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Loch Ness Monster

The Loch Ness Monster or Nessie is a cryptid of Scottish folklore, reputedly inhabiting Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It is similar to other supposed lake monsters in Scotland and elsewhere, and is often described as being large in size, with a long neck and one or more humps protruding from the water. Popular interest and belief in the creature has varied since it was brought to worldwide attention in 1933. Evidence of its existence is anecdotal, with a few disputed photographs and sonar readings.

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Nessie has not simply attracted lunatics and thrill-seekers, however. Many scientists throughout the years have tried to gather data on the creature, with little success. Speculative studies have been done predicting the possible population numbers of the species, and a well-respected scientist went so far as to give it a scientific name: Nessiteras rhombopter (Scott and Rines, 1975). The mid- to late-seventies was a hub for Nessie research and speculation in the scientific community. In 1972, Limnology and Oceanography published a short article titled “The Population Density of Monsters in Loch Ness,” a predictive study using sound ecological principles to predict the number of monsters in the loch. First, Sheldon and Kerr used earlier studies they conducted in marine ecosystems to come to the conclusion that a monster of Nessie’s purported size would most likely be piscivorous. In an oligotrophic setting with relatively low density of fish, only a small number of monsters would be possible in the loch, despite its incredible volume. They assume a mass of at least 100 kg per monster, for “anything smaller is not suitably monstrous” (Sheldon and Kerr, 1972). Though it may sound like a pair of addled hippies submitting to a board of equally stoned peers, the science is still sound. Here is a case of science, coupled with imagination. Why not estimate the population of a creature whose existence is in question? It’s just as valid a speculation as a population viability analysis on any other species. That the Loch Ness Monster has not been seen, touched, handled by science does not mean science cannot apply itself to it. If that were the case, the stars themselves must be expelled from the realm of scientific inquiry. Sheldon and Kerr seem to feel similarly, and conclude their article with this: "Fear of ridicule is the main reason why many observers do not make their observations known to science. But it is the skeptics who are at fault. Monster observers should be encouraged. The occurrence of monsters is quite reasonable and is by no means fantastic." Some scientists were supportive to Sheldon and Kerr’s study, others were not. In the very next issue of Limnology and Oceanography, two replies to the population density article followed in rapid succession. The first was simply a page with a reply and some other calculations, along with suggestions on how to improve the original analysis (Scheider and Wallis, 1973). Right below this article was a scathing review declaring the two scientists “do their case a disservice by drawing conclusions from weakly-based assertions” (Mortimer, 1973). An article was published in 1996 defending the population density study. The author agreed with their views on the inspiring qualities Nessie possesses: “Human beings seem to have a deep-seated desire to believe in strange and elusive creature” (Lawton, 1996). The article also applauds the older scientists for their estimation techniques, saying that “nearly 25 years later, we could do a tighter job, but the underlying theoretical principles would be the same.” After his own speculations, the author concludes tongue-in-cheek with a comment about the scientific name given to Nessie in 1975: "The detectives among you will probably have realised that the 11 December issue of Nature was the Christmas 1975 issue, and those of you who are good at crosswords may have noticed an interesting thing about the scientific name of the Ness monster with diamond fin. Nessiteras rhombopteryx is an anagram. Unscrambled, it spells out 'monster hoax by Sir Peter S'." Perhaps Nessie will forever remain a mystery, believed by some, laughed at by others, casually nodded at by still more. Perhaps no scientific conclusion can ever be reached. With or without the support of the biological sciences, the human imagination will continue to soar when a certain Loch in northern Scotland comes to mind.

Contributed by Audrey Coffman

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