Loch Ness Monster Key to Sightings
A Key to
Loch Ness Monster Sightings

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It is fair to say that no visitor to Loch Ness passes by without some sense of expectation and many would hold that a predisposition to see monsters is, in itself, a sufficient explanation for the controversy surrounding this enigmatic expanse of water. Indeed, it was the subject's first author, Rupert Gould (1934) who discussed what he called "expectant attention". However, it was to be thirty years before sightings phenomena were properly investigated. In some ways this research was to provide verification for some quite bizarre experiences and to confirm that there was indeed something special about Loch Ness.

Bearing the foregoing in mind, perhaps the broadest "sighting" may be,"anything " seen at Loch Ness which the observer does not recognise". Some may seek explanation; others find revelation within the experience. For some, a sighting may be a life-altering event.

There are over a thousand recorded sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. Most fall within the stereotypes of a multi-humped "sea-serpent" and the long-necked "plesiosaur". We owe the record to the collections of authors beginning with Gould himself, followed by Constance Whyte (1957), Tim Dinsdale (1961) and finally to the efforts of organised research, most notably by the Loch Ness Investigation (LNI). By the time the LNI closed down in 1972, after a decade of intensive camera surveillance, the human testimony was overwhelming.

The photographic vigil however, had demonstrated the variety of illusion that the loch was capable of. As photographic coverage increased, the staff became aware of sighting reports, which the expedition observers, with their optical equipment and increasing experience, were able to explain. Raynor (1999).

The volume of eyewitness testimony was still regarded as impressive and indeed, led to the underwater photography decade of the seventies and to some extent, even the sonar decade of the eighties. However, it was now recognised that there were a number of different categories of sighting report and that the monster of popular expectation represented an amalgam of different causes. This helped to focus and rationalise the expectations of the investigators themselves.   In the nineties, the indirect scientific examination of the environment brought this process to a culmination, which even included some field experiments on the psychology of perception (Shine 1993, p277).

The following "Key" does not explain all monster sightings, particularly some of the early "close encounters" but it does represent the known background to investigations in the latter three decades of the 20th century. Visitors to Loch Ness may find it of interest. The pictures are mainly from misleading monsters" section, of the Loch Ness 2000 Exhibition in Drumnadrochit. Further illustrations are from the collection of Richard Carter and other individuals.

We would very much welcome additions to the Key, based on individual experiences and any pictures which may illustrate them. Needless to say, we would be even more interested in sightings which might not be explained in these ways.

Click the links for more on each sighting below.

In any surface conditions the observer takes a photograph of Loch Ness. On processing the film, an object is seen for the first time, often in the form of a head and neck.

In nearly calm conditions, one or more dark changing shapes are seen on the surface of the water.

In a facing cross loch wind, which does not often create large waves, even if quite strong; one or more solid humps break surface, and head towards the observer leaving a broad wash. The hump then submerges and the wash subsides.

In a strong and usually cross loch wind, where waves are only evident towards the shore opposite to the one from which the wind is blowing, a violent water disturbance is seen. Spray is thrown high into the air before the disturbance subsides.

In windy conditions, particularly after the rivers have been in spate, a series of dark, possibly irregular objects, are seen in line within a streak of foam, which might appear as a wake.

The observer sees an object for in excess of 30min. It is not generally seen to surface. It is sometimes initially thought to be a log or other debris but is then seen to behave in an unexpected manner with regard to the wind. It might move in a calm, maintain its position in spite of the wind and waves, move at some angle to the wind, change direction or even move directly against the wind. There is seldom a wake. After the initial excitement, the observer often loses interest and moves on, since the object does not submerge.

While driving along the loch, a dark hump is seen fairly close inshore and is then obscured. When the view clears, the object has gone.

It may partially submerge as it enters the dark reflection of the opposite shore. A rhythmic splashing may be seen at the forward end.
A fast moving and very large plume of spray is seen at long range. Only recorded from the mid eighties.

In calm weather, a series of massive humps are seen; from one to many. There may be nothing to see in front or behind. The humps may move with an undulating motion or not and may submerge. Spray may be seen at the sides. A wash may break on the shore. Usually there is no boat in sight.

In calm weather a dark hump is seen, staying for a while in one place, sometimes with a cycling or rotational motion. It may move off and submerge.

A pillar like object shoots up to a height of at least 2ms. and immediately submerges. Usually seen from a boat or close to the shore but in calm weather it may be seen from any height.

In calm weather, a neck about 1.5ms. high, sometimes with a hump, moves and submerges. It may resurface. It may be observed through binoculars, which may well strengthen the judgement of height.

In calm weather, a head and neck, followed at some distance by a variably shaped hump is seen. Sometimes it proceeds in spurts, leaving a wake. This is usually seen at quite long range from a low observation point but may be nearer if the observer is high up.

In calm weather, a narrow V wash develops, with or without a dark object being seen. It moves rapidly with spray and commotion before submerging.

A very fast moving series of dark shapes, humps or coils are seen, generally moving along the length of the loch. No wash is seen.

A large, dark hump is seen on the surface which persists even when waves are present. It slowly changes shape. It may disappear into the dark reflection of the opposite shore.

A large head or hump emerges at quite close range. It is clearly an animal, sometimes with a fish in its mouth. A few seagulls often accompany it. It may be described as "seal like"

A head and neck is seen. There are two short horns on the head. 

A series of very sinuous humps are seen, with very tight coils. Sometimes a head and neck appears.

A few very white and luminous humps are seen towards the shore opposite. There is a house across the water.

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