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Loch Ness Timeline

500 million years ago.
The world is very different. Scotland lies on the coast of the North American continent, far to the south of the equator. Plate tectonics are moving the continent steadily towards another called North Europe.

400 million years ago
The continents collide; a collision that folded and thrust up the Caledonian mountain chain on a Himalayan scale. 

380 million years ago
The Great Glen fault fractures across the Highlands. It is thought that the northern block has moved some 104km to the south-west. Earth tremors still occur. This is during the Devonian period and the only vertebrates are primitive fish. 

345- 280 million years ago.
The Carboniferous period saw Scotland starting its journey north to the equator. Humid tropical swamps cover much of the country and will one day become coal seams. Some of the fish have evolved into amphibians and are crawling ashore to feed on the insects and plants that have already colonised the land. However, the amphibians had to lay their eggs in water and indeed, still do. Towards the end of the period they were evolving again. Millions of years later, in the 1980's a fossil was found near Edinburgh and christened "Lizzie". This was because it had almost evolved into a reptile.

Mykura, W. (1983) The Old Red Sandstone east of Loch Ness, Inverness-shire. Institute of Geological Sciences, Report 82/13, 26pp.

Mykura, W. and Owens, B. (1983) The Old Red Sandstone of the Mealfuarvonie Outlier, west of Loch Ness, Inverness-shire. Institute of Geological Sciences, Report 83/7, 17pp. 

280-230 million years ago. The Permian

The reptiles needed no water to lay their eggs in and began to march inland. Just as well, because almost all the world's landmasses had clustered together into a super continent called Pangaea with Scotland near the centre, so the climate was getting drier. The Reptiles were to dominate the land. 

230-195 million years ago. The Triassic

195-140 million years ago. The Jurassic

140-65 million years ago. The Cretaceous
Throughout these periods Scotland was drifting north of the equator. It saw the rise of the mighty dinosaurs. The newly evolved mammals were kept in hiding underground but their warm blood probably allowed them to be more effective at lower temperatures, at night for example and during the winters which were becoming more noticeable. This was because the majority of the world's land was now entering temperate latitudes. Also, the dinosaur's world was fragmenting as the Atlantic Ocean opened up, leaving Scotland behind, as part of Europe. Then followed chaos, as huge quantities of lava flowed across the land, especially in India. Volcanic gasses probably caused violent climate changes. Suddenly, 65 million years ago, a huge asteroid or comet fragment seared through the atmosphere and impacted near the Yucatan Peninsular in Mexico. A huge extinction followed, including the death of all the dinosaurs. The land would now belong to the mammals and birds.

65-1.8 million years ago. The Tertiary

Includes

65-55 million years ago. The Palaeocene

55-39 million years ago. The Eocene

39-22.5 million years ago. The Oligocene

22.5-5 million years ago. The Miocene

5-1.8 million years ago. The Pliocene
The mammals and birds have now spread out into all the vacant niches left by the reptiles. Some took to the sea, to become the whales and dolphins, replacing the great sea reptiles like the plesiosaurs.

The continents were still drifting generally northwards. India collided with Asia, forcing up the Himalayas. The Atlantic Ocean was still widening. Scotland's climate became increasingly seasonal. Finally, the landmasses converged on the North Pole blocking the ocean circulation. Now, there was land for snow to settle on, reflecting away the sun's heat. The Ice Ages set the stage for the rise of mankind. 

1.8 million years- Present. The Quaternary

Includes

1.8 million- 10,000 years ago. The Pleistocene

10,000 years ago- Present. The Holocene
Since about 2.5 million years ago the ice sheets of Europe and North America have advanced at least four times; maybe twenty times. The rocks along Loch Ness, because the movements of the Great Glen faultline had shattered them, yielded easily to the ice. The massive erosive forces smoothed and deepened the valley that would one day become Loch Ness.

120,000 years ago.
The last Ice Age begins

20,000 years ago.
The Ice Age is at its peak. Parts of Scotland lie buried by up to 1700m of ice.

18,000 years ago.
The ice begins to retreat. A glacier is still carving its way down Loch Ness. Meltwaters running beneath it are depositing sand and gravel to form ridges called "eskers" at Tomnahurich and Torvean. Meltwater began to raise the sea level and some have speculated that Loch Ness could have ultimately become an arm of the sea, thus allowing large creatures to enter. The removal of the ice burden allowed the land to rise (Isostatic rebound) and, according to the theory, this would have trapped the animals in the loch. The relationship between rising sea-level and rising land was very complex twelve to thirteen thousand years ago and the matter of marine incursion is still contoversial.

!3,000 years ago.
The loch is now free of ice and a warm interlude of about 500 years could have brought summer temperatures similar to today's.

Merritt, J.W., Auton, C.A. and Firth, C.R. (1995) Ice-Proximal Glaciomarine Sedimentation and Sea-level Change in the Inverness Area: A Review of the Deglaciation of a Major Ice Stream of the British Late Devensian Ice Sheet. Quaternary Science Review, 14: 289-329 

Firth, C.R. (1986) Isostatic depression during the Loch Lomond Stadial: preliminary evidence from the Great Glen, northern Scotland. Quaternary Newsletter 48: 1-9

Rines, R.H. & Dougherty, F.M. (2003) Proof Positive- Loch Ness was an ancient arm of the sea. Journal of Scientific Exploration. Vol. 17, No.2: 317-323

Synge, F.M. (1977) Land and sea level changes during the waning of the last regional ice sheet in the vicinity of Inverness. Inverness Field Club, Special Volume, 83-102

11,000 years ago.
The glacier has now retreated from Loch Ness but the cold is returning. On the high ground, the ice is on the move again and just reaches the southern end of Loch Ness. The ice holds back lakes in Glen Roy and Glen Spean.

Sissons, J.B., (1979a) The Loch Lomond Stadial in the British Isles. Nature, 280: 199-202

10,000 years ago.
The melting continues again. The ice dams holding back the lakes in Glen Roy and Glen Spean give way in successive floods. As the lakes drain they leave traces of their old shorelines as the famous "parallel roads".

The final outpouring may have laid the gravel foundation of Fort Augustus before roaring on to carve into the gravels at the northern end of the loch to form the channel of the River Ness and indeed the foundations of Inverness itself. The water level in Loch Ness rose 8m. It is calculated that a third of the volume of the loch may have passed through in as little as 48hrs! What effect this might have had on the inhabitants of the loch may be left to speculation. 

Sissons, J.B. (1979b) Catastrophic lake drainage in Glen Spean and the Great Glen, Scotland. Jl. Geol. Lond. 136 : 215 - 224 

Sissons, J.B. (1981) Late Glacial marine Erosion and a Jokulhlaup deposit in the Beauly Firth. Scottish Journal of Geology 17 (1): 1-19 

The Ice Age is now truly over. The bed of Loch Ness is covered with a bed of blue grey clay. Near the top is a layer of small stones, perhaps deposited by the last flood from Glen Roy. For 10,000 years darker more organic sediments will accumulate, layer by layer. One day they will reveal the story of the loch (see 1994, The ROSETTA Project). (The ROSETTA coring machine may be seen at Loch Ness 2000)

9000 years ago.
In the wake of the ice an Arctic "tundra" vegetation develops with mosses, lichens and grasses. Reindeer graze around the shores of Loch Ness. The first trees to arrive are birches. Their tiny seeds are blown long distances by the wind. They, with Juniper and Hazel became established quite quickly but trees like the oak followed more slowly since they relied on squirrels and jays to "plant" their acorns. With the weight of ice gone, Loch Ness is starting to rise towards its present height of 16m above sea level. There is a burst of productivity from nutrients leached from the soils exposed by the melting ice.

8000 years ago.
The Scots pine appears from the south

6000 years ago.
The Great Wood of Caledon is now fully established. The Scots pines are now dominant, providing a home for beaver, wolves and bears.  

5000 years ago.
Neolithic farmers are just beginning to leave their mark on the landscape as they clear the forest for their crops. This is a time of stone circles like Callanish and later, Stonehenge. Soon the Great Pyramid will be built in Egypt. 

4000 years ago.
Bronze Age farms flourish around Loch Ness in a climate slightly warmer than it is today. The settlers are building passage tombs and stone circles at Corrimony, Torbreck and Clava. A lake dwelling called a "crannog" is built at the southern end of Loch Ness. It is the only island in the loch and is now called Cherry Island. 

3000 years ago.
The climate is deteriorating. In Iceland the volcano Hekla has erupted, darkening the sky with sulphur-laden ash. Acid rain falls upon the crops. The settlements around the loch are abandoned. Perhaps by co-incidence, possibly not, the well-ordered sediment sequences of Loch Ness are suddenly disrupted and jumbled as the surface layers slump. The fall of Troy heralds the end of the Bronze Age. 

2000 years ago.
The Roman legions are marching into Scotland but they soon retire to build Hadrian's Wall. The Christian era begins. 

1500 years ago.
In 565AD St. Columba, a Christian missionary to King Brude of the Picts, "drove away a certain water monster" in the River Ness. His biographer, St. Adamnan, wrote that one of Columba's followers was attacked as he swam across to collect a boat from the other side. The saint "formed the sign of the cross in the empty air" saying "Think not to go further nor touch thou that man. Quick! Go back!" The beast "fled backwards more rapidly than he came".

St. Adomnan, (690 AD) Vita Sancti Columbae

1000 years ago.
King MacBeth of Scotland is killed. His successor will swear allegiance to King William 1st of England. The scene is set for Scotland's wars of independence. 

700 years ago. (1297)
Andrew de Moray, an ally of William Wallace, takes Inverness from the English. In 1314 "Proud Edward's Army" is sent homewards from Bannockburn.  

1743
The last wolf in Scotland is killed near Loch Ness on the River Findhorn.  

1746
The Jacobite cause is lost at the Battle of Culloden to the north-east of Loch Ness. The "Seven men of Glenmoriston" hide Prince Charles. The "Highland Clearances" begin. Tenants are evicted and replaced with sheep. Their grazing has resulted in much of today's bare Highland scenery.

1755 22nd Dec
There had been an earthquake in Lisbon on 1st Nov. On the 22 Dec. at Fort Augustus, the waters of Loch Ness rose towards the town. It ebbed and flowed for over an hour, rising over a metre above the normal level. All the water in the loch must have been flowing backwards and forwards. Earth tremors have also been reported from Loch Ness in 1816, 1888, 1890 and 1901 when it cracked the bank of the Caledonian Canal near Dochgarroch. Minor tremors still occur.

Thorpe, S.A. (1988). ". light on obscure oceanographical problems", an historical review of studies of the physics of Loch Ness. Scottish Naturalist, 1988 : 17-33.  

Davison, C. (1891) On the Inverness earthquakes of November 15th to December 14th , 1890. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 47 : 618-32

1822
Thomas Telford's Caledonian Canal is opened. Begun during the Napoleonic wars, this canal joined the lochs of the Great Glen into a 60mile passage from sea to sea.

In addition to the river, the canal now formed another access to the loch from the sea to the north. The question of access by marine animals was examined by Gould 

Gould, R.T. (1934) The Loch Ness Monster and Others. London: Geoffrey Bles. New York: University Books, 1969
(Pages 6-11)

Since Loch Ness lies 52ft (15.8m) above sea level there are a series of locks in the Inverness reach. The first is at Dochgarroch just beyond the Dochfour weir where the canal branches away from the River Ness. Four miles later, at Muirtown, there is a flight of four locks; then within a mile is the lock at Clachnaharry before the final "sea lock" which gives access to the Beauly Firth.

Salmon and eels making their way towards Loch Ness have been known in this section of the canal. They can be accounted for by the sluices, which level the sections even when the lock gates are shut. The canal might also account for the occasional presence of another marine fish, the flounder. In 1984 this was a somewhat surprising discovery in the loch, since the flounder was not considered a strong enough swimmer to negotiate the weirs and rapids of the river. It may be worth mentioning that even sturgeon have been known to pass locks and weirs on other rivers.

The River Ness itself, of course, has been the main avenue of colonisation for the salmonid fishes and eels. Gould describes the river access in 1933. There are two complete weirs on the river but both have "fish gaps". The above-mentioned Dochfour weir has a gap 60ft wide at the top and 30ft at the base. Three miles downstream is the Holm Mills weir which has a gap 24ft wide at the top and 12ft at the base. Gould's enquiries suggested that, in a spate there could be over 7ft of water depth at the Dochfour weir and 5ft at Holm Mills. Certainly there is adequate access for seals at the time of writing. 

1833 16th Oct
The Inverness Courier reports the "Death of a Warlock" one Gregor MacGregor, alias "Willox the Warlock". Among his possessions he had "a piece of yellow metal resembling a horse's bridle, which in the days of yore was sported by a mischievous water Kelpie, who haunted the banks of Loch Ness and Loch Spynie". In Highland folklore, the Kelpie or Water Horse (Each Uisge) emerged from many lochs to tempt travellers onto its back. It then carried the victims into the water and devoured them. 

1843-47
Extensions to the weir at Dochgarroch raise the water level of Loch Ness by 9ft, nearly 3m. 

1849 25th Jan.
A great flood destroys the stone road bridge in Inverness. 

1852 1st July
The Inverness Courier reports "A Scene from Lochend" where two strange animals were swimming across the loch. Some "thought it was the sea- serpent coiling along the surface, and others a couple of whales or large seals". The inhabitants made ready to defend themselves with everything from battle-axes to pitchforks. "At last, a venerable patriarch came to the conclusion that they were a pair of deer". He fetched his gun and was just about to fire when he threw it down and shouted in Gallic " God protect us, they are the Water Horses", thinking they were the ill omened Kelpies of folklore. In the end, they did turn out to be horses; two ponies from the Aldourie estate no less than a mile away!

1868 6th Feb.
At the end of the winter there was a flood at Loch Ness. The clay washed in by this flood settled on the loch bed to form a "marker layer" enabling core samples to be dated. 

1868 8th Oct
In the autumn the Inverness Courier reports a curious incident at Abriachan. A "huge fish" is washed up dead on the beach. It is about 2m long. Some think it is the strange fish that has been reported for "years back". It is finally pronounced to be a skinned dolphin, possibly thrown overboard by "the waggish crew" of a passing fishing boat to fool "the credulous natives of Abriachan". This is the earliest written reference so far discovered to a tradition of something strange in Loch Ness. 

1871 13th July
The Inverness Courier reports the capture of a sturgeon just off the Inverness entrance to the Caledonian Canal. It had almost broken out of a salmon net and was 7ft long. Apparently another sturgeon had been caught in Inverness some 35 years before. On the 12th August 1661 a sturgeon no less than 12ft long had been caught nearby. 

1903 April
In April, Sir John Murray's "Bathymetrical Survey of the Scottish Lochs" takes 1700 depth soundings in Loch Ness. They establish the loch to have the greatest volume of any lake in Britain and that its maximum depth is 754ft (230m). Claims for greater depths will be made later but all remain unconfirmed; most resulting from sonar anomalies.
 

Murray, J. and Pullar, L. (1907). Bathymetrical survey of the fresh-water lochs of Scotland. Part X111 - Lochs of the Ness Basin. Geographical Journal, 30 : 62-71

John Murray's remarkable survey covered most of the Scottish lochs including Loch Morar, which was found to be the deepest at 1017ft (310m).
The Survey also included some of the first work on the loch's biology, physics and the characteristics of its sediments.
There is no reference to unusual creatures in the loch but one observation of possible significance to monster sightings is a description of the Loch Ness mirage.
Loch Ness is very prone to mirages since the huge body of water reacts slowly to seasonal temperature changes. Hence, the loch is often colder than the air in summer and warmer in winter. On calm days, the lower layers of air can be affected by the water temperature and distort the images of objects seen, especially from close to the waterline. The most usual effect is to elongate the object vertically. A water bird for example, may then look much larger than it is. This mirage was cited by the witness Alex Campbell as an explanation for his "plesiosaur" sighting in 1933 (see 1933, Oct17th).

Murray, J. and Pullar, L. (1908b). Mirages on Loch Ness. Geographical Journal, 31 : 61-62 

Further discussion of mirages in this context was to take place in: 

Lehn, W.B. (1979) Atmospheric refraction and lake monsters. Science, 205: 183-185

and 

Shine, A.J. and Martin, D.S. (1988) Loch Ness Habitats Observed by Sonar and Underwater Television. Scottish Naturalist 105:111-199.
(see pages 163-167) 

About 1916
Mr James Cameron, head keeper of the Balmacaan estate, comes into the Drumnadrochit Hotel with "his face as white as paper". He said that while he was fishing from a small boat an "enormous animal" had surfaced very near him. The shock caused him to go dizzy and then he rowed ashore as quickly as he could.  

1930 27th August
The "Northern Chronicle" reports "a fish or whatever it was". 

1932 February
A Miss K. MacDonald saw a "crocodile" like creature making its way up the River Ness, which was in spate, towards the loch. The creature had a short neck, long snout and some reports suggested tusks.  

1933
North shore road improvements (today's A82) remove the screen of trees, improving the view of the loch and bringing more visitors to the area. Some believe that this is the reason for the explosion of sightings in that year. Others suggest that the cause was literally explosions; the rock blasting during the road construction.  

1933 March
Mrs. Aldie Mackay, manageress of the Drumnadrochit Hotel (now the site of Loch Ness 2000), was on the road from Inverness when she saw something resembling a whale. She did not publicise he story but it was picked up by Alex Campbell, water bailiff and enthusiast of the legend. He gave the story to the Inverness Courier. The story published on 2nd May is often seen as the birth of the modern legend. Over the next 65 years, there will be over a 1000 recorded sightings. The majority will be of two types; the multi-humped sea serpent and the long necked plesiosaur. Attempts to reconcile these two conflicting stereotypes, each unlikely in itself were to cause difficulties for the investigators of the 1960's as they sought a single explanation.

1933 9th June
The "Scottish Daily Express" reports "a mystery fish". 

1933 July 22nd
A Mr. Spicer and his wife were driving along the south shore, when at about 3.30pm he saw, crossing the road " the nearest approach to a dragon or prehistoric animal that I have ever seen in my life". They only saw it for a few seconds at a distance of about 200yds and the lower part was hidden by a rise in the road. Nevertheless, it seemed to have a long neck and ponderous body. This is the first long neck report. It was also the beginning of the international sensation. Monsters were in vogue. Only a few months before, the film King Kong had been released, containing frightening footage of prehistoric monsters fighting. Spicer had seen the film and considered what he had seen resembled the screen animation of a diplodocus.  

1933 Sept. 22nd
A Miss. J.S. Fraser and four others, are at the Half-Way House tea-room at Altsigh. Theirs is the first reference to a long necked creature, actually in the loch. Three hours later, there is a similar report, ten miles to the north.

1933 Oct. 17th
The "Scotsman" reports that in early September, Alex Campbell, the bailiff, had a sighting of a long necked, plesiosaur like creature near Fort Augustus which dived on the approach of two fishing boats. A few weeks later he saw the same thing again but this time was able to see the explanation; cormorants distorted by mirage. The original sighting, re-dated to 1934 was to become the most broadcast of all the sightings and became the most inspirational ever to the monster hunters of the 1960s since it was the archetypal plesiosaur description. 

1933 Nov 9th -23rd
Rupert Gould interviews over 50 eyewitnesses and the following year, publishes 42 sighting reports in his book 

Gould, R.T. (1934) The Loch Ness Monster and Others. London: Geoffrey Bles. New York: University Books, 1969 

He concludes that some creature has made its way into the loch and become trapped. He favours an amphibian.

1933 Nov 12th
Hugh Grey takes the first monster photograph. 

1934 Jan. 4th
The "Daily Mail" expedition led by Marmaduke Wetherell suffers an embarrassment. Plaster casts of some strange footprints found at the loch side, are pronounced by the British Museum to be from a stuffed hippopotamus. He had used one of his big game hunting trophies, a hippo foot ashtray. There are also some doubts about a land sighting made by Arthur Grant during the expedition. However, it would seem that the expedition does have a serious aspect. It is remarkable for the first application of hydrophones to the problem; a method that reached its zenith with the Loch Ness Investigation in 1970. The Daily Mail's special investigator F.W. Memory chronicles events in a series of articles and shows a degree of scepticism regarding some of more flamboyant activities. He begins to record sightings of a grey seal from the south eastern shore. Finally Wetherell himself claims a sighting of a grey seal and sketches "what he and others saw from the launch Penguin". 

Memory, F.W. (1933) Daily Mail, Dec18th 1933 - Jan. 19th 1934

Subsequent monster hunters tended to disregard the possibility of seals, partly on the strength of the opinion of the water bailiff Alex Campbell, that they had never been known to enter the loch. Nevertheless some descriptions are very seal like. For example, a sighting by a Mr. Palmer on Aug.11th 1933 describes a head just breaking the surface. The following June, Miss Margaret Munro had a land sighting, which could have been a seal, on a beach near Fort Augustus.

1934 April 19th
The surgeon Kenneth Wilson claims to have taken an interesting photograph. The picture, published on April 21st shows an upraised head and neck. It is to become the most famous image of the monster. It will also have the effect of restricting the scope of debate regarding the identity of Loch Ness Monsters. Seals or "strange fish" do not have long necks. 

1934 Summer
The first large expedition is mounted by the insurance magnate, Sir Edward Mountain. Twenty unemployed Inverness men are enrolled as "watchers for the monster" and paid 2 a week. Eleven sightings are made and five photographs taken, most attributable to boat wakes. On 15th Sept, the expedition's leader Capt. James Fraser takes a film from near Urquhart Castle. Sadly, the film has been lost but when shown to scientists they did at least believe that it showed a living animal. A seal! It is not impossible that Sir Edward's expedition has indeed solved the identity of an unusual visitor to the loch.  

Mountain, Sir Edward (1934) Solving the Mystery of Loch Ness. The Field, 22nd Sept: 668-9 

It was to be 1985 before it became definitely established that seals do enter the loch.Since then, both common and grey seals have been recorded in most years. They follow the salmon up the river and may spend months in freshwater.

Williamson, G.R. (1988) Seals in Loch Ness. Sci. Rep. Whales Res. Inst., No 39: 151-157 

Unknown species of long necked seals have been suggested as possible candidates by two authors. 

Oudemans, A.C. (1934) The Loch Ness Monster. Leyden: Late E.J. Brill 

Costello, P. (1974) In Search of Lake Monsters. London: Garnstone

However, the seal theory was to prove too mundane for most monster enthusiasts who were to note that sightings were persisting and there was always the "Surgeon's Photograph" with its long upraised head and neck. It was to stand guardian over popular expectations for sixty years. 

1934 Aug. 24th
Another picture is published, attributed to F.C. Adams.  

1938
Capt. D.J. Munro attempts to raise 1,500 to set up three camera stations on the loch. Sadly his company, "Loch Ness Monster Ltd.", only attracts an investment of 90 and the scheme is abandoned. 

1951 July 14th
Lachlan Stuart takes a picture of three angular humps close to the beach. A little later, he confesses to a local resident, the author Richard Frere, that it was a hoax. Frere did not reveal the secret for thirty years.

1955 July 29th
Mr P.A. MacNab takes a picture near to Urquhart Castle. It appears to show an enormous hump backed creature. 

More than a Legend  

1957
Constance Whyte's book is published. As the wife of the Caledonian Canal Manager she came to Loch Ness in the late thirties She found that sightings had persisted after the sensation of the thirties and had written an article in 1949. She details more than 60 sightings and concludes that the loch contains a resident population of unknown creatures. 

Whyte, C. (1957) More than a Legend. London: Hamish Hamilton; rev. 3rd imp. , 1961 

1958 Oct.16th
The "Weekly Scotsman" publishes a picture taken from a canoe by H.L. Cockrell. It looks like a stick but some think it is moving.

A War of Attrition


Constance Whyte's book, drawn on the experiences of manifestly sincere people showed that the Loch Ness Monster was no mere thirties frivolity but a puzzle that was worth investigation. Indeed it was a mystery, which she felt the nation had an obligation to investigate. The series of classic photographs plus the apparent frequency of sightings by Sir Edward Mountain's expedition suggested that organised surveillance might succeed.

Two zoologists at the Natural History Museum had taken an interest. Dr. Dennis Tucker lectured to students at Cambridge University who began to plan an expedition. Dr. Maurice Burton was busy providing data to an enthusiastic aeronautical engineer called Tim Dinsdale. He also lent him a cine camera.

1960 April 23rd
Tim Dinsdale, on the sixth and last day of his search takes a 4min film, which becomes one of the best known pieces of evidence. For most of the sequence, the object has the dimensions, appearance and speed of a powered rowing boat. However, many believe that it shows an unidentified animal because of subtle differences in the "propeller wash". The zoologist Maurice Burton had studied the problem for many years and encouraged Dinsdale's early interest but he was to become sceptical of the film and much else:  

Burton, M. (1961) The Elusive Monster. London: Rupert Hart- Davis 

An assessment of the film in 1966, by Britain's "Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre", concluded that the photographer would have noticed a boat, had it been one. Dinsdale publishes his book the next year and devotes his life to vindicating the eyewitnesses. He made many visits to the loch and published widely on the subject until his death in 1987. 

Dinsdale, T. (1961) Loch Ness Monster. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Philadelphia: Chilton, 1962; 2nd ed. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972; 3rd ed., 1976; 4th ed.,1982 

Dinsdale, T. (1966) The Leviathans. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; 2nd rev. ed., London: Futura, 1976. 

Dinsdale, T. (1975) Project Water Horse. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 

1960 May 27th
Peter O'Connor takes a controversial picture of a plesiosaur like object in shallow water.  

1960 June
Col. "Blondie" Hasler mounts an eight week expedition from his junk rigged yacht "Jester" which worked in concert with a shore station equipped with long lens cameras. Fifty six volunteers took part and the watches on Jester were continuous by day and night. Even without the shore station, there are over 1000 hrs of observation and hydrophone work. Results are inconclusive.  

Hasler, H.G. (1962) Jester in search of the joker. The Observer, 19th Aug. 

Some of Hasler's ideas are prophetic. He proposes an underwater hide and observation using a glass bottomed boat. These ideas will form the substance of the Loch Morar Expeditions of 1974&75.

Shine, A.J. (1975) Loch Morar Expedition. Report 

1960 Summer
The first full scale scientific investigation.

Peter Baker leads a combined Oxford & Cambridge University expedition to the loch.  

Baker, P.F. and Westwood, M. (1960) Underwater detective work. Scotsman, 12th, 13th, 14th Sept. 

There was another expedition in 1962. They station film cameras around the loch, keeping 85% of the surface under observation for 230hrs and 50% for a further 250hrs. They make 19 "sightings" from which they concluded that the multi-hump "sea serpent" sightings, are caused by boat wakes. They also found that diving birds caused some long neck sightings. Nevertheless, there were some echo-sounding contacts they could not explain.  

Baker, P.F. and Westwood, M. (1962) Sounding out the Monster. The Observer, 26th Aug.  

Birmingham University bring a sonar and biological expedition to Loch Ness. 

Birmingham University Expedition 1961

"the prize will be very great" (David James 1964)  

1962
The "Loch Ness Phenomenon Investigation Bureau", (LNI) forms under the energetic leadership of David James MP. The other directors are the author Constance Whyte with naturalists Sir Peter Scott and Richard Fitter.

David James, with his background of naval service and Antarctic exploration brings an acute mind and outstanding organisational ability. He shows a bold ingenuity in his early expeditions with rock blasting to simulate the 1930s and the last of the wartime searchlights probing for nocturnal activity. He turns a national joke into something like a national endeavour. Using his position ruthlessly, he has panels of eminent zoologists and barristers examine his evidence, together with Ministry of Defence photo-interpreters. He even subjects his observers to psychological examination.

For the next 10 years, the "LNI" will mount intensive surface surveillance, using telephoto cine cameras. They aim to repeat the classic photographs on good quality film. The investigation reveals a definite correlation between calm "Nessie" weather and sightings. They shoot film on 12 occasions but none showing anything resembling the "classic photographs". They also collect some 258 sighting reports. 

James, D. (undated. Probably 1967) Loch Ness Investigation. London: The Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau.

James, D. (1961) Time to Meet the Monster. The Field, 23rd Nov. : 951-53

James, D. (1962) The Monster Again. The Field, 14th June: 1060

James, D. (1964) 'We find that there is some unidentified animate object in Loch Ness'. The Observer, May17th. (Report on the 1963 expedition)

James, D. (1964) Fine -weather monster. The Observer, 27th Dec. (Report on the 1964 expedition)

James, D. (1965) The Loch Ness Investigation. Report

James, D. (1966) The Loch Ness Investigation. Annual Report

James, D. (1967) The Loch Ness Investigation. Annual Report

James, D. (1968) The Loch Ness Investigation. Annual Report

James, D. (1969) The Loch Ness Investigation. Annual Report 

Strategies of Evasion  

By 1967 it was clear that something was wrong. The war of attrition against the law of averages seemed lost, yet the sightings record was undiminished. In human terms, the evidence for unusual creatures in the loch was overwhelming, yet photographic surveillance on the most massive and protracted scale could not produce verification.

The same could be said over thirty years later. Categories of sighting reports were now recognised. Peter Baker's lesson about the multi-humped sightings was slowly relearned. Among the middle ranks of the technical staff, there was a growing objectivity born of their growing experience of the loch's power to deceive. People like Dick Raynor, who had taken the LNI's best film and Rip Hepple, who would circulate a newsletter for thirty years after its demise, were now experts at sighting diagnosis.

The American Roy Mackal had become Scientific Director of the LNI and now began to turn toward underwater techniques including hydrophones, sonar, and despite the peat stained water, photography. In one way, this was an evasion of the basic question of eyewitness verification but it was seen as more direct and perhaps more active. General scientific work under Bob Love was introduced, perhaps a tacit admission that the loch's capacity to support unusual creatures should not be taken for granted. In an attempt to avoid the problems of scale, expeditions to small Irish loughs with similar traditions, began in 1968. Finally, a spectacular report from Loch Morar, which was known to have a Monster tradition, resulted in the formation of a new group, The Loch Morar Survey. Loch Morar was only half the length of Loch Ness though logistics would be found much more difficult through the lack of roads. Another difference, not exploited until 1974 was the relative clarity of Loch Morar's water. Morar was to become the focus of British effort during the decade of underwater photography in the 1970s. 

1968 August
Birmingham University, working with the LNI, monitor an advanced sonar fixed to the shore and beaming out into the loch. They record a huge contact, apparently rising from the loch bed.  

Braithwaite, H. (1968). Sonar picks up stirrings in Loch Ness. New Scientist, (19th Dec. 1968) 40 : 664 - 666 

However, further work was to warn of the refraction problems caused by temperature layers in the water column. 

Tucker, D.G. and Creasey, D.J. (1970). Some sonar observations in Loch Ness. Proceedings of the Challenger Society, 4 : 91-92. 

The actual extent of temperature effects on sonar was addressed by 

Shine, A.J. and Martin, D.S. (1988) Loch Ness Habitats Observed by Sonar and Underwater Television. Scottish Naturalist 105:111-199.

(see pages 119-136 and 171-173) 

1970
The Loch Ness Investigation's largest expedition uses moored hydrophone stations underwater cameras and sonar.  

Mackal. R. P. (1976) The Monsters of Loch Ness. Chicago: Swallow. London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1976 

Tim Dinsdale has now joined the LNI as director of surface photography and with Dick Raynor keeps the camera batteries running to the end. The end will not be far. 

1970
The "Loch Morar Survey" begins three years of work and establish that this, the deepest Scottish loch, also has a monster tradition. Though they maintain the traditional camera sites, they incorporate from the outset, a strong team of freshwater scientists to examine the biological possibilities. 

Campbell, E.M. and Solomon, D. (1970) Loch Morar Survey. Report 

Campbell, E.M. and Solomon, D. (1971) Loch Morar Survey. Report 

Campbell, E.M. and Solomon, D. (1972) Loch Morar Survey. Report 

Campbell, E.M. and Solomon, D. (1972) The Search for Morag. London: Tom Stacey 

1972
After ten years, the camera batteries at Lochs Ness and Morar are dismantled. The passive surface vigil is over. The Achnahannet headquarters "long lens" is now in retirement at the Loch Ness 2000 exhibition. Individual vigils continue. 

A Direct Assault  

1972 8th August
There are new faces at Loch Ness. At 1.45am, an underwater camera deployed by "The Academy of Applied Science", under the leadership of Robert Rines, takes what became known as "the flipper photograph". After computer enhancement the picture is published and does look like a flipper. In 1975, prompted by concerns for conservation, Rines and Sir Peter Scott take the controversial step of naming the monster "Nessiteras Rhombopteryx"; The Diamond Finned Wonder of Loch Ness. 

Rines, R.H., Wyckoff, C.W., Edgerton, H.E. and Klein, M. (1976). Search for the Loch Ness Monster. Technology Review, March/April 1976 : 25 - 40 

There will be controversy over whether the pictures are published as originally enhanced, or whether magazine editors retouched them. 

Razdan, R. and Kielar, A. (1984) Sonar and photographic searches for the Loch Ness Monster: a reassessment . Skeptical Inquirer, 9(2): 147-158 

Later attempts to reproduce the flipper image by enhancement of the original would fail. The dark peat stained water of Loch Ness proves the real culprit, making clear photography very difficult. 

1974
Adrian Shine's "Loch Morar Expeditions" commence, exploiting the clear water here, in contrast to the dark water of Loch Ness. Some of the Loch Morar Survey sighting reports suggested large shapes moving close inshore. The expeditions use an underwater camera hide called "Machan" which was baited to attract fish and submerged to 10m on the rocky ledges of the shoreline. A crouched observer looks upward, waiting for a huge shadow against the surface brightness. Speculation is turning towards benthic fish, such as sturgeon or catfish, as candidates. 

1975
At Loch Morar, the submersible "Machan" is joined by "Pequod" a small surface vessel designed with a transparent dome for an underwater search for unusual bones. Over 200 miles of shoreline are examined. The original Machan and a model of Pequod are now in the underwater hall of Loch Ness 2000. 

Shine, A.J. (1975) Loch Morar Expedition. Report 

Also, a safer method of monitoring is introduced; underwater television. The T.V. camera was mounted on the loch bed pointing upwards, to reveal the full profile, in silhouette, of any animal swimming above. The method will be tried exhaustively in 1976. 

1975
The Academy of Applied Science obtained a series of underwater pictures using time lapse photography. Some believe the pictures include a plesiosaur and an ugly "gargoyle head". At the time it was believed that the camera was in mid water, too far above the loch bed for any confusion. 

Rines, R.H., Wyckoff, C.W., Edgerton, H.E. and Klein, M. (1976). Search for the Loch Ness Monster. Technology Review, March/April 1976 : 25 - 40 

It has since been discovered, that the camera mooring was in shallow enough water for pictures of debris on the loch bed to be taken. In 1987 as part of Operation Deepscan a sunken tree stump was recovered from beneath the mooring position, which bears some resemblance to the gargoyle head picture. 

Shine, A.J. and Martin, D.S. (1988) Loch Ness Habitats Observed by Sonar and Underwater Television. Scottish Naturalist 105:111-199.

(See pages 167-170) 

1976
The Loch Morar Expedition deploys its "silhouette camera" for over a month. Because the images are moving, they are seen in context, so there are no mistakes. 

Shine, A.J. (1976) Loch Morar Expedition. Report
At Loch Ness, the Academy's cameras are placed beneath a securely anchored raft. There is no longer any possibility of photographing the loch bed.  

Klein, M. and Finklelstein, C. (1976). Sonar serendipity in Loch Ness. Technology Review, Dec. 1976 : 44 -57 

The National Geographic Society also places cameras in ambush. At both lochs, the vigils are un-rewarded. 

Ellis, W.S. (1977) Loch Ness - The Lake and the Legend. National Geographic, June: 758-79 

The Indirect Approach 

The underwater photography era is over and thoughts are turning towards the enigmatic sonar contacts that have been made from time to time. By 1979 the "Loch Morar Expedition" has, with the encouragement of David James, become "The Loch Ness and Morar Project" to work at both lochs and turns to an active study of the environment, in order to place the mystery in context. The Loch Ness Investigation Bureau is wound up, transferring its material and finances to the new Project. The LNI directors Norman Collins, David James and Sir Peter Scott become Project patrons.  From now on, the investigators themselves would have to become proficient naturalists, photo and sonar interpreters but above everything, experts on the loch itself.

Shine, A.J. (1980) Loch Ness & Morar Project. Report  

1978 10th August
The Loch Ness and Morar Project finds an unexpected variety of invertebrate animals 300m deep in the abyss at Loch Morar. It was once thought that there was little life here. Some of the species are Ice Age "relicts" which find refuge in the cold water at these depths. The Project will find a similar community of animals at 200m in Loch Ness. Here, there are even some fish, Arctic charr and lampreys. 

Martin, D.S., Shine, A.J. and Duncan, A. (1993) The Profundal Fauna of Loch Ness and Loch Morar. Scottish Naturalist 105 : 113-136. 

Shine, A.J. (1983) Loch Ness & Morar Project. Report 

Shine, A.J. (1983) The Biology of Loch Ness. New Scientist 17th Feb. 

Shine, A.J. and Martin, D.S. (1988) Loch Ness Habitats Observed by Sonar and Underwater Television. Scottish Naturalist 105:111-199. 

1981 Summer
The "Loch Ness and Morar Project" completes a special sonar patrol vessel, a 40ft catamaran based on inflatable "sponsons". Called the "John Murray" this vessel is built on a beach and will be run 24hrs a day in silent patrols along the length of the loch. The beginning of truly systematic assessment of unusual sonar contacts begins. Underwater television establishes that there are fish (Arctic charr) living on the loch bed at 220m. One day the "John Murray" will be reassembled at Drumnadrochit, where part of the Loch Ness 2000 Exhibition will have to be built around it! 

1982 Summer
The Loch Ness Project records 1500hrs of patrols using scanning sonar, like an underwater radar. It becomes clear that illusions can occur underwater as well as on the surface. Rules are established to assess contacts. Forty contacts of exceptional strength and depth were recorded. Sometimes they seemed to move.  

Shine, A.J. (1983) Loch Ness & Morar Project. Report 

For the remainder of the eighties, the Project refines sonar analysis. 

Shine, A.J. and Martin, D.S. (1988) Loch Ness Habitats Observed by Sonar and Underwater Television. Scottish Naturalist 105:111-199.

1982
Jennifer Bruce saw no monster when she took a photo of the castle but when developed, it showed a sinuous head and neck. She had not noticed the seagull flying by! 

1983
The fiftieth anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster. Ronald Binns was once a member of the Loch Ness Investigation but his book takes a decidedly sceptical line.

Binns, R. (1983) The Loch Ness Mystery Solved. Shepton Mallet (Somerset) : Open Books. 

1984 July
The Loch Ness Project establishes a fixed sonar station in the centre of the southern basin in 170m of water. "The Monitor" is a raft on a four point mooring involving nearly 2km of rope! This allowed the scanning sonar to make more accurate plots of target movements. However, the strongest contacts ceased.

1984 September
Steven Whittle, supported by Vladivar Vodka attempts to trap the Loch Ness Monster in a 60ft by 20ft cage. He intends to release it after photography.  

1985
The Loch Ness Project establishes that the largest sonar contacts in the loch are caused by huge underwater waves and draws attention to the effects of these upon objects floating on the surface. These waves were described by Dr Steve Thorpe in 1972, and take place along the thermocline, which is the boundary between the dense cold deep water and the lighter warmer water floating on top. In the summer, the warmer water can be blown to the northern end of the loch by the prevailing south-west wind, tilting the thermocline in that direction. As the wind drops, the warm water flows back and forth for some weeks. When this happens, objects on the surface such as logs can be borne along against the wind looking just like swimming animals. Underwater, huge waves form on the thermocline. The one measured in 1985 was 40m high. They are invisible at the surface but make gigantic sonar traces. This is probably what caused the strange contacts made by Birmingham University in 1968.

(There is a graphic laser presentation in the sonar patrol section of the Loch Ness 2000 Exhibition)

Shine, A.J. and Martin, D.S. (1988) Loch Ness Habitats Observed by Sonar and Underwater Television. Scottish Naturalist 105:111-199.
(For extent of sonar reflections see pages 171-173. For effects on floating objects with relevance to monster sightings see page 170)

1986
Another sceptical book appears. Stewart Campbell proposes alternative explanations for the sightings record and other evidence.  

Campbell, S., (1986) The Loch Ness Monster, The Evidence. The Aquarian Press, rev. ed. 1991, Aberdeen University Press  

1986
The Project uses Simrad underwater television to explore Loch Ness habitats. 

Shine, A.J. and Martin, D.S. (1988) Loch Ness Habitats Observed by Sonar and Underwater Television. Scottish Naturalist 105:111-199. 

1987 July
A symposium on The Loch Ness Monster is hosted by the International Society of Cryptozoology and the Society for the History of Natural History. The symposium, at the Royal Museum of Scotland has contributions from; Richard Fitter, Roy Mackal, Henry Bauer, Paul LeBlond, Adrian Shine, Robert Rines and Tim Dinsdale.  

1987 October
The Loch Ness Project's, "Operation Deepscan" draws a "sonar curtain" along the loch. Twenty vessels were equipped with Lowrance echo sounders and formed a slow moving line. When interesting contacts were made, a follow up flotilla moved up to plot the positions. By revisiting these positions, it was possible to see whether the objects had moved or whether they were buoyant debris, tethered in some way to the loch bed. Most contacts were fixed but three had disappeared, not 10m monsters but apparently stronger than fish echoes and lying much deeper in the water column. They are still unexplained, though one possibility is that they were caused by some form of unrecognised interference between the sounders. It could also be that some strong deepwater contacts could be seals, which are now known to visit the Loch Ness almost every year. The loch has been swept for misleading contacts. It has also been swept clear for science! A general scientific understanding of the environment will shine unexpected lights into the controversy.  

Shine, A.J. and Martin, D.S. (1988) Loch Ness Habitats Observed by Sonar and Underwater Television. Scottish Naturalist 105:111-199.

(See pages 185-192)

1988-91
Operation Echo is a follow up and is a collaboration between The Loch Ness Project and Simrad, whose demonstration vessel "Simson Echo" examined the fixed contacts found by Operation Deepscan. A Sutec "Sea Owl" remote operated vehicle is used.

Many other exercises are undertaken, including the first quantitative acoustic estimates of the fish population. 

1990 Summer
The Loch Ness Project experiments with eyewitnesses. Volunteers are asked to observe and sketch an object surfacing. The results are interesting!  

Shine, A.J. (1993) Postscript: Surgeon or Sturgeon? Scottish Naturalist 105 : 271-282.
(Page 277) 

A fixed station is established in the centre of the loch. It is used by visiting university research groups collaborating with the Project. 

Shine, A.J., Minshull, R.J. and Shine, M.M. (1993) Historical background and Introduction to the Recent Work of The Loch Ness and Morar Project. Scottish Naturalist 105:7-22. 

1993
The Loch Ness Project completes sampling for a three-year study of Loch Ness food chains by Lancaster University. The Project also publishes a series of papers in the Scottish Naturalist. 

One of the more interesting findings, is that there are only about 20 tonnes of fish available as food for anything larger. There shouldn't be more than 2 tonnes of monster population, which is less than it sounds. 

Shine, A.J., Martin, D.S. and Marjoram, R.S. (1993) Spatial Distribution and Diurnal Migration of the Pelagic Fish and Zooplankton in Loch Ness. Scottish Naturalist 105:195-235. 

Shine, A.J. (1993) Postscript: Surgeon or Sturgeon? Scottish Naturalist 105 : 271-282.
(Pages 271-2)

1992-3
Nicholas Witchell's expedition, Project Urquhart, involving the Natural History Museum and the Fresh Water Biological Association finds even less fish (1.2 tonnes). 

Bean, C.W., Winfield, I.J. and Fletcher, J.M. (1996) Stock assessment of the Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) population in Loch Ness, U.K. Stock Assessment in Inland Fisheries (Ed. I. G. Cowx), Fishing News Books, Oxford: Blackwell, Scientific Publications, pp. 206-223 

Witchell, N. (1993) The Scientific Exploration of Loch Ness. (Project Urquhart Report) 

They report that the quantity of open water fish is "incapable of supporting a population of predators". However, they have found areas off river mouths where echo sounding suggests very high numbers of fish. Subsequently these are recognised as methane gas bubbles rising from decaying vegetation.

See also 

Shine, A.J. and Martin, D.S. (1988) Loch Ness Habitats Observed by Sonar and Underwater Television. Scottish Naturalist 105:111-199.
(Pages 166-167)

and 

Shine, A.J. (1993) Postscript: Surgeon or Sturgeon? Scottish Naturalist 105 : 271-282.
(Page 281) 

In an address to the Royal Geographical Society the next year, Prof. Gwynfryn Jones of Project Urquhart will dismiss the possibility of large predators on the basis of the loch's food resource and in 2000, Nicholas Witchell will announce that he doesn't believe there is a monster in Loch Ness.

1993 December
Things have come a long way. The huge multi-humped sightings have been explained. Long necked sightings are often water birds or swimming deer. A host of illusions above and below the water have now been analysed in detail. It has just been shown that the loch cannot support a resident population of very large predators. Yet elements of the sighting record are still compelling, particularly close encounters before the sensation of 1933.

Roy Mackal, in America was tackling a similar dilemma, not only regarding Loch Ness, but also sightings in some North American river systems. He suggests something related to an extinct primitive whale Zeuglodon cetoides which had a serpentine form and could be migratory in behaviour.

In the Scottish Naturalist, Adrian Shine proposes a way that both sides can be almost right. Early stories of strange fish and perhaps even the water horse tradition could conceivably have some foundation in fact, irrespective of the food resources in the loch. Very rarely, sturgeon have entered British rivers to spawn. These huge reptilian looking fish can grow to more than 3m long and would cease feeding before entering freshwater. They have never been known to breed in Britain. Therefore, any sturgeon entering the loch would spend a lonely vigil off one of the rivers before returning to the sea, leaving no trace save an enigma. The native Atlantic sturgeon is now almost extinct, so it would be an unlikely candidate for contemporary sightings but in terms of the late nineteenth century "strange fish" it may have something to offer. In 1934, Gould had found the sturgeon idea quite attractive in terms of a real creature being responsible for the phenomenon but it clearly didn't explain many of the sighting reports, especially the long necked plesiosaur stereotype. But did it have to?

(There is a Siberian sturgeon, which is a smaller species, in the lochan by Loch Ness 2000. It was used in an experiment to see how people reacted to it. Some thought it shark like, others like a crocodile.)  

Shine, A.J. (1993) Postscript: Surgeon or Sturgeon? Scottish Naturalist 105 : 271-282. 

1994 April
The famous long necked icon of 1934, the "Surgeon's Photograph", is exposed as a hoax. In a collaboration between the Loch Ness Centre (now Loch Ness 2000), David Martin of the Loch Ness Project and the sightings expert Alistair Boyd, a detective story unfolded which was to rival the affair of the Piltdown Man. The photograph showed a model constructed by the Wetherell family of hippo foot fame. The surgeon, Kenneth Wilson, was a stooge. He had actually confessed as much, at least twice but Nessie authors ignored him.  

Martin, D. and Boyd, A. (1999) Nessie : The Surgeon's Photograph Exposed. London : Martin & Boyd 

1994
The ROSETTA Project drives 6m sediment cores through the whole span of human civilisation, into the clays left by the melting ice. The whole history of the loch is there, like an open book. There is no sign of marine diatoms, which indicates that the sea could not have entered Loch Ness at the end of the last Ice Age. (The ROSETTA corer is now in the Loch Ness 2000 Exhibition.) 

Cooper, M.C., O'Sullivan, P.E., Harkness, D.D., Lawson, E.M., Bull, D., Kemp, A.E.S., Peglar, S.M., Matthews, N.M., Jones, R.I. and Shine, A.J. (1998) 14C Dating of laminated sediments from Loch Ness, Scotland. Radiocarbon, Vol 40, No2 : 781-793. 

1997
The Loch Ness Project, in collaboration with Simrad, use colour TV cameras to re-explore the loch's habitats all the way down to 230m. The footage will be used in a new exhibition being prepared at Drumnadrochit. (Loch Ness 2000) 

2000
In return for the Exhibition Centre's continuing support, the Loch Ness Project draw together the findings and original artefacts from the years of controversy.
Written and designed by the Project leader Adrian Shine, the "Loch Ness 2000 Exhibition" is opened by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. This radical investigation brings the mystery up to date, examining the monster question by exploring the loch itself.


Copyright Adrian Shine 2000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loch Ness Authors, Books and Timeline Events Index