did, indeed, find a monster down there, just not the one that many cryptid enthusiasts were hoping for. 

Instead, the robot, which was searching the floor of the lake as part of a project partially financed by VisitScotland, found a model that was intended for use in the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately for filmmakers, when the life-size model of the Loch Ness Monster was placed into the water of the lake, it sank to the bottom, requiring the use of a miniature in the actual film.

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Is the Loch Ness monster real
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  • Still from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

    Photo Credit: United Artists

While the discovery of a model version of the Loch Ness Monster at the bottom of the Scottish lake might not have been what Nessie fans were hoping for from the expedition, the news made a nice treat for less credulous fans of cryptozoology, not to mention film historians. 

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Could it be that a strange and particularly elusive creature still lurks in the dark waters of Loch Ness? We guess anything’s possible, but most experts consider it very unlikely. In 2003, the BBC searched the loch with 600 sonar beams as part of a special called Searching for the Loch Ness Monster. Unfortunately, the search didn’t find anything large enough to be the fabled Loch Ness Monster.

Of course, it also didn’t turn up the model from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which we now know was down there all along, so who can say for sure?

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Featured photo: Katy Kristin / Flickr (CC); Additional photos: Jaleel Akbash / Unsplash; Alchetron