Surgeon’s Photos, Again

Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 29th, 2009

Loch Ness Monster Surgeons Photo

An apparently hastily written article making the rounds has the following for it’s apex choice of the “Top 10 hoaxes of all time.”

The Surgeon’s Photo of the Loch Ness Monster

Ancient Scottish legends spoke of a giant sea monster that lived in the waters of Loch Ness. In 1934, Colonel Robert Wilson, a highly respectable British surgeon, said that he noticed something moving in the water and took a picture of it. The resulting image showed the slender neck of a serpent rising out of the Loch. The photo came to be known simply as “The Surgeon’s Photo” and for decades it was considered to be the best evidence of the monster.

It wasn’t until 1994, when Christian Spurling, before his death at the age of 90, confessed his involvement in a plot, that included Wetherell and Colonel Wilson, to create the famous photo. Apparently Wetherell’s motive was revenge, since he was humiliated years earlier when the supposed monster’s footprints he found were nothing but dried hippo’s footsteps.

“Sea monster”? But it is in a freshwater lake.

“Slender neck of a serpent”? Dr. Maurice Burton long ago compared it to the neck of a bird or the tail of an otter, more than any serpentine creature. Personally, the Cryptomundo vote has to be otter, right mates? Come on “top ten” writers.

“Before his death…, [Spurling] confessed his involvement in a plot”? The truth of the matter is that everything we all do is “before our death.”

The reality is that Christian Spurling’s media-applauded “deathbed confession” is a hoax itself. The guy was telling his fable about “the photo” (even though there are two images – #2 shown above) two years before he died.

Besides, the hidden fact that London gynecologist Robert Kenneth Wilson was at Loch Ness with his mistress has as much to do with the “secretive” nature of these photos as does any spiteful fantasies that Christian Spurling dreamed up about them.

That this is first on the top 10 list of hoaxes speaks more to the uncritical nature of the hack modern mass media than it does about any truthful examination of the proof of a hoax concerning the so-called “Surgeon’s Photo,” really, (which should always be noted as the “Surgeon’s Photos,” btw).

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.

15 Responses to “Surgeon’s Photos, Again”

  1. vqsnapp responds:

    I actually had to google “Hippo lochness” after reading that lol.

    “dried hippo’s footsteps” = footprints made with a dried hippos foot (an umbrella stand or something)

  2. graybear responds:

    Through the years I have noticed that death bed or any other type of confession which purports to explain or debunk some mysterious phenomena, whether it be the Surgeon’s photo, the Patterson-Gimlin film, Bigfoot tracks found where no one could reasonably be expected to find them, etc. are received with an acceptance bordering on the incredulous by the mainstream media. There seems to be an understanding that no matter how late in the day, no matter how shaky the evidence (if any evidence is offered at all), no matter how shifty the confessor might be, if somebody says that they were at the site of the controversy and were at least partially responsible for it and that the phenomena in question just ain’t so, then the mainstream media accepts this confession as the gospel truth. And if everyone else involved is dead, so much the better.

    If our court system worked this way, nobody would be in jail for anything because no matter how strong any evidence of a crime might be, all it would take would be some guy saying “Hey, he was with me that night,” to dismiss any physical evidence offered. This would also work against any corroborating eye witnesses who might be there, no matter their personal honesty and expertise. One way to ease prison overcrowding, I suppose.

  3. fossilhunter responds:

    Greetings All!

    Statistics will show us that deathbed confessions should be trusted implicitly. After all, there has never been a recanting of a truly “deathbed” confession!!

    Which brings up the topic of deathbed cryptids. I have a friend (a Choctaw Presbyterian minister) who has seen a black dog come out of a room where someone was dying, even though no one there had such a dog, or knew of one in the house!

    I’m sure there are other such stories from around the globe.

  4. MountDesertIslander responds:

    It’s not the confession of a dying man that anyone doubts, it’s the word of the lone person receiving the confession.

    Too many times words are conveniently put into the mouths of people who, in short order, will be in no position to refute those words. Writers, provocateurs, and politicians do that kind of thing all the time. Bob Woodward’s deathbed interview with William J. Casey provided the “proof” Woodward needed for his book “Veil”. When Woodward left Casey’s bedside, an attending physician asked “What did he tell you?” Not because he thought there was a confession forthcoming, it was asked because Casey was in a coma at the time. Woodward’s answer was “everything”. Thus the proof for his book.

    Third hand, un-witnessed, deathbed confessions are as good as worthless.

  5. souldesqueeze responds:

    Did plastic wood even exist in 1934?

  6. red_pill_junkie responds:

    That article is what I would call ‘Regurgitated Generic Skeptoid Babble’. I’m pretty sure the writer has never bothered to read any book on the matter.

  7. springheeledjack responds:

    Go Graybear!

    Yes, I love how debunkers question any sighting that comes along, no matter how realistic, detailed, or credible a witness is, but the minute someone makes a declaration that jibes with the debunker’s belief, it is taken as fact without ever checking into the validity of the confession, the chronicler, or the real data.

    That’s called trying to have your cake and eat it too…or in the case of lake monsters, having your stick and floating it too…

  8. cmgrace responds:

    souldesqueeze…Where was plastic wood mentioned?

  9. Ceroill responds:

    As to dying declarations I think there are two primary cultural assumptions going on here. First is the thought that since the person is dying they have no further reason to lie. Second, and corollary to the first is that the soon to be deceased will wish to clear their slate of any residual sins, including lies. Thus, anything said by a dying person, especially something dramatic such as “I faked this famous photograph”, or “I got all my money in a huge fraud scheme”, or “I’m really the granddaughter of the last Tzar of Russia” or whatever.

  10. springheeledjack responds:

    For me, the “Surgeon’s photo” has always been a problem for me. Not whether it is legitimate or not (well maybe that is it), but I have never quite felt right about the proportions of the head to the neck.

    The head always seems too small to be on the end of a creature, especially in light of all the other descriptions. Now I know that it is often described as having a smaller head, or smaller than what people expect, but still, in the photos, it just doesn’t look quite right to me.

    Other people who have seen it have described distinct eyes and mouth, and from that photo, I cannot see how one could pick out decent sized eyes, unless the photo depicts a youth, female, etc.

    So, I guess personally, I have always just tucked the surgeon’s photo back in there with the rest of the vault of sightings of Nessie and just left it floating out there, until better or legit pictures came along.

    Incidentally, does anyone know or have info on the supposed film that was shot in 1938 (think it was 38), supposedly showing a creature swimming across the field of view of the camera for several seconds? Loren, maybe you can help on this one. What I have heard is that the footage is several minutes long, but it was sealed in a vault in London somewhere. The owner decided to keep it shut away from public eyes until such time as there was more belief in the creature. And I believe the owner of the footage is dead without other relatives so it may be sitting in estate.

    Just curious.

  11. jerrywayne responds:

    The important issue is the rejection of “the surgeon’s photo(s)” as evidence of a cryptid in Ness. We cannot know for sure today if the photos of the object represent an otter or a fake, man-made “monster”.

    However, I tend towards the hoax explanation for two reasons. First, I have seen a new photo using a replica “monster” based on Spurling’s account and it looks virtually identical to the original head and neck photo.

    Secondly, the original photos do not look like they where taken from the same location or angle and not with the same conditions on the loch. These facts would mitigate against the idea that Wilson took photos, seconds apart and from a single location, of an otter.

    Also, the charm of the head and neck photo is that it looks swan like or what one might imagine a “sea-serpent” to look like. (Imagining to imaging= a hoax.) And it doesn’t really look like the tail of a diving otter to me. (For one thing, the tip of the “tail”, the “monster’s head”, seems to be at such an improbable angle as to suggest the poor otter had a broken tail).

    As to why skeptics would accept Spurling’s account and be less generous with Nessie sightings, the answer is simple. We know people manufacture hoaxes. We know people believe hoaxes. We do not know Loch Ness is home to relic plesiosaurs, remnant ancient whales, a Great Orm, unclassified giant otters or unknown long neck seals, supernatural kelpies, gigantic eels, or monstrous slugs. In fact, we do not know Ness is home to any large animal unknown to scientific knowledge.

    Since I have not read the book on this subject (it’s published in Britain), I do not know what the evidence is in favor of Spurling’s story. On its face, it is believable. I do wonder why one would want to save the appearance of Wilson’s account, even if it no longer supports the notion of a cryptid in Ness.

  12. souldesqueeze responds:

    cmgrace: Spurling claimed to have constructed the model using a toy submarine covered in plastic wood.

    “Spurling, then 90, admitted he’d been approached by Duke Wetherell to build a fake monster. Construction was done with plastic wood over the conning tower of the toy submarine. The neck, estimated by some from the photograph to be over three feet high, measured 8 inches.”

    I may be wrong, but I don’t believe plastic wood existed before the Second World War.

  13. mystery_man responds:

    My main problem with the “surgeon’s photos” photos is the biological plausibility of what we are seeing in the photo.

    Much has been made, mostly be the mainstream media, of Nessie being a relic plesiosaur. I have a real problem with this stubborn popular image. Regardless of whether I think the Loch could support a viable breeding population of these creatures for millions of years (certainly debatable), let’s look at how this candidate stacks up against what is seen in the photo.

    The reason for the long neck in plesiosaurs is often debated and not completely understood, but some research into the vertebral structure of the neck has suggested that the flexibility and range of movement of these long necks were somewhat limited. There is evidence that it is likely the natural position of the plesiosaur neck was actually downwards, with a curve towards the sea bed, and that the neck was useful for sifting the bottom for small invertebrates and crustaceans (much as is the case with ducks and geese). Fossilized remains of the contents of plesiosaur stomachs have shown a good amount of shells, which supports this hypothesis. The findings suggest that it is likely that the swan like posture so common in images of Nessie and these photos, would be impossible for these animals to achieve.

    Even if the animal is not a plesiosaur (which by most accounts it most certainly is not), there is still a problem with the neck held high over the water like that. To do something like this would take a whole slew of physical adaptations above and beyond a long neck. A fully aquatic animal as large as this, with a neck that long, is going to need some impressive musculature and vertebral structure in that neck to be able to lift its head entirely out of the water in the fashion seen in these photos. Under water, the long neck is possible because it is an environment that provides some protection from the full effects of gravity, hence the huge sizes that creatures such as whales and marine arthropods are able to reach.

    Ok, fair enough, but you may point out terrestrial animals that have very long necks held high. Well remember that we are talking about an aquatic animal. On top of what I mentioned, the body would have to be adapted to have the bouancy, strength, and balance, to maintain its position underwater while the long neck is raised completely over the surface of the water. No small feat. This is compounded by the reports of these animals actually swimming along while doing this already impressive display. Physics are going to provide challenges to doing this.

    Fully aquatic animals, in particular large ones, that we know of just aren’t designed to do this. Any animal of this size that is able to do what is claimed with Nessie, lifting its long neck and head out of the water while remaining submerged, and especially swimming while doing so, would have to have gone through a good deal of evolutionary development to incorporate the various physical adaptations needed to do this. What is the need that would drive such drastic physiological change in an aquatic animal like this? As cool as it looks, really what would make the ability to lift the head out of the water and swim like that a viable evolutionary route necessary for the animal’s better survival in this environment? It would be pretty amazing to find such a creature in general, let alone in Loch Ness.

    It just seems to me that the idea that these photos, and sightings describing similar things, were hoaxed seems perhaps more likely than that we have a totally unknown aquatic animal in the Loch that displays the ability to raise such a long neck and head out of the water while remaining submerged. This trait, if in fact present, would probably be limited at best.

    For these reasons, and not based on any confessions, I find the idea that the “swan like” photos like this are of an actual animal to be questionable. If there is a large, unknown creature in the lake, I think it is quite probable that it does not display this ability, or at least not to the extent seen here.

  14. perkin2000 responds:

    The article might be poorly written, the confession might have been inaccurately reported, either way, the photo remains very fake.

  15. graybear responds:

    The point that I was trying to make, and apparently did not, isn’t whether the Surgeon’s photo is fake or not; I have some problems with it myself, was that most skeptics (of skoftics if you prefer) seem to be utterly credulous of any debunking explanation offered. Other responders have pointed out that we should always suspect a hoax from less than concrete evidence because, well, because hoaxers will be hoaxers.
    Shouldn’t we be equally skeptical of the debunking explanations? Do the fake Bigfoot prints that some hoaxers leave invalidate ALL Bigfoot prints? Do the pathetic “recreations” of the Patterson-Gimlin film invalidate the P-G film? Does the Georgia Bigfoot Body invalidate all the physical evidence we have or might ever have?
    Back during the first years of Project Blue Book, to use an old analogy, the Air Force would often explain away many aircraft based UFO sightings as “the planet Venus”. Later UFO researchers discovered that in many of these Venus explanations, Venus was actually on the other side of the sun in its orbit and could not possibly have been seen from anywhere on planet Earth. When confronted with this simple fact, the Air Force stone-walled the matter and simply responded that it stood by its original findings.
    So my point was, and still is, that these death-bed or long delayed explanations (or ANY debunking explanation of Any unusual phenomena) of cryptid phenomena ought to be viewed as skeptically as the sightings and other evidence is viewed. Because hoaxers will be hoaxers and they are not all on the side of the cryptids.

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