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LNIB In the 1960s a group of dedicated amateurs formed the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau to keep a constant vigil on the loch.
Birth of a Legend
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In the 1950s, a local doctor named Constance Whyte began collecting these eyewitness accounts, along with sketches of what the people had seen, finally publishing them in 1957 as a book entitled More Than a Legend. Noting that many of her friends had been subjected to ridicule and contempt, Whyte said her goal in writing the book was "the vindication of many people of integrity who had reported honestly what they had seen in Loch Ness." (To hear recent personal anecdotes, see Eyewitness Accounts.)

Whyte's book inspired a new generation of monster hunters, including Tim Dinsdale, who on his first visit to the loch in 1960 took an intriguing film of something moving across the loch—and promptly gave up his career as an aeronautical engineer to devote his life to pursuing the monster. The next year, a group of dedicated amateurs formed the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau, keeping a constant vigil on the loch from an observation post on the northern shore.

Deep Scan Sonar In 1987, Operation Deep Scan, the most ambitious sonar survey of Loch Ness, found three unexplained underwater targets.

But perhaps the most important effect of Whyte's book was to turn the tide of public opinion. Long dismissed as fodder for "silly season" press reports, Nessie was finally considered a subject worthy of serious scientific investigation. In the span of a decade, beginning in 1958, four separate expeditions were launched, first by the BBC, then by three respected British universities: Oxford, Cambridge, and the University of Birmingham. Rather than scanning the surface with binoculars and cameras, as the amateur investigators had, these expeditions came equipped with sonar, a military technology that used sound to search the underwater environment. Though the expeditions found nothing conclusive, in each case the sonar operators detected large, moving underwater objects they could not explain. (To learn how sonar works, see Experiment with Sonar.)

Photo of flipper Taken in 1975, this photograph, which seems to show the flipper of an aquatic creature, helped rekindle interest in the monster.
The use of technology to search the loch reached a new level in the 1970s, when a series of expeditions was sponsored by the Boston-based Academy of Applied Science, whose members included many technically skilled people with ties to MIT. The Academy's approach was to set a trap for the monster by combining sonar and underwater photography for the first time. Under the leadership of Robert Rines, a lawyer trained in physics, the team pointed a sophisticated form of sonar, called side scan sonar, out into Loch Ness from a point near the shore. Nearby they placed an underwater camera taking pictures every 45 seconds as a strobe light illuminated the depths with a bright flash. The system paid off one night in 1975. At the same moment the sonar was registering a large, moving object, the underwater camera was taking pictures of an object that looked, after development and computer enhancement, like the flippers of an aquatic creature.

Rines' discovery won the support of two reputable scientists: Harold "Doc" Edgerton, the legendary MIT scientist who had invented side scan sonar and strobe photography; and Sir Peter Scott, one of Britain's most respected naturalists. With Edgerton and Scott behind him, Rines was given an opportunity to present his evidence at a hearing at the House of Commons in London. Never had the possibility of the Loch Ness Monster been taken so seriously.

Scott This painting by Sir Peter Scott, a respected British naturalist, helped create the popular image of Nessie as an ancient reptile called a plesiosaur.

Almost immediately, however, critics began to raise questions about the evidence. Could the suggestive sonar traces be the result of human error? Had the flipper photos been altered to improve their appearance? Just as damaging to Rines' case was Peter Scott's bold pronouncement about the identity of the creature. Based on the flipper photos and the eyewitness sightings, Scott concluded that Nessie was a plesiosaur, an ancient reptile that was thought to have gone extinct along with the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. The idea was just too far-fetched for professional zoologists to take seriously.

Although zoologists have yet to conduct the full-scale investigation Rines hoped to trigger, the loch continues to yield intriguing sonar hits. In 1987, an expedition called Operation Deep Scan used a flotilla of 20 sonar-equipped boats to sweep the loch with a curtain of sound; the operation yielded three underwater targets that could not be explained. In the early 1990s, the BBC's Nicholas Witchell helped organize Project Urquhart, the first extensive study of the loch's biology and geology. Although they weren't looking for monsters, the expedition's sonar operators detected a large, moving underwater target and followed it for several minutes before losing it. And during the 1997 expedition featured in NOVA's Loch Ness film, Rines and his longtime colleague Charles Wyckoff detected yet another puzzling underwater target. According to the expedition's sonar expert, marine biologist Arne Carr, it was a moving target, appeared to be biological in nature, and was about 15 feet long—the size of a small whale.


Fantastic Creatures | Birth of a Legend
Eyewitness Accounts | Experimenting with Sonar
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