The biggest hunt in decades takes place in Scotland

Aug 28, 2023 at 8:59 am EDT

By Matt Bradley and Bill O’Reilly

LOCH NESS, Scotland – The legend of the Loch Ness Monster has captivated generations of curious minds. This weekend, 90 years after its first modern sighting, enthusiasts once again flocked to this picturesque lake in a quiet corner of the Scottish Highlands in hopes of turning the myth into reality.

The organizers described the past weekend as the largest organized “Nessie” hunt in 50 years.

And the hunters arrived armed with high-tech help: sonars to map the bottom of the lake, thermal imaging drones to scan the surface, and hydrophones to hear strange sounds from below.

The events were even open to the world public – hundreds were invited to a live stream of the water’s surface to attract even more eyes to the quest.

A group of visitors from Inverness take a tour on the Loch Ness Project Research Vessel to search for the famous monster.Emily Macinnes for NBC News

But for all the machinery and extra manpower, the gathering at Loch Ness was as much about reviving ancient lore as it was about clarifying hard science. Organizers said they planned the weekend to spark interest in the legend from a new generation of Nessie hunters.

“It’s about inspiration,” said Alan McKenna, director of Loch Ness Exploration, an independent research group based on the loch’s shores, which planned the event as a sort of call for volunteers. “For very selfish reasons, I do not want the mystery of Loch Ness or interest in Loch Ness itself to diminish in any way.”

Those “selfish” reasons don’t include a commercial motive, McKenna said, adding that he’s also an unpaid volunteer. Although the legend could bring in up to £41million (about US$52million) to the Scottish economy each year, enthusiasts like McKenna say it is, according to a 2018 study published by Scottish newspaper Press and Journal the quest is really all about having fun and keeping the faith and exploring the great outdoors.

like the surface of a lake, the Loch Ness The legend seems to reflect the hopes of those who look at it.

“I think she has babies and is taking care of them right now,” said Alba Sydow, 8, as she surveyed the lake with her parents from the Deepscan, one of the organizers’ search boats. “So that’s why she’s hiding from us.”

Alba’s father, Malcolm Begg, 47, a drug company employee, had his own remarkably specific ideas about the monster.

“I think it’s like a Diplodocus with fins,” he said, referring to a Jurassic-era dinosaur. At the same time, he lamented that most images of the monster were too grainy to discern a definitive form.

The bow of the Loch Ness Project Research Vessel.Emily Macinnes for NBC News

The focus of the two day event was at the Loch Ness Centre, which organized the event in partnership with Loch Ness Exploration, a volunteer research team. The recently renovated center is housed in a former hotel where Aldie Mackay, a hotel employee, sighted a “monster” or “whale-like fish” in 1933, the first modern “sighting” of the monster that started the global phenomenon.

But the legend goes back to seventh-century writings in which an Irish monk reported encountering an “aquatic beast” that mauled a swimmer.

Nessie has been so popular for so long that her myth can sometimes feed itself (if you imagine the monster as female, like Alba).

Alistair Matheson, captain of the Loch Ness Centre’s deepscan search boat, which searched the loch with volunteer searchers like Alba, revealed how the boat’s sonar technology had recently spotted the perfect outline of a giant Nessie-shaped monster.

But the figure on Matheson’s radar screen turned out to be a sunken model of Nessie, made for a movie about the monster and then abandoned at the bottom of the lake.

Scanning technology on the Loch Ness Project research vessel tracks the depths and contours of the loch. Emily Macinnes for NBC News

Even the Loch Ness Center’s logo – the instantly recognizable image of a species of humpback eel sailing through the waves on the loch’s surface – comes from a blurry black and white photo taken in 1934 that was later found to be a fake.

Still, Matheson describes himself as a “believer,” though he envisions the monster as “something of this earth or something more realistic” as some sort of ancient, extraterrestrial, or supernatural being. Scientists have speculated that the sightings could be giant catfish or giant eels.

But without emptying the entire lake, Matheson said, nothing will ever truly disprove a legend that has become a matter of belief for so many.

“People come here, they’re desperate, they’re looking, they’re looking,” he said. “And they really, really want to hope that there’s something that we humans, you know, we think we can, to some extent, know everything about.”

The weekend in the Scottish Highlands attracted some for whom Nessie is more of a calling than a hobby.

Ken Gerhard, an American cryptozoologist who researches and writes about “beasts” like Bigfoot, Chupacabra and Mothman that live on the fringes of our known reality, traveled to Scotland from the US specifically for the event.

“I’m 90% convinced they exist,” said Gerhard, who also seemed to believe in the monster’s femininity. “I’ve never had a sighting or observation, but if you dig into the evidence you have over a thousand good sightings that are very consistent.”

Nessie figurines outside a gift shop in Drumnadrochit. Emily Macinnes for NBC News

Beyond the shaky photographic “evidence,” the main argument of believers for Nessie’s existence is that the lake’s immense size and dark, peaty water make it impossible to rule out the existence of even a large creature.

Several volunteers mentioned that Loch Ness contains more water than all the lochs in England and Wales combined.

In fact, McKenna said they heard some “fantastic bizarre” noises on Friday, but unfortunately the recorder wasn’t connected.

“It’s entirely possible that gas will come out of the bottom of the hole,” he said. “It could be an animal.”

“Of course it could be the elusive Loch Ness Monster,” he added.

So if Everyone present expected a revelation this weekend and went home disappointed.

Nobody found the monster – but maybe that was never the point.

For many, this has been a pilgrimage of faith – a sort of response to the high-tech dictates of hard fact that have left us so little room for magic and mystery.

“I think there’s always going to be a little part of me that wants to believe,” said Craig Whitefield, 29, a medical officer from Scotland who spent the weekend scanning the lake’s surface with binoculars.

Like other volunteers, Whitefield said that only draining one of the world’s largest lakes and checking every nook and cranny of the lake bottom would satisfy his curiosity.

“It’s the same with every legend out there,” he said. “It only takes one person to believe and it just keeps going.”


Show More

Amanda Walker

Global events enthusiast. Reporting with a critical lens to offer readers a deeper perspective.

Read Next

Back to top button