Marine Biology: Clue to the Loch Ness Monster

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December weather is cold and blustery around Scotland's Loch Ness, so the story could hardly have been concocted to draw tourists. Even more remarkable, it was written by capable scientists and published in the respectable British journal, New Scientist. Thus it was hard to scoff last week at the latest monster tale. This time, after centuries of myth, speculation and hoax, there was apparently scientific evidence that some kind of large creature—or creatures—may indeed roam the depths of Loch Ness.

Sonar Search. The startling observation was made by a University of Birmingham team armed with a modern monster detector: sophisticated sonar equipment. Setting up operations on a Loch Ness pier, the scientists projected a beam of high-frequency sound waves through the water. During one 13-min. period, the sonar echoes defined large moving objects that Birmingham Electrical Engineer D. Gordon Tucker says were "clearly" made by animals.

Moving through the water at speeds as high as 17 m.p.h. and diving at a rate of 450 ft. per min., an object that could have been "several meters" in length traced a clear pattern on the sonar screen. Two other large bodies, moving more slowly, were also detected. "The high rate of ascent and descent," Tucker says, "makes it seem very unlikely that they are fish."

The sonar evidence gives new life to the Loch Ness legend, which has been tracked back as far as a 6th century biography of St. Columba. The work attributes "the driving away of a certain water monster by prayer" to the holy man, who was walking near the lake.

"Nessie," as local inhabitants call the monster, has been on the scene ever since. According to legend, it has killed one man and has been seen swimming on the surface, sunbathing on land and even crossing a nearby highway. Footprints on the muddy banks were later found to have been made by a hoaxer using a stuffed hippopotamus foot.

Since 1962, an organization named The Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau Ltd. has been analyzing all monster sightings. Its volunteer members have shot pictures of monsterlike objects from seven lakeside camera stations. The most famous Loch Ness photograph, taken by a touring surgeon in 1934, shows a long-necked creature making waves in the lake.

Engineer Tucker cautiously avoids the claim that his sonar echoes are conclusive proof of Nessie's existence. He hopes to make further investigations with more refined equipment. Meanwhile, he admits, "it is a temptation to suppose the echoes must be the fabulous Loch Ness monsters."