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Inverness

The Loch Ness Monster: A Short History

A timeline of Nessie's life, loves and sightings. reports.
Sarah Bruce
A picture of Loch Ness with a sign at the edge saying Please Do Not Feed The Monster

It is a worldwide phenomenon that transcends language barriers and generations.

The Loch Ness Monster – Nessie to her friends – is arguably the most famous legend in the world.

But how did it all start?

We have put together a comprehensive timeline of events in history that propelled The Loch Ness Monster to stardom.

The Loch Ness Monster: Origin story

565 AD: The first sighting, according to St Columba’s biographer. The monster bites a swimmer in the loch, and is sizing up another man, when the saint intervenes.

A stained glass window shoing St Columba in a purple cloak with a staff, standing in a boat
St Columba. Image: imageBROKER/Shutterstock

Columba orders the creature to “go back” – and it obeys him.

Then there is a bit of quiet time as far as the records go – until…

April 1933 – A couple, Mr and Mrs Spicer, sees a huge creature “like a dragon or prehistoric monster” cross in front of their car. Numerous sightings follow after the incident is reported in a Scottish newspaper.

A black and white picture showing the backs of six well-dressed men and women as they look towards a puffer boat on Loch Ness
In 1958, the puffer boat Kaffir is involved in a search. Image: DCT Archives

December 1933 – The Daily Mail commissions Marmaduke Wetherell, a big-game hunter, to locate the Loch Ness Monster. Along the shores of the loch, he finds large footprints that he believes belong to “a very powerful soft-footed animal about 20 feet long.”

However, upon closer inspection, zoologists at the Natural History Museum determine that the tracks are identical and made with an umbrella stand or ashtray that has a hippopotamus leg as a base.

Wetherell’s role in the hoax is unclear.

1934: The Surgeon’s Photograph was a game-changer.

A grainy black and white picture of what was claimed to be the long neck and head of the Loch Ness Monster emerging from the water
The Surgeon’s Photo. Image: Shutterstock

English physician Robert Kenneth Wilson allegedly photographed the alleged creature (forgive the amount of alleging).

It caused a flare-up of Nessie fever, finally giving shape to the monster. Was it a plesiosaur, a marine reptile that went extinct some 65.5 million years ago? How had it survived? Why did it suddenly pop up and pose for a photo?

That last question was crucial. Sadly, the photo was uncovered as a hoax in 1994.

1983: The Family Ness cartoon hits the small screen. We thought it was worth a mention.

The Loch Ness Monster: The scientific years

1987: Marine biologist Adrian Shine spearheaded a sonar exploration with 20 cabin cruisers sweeping the loch in the most ambitious expedition ever launched to find Nessie.

The Washington Post reported that it looked like “a chicken scratch”– but a thin, shaky line on a piece of paper was a sonar signature of something moving slowly at about 600 feet down.

“No one here was prepared to say that it was the Loch Ness Monster. But few would swear it wasn’t.”

Adrian Shine and David Stiensland holding electronic equipment on the shores of Loch Ness with about a dozen small boats moored behind them.
‘Operation Deepscan field-leader Adrian Shine (right), and David Stiensland of Lowrance Electronics, show part of the sonar equipment that will be used in the search for the Loch Ness monster.’ Image: Press and Journal archive

1991: Steve Feltham becomes a full-time Nessie hunter and set up his caravan on the shores of the loch at Dores.

1996: Loch Ness the movie, starring Ted Danson, is released. Again, this is a subjective one, but we liked it.

2003: The BBC sponsor another sonar sweep for the Loch Ness Monster, but nothing of note was found.

A view of small cruisers spread in a line across Loch Ness with hills in the background
A 1987 sweep of the loch. Image: Press and Journal archive

2007: On May 26, 55-year-old laboratory technician Gordon Holmes videotaped what he said was “this jet black thing, about 46 ft long, moving fairly fast in the water”.

Adrian Shine described the video as among “the best footage [he had] ever seen”. Shine later suggests that the footage was an otter, seal or water bird.

2018: Researchers conducted a DNA survey of Loch Ness to determine what organisms live in the waters.

No signs of a plesiosaur or other such large animal were found, though the results indicated the presence of numerous eels.

Two men, one with a long white beard, looking at a glass sample container on the shores of Loch Ness
The 2018 “Eel investigation” – with Adrian Shine again. Image: DC Thomson/Sandy McCook