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Mythical Lake Dwellers, The Loch Ness Monster, Sonar and Environmental DNA

My curious crew! My mystical bitches! HELLO!

This blog will discuss mythical lake monsters, Nessie a.k.a. The Loch Ness Monster, Sonar, and Environmental DNA Science. Before we get into the history, mystery, and science surrounding the world’s most famous lake monster, Nessie. I want to take a moment to discuss some other lake dwelling mythical creatures from around the world.

Fosse Grim

The fosse grim is a Scandinavian water spirit that loves to play the violin. Legends about the fosse grim vary. Some tales swear that the fosse grim played his violin song to lure women and children to their drowning deaths in lakes and streams, while other legends claim the fosse grim is harmless and simply likes to entertain humans with his songs. According to one myth, fosse grim even agreed to live with a human that fell in love with him, but he supposedly left after some time because he could not live away from a water source for too long…I guess they didn’t own a bathtub or pool?

Art by Anastasia Babarkina


Most Harry Potter fans know about these guys. Grindylows are British water demons that inhabit lakes. Grindylows have long fingers and tentacles to drag children deep down to their watery death. Supposedly, this folktale was to keep children away from cold water in the area and to prevent drownings. Sounds like a recipe for nightmares to me.


Kappas are absolutely wild looking! They look like half-man, half frog or half-man half-turtle creatures that have yellow-green skin. Kappas come from Japanese mythology.

Kappas are intelligent water spirits with a thirst for the blood of the innocent. Allegedly, kappas use their cunning to lure children to the water, where they pull them under and feast on their blood. Kappas sound pretty easy to defeat though because their heads are filled with water and if it spills they lose their powers.

So basically if you find yourself face to face with a kappa, just pull a little teapot move on that muthaf*cker! Tip him over and pour him out!

Again, can we just talk about how crazy these things look? !? This dude to the left looks stoned AF right now. Seriously! Look at him!

Why am I just now learning about these strange stoner Muppets and why are there not way more movies and TV shows featuring Kappas?

Lady of the Lake

The Lady of the Lake is a famous lake spirit from several different legends including King Arthur or the more recent and not so great The Haunting of Bly Manor. The Lady of the Lake from the King Arthur story did a bunch of cool stuff including: raising Sir Lancelot from the lake, giving the sword Excalibur to King Arthur, and giving Sir Lancelot a ring to protect him from all magic.

It appears that the Lady of the Lake having a successor is a thing. The Lady in the Lake from King Arthur’s story was Viviane and then Nimue. The Lady of the Lake from The Haunting of Bly Manor was Viola Willoughby followed by Dani. It would seem that Ladies of the Lake will either help you on a quest or drown you and make you take their place. The best advice that I can give you is to stay away so that you do not involuntarily become the next Lady of the Lake.


Rusalka were thought to be the souls of young women that died in or near lakes, usually murder victims of men, jealous husbands, or lovers. The Rusalka were not violent, but mainly haunted the lakes until their death was avenged. The Rusalka that died prematurely due to suicide or murder having to do with their loved ones was doomed to live out their designated time on earth as a spirit.

(Rusalka is also the name of a 1901 opera by Anton Dvorak. The opera was performed by the New York Metropolitan Opera in 2017.)

Water Nymphs (Naiads)

Water Nymphs are natural female entities that are bound to a particular location or form. Naiads can inhabit most any body of water including: fountains, wells, springs, brooks, rivers, marshes, ponds, lagoons, and obviously lakes. The essence of a naiad was bound to the body of water that she inhabited. For example, if a spring dried, the naiad within it died. There are mixed reviews on naiads. In some stories naiads are depicted as dangerous creatures, because they could take men underwater when fascinated by their beauty, and drown them. Naiads are known to be jealous and vengeful creatures. A naiad that was once cheated by her husband is said to have blinded him in an act of revenge. The Greeks saw naiads as more friendly and helpful than jealous and vengeful. In Greek mythology naiads were friendly creatures that helped sailors fight perilous storms. They also had the power of foresight, and were said to make prophecies. Naiads that live in lakes are called lymnaeids.

Nessie a.k.a. The Loch Ness Monster

Are you ready to talk about Nessie aka the Loch Ness Monster? Well get ready because I did a deep dive of approximately 788 feet (240 meters) to get to the bottom of Loch Ness (Btw, Loch is Scottish for lake) to find the most intriguing morsels of information AND a recent DNA study starring our good friend Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.


The first recorded Nessie sighting dates all the way back to 565 AD.

An Irish Monk named St. Columba was hanging out on the bank of the River Ness (which feeds into Loch Ness). St Columba and his men witnessed a crowd of locals gathering on the river bank. The people were preparing to bury the gravely injured individual. The locals told St. Columba that a water beast attacked a swimmer that was crossing the river. The swimmer was mauled to death by the beast despite efforts to save the swimmer by boat. St. Columba heard this and was like, “Whhaaaat? No Way!” Legend has it that St. Columba then ordered one of his followers to jump in and swim across the river. The man was halfway across the river when the beast approached him, but St. Columba made the sign of the cross and shouted at the beast to, “Go back!” The beast magically understood English and was somehow unoffended even though St. Columba didn’t say “please”. The beast suddenly stopped, turned around, and left.

Fast forward to the 1930’s. During this time a road was built adjacent to Loch Ness. The road gave drivers and passengers a fairly unobstructed roadside view of the Loch. In 1933, a number of alleged Nessie sightings and newspaper articles caused a renewed interest in the Loch Ness Monster. In May of 1933, an article in “The Inverness Courier” was published about an April sighting of the Loch Ness Monster by Aldie MacKay as she and her husband were driving on the road next to Loch Ness. According to MacKay, "The creature disported itself, rolling and plunging for fully a minute, its body resembling that of a whale, and the water cascading and churning like a simmering cauldron. Soon, however, it disappeared in a boiling mass of foam. Both onlookers confessed that there was something uncanny about the whole thing, for they realized that here was no ordinary denizen of the depths, because, apart from its enormous size, the beast, in taking the final plunge, sent out waves that were big enough to have been caused by a passing steamer."

In July of 1933, there was another famously publicized sighting by the Spicers. Allegedly, George Spicer and his wife were driving on the road by Loch Ness when they witnessed an animal crossing the road in front of their car. They described the creature as being around 4ft height, 25ft length, and a long slender neck about 10-12 ft. According to the Spicer’s the creature also had a big humped back, an animal in its mouth, and it moved across the road too quickly for them to get a good look at the feet and/or tail if there was a tail. The creature must have been booking it because by the time the Spicer’s got to the spot that the monster was seen it had disappeared into the Loch.

In January of 1934, veterinary student Arthur Grant was riding his motorcycle along the Loch on a moonlight night and nearly hit the creature as it was crossing the road. Grant described the creature as a cross between a seal and a plesiosaur. He stopped, dismounted his bike, and tried to follow the creature, but it escaped to the water leaving nothing but ripples in its wake.

1934 marked the appearance of the most famous Nessie photo to date ( see above).

The picture known as “The Surgeon’s Photograph” is the first photo that shows the creature’s head and neck. You know the one, black and white, grainy, long neck water dinosaur looking creature… The photo was taken by Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynecologist, who did not want his name associated with the photo, hence the title, “The Surgeon’s Photograph”. The photograph has since been analyzed by scientists and while what is depicted can not be determined, it has been determined that whatever is in the photo is actually fairly small, about 2-3 feet. It may be an animal, an object in the water, or a blemish on the negative.


The mid-1930’s brought about the first Loch Ness Monster associated hoax. In the mid-1930’s the Daily Mail hired big game hunter Marmaduke Wetherell (you heard that right, Marmaduke) to find the monster. Spoiler alert: Marmaduke did not find the monster. He allegedly found its footprints. According to Marmaduke, the footprints belonged to a soft-footed animal about 20ft long. The set of footprints were cast in plaster and sent to zoologists at the Natural History Museum. The museum scientists determined that the footprints were identical and appeared to have been made from a hippopotamus foot that was believed to be the base of an object such as an umbrella stand or ashtray. What the actual f*ck?

After the hippo footprint hoax, the Daily Mail (along with many others) publicly ridiculed Marmaduke Wetherell…which brings us to hoax number two involving Wetherell and “The Surgeon’s Photograph”. A 1975 article in Sunday Telegraph described “The Surgeon’s Photograph” as an elaborate hoax. “The creature was reportedly a toy submarine built by Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell. Wetherell had been publicly ridiculed by his employer, the Daily Mail, after he found "Nessie footprints" that turned out to be a hoax. To get revenge on the Mail, Wetherell perpetrated his hoax with co-conspirators Spurling (sculpture specialist), Ian Wetherell (his son, who bought the material for the fake), and Maurice Chambers (an insurance agent). The toy submarine was bought from F. W. Woolworths, and its head and neck were made from wood putty. After testing it in a local pond the group went to Loch Ness, where Ian Wetherell took the photos near the Altsaigh Tea House. When they heard a water bailiff approaching, Duke Wetherell sank the model with his foot and it is "presumably still somewhere in Loch Ness". Chambers gave the photographic plates to Wilson, a friend of his who enjoyed "a good practical joke". Wilson brought the plates to Ogston's, an Inverness chemist, and gave them to George Morrison for development. He sold the first photo to the Daily Mail, who then announced that the monster had been photographed.”

A final famous hoax that I wanted to mention happened in the 1970’s. A team of zoologists from Yorkshire’s Flamingo Park Zoo traveled to Loch Ness in search of the monster. While searching they discovered a large 15-18ft body floating in the water. The creature was brown with a scaly body and claw-like fins. Scottish police seized the cadaver, as there is a law prohibiting removal of unidentified animals from Loch Ness. Turns out the animal was a deceased bull elephant seal that had been altered and placed in the Loch by Flamingo Park education officer John Shields. Shields admitted to the hoax and stated that he was simply playing a prank on his colleagues.

Since the 1930’s there have been many so-called sightings, photos, and videos of Nessie. Most are inconclusive and none have been proven to be hard evidence that the Loch Ness Monster actually exists.

Searching with Sonar

What is sonar? Sonar is a form of echolocation used by animals in air or water to find objects. Scientists use sonar to detect underwater objects and measure water depth by emitting sound pulses and then measuring their return after being reflected back.

Several sonar studies of Loch Ness have been conducted over the years from the 1960’s through the 2000’s. Two notable studies are Operation Deepscan from 1987 and Searching for the Loch Ness Monster 2003. Operation Deepscan was a large-scale sonar study conducted using 24 boats that simultaneously sent sonar waves across the loch. During Operation Deepscan contact was made with a large unidentified object that was moving at a depth of 590 ft. The 2003 study results were quite the opposite. The study used 600 sonar beams and satellite tracking. Sadly for Nessie fans, no animal of significant size was detected. Scientists involved in the 2003 study concluded that this was proof that the Loch Ness Monster is a myth.

Operation Deepscan photo 1987

Environmental DNA

What is environmental DNA? As living organisms move through their environment they are constantly shedding DNA via skin, waste, etc. The study of environmental DNA (eDNA) is a fast growing scientific field that emerged in the early 2000’s. eDNA can be collected from environments such as soil, animal products, snow, water, etc. The DNA is extracted from the environmental sample, processed, sequenced, assigned (if the sequence is existing) or compared (if the sequence does not exist in a database), and finally analyzed to determine where the species was found (which environment).

Advantages: Faster and more effective than traditional methods, more sensitive to detecting different species.

Limitations: Cannot tell you physical size of species, population density, how recently a species was present, DNA degradation rates vary depending on environment. In water eDNA typically lasts 7-21 days.

In 2019, Professor Neil Gemmell and his team flew from New Zealand to Scotland to conduct the first eDNA study of Loch Ness. I watched the documentary, Legend’s End The Loch Ness Monster Story, which was all about this study, Dr. Gemmell’s team, and their findings. The goal of the study was to catalog living species in the loch by extracting DNA samples from the water. Before moving forward, let’s discuss some of the wildlife that lives in Loch Ness and some theories as to what Nessie could be.

Birds: Ducks and cormorants can be found on Loch Ness. A common theory exists that some Nessie sightings are actually birds fishing.

Seals: Seals have been known to swim into the Loch from time to time. The theory is that maybe they get lost or swim into the Loch to avoid predators.

Elephants: While elephants do not live near the Loch a common theory was that traveling circuses may have let their Elephants swim or bathe in the Loch resulting in false Nessie sightings.

Wels Catfish: A giant catfish species. There is a theory that they may have been released in the Loch and reproduced. A catfish this large could easily be mistaken for a monster.

Greenland Shark: People love the Greenland shark theory. Greenland sharks are cold water sharks that can reach up to 20ft in length. They are able to survive in fresh and saltwater. They may be able to travel into and out of Loch Ness from the ocean.

Eels: It’s no secret that there are TONS of eels in Loch Ness. The length, size, smooth back, and sideways motion of a giant eel could match up to a number of Nessie sighting stories.

Whale.... Too many people tagged me in this post on social media to not share it with you.

You're welcome. Here is a thing you cannot unknow.

Plesiosaur: By far my favorite theorized Nessie species is the plesiosaur. A long-necked aquatic reptile from the Cretaceous period complete with a tail and 4 flippers for feet. Nessie will always be a Plesiosaur in my mind. It is by far her cutest form. Bonus, in the documentary there is a guy that lives on the shore of Loch Ness and he makes and sells little polymer clay Nessie figurines. It may just be the most wholesome thing ever.

The 2022 documentary, Legend’s End The Loch Ness Monster Story follows Dr. Gemmell’s team throughout the study. After watching the documentary, I feel like the study still leaves plenty of room for skepticism. Dr. Gemmell and his team took over 250 samples of water from Loch Ness at various locations and depths. They discovered DNA from about 3,000 species in the Loch including birds, fish, eels, humans, and even deer. However, they did not find ANY otter or seal DNA and we know for a fact that both otters and seals frequent Loch Ness (otters way more than seals).

There are theories posed by many that whatever species the Loch Ness monster is, it may be migratory meaning there may not be DNA for that species present at this time. Again, remember DNA in water degrades quickly so if Nessie is indeed a migratory species and was not present in the Loch in the 7-21 days prior to eDNA testing, then the DNA may not show up. Perhaps this is why no otter DNA was found? Or the testing may not have been as accurate as possible. Another theory is that Nessie may have died out due to global warming and changing water temperature. We don’t really know.

At the press conference conducted after the study Dr. Gemmell concluded that the best plausible theory is that Nessie may be a giant eel due to the amount of eel DNA collected in Loch. Yes, there are a LOT of eels in Loch Ness, but we cannot confirm the size, and no giant eels have been caught to date. Thus far, the largest eel on record is about 5.5kg (just over 12lbs) so how giant do we really think this alleged giant eel could be?

I’d like to include a few quotes from Dr. Gemmell’s press conference on the eDNA study.

“Is there a plesiosaur in Loch Ness? No. There is absolutely no evidence of any reptilian sequences. So I think we can be fairly sure that there is probably not a giant scaly reptile swimming around in Loch Ness.”

Dinosaur DNA “should sit somewhere between crocodilians and birds. And there’s nothing remotely like that in our sequences. We found tons of birds. So yes, there are birds, we didn’t find crocodiles. We didn’t find lizards. We didn’t find adders. We didn’t find another relative, we did find toads, frogs and amphibians and they are obviously distantly related.”

“I came into this with a view that there probably wasn’t a monster,” he said. “I wanted to understand the biodiversity of Loch Ness and we’ve done that very well.”

“We may have missed things. But we found all the species we know are residents in Loch Ness in respect to fish.”

“Like every other monster hunt there has been here at Loch Ness, we have found no definitive evidence of a monster. More and more studies providing more and more negative evidence cast more and more doubt on the possibility, but we can’t prove a negative.”

“There’s still some level of uncertainty there, so there is still the opportunity for people to believe in monsters. Is it front page news? I don’t know. But we’ve captured some imaginations.”

Photo of Dr. Neil Gemmell at Loch Ness during the study.

During the press conference Dr. Gemmell promised to provide a publicly available database of all of the species of the Loch. Unfortunately, I was unable to find and link it. As far as I’m concerned the jury is still out as to whether or not Nessie exists and what species Nessie actually is.

How about you, my curious crew? Until next time. Stay inquisitive!


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