Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nessie's escape

The Loch Ness "monster" -- affectionately known as "Nessie" -- is an alleged plesiosaur-like creature living in Loch Ness, a long, deep lake near Inverness, Scotland. Many sightings of the "monster" have been recorded, going back at least as far as St.Columba, the Irish monk who converted most of Scotland to Christianity in the 6th century. Columba apparently converted Nessie, too; for it is said that until he went out on the waters and soothed the beast, she had been a murderess. 
The modern legend of Nessie begins in 1934 with Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London physician, who allegedly photographed a plesiosaur-like beast with a long neck emerging out of the murky waters. That photo created quite a fuss and is still at the center of controversy. Before the photo, Loch Ness was the stuff of legend and myth. The locals knew the ancient history of the sea serpent and a few months before the publication of the famous photo a couple claimed they had seen a large "monster' in the lake.. But people came to the lake more to relax than to go on expeditions looking for mythical beasts. After the photo, the scientific experts were called in and cryptozoologists offered their opinions to any who would listen. Could be a plesiosaur. Yes, but it could be a tree trunk, too. Or an otter. In 1984, Stewart Campbell analyzed the photo in an article in the British Journal of Photography. He argued that whatever was in the photo could have been only two or three feet long. He guessed that it was probably an otter or a marine bird.* Later, there would be explorations by a submarine with high tech sensing devices. Today, we have a full-blown tourist industry said to have generated an estimated $37 million in 1993, complete with submarine rides (about one hundred bucks an hour in 1994) and a multi-media tourist center. Unfortunately, business has slowed down in recent years. In 2007, it was estimated that Nessie tourism brought in an estimated £6 million ($12.2 million) to the Highlands. Some are blaming skepticism and the fact that there have been only  two sightings in the first nine months of 2007. There were only three sightings in 2006. A decade ago, ten to twenty sightings a year was common.* The decline in sightings should concern the true believers, given the ubiquity of digital cameras, camera-phones, and the presence of webcams at various places around the lake. Adrian Shine, head of the Loch Ness Project, believes that one reason for the decline in sightings is that people are more skeptical about what they see. “I think we live in a more pragmatic age, and that people are becoming more aware of the sort of illusions that can occur on water,” he said.* If so, there may be hope for our species, after all.

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