A gathering of amateur sleuths at Scotland’s Loch Ness over the last weekend of August failed to capture any direct evidence of the fabled cryptid that supposedly dwells in its waters, but it did reveal one thing: Just how many people are invested in Nessie’s existence.
The “quest” was the largest Loch Ness monster hunting expedition in half a century, according to the Loch Ness Centre, which co-organized the event alongside Loch Ness Exploration, a volunteer research organization.
Participants employed tools that weren’t before used to search for Nessie, including thermal-imaging drones and a hydrophone, which is designed to pick up underwater sounds, according to the Loch Ness Centre. People were also invited to tune in via livestream and look for any signs of the creature by watching feeds from webcams trained on the loch.
According to organizers, some notable observations from the weekend included “four mysterious and previously unheard loud noises from the depths of the loch,” and a “giant shadow” moving just beneath the surface spotted on camera.
“We know the monster is elusive, so it is not surprising we don’t have a concrete sighting, but we’ve all had lots of fun and proven the mystery lives on. As for what happens next, watch this space,” Alan McKenna, who’s affiliated with Loch Ness Exploration, said in a statement.
The earliest known report of a Nessie sighting came in the 6th century. It was recorded in a biography of an Irish priest named St. Columba, who was said to have banished the monster to the loch in the first place. In the many centuries since, the mythical creature has continued to capture the imagination of believers who remain convinced that some type of being really does lurk beneath the loch’s surface.
Loch Ness holds the largest volume of freshwater in the United Kingdom — more than every lake in England and Wales combined, Jason Gilchrist, an ecologist at Edinburgh Napier University, told the PBS NewsHour via email.
Gilchrist wrote in 2019 about a study that examined e-DNA — trace amounts of DNA shed by organisms in their environment — in the loch. The analysis revealed information about the types of creatures that call it home, and ruled out the presence of any huge or prehistoric animals. But the study did identify plenty of eels. Researchers cheekily noted in news reports at the time that they couldn’t reject the possibility of Nessie being a giant eel, although there’s no evidence that scientifically supports that theory.
So why does the Loch Ness monster myth live on? Reasonable explanations behind sightings of the beast range from hoaxes, to tricks of the eye, to “expectant attention,” which Gilchrist noted happens when people essentially convince themselves that they’ve seen what they wanted to see. It doesn’t hurt that there’s lasting appeal for the tourism industry, too.
“I think that there is an enduring interest in many cryptids (Bigfoot, Mokele-mbembe, Abominable Snowman), and I think the history, and mystery, are self-perpetuating,” Gilchrist said. “People want to see/find something rare and/or special — it’s a part of human nature.”