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Nessie and Noctilucent Clouds:


By Oliver D. Smith Independent researcher, UK


Abstract: Since the 1930s there have been over a thousand recorded sightings of monsters in Loch Ness, Scotland. The consensus of experts is these reports of mysterious creatures (known in Scottish Highlands folklore as Nessie) have mundane or prosaic explanations such as hoaxes, wakes, mirages, misidentifications of floating objects (e.g., natural debris, boats) and known native fauna (e.g., deer, otters, diving birds), opposed to extraordinary or unusual explanations such as exotic fauna, escaped animals from traveling circuses, relict plesiosaurs and unknown or elusive species (e.g., ‘long-necked’ pinniped, giant eel). After providing an overview of the different hypotheses and a history of the search for the Loch Ness Monster – the author of this paper argues a rare meteorological phenomenon might explain some monster sightings in the loch during twilight hours between May and August – reflections of noctilucent clouds (NLCs). Keywords: Noctilucent clouds, Loch Ness Monster, Reflections, Atmosphere, NLCs Introduction Eyewitness accounts of monsters in Loch Ness, Scotland are traceable in literature as far back as the 1930s and continue to be documented, albeit infrequently.i The Life of Saint Columba written in the late 7th century CE by Adomnán describes an Irish monk named Columba having encountered a “water beast” (aquatilis bestia) in the River Ness (Borsje, 1994). Although often mentioned in books on the putative Loch Ness Monster (Dinsdale, 1973: 25-30; Witchell, 1989: 14), Columba’s sighting should be excluded because the River Ness is separated to Loch Ness by another lake, Loch Doufour (Binns, 1984: 52-53).ii



The sighting itself is not trustworthy; Adomnan wrote his biography of abbot Columba about a hundred years after he died (meaning it is far removed from a first-hand account) and the water beast anecdote appears in the context of miracles, which hardly lends credence to the story.iii While a few dozen Loch Ness Monster reports are dated to the late 19th or beginning of the 20th century, they were not recorded until the 1930s and their reliability is doubtful,iv for example, an eyewitness came forward in 1934 and said he observed a monster in the loch more than 60 years earlier but could not remember the exact year (either 1871 or 1872) and was rather vague in his description (Whyte, 1957: 27). In May 1933, the Inverness Courier published the first article on a monster sighting in Loch Ness (Campbell, 1933).v Scottish newspapers continued to print articles on subsequent reported sightings of large mysterious creatures in the loch and a year later there were at least 43 first-hand eyewitness reports (Burton, 1961: 21) which prompted the book The Loch Ness Monster and Others to be published by Rupert T. Gould (a navy officer and investigator of seaserpents). Descriptions of monsters in Loch Ness by eyewitnesses in 1933-1934 considerably varied but the national newspaper The Scotsman in October 1933 published articles under the title “Loch Ness Monster…” (Stalker, 1933a, 1933b), a name quickly adopted by tabloids in England, as well as books (Oudemans, 1934; Gould, 1934); reports of monsters in Loch Ness, some with little in common were visualised as a single monster type, either one individual (Gould, 1934: 121) or a small family (Carruth, 1938: 14). The putative monster became known locally in the Inverness area and Scottish Highlands folklore as ‘Nessie’ (from Niseag in Scottish Gaelic). In December 1933, the Daily Mail published a sensational headline, “Monster of Loch Ness is not a Legend but a Fact” (Binns, 1984: 28) based on some mud tracks found on a bank of the loch (purported to have been left by an elusive creature). However, these mud tracks were soon revealed to be a hoax.vi Around the same time, photographs (of rather poor quality) began to circulate of what was said to be the monster. The earliest photo of the Loch Ness Monster by a man named Hugh Gray in November 1933 is probably a swan (Naish, 2017: 95-96), although this is not conclusive given its ambiguity.vii The infamous ‘Surgeon’s photograph’ published in the Daily Mail (April 1934) is almost certainly a hoax; Martin and Boyd (1999) convincingly argue it was a toy submarine fitted with a fake head to look like a sea-serpent. Repeated hoaxes resulted in national newspapers decreasing quantity of articles they published on the putative monster primarily because of embarrassment (Bauer, 1986: 36-37) and public interest in the Loch Ness Monster too waned; in the mid-to-late 1930s and 1940s sightings did not stop to be recorded but they were considerably less frequent than in 1933 and 1934. It has been argued monster reports were most frequent in 1934 because an expedition attracted more observers to the loch that single yearviii (Mackal, 1976: 85) and in 1933, the felling of trees plus construction work on a road next to the loch somewhat improved visibility for observers who were driving.



In 1951 there was a minor resurgence of public interest in Nessie when Lachlan Stuart a forestry worker, took a photo of three humps in the loch close to Urquhart Castle. Despite Stuart’s photo was a hoax using bales of hale (Witchell, 1989: 83) it took decades to prove this; the photo in the 1950s and 1960s was considered by some investigators to be the best piece of evidence for the putative monster. Stuart’s photo was notably reproduced in Constance Whyte’s book More Than a Legend: The Story of the Loch Ness Monster (Whyte, 1957). The idea of a surviving plesiosaur in Loch Ness predated Whyte’s book (Gould, 1934: 119-124), but it faced objections and difficulties she tried to resolve.ix In 1959, the zoologist Maurice Burton read Whyte’s book and changed his mind from arguing the Loch Ness Monster is an elusive giant eel, to a relict plesiosaur (Tucker, 1960). However, less than two years later he became a lot more sceptical, arguing most monster sightings (90%) can be explained by gaspropelled rotting vegetation or natural debris rising from the loch bottom to water surface, as well as misidentified common objects and known animals (Burton, 1961: 170). In 1961, the engineer turned Nessie-hunter, Tim Dinsdale, published Loch Ness Monster, arguably which remains to date the most popular book on the putative monster; the book went through four editions (Dinsdale, 1961, 1972, 1976, 1982). Dinsdale himself thought he had captured the monster on film in 1960; however, photo stills in his book show nothing of the kind because they are unclear. Campbell (1986a, 2002: 48) interprets Dinsdale’s film to show a motor-powered dinghy and wake but this is disputed by others (Bauer, 2002: 236). In 1962, the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau (LNIB) was created; its founding members included Whyte, ornithologist Peter Scott, and politician David James. LNIB carried out photographic surveillance and used sonar technology for underwater searches but repeatedly failed to provide any reliable evidence for an unidentified creature in Loch Ness. In 1965, the biochemist and zoologist Roy P. Mackal was appointed scientific director of LNIB. His approach to Nessie was different than Gould’s and Dinsdale’s in the sense he attempted to explain how monsters with an average length of 20-feet could survive and thrive in Loch Ness. To avoid extinction there must be a minimum viable breeding population of ‘Nessies’ (in their dozens or hundreds) not a single individual or small family (i.e., 2 or 3) as Gould and Dinsdale argued respectively.x Mackal (1976: 201) described the concept of there being only one living individual monster (or very few) in the loch absurd and ignorant of population biology; LNIB’s literature too stressed “what we are investigating is a breeding herd” (James, 1970). Mackal’s credentials and scientific rigour brought respectability to the Nessie hunter community that was previously lacking in the same way Grover Krantz did to the bigfoot community in the 1970s (Regal, 2008). Gould and Dinsdale struggled to explain how food in Loch Ness could viably sustain a population of large unknown creatures. Mackal (1976) ingeniously tried to solve this problem by arguing Nessies could have fed on migrating salmon or eels (but his calculations were overestimations).


In his book The Monsters of Loch Ness, Mackal estimated that 10% of documented monster sightings in Loch Ness were of an unidentified giant amphibian but 90% misidentifications of known local fauna (e.g., diving birds and swimming deer), boat wakes, floating logs as well as hoaxes (Mackal, 1976: 200-201). The LNIB disbanded in 1972 but its research was continued by the Loch Ness and Morarxi Project set up by naturalist Adrian Shine (Shine, 2006: 17) which focused on studying the limnology of Loch Ness (Shine, preferred to carry out scientific investigations at Loch Morar because its water is clearer). In 1972 and 1975, underwater photographs were published, allegedly showing the Loch Ness Monster (Rines et al., 1976). However, some were supposedly retouched; this altered the photos to the extent they bore little resemblance to original photographs (Razdan and Kielar, 1984-1985; Naish, 2013). In the late 1970s, “Nessie’s public respectability declined again” (Bauer, 1986: 164). Mackal by the 1980s seems to have lost interest in the putative monster.xii Henry Bauer, author of The Enigma of Loch Ness continued where Mackal left off. Like Mackal, Bauer (who holds a PhD) brought academic credibility to the Nessie community, which was lacking; his book on Nessie was published by a reputable university press (Bauer, 1986). Bauer has long argued in terms of population biology and ecology the loch can sustain a breeding population of large elusive creatures and to explain how Nessies entered the loch he claims Loch Ness formerly was a saltwater fjord.xiii Bauer has a personal belief in the putative monster but as a scientist he realises limitations of anecdotal eyewitness testimony and “vague photographs or transitory blips on a sonar” (Bauer, 1986: 53). The same year Bauer published his magnum opus on Nessie, another book titled The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence reached the opposite conclusion,

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