Nessie: Pachyderm, Plesiosaur or Pinniped?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 2nd, 2006


First the old 1970s theory that all the Nessies are swimming elephants was retold in new clothing in March 2006, and now we are hearing that the Scottish Lake Monsters cannot be plesiosaurs. Okay, tell me something I don’t know, please!


What is it? See below.

The news out of Scotland, as for example in the Scotsman article, “Scientist pours cold water on Loch Ness dinosaur theory”, is propelling the finding that Nessie is not a plesiosaur, which really is not a dinosaur anyway (but that’s another story).


Here’s part of what the “breaking news” services you will read today shall be summarizing:

Dr Leslie Noe, a palaeontologist at Cambridge University’s Sedgwick Museum, discovered that the plesiosaur would have been unable to lift its head up, swan-like, out of the water.

Most scientists believe the creatures became extinct with the other dinosaurs, but some insist it is possible that after the last Ice Age, some plesiosaurs may have been stranded in the 23-mile-long loch, which was connected to the sea.

The plesiosaur has a prominent small head on a long neck and a round body, and is the most popular explanation for mythical Nessie.

Ichthyosaurus vs Plesiosaurus

The classic view of the plesiosaur, shown above in this archival woodcut, is being revised. Click on this image for a larger version.

Dr Noe, whose findings are reported in this month’s New Scientist, told experts at a meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology in Canada, that plesiosaurs used their long necks to reach down and feed on soft-bodied animals living on the sea floor. By examining fossils of a plesiosaur, Muraenosaurus, and by calculating the articulation of the neck bones, Dr Noe concluded the neck was flexible and could move most easily when pointing down.

Dr Noe said: “The neck was a feeding tube, collecting soft-bodied prey. The osteology of the neck makes it certain the plesiosaur could not lift its head up, swan-like, out of the water.”

However, the findings did not surprise George Edwards, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the monster, who took a photograph of a unknown “creature” with a black hump he spotted on the loch in June 1986. Mr Edwards, from Drumnadrochit, who runs Loch Ness cruises on his boat, the Nessie Hunter, said: “Most people don’t support the dinosaur theory. The creature is some entirely new species. When you consider that every year in the open seas thousands of new species are discovered, this is the most likely explanation. But there’s no doubt that a creature, one with a single hump, which most people report, does exist.”

Okay, why is Dr. Noe still using the classic Surgeon’s Photo Nessie as the iconic strawman? (That’s probably a tail shown in the photos, anyway, but then, that’s another story too.) Of course, Dr. Kenneth Wilson’s cropped frame from one of his two pictures is what Noe is talking about because that’s the “imprinted image” that most of the public has as “the Loch Ness Monster.”

My thoughts are that as opposed to what the popular media either assumes or attempts to convey, most cryptozoologists have not supported “dinosaurs” or “plesiosaurs” in Loch Ness for years, but consider various other possible candidates, from eels to fish to unknown seals, as more worthy.

For example, I support the notion that a mammal, an as-yet unidentified species of large pinniped, is what is being seen. The myth of a swam-necked animal is long dead, and the most frequent sighting is of an animal’s body resembling the bobbing main torso of a walrus coming out of the water.


What is it? This is a flipper of a walrus extended from the water.

Furthermore, some 20+ land sightings and such details like hair being seen on the body support the mammalian theories as I overviewed in the past.


Male pinnipeds are enjoying a swim, here, in the above image, which can be enlarged with a click on the photograph. Nessies are not walruses, but the Loch Ness Monsters may be more closely related to walruses and elephant seals than to plesiosaurs, that’s for sure.

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.

39 Responses to “Nessie: Pachyderm, Plesiosaur or Pinniped?”

  1. fredfacker responds:

    How large are these walruses in the photo, and how big is Nessie projected to be in comparison?

  2. fuzzy responds:

    One of the main causes for the demise of whales, Stellar’s Sea Cows, walruses, manatees, sea lions, seals and other water creatures is their need to breathe air.

    If Nessies (and other water cryptids) are air breathers, why aren’t they seen more often, broaching to grab a lungful?

  3. Loren Coleman responds:

    Please, fredfacker, I wrote: “Nessies are not walruses.”

    That said, pinnipeds are large. Walruses and elephant seals can reach weights of over 4000 pounds. Walrus can be 14 feet long; female elephant seals, 10 feet long; male elephant seals, 21 feet long.

    The unknown pinniped I propose as responsible for the Nessie sightings would be one that matches the lengths of the cryptid seen at Loch Ness.

    It is well known that estimates of the length of Nessie may be larger than the animals that are actually being seen.

  4. fredfacker responds:

    Don’t worry Loren, I didn’t think you were saying Nessie was a walrus. I was just wondering about size comparisons to get an idea of how large this new mammal might be.

  5. carnivore responds:

    The 3rd photo down looks like one of the pics I saw on a show years back where they measured the ripples in the water and concluded the subject was much smaller than claimed. A guy came forward and admitted they used a toy sub to make a Nessie. Maybe a different pic.

    Alot of sightings seem likely miss identified animals, judging distance, depth preception all that.

    Then there’s the few sightings that make you wonder. All this unexplored water on the earth. Wouldn’t be suprised If they find a new or supposed extinct creature. After all they found the celo, cielo, that extinct fish.

  6. ddh1969 responds:

    The black and white pic of ‘nessie’ is that often overused ‘Surgeons Photo’…now widely known (amongst people like us) to be uber-fake. It is basically to Nessie what the Patterson Gimlin footage is to Bigfoot (though said/alleged/implied to be a fake, the jury is still out on the PG footage) on any tv show having to do with Nessie/Lake Monsters/Cryptozoology/Bigfoot we are sure to see either one or both of these pieces splattered across our tv screens. I consider the use (misrepresentation) of these pieces to be a smack in the face to all us crypto-zealots. It makes either the media or us (or both) out to be idiots.

  7. kittenz responds:

    I’ve tried hard to believe in Nessie, really I have … but I just don’t.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    Debunking the plesiosaur theory certainly does not debunk a cryptid living in the lake. I always thought it was a bit presumptous to say it was a plesiosaur anyway as there was no evidence to prove that at all, it was just an assumption that the popular media latched on to. As Mr. Coleman has said, there are a wide variety of more credible theories floating around. It makes no difference if the plesiosaur theory is canned.

  9. busterggi responds:

    Have the folks that proposed that Nessie sightings are just swimming elephants ever realized that they are proposing a cryptid species of aquatic elephants?

    Personally I still think that if Nessie exists its likely to be an aquatic invertebrate.

  10. One Eyed Cat responds:

    Whatever nessie turns out to be, I have seen a problem with the ‘swan-like’ neck for a while.

    I’ll throw it out as a question. Is it possible the presumption the body floats horizonally is wrong?

    In other words, as water is a three dimensional medium. Could the appearence of a long neck above the water come from the body in more or less vertical position thus no need for a swan-like holding of the neck.

    Illiusion or not, it’s a thought.

  11. Mysteriousness responds:

    Once again, I am baffled by paleontologists’ lack of application of their own their own theories. By this I mean, a plesiosaur, having survived all this time, would have undergone evolutionary changes, and would certainly not be identical to those in the fossil record.

    I don’t necessarily support the plesiosaur theory, but I wish critics would at least consider evolution and adaptation in their criticism.

  12. kittenz responds:

    I believe that it was Ivan T. Sanderson who once suggested that Nessie might be a gigantic slug or snail of some type, with the long “neck” being the animal’s eyestalk.

    Plausible, but extremely unlikely, in my opinion.

  13. greywolf responds:

    I would like the critics to support the elephant but

    1. Who lost it?
    2. Where does it stay?
    3. By now it would be frozen because they are not really cold weather critters they need to be fed and kept fairly warm.

    And they are land animals so where are they?

  14. lastensugle responds:

    I’ve never given much thought to the idea that Nessie could be mammalian, but I guess it isn’t impossible. But in case whatever may live in Loch Ness is closely related to walruses/elephant seals, wouldnt it be likely to assume they would need to go outta the water in order to give birth and such? Besides, neither walruses or elephant seals are what I would call elusive, they spend a fair amount of time on land, making a lot of noise fighting over territory and females. Even in water they aren’t hard to spot. Maybe some other kind of mammal, I don’t know.

  15. lastensugle responds:

    Mysteriousness, I totally agree. People tend to forget about evolution. I realise this goes for my own thoughts on Nessie beeing related to walrus/ elephant seal too.

  16. Nessie-Chaser responds:

    I read that plesiosaur vertebrae was found on the shore of the loch, though they were fossilized, they showed that there were at one time plesiosaurs in the loch.

  17. Bennymac responds:

    Has anyone seen the trailer for the new movie “Happy Feet”, the one with the penguins? There is a seal lion (I think) that plays the bad guy that looks different from the cute playful seals you often see on tv. It’s actually quite sinister looking. When I first saw it I thought it could pass for “Nessie”.

    I think there is something in there, and maybe even some of the other lochs as well (Awe, Lomond, Linnhe, Lochy).

  18. Nessie-Chaser responds:

    Evolution, according to scientists, takes place only when change is needed.

    The shark for example supposedly hasn’t changed for “millions of years”.

    I think natural selection will have affected these animals by now if they are isolated, but if they have access to the sea they probably won’t have changed too terribly much.

  19. Mysteriousness responds:


    Yes, evolution only occurs when necessary, but I would posit that the global environment changes over the past million or so years that it would make evolution necessary for any large creature. Not to mention that food sources, temperatures, breeding grounds, etc. have all changed. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to assume that there would be some change among these animals, least of all variations in vertebral structure and neck muscles.

    Let’s not forget that while crocodiles and sharks have not “evolved” for a long time, the species have certainly changed and so have sizes (where’s megalodon?). But you do have a point and it’s a 2-way street: there is also a likely chance that something like a plesiosaur may not have evolved.

  20. One Eyed Cat responds:


    Those plesiosaur vertebrae were proven to have been planted — I believe by the one who supposedly ‘found’ them.

  21. cradossk responds:

    fuzzy said: “One of the main causes for the demise of whales, Stellar’s Sea Cows, walruses, manatees, sea lions, seals and other water creatures is their need to breathe air.”

    No, the one and only main cause of the demise of these creatures is over hunting by the worlds only super-predator. I guess if you consider “because they breathe air they stay closer to the surface, and thus easier for us to harpoon”, then you are correct.

  22. Bob Michaels responds:

    Karl Shuker was leaning toward a Pleisosaur. I was hoping that would be the case after viewing the Rines photo and reading Roy P. Mackal’s book The Monsters of Loch Ness. It may be a number of strange creatures, but not an elephant.

  23. Rillo777 responds:

    Personally I don’t think too much of the evolutionary approach. Evolution while taught as a fact is, after all, only a theory and there are a mryiad of loopholes and unfounded assumptions associated with it. I suppose that saying that makes me a “dinosaur”. But I vote for an unknown mammal in Loch Ness. A mammal would be better suited to the cold temps there.

  24. U.T. Raptor responds:

    Bennymac, I believe you’re talking about a leopard seal…

    While an elephant is an unlikely explanation for Nessie, it could well explain sea monster sightings in other parts of the world. Elephants are good swimmers, and accounts exist of them swimming to islands from shore, or from one island to another.

  25. Lyndon responds:

    Sorry, can’t see whatever is in Loch Ness being an air breather. From many vantage points you have sweeping panoramic views of the loch and, though long, it’s only a mile wide. Air breathers would be seen far more often, especially in a relatively resticted surface area like Loch Ness has. We aren’t talking about the Atlantic Ocean here.

    If there is something there it’s more logical to conclude it’s of the fish variety. My bet is some kind of freakish giant eel. I can’t see any other possibility.

  26. Nessie-Chaser responds:

    Rillo777, I agree with you 100%. Evolution is so full of holes and mistakes that I don’t even think Christians make as much of a leap of faith in their religion as Evolutionists do.

    And it is quite possible that there is a mammal in the loch.

    Evidence in Antarctica shows that some dinosaurs were warm blooded.

  27. JRC responds:

    There is nothing in Loch Ness except the usual variety of fish that have been there for centuries. There is no “monster” in that or any other lake. There just isn’t.

    Every animal needs to breathe, eat, and breed. A society of large predators (mammals or otherwise) could not survive in a 23 mile long lake for all of these centuries. It is not only improbable but I dare say impossible.

    And the idea that there is a species of aquatic mammal that no one has captured credible evidence of is simply ludicrous. Mammals (and reptiles for that matter) must breathe and therefore they must either surface or exit the water to do so. A creature as large as what has been “witnessed” would be impossible to miss on the water’s surface and surely would have been spotted long ago out of the water.

    Pinnipeds breed in tremendous numbers OUTSIDE of the water. All pinnipeds do this. Nessie is not a pinniped.

    These animals would not escape notice especially not around Loch Ness. They spend too much of their time on the surface or on the land. Even whales surface far too often and are far too visible to be any kind of explanation. The furthest I will allow my imagination to stretch is to conceive of some kind of giant, European relative to the Manatee. And that is one heck of a stretch.

  28. shineyegal responds:

    I think that for so many people, now and for the past few decades to have witnessed something unrecognizable to themselves, there must be some truth behind the legend of Nessie, there must be something there, whatever it is. Mammals adapt and evolve, (and yes i do know this takes a very long time), but lets face it, if it is a plesiosaur, it has had plenty of time to adapt, maybe it no longer needs to come to the surface as much. People like having something to believe in, whether Nessie is actually in loch ness or not, it still exists, it exists in the hearts of the people who believe in it. The only real way to know if Nessie does exist is to completely drain the loch, until then all we can do is speculate!

  29. MattBille responds:

    I can’t imagine Nessie (or any of the other famous lake monsters, for that matter) being mammals. There is just no way around the “air-breathing = many more sightings” problem.

    While animals of course do evolve, it is a logical supposition that no major feature completely unrecorded in the known fossil record has evolved. That means no mammals with snorkels or big air sacs along the back, for instance.
    We have no indication of giant invertebrates other than squid, no record of giant fully aquatic amphibians, etc.

    All that leads back to fish. If there are unknown animals behind these cases, I suspect that undocumented populations of large sturgeon (mainly in N. American lake cases) and an undocumented species of giant eel are the weirdest things we are likely to find. Keep in mind eels occasionally wriggle onto land and have habits, as Maurice Burton documented, of swimming in very odd postures. Head and neck sightings are not so prevalent as the media seems to think, and I think a combination of eel + sturgeon + observer error is the likeliest explanation for the lake monster enigma in general.

  30. JRC responds:

    shineyegal Says:
    “I think that for so many people, now and for the past few decades to have witnessed something unrecognizable to themselves, there must be some truth behind the legend of Nessie, there must be something there, whatever it is.”

    I agree that there is something there. There are a lot of somethings in the lake. Sturgeon, salmon, etc… People believe what they want to believe and people see what they want to see.

    “Mammals adapt and evolve, (and yes i do know this takes a very long time), but lets face it, if it is a plesiosaur, it has had plenty of time to adapt, maybe it no longer needs to come to the surface as much.”

    This makes zero sense scientifically and evolutionarily. Things evolve to keep up with changing environment, prey, and adaptive needs. There would be no reason for a creature that was once an air breather to devolve in the way you describe. There is nothing in or around Loch Ness that would influence such an adaptation. You cannot simply speculate outside the realm of scientific facts in order to hold on to your fondest dreams.

    “People like having something to believe in, whether Nessie is actually in loch ness or not, it still exists, it exists in the hearts of the people who believe in it.”

    This is exactly the type of pie in the sky dreaming that has held back this field for so long. A creature either exists or it doesn’t. This isn’t Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. It is not enough for it to “exist in the hearts of the people who believe in it”. I’m sorry but that it just ridiculous. If that’s the case then why should people like Loren even try to investigate and prove the existence of any cryptid? People can believe in anything they want to but there is no room for such childishness in science.

    “The only real way to know if Nessie does exist is to completely drain the loch, until then all we can do is speculate!”

    Yes and the only way to prove the existence of Sasquatch is to burn the Pacific Northwest to ashes and then hoover up the remains. This is the worst kind of argument because it says to others that you will refuse to stop believing. Ever. Even in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary OR even without any evidence to support your position. Wow.

    I don’t mean to pick on you but your post illustrates everything that is currently wrong with Cryptozoology in my opinion. The wild nonsensical theories, the unfounded and unwavering hope, and finally the unwillingness to be swayed by logic and facts.

  31. DWA responds:

    Um, wow. Let’s do some controversy. Hard to tell where to begin here.

    1. “Holes” in evolutionary theory are holes in the fossil record. Which can be very easily explained: fossilization almost NEVER happens. It is a fabulously rare process. (You will NOT be a fossil. Don’t worry; I’d bet a year’s income on it, and I don’t bet.) We have evidence of a tiny fraction of the number of prehistoric animal and plant species there were, precisely because of that. We think there are tons and tons and tons of fossils. Over the vast sweep of time we are talking about, however, there are virtually none. This requires some thought to properly grasp. The absence of such thought accounts for so-called intelligent design theory. Which ain’t. (Intelligent, I mean.) Evolutionary theory accounts for much of modern scientific “knowledge” (which is, it is true, almost all intelligent speculation, not true knowledge); and contrary to what people may think, no theory has held together better than evolution has — or even anywhere nearly as well — to explain fossil finds and what they mean and where they fit into the big picture of life.

    2. Loch Ness is too tiny to support anything like The Loch Ness Monster. (Whatever that might be.) I think that the sasquatch and the yeti, at the very least, may very well exist. I’m even sorely tempted at times to bet on it. There’s too much evidence for them for science not to take at least a better look there. But those guys have room to roam, and attention can’t be focused on the totality of their habitat the way it can on the Loch. Sturgeon, eel, maybe one or so unknown fish species, maybe. But the latter of those three is the coolest anyone should expect from Loch Ness.

    3. I can’t get over how unscientific science can be. Look, plesiosaurs can’t raise their heads, ergo no Loch Ness Monster? Poo. LEEEEEZE. There are better ways to get your point across, ways that would, you know, make you look less, um, stoooopid.

  32. Nessie-Chaser responds:

    Holes in the fossil record? How do you know there are holes in the fossil record?

    Did you see the trasitionary animal before it died?

    Were you there to see the laying of the foundations of the earth?

    Or are you just assuming this because it fits into the theory?

    If an animal must evolve to defend its self from predators, then what happens in the mean-time?

    What happens between the time it is defenseless and the time that it is safe?

    Dead animals don’t evolve, and the ones that survive don’t have to.

    DNA Fact: Information is NEVER gained. It is always LOST when a change occurs!

    In order for evolution to occur, information must be gained, but that DEFIES LOGIC!

    If no one can understand the most obvious of logic, then grant God the honor of being more learned than yourselves!

    I realize that this line of thought is mocked and ridiculed in this society, but I prefer to know that my notions of reality are supported by pure science, than to blind myself to a position of granduer among lies.

  33. cor2879 responds:

    As discussed in an earlier blog, it is possible that ‘Nessie’ is not confined to Loch Ness at all. There are sightings that have taken place on land and similar aquatic sightings that take place in nearby lakes. I doubt that Nessie is a reptile of any kind, but a mammal (or perhaps even a large amphibian?) yes I think this is a good possibility.

  34. InvernessTours responds:

    I still find it amazing that anyone can propose an air-breathing creature for the Loch Ness Monster.

    I live overlooking loch ness and have done for the past twenty-eight years. If there was an air breathing monster in the loch I would have expected to see it on a daily, or at least weekly, basis. Yet I have had just one sighting of something in those twenty-eight years.

    Air breather, Nessie can not be in my view and because of my view.

  35. mystery_man responds:

    In my opinion, the testimony of witnesses over hundreds of years should not be simply written off. People have been seeing something in the lake and I don’t tend to believe they were all kooks or mistook what they saw. Writing off this testimony to fit into a theory that Nessie can’t exist for whatever reasons is just as irresponsible as the people that cling to whatever they can to keep the hope alive that it exists. I would normally be skeptical myself because of some of the above mentioned reasons and being a scientific minded person, I find a plethora of reasons why it is improbable a large undiscovered creature exists in the loch. But hundreds of eyewitness reports, some by credible witnesses begs me to keep an open mind and search for possible explainations.

  36. mystery_man responds:

    Also, I used to live in an area of Japan where there were supposedly “tanuki”, or raccon dogs roaming about. Everybody talked about them and saw tham but never once did I witness one. Yes, they are real creatures so this may be a bad example, but my point is that just because you don’t see wnything doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

  37. shineyegal responds:

    Without people expressing their opinions, and believing in something whether it be scientifically proven, and scienitfically explained or not, this field would not exist, neither would this website. We do not know if nessie exists, and i don’t know about anyone else, but thats exactly what i like about it. I don’t claim to be a scientist, and yes maybe i am a fantacist, but when there are such scientifically knowledgeful people as JRC out there, i’m happy to fall into the category of someone who just hopes. If i am damaging the field by doing so i apologise.

  38. Rillo777 responds:

    DWA, you are assuming that there has been a vast amount of time. There is only speculation on that because it fits evolutionary theory. Sort of a circular argument. Mayo, an evolutionist, even said that there is a limit to which a creature can be forced to change. After that, it either becomes sterile or reverts to the original form. He called it Homeostasis, if I am correct. Nessie may not have evolved but merely adapted. This does not change the fundamental design of the creature but merely its ability to function in its environment. Adaptation is NOT evolution. People in higher altitudes have larger lung capacities than those at sea level, but they are still human. Bacteria adapt to anti-bacterial soap, for example, but they are still the same bacteria. Mutations happen frequently even in the simplest of creatures but they inevitably are malign, not passed on, or render the creature sterile. In layman’s terms Newton’s second law says everything deteriorates it doesn’t get better. And the fossil record only backs up evolution if you’ve already decided it does. Otherwise it is only a record of what once lived and that’s all.

  39. kamoeba responds:

    “In order for evolution to occur, information must be gained, but that DEFIES LOGIC!”

    That statement itself defies logic. Even if God did magically create every living thing a mere 6,000 years ago, evolution has still taken place. Do you really think that all the animals that are living today are exactly like their ancestors of 6,000 years ago? Wouldn’t that basically be cloning? Don’t you look even slightly different than your parents and grandparents? I find it fascinating that these “creationists” who reject science as some kind of black magic mumbo jumbo have no problem benefitting from it (i.e. medicine and pretty much every other technological advancement). If these people are so certain that science is a bunch of baloney, they ought to put away their cell phones and ipods, ditch the luxury of running water, and go live in caves. Don’t worry, God will take care of you!

    And speaking of the fossil record, yes of course there are holes in it. Fossilization is an incredibly slow process that occurs only under strict conditions. Do you really think that God, while making the earth, just thought he’d throw in a few thousand fake fossils for no reason? Now that defies logic!

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