Tests show Loch Ness monster may be giant eel

Nessie: A Victorian impression of the beast — there have been more than 1,000 “sightings”.

Why are we so entranced by monsters? Yesterday, a team from the University of Otago in New Zealand revealed its conclusion that Britain’s most famous Leviathan must be a gigantic eel.

We have told stories about the Loch Ness monster for over 1,000 years. There have been hundreds of official sightings, and even a few dubious photographs. But, yesterday, researchers from New Zealand finally uncovered something akin to the truth about Nessie.

The team took DNA from 250 water samples from the Scottish loch, hoping to learn exactly what creatures might stir within its deep, dark waters.

They didn’t find a prehistoric marine reptile. They didn’t find a big shark. What they did find was a lot of eel DNA.

“The sheer quantity of the material says that we can’t discount the possibility that there may be giant eels in Loch Ness,” said Professor Neil Gemmell, who led the research. He insists that it is the only “plausible” theory. After all, the slender giant moray eel can grow 13-feet long.

At 23-miles wide and 226-metres deep, Loch Ness contains more water than all other English and Scottish lakes put together. But its waters are so murky that you can only see through a couple of feet at the surface. That leaves a considerable explanse of water in which a giant sea creature could potentially lurk.

In 1934, Hugh Grey was riding his motorcycle past the lake in the dead of night. In the darkness, he struck something in the road and was thrown to the ground. Dazed, he looked back just in time to see a huge, flippered creature retreating into the waters.

Grey’s account was one of a flurry of sightings in the 1930s, which drew Nessie to international attention.

But sightings have never completely died down. In fact, a record number were reported in 2017.

There have been many wild theories about the identity of the monster: a sea dinosaur called a plesiosaur; a huge fish; a wandering Greenland shark; or even swimming elephants.

Why has the legend persisted? Some psychologists say that the story fulfils a human need to reach beyond the dullness of ordinary life. Scotland has Nessie, but in other parts of the world there is the Himalayan yeti, or the giant anaconda of South America.

These mythical creatures — also said to represent our human fear of the untameable, natural world — are known as cryptids.

Professor Gemmell was well aware of the power of the Loch Ness myth when he set out on his mission.

“People love a mystery. We’ve used science to add another chapter to Loch Ness’s mystique,” he said.

Creature from the deep?

In 2019, every corner of the world has been discovered, mapped and sold. Science has explained every mystery. So, we long for a time of explorers, when the world was still full of mystery, possibility and strange monsters. It doesn’t matter if they are real: we want to believe that they could exist.

Or perhaps, say psychologists, these beasts reflect the hidden monsters inside our minds. As we go through life, we feel that there are huge, unseen forces at work that aren’t reflected in our mundane reality. So, we project these primitive feelings of wonder and terror on to the outside world. How fitting then that Nessie might be a giant serpent: subtle and shape-shifting, always slipping out of our grasp.

You Decide

  1. Do you believe in monsters?
  2. What do you think our fascination with monsters represents?

Activities

  1. Draw a picture of what you imagine the Loch Ness monster to look like.
  2. Write a one-page story entitled, “The creature from the deep”.

Some People Say...

“If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A team of scientists from New Zealand have been studying DNA taken from Loch Ness in Scotland to find out if the Loch Ness monster exists, and to study the variety of creatures that live in the waters. When they tested DNA against popular candidates for “the monster” (such as, shark or sturgeon), they got no matches. However, they did find a large amount of eel DNA.
What do we not know?
Other scientific advantages of the study. It is the first attempt to catalogue the marine life in Loch Ness. “While the prospect of looking for evidence of the Loch Ness monster is the hook to this project, there is an extraordinary amount of new knowledge that we will gain from the work about organisms that inhabit Loch Ness,” said Gemmell.

Word Watch

1,000 years
Or even 1,500 years. In 565 AD, Saint Columba is said to have encountered a monster in Loch Ness and driven it back into the waters.
Dubious
The most famous is known as the “Surgeon’s photograph” of 1934. It was later proved to be an elaborate hoax.
Akin
Similar or close to.
Eels
The eels in Loch Ness travel more than 3,100 miles (5,000 km) from the Sargasso Sea near the Bahamas, where they lay their eggs.
Swimming elephants
Many people have commented that the Surgeon’s photo resembles an elephant’s trunk.
Psychologists
See The New York Times piece in Become an Expert for further insight.
Cryptids
Often defined as “an animal whose existence is unsubstantiated”.
Shape-shifting
Snakes are said to be symbols of transformation because they shed their skin for a new one.

Subjects

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