Otter Nonsense

Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 5th, 2007


Otters, of course, are responsible for a few misidentifications of Lake Monsters in bodies of water worldwide.

In my The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep (co-authored by Patrick Huyghe), the fact that people do make mistakes when viewing mundane mammals on lakes and lochs is acknowledged. Otters, nevertheless, have never been seen as the root of all Lake Monsters accounts, as seemed to be expressed on CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now” last week by the guest skeptic.

Otters are hardly in vogue any longer. Even Bernard Heuvelmans’ theory of the “super-otters,” as a type of Sea Serpent, has fallen from favor.

One of the “otter nonsense” points of the CNN interview was for Joe Nickell to, more or less, say that all Lake Monster reports could be explained as being otters.

Indeed, Nickell does use this simplistic broad brush to explain several Lake Monster reports.

In Nickell’s and Benjamin Radford’s Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World’s Most Elusive Creatures, “otter” is the underlying explanation that is often used.

Various remarks from that book confirm Nickell’s theme, in which he and Ben Radford use others’ conclusions to support this all-encompassing “otter” theory:

Loch Ness, Scotland

[Quoting Ronald Binns]…With its long neck and plesiosaurlike profile, the otter is quite likely to be perceived as a monster, especially when an adult with two or more young are swimming in a line, creating the semblance of a multihumped creature, p. 13.

[Regarding the August 1933 sighting Spicer sighting, referencing a local newspaper]…the creature was almost certainly a large otter, possibly carrying one of its young, p. 13.

[Dick Raynor’s film of 1967, pointing again to Binns]…that, in my opinion, shows an otter or otters, p. 19.

Lake Crescent, Newfoundland

[Obviously, Radford writing]…Otters are very common in and around the lake, and as Joe Nickell has pointed out in earlier chapters, otters can be (and have been mistaken) for lake monsters, p. 96.

Lake Okanagan, British Columbia

[Speaking of Ogopogo, it is noted]…Lake Okanagan is in the home range of…otters, p. 113. Ogopogo and the supposedly responsible otters surface again on pages 117-120 and 168.

On pages 37-38, Nickell mentions otters as the explanation for cryptids in Lake Champlain, Vermont/New York/Quebec; a lake in Clinton County, New York; Loch Arkaig and Loch Ness, Scotland; Lake Utopia, New Brunswick; and Silver Lake, New York (the latter also on pp. 86-87).

On page 73, the Radford-Nickell book links otters to sightings of Memphre in Lake Memphremagog, Quebec and Vermont.

On pages 141-142, Nickell theorizes that at least one sighting of “Beaverton Bessie” or “Kempenfelt Kelly,” seen near Beaverton, Ontario, “could reasonably be explained by otters swimming in a line, diving, and resurfacing,” (page 141).

Reasonably? This is otterly overwhelming. Otterly ridiculous.

If so many otters around the world are “swimming in a line” to fool eyewitnesses into thinking they are the loops of Sea Serpents or Lake Monsters, where are all of the photographs of such visual demonstrations in Nickell’s book? The volume has photos throughout, but not one of these supposedly abundant otters swimming in a line. Oh yes, there is one illustration of “Northern river otters, swimming in a line” in the book. It is a line drawing by Joe Nickell, on page 118.

I was able to find a photograph (see at top) of multiple otters swimming in a lake. Their heads appear rather large and blunt, not “plesiosaurlike” (to use a Nickell descriptor) or even “long-necked.” Also, they happen to be swimming…side by side.

I invite submissions of photographs of otters “swimming in a line,” which look like the humps of a Lake Monster.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

126 Responses to “Otter Nonsense”

  1. AtomicMrEMonster responds:

    Ceroill –

    This Wikipedia article has the explanation for those sonar contacts:

    “Using sonar, the team encountered a rare kind of underwater disturbance due to stored energy (such as from a wind) causing an imbalance between the loch’s warmer and colder layers. While reviewing printouts of the event the next day, they found what appeared to be three sonar contacts, each followed by a powerful wake.”

    The three sonar contacts thing is pretty damning in my eyes, as its ability to create wakes on a calm day (but to be fair, “standing waves” appear when water is calm as well. After all, that’s why they’re so noticeable).

    And you are correct about flat-out ridiculing something without investigating being like the initial reactions to reports of gorillas and platypuses. But as long as a body or skin isn’t produced, the ridicule won’t stop. DNA samples are good and all, but one can’t say that they belong to “animal x” unless there’s an “animal x” specimen to compare the DNA to.

  2. springheeledjack responds:

    Good lord, I knew I should have tried to get online sooner…sheesh…

    thanks Lyndon for bringing up the sonar hits…

    While I will agree with Daniel that the hits do not prove anything conclusively, the fact that there were hits means that the possibility is not negated.

    The whole size thing is also a tricky deal…everyone in their accounts fires out about how big something is…now I have spent a lot of personal time playing that game, first on land and then at water’s edges trying to guestimate size…and I am going to say that most people probably don’t have a real clue as to distance and length…how long is the Ford Pick-up truck as it drives along the street past your yard? You have maybe twenty thirty seconds to look it over, guestimate a length on standard vehicles…but are you accurate in your guess?

    MAybe maybe not…and I would guess in the case of a “monster” –and I hate that word when it comes to Nessie, Champ, BF, etc. people are going to tend to over estimate unless they have a real understanding of length, especially something that is out on the water and probably at a distance of at least a hundred yards.

    My point? sonar hits in Loch NEss do not have to be BIG for there to be something there. As has been said, Sonar is not an exact science, and to me the important thing is that they did come across “something.”

    DWA made a comment earlier about Loch Ness not being that big, and that is another topic which I do not think most people really understand…and one the debunkers are commonly using to attack lake monsters and BF for that matter.

    Loch ness is 24 miles long roughly, and a mile wide, give or take at various points. That’s 126,720 long by 5280 wide…or 669081600 square feet of surface area on the loch. That is a lot of area to cover for people, cameras, etc. And add to the fact that there are not roads and hotels and houses ringing around the loch–there is still plenty of wooded areas, and many areas where the loch is obscurred from the road by trees, etc.

    So to say that well if there was something 15-30′ long (and I am using a general average length here), and a population of them, that there would be many more sightiings if they are air breathers is not an accurate statement. Especially if they are like most other air breathers in the water…seals, otters, etc do not have to stick much of their total volume above the surface to breathe…neither do turtles, alliguggers or crocodiles…

    And since the loch is a mile across in places, the average person without some serious binoculars is going to be able to see very clearly out into the middle or other areas for than a few hundred yards. Add to that that you have to be looking in just the right place at the right time when one of the somethings decides to surface (because with the length and width of the loch when you add depth to the footage to give cubic feet, you are going to get a reallllly big number)…

    the total number of sightings over the years is very plausible…to me.

    For Daniel and the others…I do agree that I would put a lot more doubt into a tourist’s account of a sighting than a person who has lived around the loch all of their life.

    BUT, I said it before and I will say it again…go ahead and say you do not believe in the loch ness monster or Champ or any of the others…I grant you fair beliefand your due…but do not tell me it is not possible…because you have not done your homework.

  3. Daniel Loxton responds:

    Lyndon, SHJ, et al:

    You’re quite right that there is still a possibility, as I put it above, of encountering “something of genuine novelty” at Loch Ness — perhaps even a new species. Who knows? I’m reminded that a new species of giant leech was recently discovered in a suburban back yard in New Jersey.

    My point regarding the sonar surveys — especially Deepscan, the most careful survey — was only that they appear to contradict all eyewitness descriptions of a creature larger than… let’s say, maybe a five to a dozen feet long, or about the size of a sturgeon?

    Yes, that does leave room for possible dramatic new zoological discoveries at the Loch. (I don’t think there’s especially compelling reason to anticipate such discoveries, but that isn’t my argument at the moment.) Still, it seems disappointing to me. I suppose I’m a romantic in that respect.

    The Loch Ness sonar data also seems to me to underline the fallibility of cryptid eyewitnesses in general. We might expect the same sources of misinterpretation to occur at many or most lakes, and the same capacity for misinterpretation to occur wherever there are are human observers. The primary difference between the eyewitness databases for Nessie or Bigfoot might then be merely that Nessie descriptions can be tested against the sonar data, while we have no easy way to falsify Bigfoot descriptions.

  4. springheeledjack responds:

    Daniel, That kind of goes back to what we were talking about before in another post about witnesses and details and the overall use-ability of eye witness testimony.

    As you said, Daniel (somewhere up there) people mis-identify and are likely to mis-gauge lengths and distances (I think it was you), and I agree.

    That is what makes creating a database of sightings so difficult. Assuming there is some critter in the lochs and lakes that is a new species, there are all kinds of problems trying to pin down what it even might be without an actual specimen.

    A) you have witness testimony and a lot of it coming from tourists or possible people with no experience at said body of water–making for mis-identifications B) you have personal bias on details–people over estimating size or differing on type of skin, head, etc c) the ever present hoaxing.

    It does make it hard to decide what constitutes a valid sighting vs. one of the other categories, and to me that is good explanation as to why we have not progressed very far over the decades in finding out what is going on.

    As DWA pointed out, without going into the loch or lake, we are operating at a severe handicap—it’s like trying to learn something about woodpeckers, but only watching one tree and having to wait for a woodpecker to come to that particular tree and then be awake to study it when it does decide to make an appearance.

    However, Loch Ness is so dark and murky, it makes any kind of forays into the loch itself almost as bad as the proverbial needle in a haystack–unless some kind of sonar can be used in tandem with subs to maneuver around and actually follow up on sonar readings.

    It will take extensive money and man (and woman) power to pull off something like that, and with the whole Nessie thing being on the fringes anyway, I doubt that will happen soon…unless I win the lottery…

    Back to the Otter equation, I appreciate the argument, and I do believe that some of the sightings at all lakes and lochs–there are doubtless people who will catch a glimpse of something swimming and it could be a group of otters, cormorants, maybe even a sturgeon or snake.

    However, I believe that the cryptozoologists (seasoned and amateur) are going to take the time to look as long as they can, watching for known things to rule out the possible (otters, waves, logs, etc.) until they do come across something that defies all of those possibilities and then say, hey there is something more going on there.

    I think that has already happened, on multiple occasions, which is why people (myself included) keep looking at Loch Ness and Champlain and Okanagan.

  5. AtomicMrEMonster responds:


    AtMREM (close enough I’m trusting;

    That’s fine. You can also use AMM if you want; the “MrE” thing is there since I couldn’t fit “Mystery” into the box. I should also note that I’ve added some responses to other posts that you’ve done that weren’t directed at me.

    I would think that an unknown animal is no more – but no less -than equally likely as misidentification scenarios that stretch credulity. For example, it’s easier to stomach the possibility that the sasquatch exists than it is that everyone is actually seeing a bear. Or that memories of the sort that could never, in my opinion, fade from a normal person’s mind, have simply faded, and that eight-foot ape, clearly bipedal, with a disturbingly humanlike face, was….well I’ve never seen a bear I could mess up that badly; and I’ve seen lots of bears.

    Ah, but there are other possible explanations besides bears. One must also consider the possibility of people in suits, be they ghillie or ape/gorilla/Bigfoot/etc. Considering the nature of a ghillie suit’s design is to hide a person completely, it is less likely that a face would be seen. On the other hand, a face might be glimpsed if the suit was jarred in some manner, if part of the suit was opened to allow for cooling (or if it was a type that had an open face and required someone to wear “camo make-up”) or if the suit was modified (presumably for hoaxing purposes), then it could be possible. If encountered suddenly and the person in the suit wasn’t given a chance to explain before the person took off, a hunter in such a suit (hunters used to such suits would probably recognize a ghillie suit, though) could fit the bill for bigfoot, especially if they were tall. As noted before, shock could make a person seem larger, so someone around 6 feet tall could be mistaken for being 8 feet tall. On the other hand, a misidentified hunter would be more likely to come forward (unless they were hunting out of season, trespassing, or were hunting without a valid license).

    The size thing would also apply to people in apelike costumes. There’s also the possibility of someone using a tall suit similar to a “stalkaround” puppet (Instructions for building them can also be found online. Here’s one example). Why would someone be in the woods in apelike suits when there’s the very real possibility that they could get shot or because suits get hot? Some might be so dedicated to the hoax that they won’t care. This video seems to be an example of this, but I can’t say for sure since there’s no way for me to tell what the temperature really was on that day. A person also might not’ve thought things through or was too caught up in concentrating on other things to let themselves think of that. Here’s a hypothetical scenario:

    Let’s pretend someone decides to mess with some hikers by putting on a costume and run around in the woods. If they’re smart, they’re either going to build their own (They don’t have to be good at sewing, either. This guy made one out of a sweatsuit and hair extensions) or I’ll have bought the suit during an after-Halloween clearance sale months in advance (and if they bought it at one of those seasonal stores that closes up after October, there’s practically no way to trace ’em).

    They’re thinking “hikers,” so they don’t factor in hunters. Or maybe they’ve read a lot of reports about hunters deciding not to shoot (especially if they’re afraid that they’ll get charged with murder). If the hoaxer is someone with a name like “Brewdog” from a local frat, he’s probably drunk/stone/whatever and not thinking about the possibility of getting shot (but then again, he might not be smart enough to pull of the “off-season buying” scenario I offered up). Anyway…

    It’s hot out, so they’ll plan on spooking a few people until it gets too hot and then they’ll call it a day. So they’re in the woods and then run into a hunter. Maybe they won’t see the hunter since said hunter is hiding. Maybe they do see the hunter and a stunned into speechlessness by the possibility that they could get shot (Lots of people seem to think they’re invincible until they’re confronted with proof that they’re not). They see the hunter lower the gun and they get the hell out of there.

    Sometime later, they hear about the hunter reporting the sighting. They could go forward, but this could mean that they’d risk encurring the wrath of someone with a gun. Obviously, they’re going to be silent.

    There’s also the chance that some people are out in the woods shooting footage for a Bigfoot-related project-be it for a movie, a demo reel to get backers interested in a movie, or for some internet video or class project-and they’re doing it without a permit to save money. They figure that nobody’s going to know that they’re doing it and they’ve directed their costumed actor to go behind some bushes and come out when given the signal. So they do so and they see a hunter. Same “stunned speechless” business as what I described in the previous example happens (Although it’d be smarter to say “I’m an actor for a movie”). They leave, the hunter leaves, and the costumed person goes back to the crew to tell them what happened. Since they don’t want to get in trouble for filming without a permit, they don’t come forward when the guy makes his report (I’d also imagine that they’d try to remove all signs that they were out there, but investigators considering the possibility of a movie might be able to find clues that might go ignored in a search for Bigfoot). If the hunter never sees their movie (and that’s assuming it gets finished and/or released in the first place), they’re never going to know they really saw someone in a costume. If the hunter does figure it out, they might think that they have no proof or not be able to find the site again to show that the crew was there. If they did, well the film crew would get in trouble and we’d all know about the story.

    Obviously someone is going to tell you that what they saw was too realistic to be a suit, because if they had recognized it as a suit, they wouldn’t have said anything! And if they believe they saw Bigfoot, they mgiht not want to accept that they got tricked by a costume. In their mind, they would have noticed if it was a suit. As time goes on, they’ll start to get more and more resistant to the idea that they were mistaken. People fear ridicule. Even though there are people who’ll make fun of someone who claims to see Bigfoot, there’s also a bunch of people who’ll believe them and side with/comfort them. If it turns out you made a mistake, everyone will know that you did and fewer people will side with you since you actually did make a mistake. This can lead to people clinging to the idea that they did see something unexplained, especially if they’ve had a lot of time to let their belief sink in. They might’ve only mad ethe claim because they were so positive that they saw something and that people would believe them (like someone known for never lying, is experienced with animals, etc). I can easily imagine a more defensive person who reported a Bigfoot encounter claim that they saw it blink. That’s what’s so maddening about eyewitness reports, it’s hard to tell who’ll do something like that.

    A good example of similar behavior is what happened in Massachusetts during /after that “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” bomb scare, details on which can be read here. Even after the devices mistaken for bombs (which was not helped by reports describing-and not showing- the boxes as being consistent for materials in a bomb, only without the explosives (meaning the metal box, lights, a battery, and electrical wiring. Hell, that description could also apply to a sealed cardboard tube and some string!), the two men who set up the boxes in Boston were charged with “…placing a hoax device to incite panic,” despite the charges happening after the intent of the devices was revealed (the charges were later dropped after the two guys did some community service and apologized). They simply did not want to admit that they had made a mistake and acted like someone had purposely set out to fool them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad someone checked to make sure whether or not they were actually dealing with a bomb when the initial reports came in, but such behavior after the fact just strikes me as being childish (But to be fair, the guys’ infamous “hair press conference” and not going to the police when they had the chance was pretty damn dumb as well). I should not that in other cities, the boxes (despite their being out for the same amount fo time as they were in Boston-about two weeks) weren’t mistaken for bombs since people either flat-out ignored them or recognized them and didn’t give them a second thought.

    I say all this not to say that Bigfoot doesn’t exist (I honestly don’t know if it does or doesn’t), but to offer some possibilities that people can use to weed out bad data from all of the currently data. Even if one believes that Bigfoot doesn’t exist, shouldn’t we investigated to get to the bottom of what started this? Yes!

    Can this explain all sightings? Of course not; it’d be insane to think that. I promise you that I’m not saying that all Bigfoot sightings are people in some kind of suit, I’m just saying that one should try to rule out the possibility that a person in a suit was involved (assuming that the person who made the report isn’t lying). There’s plenty of factors in those examples that can be ruled out of sightings due to timing, location, etc. All I’m saying is that those are possible for some sightings (especially sightings that appeared after Bigfoot’s popularity exploded). By eliminating cases involving those, more credibility can be given to ones that can’t be explained as being misidentifications, etc. Oh, I’d also imagine that such suits wouldn’t be available in places where Yeti sightings occur.

    I also want to note that people can get details mixed up in their memories. A good way to test this for yourself is to try thinking of a line or a scene from a movie you (or a friend, family member, etc.) haven’t watched in awhile and then rewatching it to see if your memory stacks up. There are lots of people who swear that Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca says “Play it again, Sam.” They’re mistaken. It’s probably because the idea of him saying it is so widespread that some people, without knowing it, subconsciously adjust their memories to match this opinion. Some people ( Even people who’ll tell you that “Frankenstein” is the name of the doctor and not monster) will tell you that Dr. Frankenstein often works with a hunchback called “Igor”. But if you go back and watch the movie, the character’s name is Fritz. There’s a character in another movie in Universal’s Frankenstein series (The Ghost of Frankenstein) called “Ygor” and there were a song (songs? It’s been awhile since I read this) involving a character called “Igor” that seem to have sparked the confusion. There was a discussion on the Classic Horror Film Board brought up some research on the matter, but I don’t have a link to the thread handy. They should be able to provide it on request, though.

    Another, similar, example is that backwards masking stuff. If someone plays a sound backwards and tells you what it supposedly says, you’re more likely to hear what they said. So if someone thinks that they saw Bigfoot and hears that Bigfoot has certain features, it is possible that they could adjust their memories on the matter to be more “correct.” This is why I personally am leery of using the fact that people are reporting similar features, based solely on the reports. If the reports can be looked into and misidentifications and pranks (assuming that the person isn’t lying) can be ruled out, then we’re in business. I should point out that the possibilities that I raised can’t account for the facial details given in the first sighting to use them. That definitely warrants a look.

    Well, Ben does strike me that way. (hee hee har har, I mean.) I’m sure you’ll notice Daniel Loxton doesn’t. I don’t suffer foolish behavior (notice I didn’t say “fools”) gladly; and I can’t apologize for that. Ben’s had explanations responses and clear cogent insights bounce off his finish without response or comment – other than cherrypicking and name-calling – time past counting. Sometimes you just want to swat him for the pleasure of it. Yes, I’m glad I’m human. Garbage in, garbage back. When someone can’t be reasoned with, why bother?

    Hhmm…you do make some very interesting points there. I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but they’re interesting. You do have a point about your not having a problem with Mr. Loxton and you’ve (in my eyes) become more civil with me, so maybe you’re not entirely off-base about your feelings towards Mr. Radford. Still can’t agree about the behavior, though.

    It’s a shame he can’t comment on the matter himself, though. Oh well…

    I can’t really be worried about what people think about crypto.

    You might to reconsider that position. I won’t deny that people with an interest in cryptozoology can get ridiculed, but isn’t a lot of that from hardcore skeptics and people who don’t habe a full understanding of it? Getting support requires winning over people who are “on the fence, “just like in an election. You’ve already got the support of the believers and you’ll never get the support of the hardcore skeptics, but it’s possible to go either way with the undecided.

    I didn’t declare anything anything. I simply said that at this juncture, Nessie could be, well, anything, and science appears unable to pronounce with confidence what it is.

    Ah, okay. I thought you meant declared in the “said” sense. My mistake. Thanks for clearing that up.

    But if the evidence for any lake monster contains as many consistent sightings of what appears to be the same animal as that for the sasquatch seems to – and with Nessie I very much doubt that but am open to being shown otherwise – then we need to stop talking otters and get into that loch to do a look that will either say the naysayers are in all likelihood right, or shut them up.

    When you look at all the possible misidentifications (Although I have some problems with the book, I still recommend reading Steuart Campbell’s The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence as it’s a great source of information on the various types of sightings and investigations at Loch Ness. Man, I should be getting paid for this…) and the scans that couldn’t find anything, it’s looking like the first option is the most likely (especially when you factor in that sonar contact thing I brought up when you think about the ones that did yield of mysterious sonar contacts). The 1962 Cambridge University-sponsored sonar sweep was set up so that the sonar-equipped boats would sweep the loch from “end-to-end” so that Nessie would either be forced to an end of the lake or get caught in the sonar “net.” The four boats with sonar equipment made “…six sweeps by both day and night.” In all fairness, one “echo” was detected during on of the six sweeps just before a “pole-like object was sighted in the same area” (83-84). Its absence during the other sweeps in puzzling and would lead some to think that it was a tree trunk or log from the bottom propelled upward by gases produced by decomposition, which would explain why it appeared once, but not the other times: Because the gas had been released and the log sank to the bottom and was undetected. When a search was done without the motors on, two echoes were detected (84). However, he cites 183 large groups of salmon (who presumably had scattered due to the noise of the boats and thus went undetected as anything unusual) could be the culprit. He seems to be citing (his citation system is a bit confusing) FW Holiday’s The Great Orm of Loch Ness page 201 and note 13. I also can’t help but wonder if those sonar contacts I had mentioned earlier could also explain those.

    I’m admittedly at a loss as how one could test to see what the sonar contacts detected in the 1962 search could actually be if one was not satisfied by those explanations, but I’m no sonar technician.

    The BBC’s 2003 investigation, another full scan of the loch, found nothing and I’d imagine would satisfy requests for a scan using modern equipment.

    However, this wouldn’t apply to other lakes with monsters reported to be living in them. Even if the investigations into the other lakes don’t find a monster, they might find something else of interest. The large eels rumored to be in Crescent Lake could be the source of many Cressie sightings and show how big freshwater eels can get. And technically a fishing derby could be counted as an investigation looking to see if large eels are in the lake…

    Oh, and there is a monster in Loch Ness, though. It’s a sunken prop from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, but a fake monster is still a monster of sorts.

    One sample sentence from one of the Rines hunts of the early ’70s: “Several of the photographs, despite their obviously murky quality [because the Loch is murky], did indeed seem to show an animal resembling a plesiosaur in various positions and lightings.”…So I guess here’s where I am. Anyone who thinks that nothing has been found indicating, at least, the possibility of a very significant species, as yet uncatalogued by science, living in Loch Ness, needs to tell me why the things those scans did locate aren’t at the least worthy of followup.

    There actually was a followup. Campbell’s book discusses this on pages 72-74, but I’ll provide some highlights for those without a copy:

    In 1976, it was discovered that the depth of the area the camera array was located in was 18 meters and not 25 meters as was originally believed. It was also discovered that the original bouy line (the cameras arrays were suspended in mid water) had enough slack so that the buoy could move over a circle of “…radius 11m” and that with an “onshore wind” could easily move the backup array into shallower waters, enough so that it could touch and possibly roll along the lake bottom (72-73).

    On the night the pictures of the plesiosaur-like neck and body and the so-called (as noted on Wikipedia) “gargoyle head” were taken, it was found that “…the [main] array became covered with silt and produced no results (except hat the sonar recorded some targets, which may have been the backup array!) However, pictures were taken by the backup system” (70). We know that Operation Deepscan found the tree trunk responsible for the “gargoyle head” and Campbell’s book notes on page 74 that it was was recovered. We also know that the arrays had the ability to touch/kick up debris on the lake bottom. Considering the possibility that the “plesiosaur-like” picture could also show a tree trunk and was taken near what was proved to be a tree stumped, factored in with the very likely event of silt getting kicked up (after all, the main array got covered in the stuff), it is not unlikely to assume that the picture shows a silt-obscured tree trunk. The group behind the original Rines investigation later tried using securely anchored cameras. They got “negative results”(74). If by that they mean they found “nothing, including the tree trunk” instead of “nothing of importance,” I would recommend perhaps one could calculate where a tree of the estimated size of the thing in the picture (adjusting for decomposition, if possible) could be carried by currents and then look in that general area for its remains.

    As for the fin picture, the original picture looked like this. The enhancement by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratories looked like this. After that was sent to Academy of Applied Science, the flipper pictures we’re all familar with were created from those. The Wikipedia notes on the subject (with citations) note that it is possible that picture does show a flipper, but that its size was increased during the enhancements by AAS. The Musuem of Hoaxes claims that “Modern image-enhancement software has not been able to conjure anything resembling a flipper from the original image.” They don’t give a source for this, but I’m interested to hear more about it. Would the negative be need or could someone (preferably one who doesn’t know what they’d be enhancing) could try to enhance the picture I provided to see what they get? Either way, that doesn’t say a whole lot to me. There’s a strong possibility that this is a picture of a small flipper (like that of a fish) or that it’s just a picture of silt or a bubble.

  6. AtomicMrEMonster responds:

    springheeledjack said:

    Loch ness is 24 miles long roughly, and a mile wide, give or take at various points. That’s 126,720 long by 5280 wide…or 669081600 square feet of surface area on the loch. That is a lot of area to cover for people, cameras, etc. And add to the fact that there are not roads and hotels and houses ringing around the loch–there is still plenty of wooded areas, and many areas where the loch is obscurred from the road by trees, etc.

    There’s also the fact that, due to the loch’s large size, there are points on the water where a boat can only be seen as a blurry object in the water and can seem to disappear, depending on where one is positioned. The crazy thing is that even if seen with binoculars, boats in those areas look like blurry, unexplained objects.

  7. mystery_man responds:

    I also think that when one prunes away other likely possibilities and explanations, we are still left with a lot of reports that defy rational mundane causes. I get the impression that most here on this thread agree on this point. It is those reports that offer the most potential for the discovery of some new zoological phenomena and no matter how unlikely I personally feel that possibility to be, I am scientific enough to at least be willing to consider it. It is on the surface biologically feasible under certain conditions, so I will not rule it out. Unfortunately, there are always hoaxes that could cause some of the truly head scratching reports too, and this should be given consideration as well. I find it to be wise to look at known possibilities first in these cases because let’s face it, nobody knows if there is a large, unknown animal there or not and as far as Occam’s razor, I personally don’t think the possibility of one being there is always the most likely or simplest solution.

    If there ever ARE large, undiscovered animals found to be in these lakes, I think you will find that there will be more of a tendency to accept witness testimony because it will no longer be an IF and so the sightings will be able to be linked to a concrete creature. I think it is ironic because if there really is a monster in a given lake and it is ever proven to exist, we will hear of someone might say they saw an otter when what they really saw was the monster! 🙂 .

    For now, however, there has to be consideration given to the mundane possibilities and the testing of hypotheses. I think if proper investigation is done, and sightings given serious consideration, mundane possibilities could very well be ruled out, making the hypothesis of a large unknown creature become apparent and that route of inquiry can be made. This is a scientific approach and I feel the scientific method is of immense importance with cryptids. I feel if there really are cryptids in the lakes, there is no need to worry for proponents because an unbiased approach will uncover them if the time and money is there. Unbiased is the key word here, so it will be equally important not to try and shove a report that doesn’t quite fit a rational explanation into a mundane theory.

    Daniel Loxton, SHJ, AtomicMrEmonster, Ceroill, and others who have been contributing to this discussion, thank you. I think you all have good ideas with merit and these conversations are a good way to learn about different ways of thinking as well as gain new ideas and information. I’m having a great time reading all of your posts!

  8. mystery_man responds:

    I forgot to mention DWA too!

  9. Loren Coleman responds:

    Let me try this again.

    I do not wish to end this thread. My earlier comment was misread. This is not a message board, so when people re-post extended repeats of comments, without quotation marks, the long postings are hard to follow. It is more for comments, but I am not going to get in the way of passion, that’s for sure.

    Comments that are found to go on and on about, for example, Bigfoot (when the topics being discussed are lake monsters and otters) may be edited for content.

    Thank you for your cooperation.

  10. jerrywayne responds:

    I noticed some folks seem to think Nickell argued that the Holmes film represented otters moving in line. All he really suggested is that if Holmes film had orginated at a non-monster tradition lake, most people would have immediately recognized the image as a beaver or otter.

  11. jerrywayne responds:

    I remember the Ogopogo film on UNSOLVED MYSTERIES. The film was a close shot, unambiguously, of a beaver. Yet the photographer steadfastly claimed he had filmed a serpentine like creature around 15 ft. long. The program even included comments from Arlene Gaal, an Ogopogo researcher, who suggested the film represented a young Ogopogo! But it was a beaver! This will to believe is what troubles me about the school of cryptozoo.

  12. springheeledjack responds:

    I like Mystery_Man’s piont about people thinking that a sighting is actually otters when it may be the critter…

    That is excellent–and is every bit as valid as those who see otters and think they are lake critters…

    In our efforts to be skeptical and not to be taken in by hoaxers, we may in fact ignore good (and by good I qualify as real footage or sighting of the critter in question) evidence because of some odd detail or other that suggests it may be something mundane.

    Very good point MM

  13. springheeledjack responds:

    AtomicMrEMonster, and your point is well taken, again the word of someone who comes for a visit to see Nessie and they see something large out far enough may be content to see a boat as a monster and leave it at that, without looking harder to see what they are really looking at.

    My point, more to the point, was that Loch Ness and others like it are not small bodies of water and that there is plenty of room to

    1) support a large breeding population and

    2) that debunkers often make trite comments like, “if it was an air breathing creature like an otter, bird, reptile, etc., we would see it all of the time” which is just not the case.

    I was off on a tangent. 🙂 Maybe I will change my handle to Spring Heeled Tangent.

  14. springheeledjack responds:

    And thanks to all of you for your input…am having a great time at this site talking about these things with like minded and non-like minded people who engage in this stuff!

  15. DWA responds:

    jerrywayne says: “This will to believe is what troubles me about the school of cryptozoo.”

    And I’m sure that what troubles cryptos is their field being tarred by people who think its fringe elements are typical.

    Crypto is not about a will to anything but to examine evidence, candidly and forthrightly. If you’re about belief, pick a religion. If you want to will beavers into lake monsters, that’s probably as good a religion as any.

  16. DWA responds:

    Atomic (that’s easier and who’s gonna mistake it? OK, it’s “Atomic with the loooong posts”): 😀

    Everything you talk about could be happening in SOME sightings, both in and outside databases. But I’ve read too many – not for Nessie mind, brief sas plug here, sorry, Loren 🙂 – that leave too little doubt about what the witness saw. And you do note that you’re not blanketing all sightings with that brush. Fair ’nuff.

    As to behavior: everybody’s gotta get it out of his system somehow. Daniel, mystery_man and things-in-the-woods are getting it out somewhere other than here, is all I can figure. 😀 But I sure won’t argue that fights never really solved anything. (No WW II didn’t. Or I for that matter. Anybody wanna make bets on what III will solve…? Other than the planetary problem of too many of US….?)

    I think that all the sheer verbiage on this thread is saying one thing to me: maybe another thorough scan of the Loch is in order. Because the previous ones didn’t seem to end the discussion, and not just among True Believers.

  17. jerrywayne responds:

    Responding to DWA:

    I think that dismissing mundane explanations out of hand in favor of the most romanticized notions possible (lake phenomena as prehistoric whales, for instance) opens cyrptozoology up to the charges of psuedoscience, of a less than rational agenda, and of being more concerned with “monster hunting” than finding unknown animals.

  18. springheeledjack responds:

    Woo-hoo…back in again!

    Loren, sorry did misread your intent…I do love these long banters…I think a lot of good comes out of them once the initial thrashings get their say…:)(and some times initial thrashings are necessary to turn a corner and start talking about real issues)–thanks for the restatement.

    jerrywayne…the “Romanticized notions” are carried on many times by the MEDIA (which I am becoming more hostile toward with every passing day, and not just on the crypto-front), and the outer fringes of crypto.

    I would love nothing better than to see an elasmosaur (or dare I say it…do, do…a kronosaur) slicing through the waves…BUT…as an amateur crypto, and someone who has studied this stuff for decades I know that elasmosaurs and kronosaurs do not fit the overall patterns of what is being seen either…I am not arguing the long neck, but there are toooo many problems with elasmosaurs and plesiosaurs to make them viable as a real candidate.

    However, whenever you mention Loch Ness, the average person on the street who knows very little about Ness other than what they have heard in the media is going to think plesiosaur (most people probably have only heard elasmosaur in passing…sheesh), and every time some water critter rears its head in some lake, the media immediately latches onto the plesiosaur motif like a leech.

    As for the mundane explanations–yes they are there, BUT mundane does not always cover the territory either. The whole thing on lines of otters swimming is case in point. I can go for the otter-line-swimming theory in a few cases, but as far as I know, there are not large populations of otters in Ness (and someone here correct me if I am wrong, but otters just do not get mentioned prominently in the Inverness bestiary) such as this would be a common mis-dentification. And otters certainly would only be hypothetically a candidate in a small number of accounts.

    My (and I would guess other cryptos around here) biggest gripe about the mundane explanations is that debunkers will point to a specific example where a mundane explanation is likely and then extrapolate that to the body of accounts as a whole. It is that sort of faulty logical argumentation that is pseudo-science.

    Sorry, not meaning to tirade on you, jerrywayne, just the argument.

    Finally, Loren what is the record for most posts on a specific topic…are we closing in??? (No I am not intending you to count postings on the thousands of articles here, just thinking we have a goal to shoot for:):):)

  19. DWA responds:


    Anyone who would reject a truly mundane explanation “out of hand” is not a crypto, but a True Believer. (Which rhymes with “screw loose.” Trust me.)

    I’ve said it before and will say it again: conga-dancing lines of otters migrating in from the sea to fool tourists, and bears running on their hind legs. and eight-foot-tall vagrants running 40 mph, and people hallucinating over and over and over again, different people all over a continent, hallucinating the exact same thing, are not “mundane explanations.” They’re, well, scwewy applications of mundane phenomena.

    Could mundane explanations account for some sightings? Yes. A majority of them? You’re pulling my leg. ALL of them? Please.

    Isn’t it easier to just see if what people say they are seeing is there? (Yes.)

    What cryptos – and true skeptics – don’t like to see is scwewy applications of mundane phenomena used as a tapdance around real inquiry.

    That’s all.

  20. springheeledjack responds:

    And I’m with DWA on his posting up there too (I know, shocker, right?)…this is a place to voice ideas and passions.

    In fact this is one of the few places where I have encountered other people who not only like talking about this stuff, but actually know quite a lot about the things I have been studying by myself since I was a kid.

    I get excited coming here every other day or so to hash out these topics and talk intelligently with other like minded people about cryptozoology (my wife humors me, but she can only take it for so long…).

    And I think, like DWA, I have often gotten frustrated with the debunkers and scoftics because many of them claim to be taking a “scientific” approach when they are only doing the same thing as the pro-dinosaur / plesiosaur crowd and skewing information to fit their own diabolical ends…
    (oh and by the way, I am not discounting 100% the possibility of living plesiosaurs or kronosaurs out there…just saying that it is a long shot at best…at least not the way they were in the dinosaur days).

    So, when I meet up with those kinds of people, I get fired up and go after their faulty logic. Like I always say, speak your opinion, but don’t speak it like it is the TRUTH. One theory is as good as another until we capture a critter, drain the loch, or get a bonafide account with 100 witnesses at close quarters for the better part of an hour with photos and film.


  21. springheeledjack responds:

    Yeah, I was going to make a comment about some of the mundane explanations being even crazier than an actual undiscovered critter swimming our lakes and oceans…but DWA, you’ve got me covered!

  22. AtomicMrEMonster responds:


    Yep, the long post was me. Here’s my edited-down post:

    Although I don’t fully agree with you, I do find your points interesting. Especially the possibility that my opinion of you seems to have been influenced by your opinion of Mr. Radford. Also, I had thought that you meant “declared” in the “said” sense. Thanks for clearing that up.

    They did do a follow up on the “Loch Ness pictures” expedition. In 1976, a member of the original expeditons discovered that the line they secured the camera arrays to actually allowed the arrays to move around and touch/roll along the lake bottom. When they had taken the “head” and “neck” pictures, the main array was found to be covered in silt, implying that it did the rolling on the bottom or that the backup unit kicked up some silt.

    Operation Deepscan later found and recovered a tree stump in the area that was in the “head” picture. It’s not hard to imagine that the “neck” picture taken nearby was of the rest of the tree. A later picture-taking expedition used anchored camera and had no luck getting any pictures of Nessie. But, as you correctly noted, every expedition there finds something interesting, so doing another wouldn’t be a complete “waste.”

    As for the fin picture, the original looked like this. The enhancement by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratories looked like this. Wikipedia also notes that size estimation errors were made and that the fins-if they really are fins-are much smaller than originally thought.

    The 1962 Cambridge University expedition did a six-sweep scan designed so that it’d be impossible for Nessie to go anywhere in the lake and not be detected. They only got one echo before a “pole-like object” was seen in the area (which could point to a gas-lifted log) and two echoes during one of the night sweeps (which could be shoals of fish or that sonar thing I mentioned earlier). The BBC’s 2003 investigation, another full scan of the loch, found nothing and I’d imagine would satisfy requests for a scan using modern equipment.

  23. AtomicMrEMonster responds:


    There are otters in Loch Ness and if what I’ve been reading is correct, those suckers can get big, length-wise (I talked about this in one of my more long-winded posts, so it’d be easy to miss). I’d imagine that a good chunk of the length is in the tail, but still…

    I’d also like to thank everyone for the great conversation!

  24. mystery_man responds:

    Wow, this thread is still going. Incredible. I’ve said pretty much all I can say about it so far but I am glad to see that everyone here agrees on one crucial thing, and that is that not all eyewitness reports can be explained away so easily. No matter how you cut it, there are some that are just going to defy rational explanations or possible mundane causes. I don’t see anyone here disputing that these kinds of reports are there and that they deserve closer scrutiny. What do these reports represent? Do they show highly misidentified phenomena, or a hoax, or some sort of bizarre natural phenomena? Or maybe, just maybe, they signify something we haven’t seen yet. We may sometimes disagree on the possible causes of these accounts, but undeniably there are truly head scratching reports.

    I am happy to see that even those engaging in this conversation from the more skeptical side are at least willing to entertain the thought that perhaps something is out there that cannot be explained away and those on the proponent side are not denying that witnesses can be wrong. I have seen a lot of plausible proponent arguments here as well as solid skeptical arguments and I can happily say that no rampant debunking has been going on on this thread as far as I can see. Proponents have admitted to the possibility of mundane explanations in some cases and those that support skeptical, mundane arguments admit that some reports defy these. It seems to me that there is a sort of common ground here and that is a good starting point for both camps to work together towards intelligently solving this mystery. This is good, wholesome, useful discussion.

    I have made a pretty big transition from a hard core scoftic to an open minded skeptic in recent years. I know all of the debunking theories, and yet, well, I just cannot agree on all of them any more than I can agree on all proponent arguments. I was trained and studied under pretty traditional ideas of biology and zoology and yet, I don’t see anything in this field that defies anything that I’ve learned despite the disdain that some of my colleagues could possibly show. I feel there are some viable scientific questions that need to be answered with these cryptids and I was not always getting the answers with strictly skeptical arguments, so I have softened my stance with cryptids considerably. I am no longer trying to be right or disprove anything, rather I want real investigation into what is there, whether that means these lake monsters exist or not. A good hypothesis is a good hypothesis and I will recognize any as such, reasonably free from any desire for it to be right or wrong. I feel this approach and finding our common ground may lead some of the answers we are looking for. Let’s look at what is there, not what we may want to be there or not want to be there.

    This thread has been a great chance for different ideas to get out and I love this site for these sorts of discussions. Fascinating stuff.

  25. springheeledjack responds:

    AtomicMREM (sorry, I like the word “atomic” so that’s my short for ya…)

    That is good to know about the otters…I have heard the otter theory before, but never had any hard data on numbers, sizes, etc. And I do believe that it is possible to mistake such things…it all does go back to the credibility of the witness to an extent and how hard the witness is trying to “see” what is really there…somebody who wants to see Nessie really bad, and travels there may very easily be pulled in by otters, odd waves, shadows, etc.

    I just do not believe that all of the reports fall into that category.

    Thanks again, one and all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. JMonkey responds:

    All this over otters? Well they are pesky little creatures, though cute and somehwat cuddly looking. But seriously guys, we know that the lake monsters are actually the guard dogs of aliens who have secret bases located in the bottoms of these lakes, and often in deep spots of the ocean. I cannot believe that Benjamin and Nickells never figured this out. It is just common sense.

    A public service message brought to you by your paranormal friends at Area 51.

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