Monday, August 31, 2009

In Search Of... The Loch Ness Monster

That's the famous "Surgeon's Photo" of the Loch Ness Monster. It was supposedly taken by a London gynaecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson, and was first published in London's "Daily Mail" newspaper on 21 April 1934.

In 1994, a death bed confession by a man named Christian Spurling revealed that it had been a hoax all along: merely a toy submarine with a sculpted plastic head attached. Spurling was the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell, a big game hunter who had been publicly ridiculed in the "Daily Mail." Spurling claimed that, to get revenge against that newspaper, Wetherell committed the hoax, with the help of Spurling and a few others. One of the co-conspirators asked a friend, doctor Robert Kenneth Wilson (who was otherwise uninvolved), to offer the picture to the "Daily Mail," his esteemed profession presumably giving the photo more credibility.
I was a firm believer in the existence of the Loch Ness Monster as a child in the 1970s. So I was more than a little deflated by this highly publicized 1994 confession. But all I had invested in it was a few hours watching various television documentaries over the years. That photo really was, quite literally, the face that launched a thousand ships, however. Imagine how all of those wealthy industrialists, academic institutions and esteemed scientists felt who had financed, or lent their good names and professional credibility to, the thousands and thousands of hours of sonar scans that had been conducted on the loch over the subsequent decades?
Perhaps they might have wished that they could go back in time, to a less cynical age. Perhaps to July 1977 when Leonard Nimoy went "In Search of...." the Loch Ness Monster. ("Few of the mysteries we will examine in this series are as compelling as the accounts of an unknown beast which lives in a picturesque Scottish lake.") The first part of this episode is embedded below. Interestingly, the last few minutes of this episode focusses on a National Geographic investigation conducted in 1976, which was being led by a young Bob Ballard, the pioneering deep sea oceanographer who, nine years later, became world famous for finding the wreck of the Titanic.

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