Written by Daniel Victor (NY Times)
After many decades of folklore and research, the Loch Ness monster has finally been found by an underwater drone.
O.K., it was just a movie prop version of the fabled sea serpent that sank to the bottom of the Scottish lake in 1969 discovered by researchers hunting for Nessie’s lair. But still, that’s also pretty cool.
Researchers found the 30-foot prop, made for the 1970 Billy Wilder film “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,” 180 meters down on the bed of the lake in April. It had sunk during production in 1969 and a new Nessie was created for the film, which starred Christopher Lee and Robert Stephens.
It was not, to the disappointment of believers, the actual sea creature of legend that has attracted hordes of tourists to Scotland since its first sighting in 1933. Though its existence is largely considered to be a myth, over 1,000 people claim to have personally seen it, according to Adrian Shine, the lead researcher at the Loch Ness Project.
Researchers from Kongsberg Maritime sent the robot underwater to previously unreached territory in search of “Nessie’s Trench,” a crevice that a tour boat operator claimed to have found in January. Maybe, just maybe, that was the hide-out of the elusive sea serpent?
Nope. The marine drone, with its sonar-imaging technology that is otherwise used in searches for downed aircraft and ships, did not find an anomaly or abyss in the area thought to contain the trench, but it did happen upon the old movie prop.
“Nessie’s Lair didn’t exist,” Mr. Shine said in a phone interview. “The Loch Ness Monster, kind of, did.”
The water has largely been searched with no sign of a dinosaurlike creature, but Mr. Shine said there’s always more work to be done. His research, named Operation Groundtruth, has pivoted from investigating the water to investigating the observer, studying human perception and whether we should believe what we see with our own eyes.
He doesn’t believe in the monster, he said. But he and many others remain fascinated by the question of what “1,000 sober and honest people” could be thinking or seeing when they claim to spot large animals in the water.
“It’s because we want it to be true,” Mr. Shine said. “All of us, even skeptics like me, I’m still trying to find out what people are seeing.”
Real or not, the legend has long been a tourist draw. VisitScotland, a tourism agency that supported the search project, said Nessie is worth about $85 million to the Scottish economy. It’s been that way for a long time.
“Some time ago it was estimated that a desire on the part of curious tourists to interview ‘the monster’ had put £5,000 into the pockets of thrifty tradesmen,” The New York Times reported in an earnest dispatch from 1933.
“The question is not whether some vast legendary creature, 500 feet long, is roaming over the high seas like the snakes that strangled Laocoön and his sons,” the report continued. “It is whether a species or more than one species of marine creature, say fifty feet in length, rare but actual, still inhabits the ocean.”