Nessie as Elephant Theory Shortsighted

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 5th, 2006

Scotland’s Sunday Mail of March 5, 2006, has published an article by George Mair entitled “Nessie the Elephant.”

Palaeontologist Dr Neil Clark thinks the Nessie myth is “a magnificent piece of marketing” thought up by a 1930s circus boss. Dr Clark says unexplained photos of Nessie could be of the trunk, head and back of a swimming elephant.

He claims the phenomenon may have been started by circus impresario Bertram Mills in 1933 after he saw one of his elephants bathing in Loch Ness.

Mills, who died in 1938, offered £20,000 to anyone who could capture the Loch Ness Monster for his circus, sparking international interest.

Clark – who spent two years investigating the unexplained sightings – said: “Nessie as we know it today is largely a product of the 20th century.

“Most Nessie sightings occurred after 1933, when the A82 trunk road was completed along the west of Loch Ness. All we have are eye-witness accounts, fuzzy photographs, distant video footage and proven hoaxes.

“Most can be explained by floating logs or waves but there are a number of unexplained sightings of a creature – elephant grey, with a long neck and humped back – particularly from 1933.

“My research suggests these were elephants belonging to circuses. Circus fairs visiting Inverness stopped on the banks of Loch Ness to allow their animals to rest.

“When their elephants were allowed to swim in the loch, only the trunk and two humps could be seen: the first hump being the top of the head and the second being the back of the animal.

“The resulting impression would be of an animal with a long neck and two humps – perhaps more if there were more than one elephant in the water. It is not surprising Bertram Mills offered a £20,000 reward to anyone who could capture the monster for his circus.

“He already had the Loch Ness Monster in his circus.

“Bertram Mills’ Loch Ness Monster scheme was a magificent piece of marketing. I don’t know if Mills intended to create a world-famous phenomenon but he must have died laughing.”

What is remarkably shortsighted about this theory is that the assumption that the “long-necked Nessie” as imagined in the Surgeon’s Photo is the standard description for the Loch Ness Monster. But this is not what people routinely see or describe in Loch Ness. The most frequently observed Nessie is “like an overturned boat” or “like a whale’s back.”

The “elephant trunk” theory for Nessie has been floated before. As has occurred in the past, those who stop for a minute, beyond today’s publicity for this claim, do a bit of statistical analysis of the sighting evidence, will quickly see this latest debunker’s claim will sink because it too is full of holes.

The famous Tim Dinsdale footage taken near Foyers on April 23, 1960, for example, does not show an elephant’s trunk, but the enormous back of a large water-based cryptid.

The Sunday Mail even quotes skeptic Adrian Shine, project leader for Loch Ness 2000, based at Drumnadrochit, as saying: “Swimming elephants do not explain subsequent sightings.”

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 “Nessie as Elephant Theory Shortsighted”

  1. tpeter responds:

    Dear Loren–The Nessie as a swimming elephant theory is the most bizarre “rational explanation” of a mystery creature alongside Martin Kottmeyer’s explanation of the “Dover Demon” as a baby moose!–T. Peter

  2. chrisandclauida2 responds:

    Maybe his elephants are pink? I don’t think a sober man could arrive at this conclusion.

    I am as open minded as anyone but the elephant theory has more issues with it that do any prevailing Nessie ideas.

    I wont even go into the part about the area not being suitable to grow peanuts. The huge field mice issue in the area also raises concerns for many an elephant.

  3. fuzzy responds:

    HA Ha Ha Ha Haaaa…

  4. texasgirl responds:

    I saw a picture somewhere, I wish I had saved it, but it was of an elephant swimming in the loch…looked nothing like Nessie though….it looked like an elephant swimming in the loch.

  5. texasgirl responds:

    Or maybe it was swimming somewhere in Sri Lanka, either way, it was being hocked as a Nessie photo, and really didn’t look like it.

  6. Ranatemporaria responds:

    I googled elephant swimming on the image search and there was some interesting pics one in particular on the web site. This is a pic from quite short range. I reckon personally, that if there was a lone elephant swimming in the loch with no other signs of a circus around in this exact position there is a chance it could be mistaken for a long necked monster. Slim chance I know, but so is the chance of the existence of many cryptids but it doesn’t stop us all looking and believing! Don’t be so quick to poo poo even the most unlikely occurrences!

  7. cradossk responds:

    Check out this little baby.

    What would you say that was? without knowing it was a swimming elephant… i might guess it was a swimming elephant, but i also might guess its some kinda crazy critter lurking around the rivers 😛

    It is possible i guess… you have to remember that elephants arent the normal fauna you might expect to see in a scottish loch.

  8. CryptoInformant responds:


    I have a list of 10 more likely explanations, in order:

    1:A long necked seal

    2:A plesiosaur

    3:A tanystropheid

    4:A large cormorant

    5:A log

    6:An upside-down boat

    7:Too much beer

    8:King Kong

    9:A really fat eel

    10:Uhhh, Tax Breaks for the Rich? (seriously, they’re big enough)

  9. CryptoInformant responds:

    Oh, by the way, there are even others that are more likely.

  10. Ranatemporaria responds:

    Ok, so the likely hood of an elephant accounting for all subsequent sightings post 1933 is highly unlikely without a herd of being fully noticed around the shores. But surely credit should be given to this explanation for any sightings that occurred in or around the time that elephants were known to be in the area? I for one would be exited at seeing something like that in the above picture in the loch! Secondly I beg to differ that the chances of a prehistoric marine reptile seining unchanged for millennia, with maintained sustainable populations of 50-500 the numbers required to maintain safe (genetic variance (Franklin 1980)), is more likely than someone once seeing a elephant and getting over exited! As shown recently new species crop up all the time surly a new un-discovered species is the most likely explanation for this and many other notorious lake cryptids?!

  11. Ranatemporaria responds:

    BBC Scotland have picked up on the same quotes and run a story.

  12. dewhurst responds:

    The story was featured in the SUN (Britains biggest selling newspaper with a circulation of 3 million) and was a centre page feature. I got a chuckle out of the story and could imagine that some people may well have been able to mistake a swimming Elephant for Nessie. But any one who did see an Elephant swimming in the Loch must have wondered why it was chained to a man in a top hat wearing stilts whilst juggling with three balls and throwing buckets of confetti over anyone who got near enough.

    An interesting story and one of the most entertaining I have heard for years. You could not make this up!

  13. Tabitca responds:

    This theory was first published in 1992 in a journal/Bulletin of radiology, in an article written by Paul Goddard. It was dismissed as nonsense then. But others like myself searched for reports of lost or missing elephants, just in case one had landed up at the Loch but nothing had ever been reported.

    The Loch is too cold to attract many elephants 🙂

    Plus there aren’t enough big trees for them to build their nests LOL

  14. Loren Coleman responds:

    The media has a short memory. Fortean Times discussed one skeptic’s 1970s speculations, based on photos of swimming elephants in Sri Lanka, as I recall, that elephants were responsible for the Loch Ness sightings.

    Old news, all around.

  15. Tabitca responds:

    thanks Loren. They keep churning it out though, old or not, rather than face the truth that there is something in the Loch.

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