Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

IT AIN’T NESSIE-SSARILY SO – OR IS IT?

Jon Downes mentioned not so long ago when covering a new Nessie sighting that, until then, Britain’s most famous cryptid, good old Nessie, hadn’t received any coverage on the CFZ bloggo. This made me think about a DVD about Loch Ness and its alleged monster that I had found very interesting but which has not received much coverage within crypto circles.

Consequently, this seems as good a time and place as any for me to offer some thoughts about it, in the form of the following review, in the hope that it will encourage others to view what is definitely a very notable DVD on the subject. It is entitled ‘Loch Ness Discovered’, and was first released by the Discovery Channnel in 2005. The programme is DVD 10, plays in both PAL and NTSC machines, and has a total running time of approximately 1 hr 17 min.

The cover of this DVD prominently displays the familiar image of the surgeon's photo, purportedly depicting Nessie, but as its title suggests, the scope of the DVD's contents goes beyond Nessie to encompass Loch Ness itself. Indeed, of the four films included on it, the principal one, sharing its title with the DVD itself and lasting for 45 minutes, is primarily concerned with the loch's natural - as opposed to unnatural - history.

Originally released in 1993, Film #1 follows Project Urquhart, featuring the researches of two scientific teams working at Loch Ness, studying its complex but hitherto little-investigated underwater ecosystem. One team, from the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA), is particularly interested in the intriguing fact that Loch Ness is to all intent and purposes two separate lakes, comprising a warmer layer, where little lives, above a colder, wilder underlayer containing fauna and dramatic underwater weather. The second team, from London's Natural History Museum, is surveying global pollution, which it is investigating at Loch Ness by examining its microscopic but pollution-sensitive nematode worms.

Interspersed with coverage of these ongoing mainstream studies are cryptozoologically-interesting segments focusing on various aspects of the Loch Ness monster phenomenon - such as Peter MacNab's 1955 photo of a Nessie-type form close to Urquhart Castle, the underwater flipper photos of Dr Robert Rines, the surgeon's photo, Tim Dinsdale's film, assorted eyewitness accounts, and psychologist Dr Susan Blackmore's theories of what may be influencing such accounts. Along the way, some intriguing data and findings emerge.

For example, in the past, sonar has found a series of strange regular prints on the loch bed, nicknamed 'the footprints', whose origin has never been explained, but which may be related to wartime military exercises here. During the two teams' studies, a remote-controlled unmanned craft, the Sea Owl, filled with cameras, is sent down to investigate one of these prints, but reveals it to be nothing more startling than a submerged wheelbarrow. Surely, however, as aptly queried by the narrator, submerged wheelbarrows couldn't explain all of these 'footprints', but then he seems to run out of investigative steam, ending with the weak comment that scientists can only speculate. Why can they only speculate? Bearing in mind that the Sea Owl had successfully unveiled the identity of one of these prints, how little more time, trouble, and money would it have required simply to have taken this craft along the loch bed a bit further while it was already there, in order to spy on a few more of these prints and find out what they were too? Surely this was a superb opportunity to solve at least one Loch Ness mystery that instead was lost?

A very notable, unexpected find made by the Natural History Museum team's fish expert, Dr Colin Bean, was that, contrary to a previous estimate, in 1973, that the loch contained 3 tons of fish (and which had been deemed sufficient to support a higher predator), it now appears that a much more realistic estimate is 27 tons. That is, 9 times more fish than hitherto assumed, thereby substantially increasing the possibility that the loch could sustain a large-sized species of top predator - a loch which, incidentally, contains as much water as in all of England and Wales combined.

Following this discovery, the film proceeds to consider the biology of plesiosaurs, deemed the best fit for most Nessie sightings, as well as Rines's flipper photos. Using the computer enhancement expertise of Brian Reece Scientific Ltd with the original unenhanced photos, the researchers attempt to duplicate the final rhomboid flipper images widely publicised by the Rines team, but are unable to do so. Moreover, when they examine the surgeon's photo, they notice a curious white spot just in front of the neck, which may indicate the presence of something towing the neck along, but equally may just be a blemish on the negative.

The most interesting find made when applying computer enhancement expertise, however, occurs with a frame depicting a very large object moving across the loch from the famous film shot by Tim Dinsdale in 1960. First of all, the team examines not just the frame's positive but also its negative image, and are surprised to see in the negative a shadow behind the object. Furthermore, when the positive is cleaned up by enhancement techniques, a very large underwater shadow directly beneath the object can clearly be seen - implying that whatever this object is, it possesses an extremely sizeable hitherto-unsuspected portion present beneath the water surface, and thereby arguing against the possibility that it is merely a surface vessel such as a boat.

The climax of the film, however, comes with the FBA's sonar work aboard their research vessel Calanus. During the evening of 19 July 1993, a massive underwater storm is recorded by their sonar equipment as it rages beneath the vessel, an event rarely witnessed before, and guaranteed to disturb the loch's fauna. The following day, while examining the sonar traces recorded during that storm, Dr Colin Bean and other members spot a very large, unidentified sonar trace deep in the water with a second one close by (and perhaps even a third and fourth), which do not appear to be shoals of fish because they are followed by quite a pronounced wake (whereas shoals of fish do not cause wakes). The team members are perplexed, unable to explain these anomalous traces.

The film ends in celebration - what appears to be a totally new species of microscopic nematode worm has been discovered during the research work. Cryptozoologists, however, may wish that the unexplained sonar traces had elicited as much interest and attention.

Film #2, entitled 'PaleoWorld: The Loch Ness Secret', and lasting 25 minutes, is probably of more direct cryptozoological pertinence, as it attempts to uncover the possible identity of Nessie, by examining three supposed contenders from prehistory - ichthyosaurs, mosasaurs, and plesiosaurs. British palaeontologist Dr Michael Benton discusses the anatomy and lifestyle of each one, supplemented by various specialists from elsewhere around the world and some stunning film of preserved fossils, as well as a reconstruction of pioneering fossil hunter Mary Anning's discovery at Lyme Regis, Dorset, during the 1800s of the first complete ichthyosaur and plesiosaur skeletons.

Personally, I found the ichthyosaur segment superfluous, as this remarkably fish-like or even dolphin-like reptile bore little if any resemblance to eyewitness accounts of Nessie. Indeed, the most memorable part of it came at the very end, with the narrator's chilling closing line - noting that if ichthyosaurs do indeed exist in Loch Ness, it could be the most dangerous place in the world to go fishing! Other than Lake Champlain, perhaps?

Sandwiched between the ichthyosaur and mosasaur segments is a reconstruction of the mystifying land sighting by chauffeur Alfred Cruickshank, which occurred at dusk one evening in summer 1934 according to this film (but normally given by other sources as early morning in April 1933) as he was driving along the north bank of the loch. At the crest of a hill, his car's headlights picked out a big animal crossing the road. It had a large humped body, estimated at 4 ft high and around 25 ft long, and waddled away on two pairs of legs, its belly on the ground, and its head close to its body, with very little neck. Later, summing up the mosasaur section, the novel question is posed as to whether Cruickshank's mystery beast was a female mosasaur that had come on land to lay her eggs and was now returning to the loch, just as sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs before going back into the sea.

The third, and most popular, reptilian contender for Nessie is then discussed - the plesiosaur. Included here is an eyewitness reconstruction from 1 June 1994, when, after seeing a mysterious object above the water surface while driving alongside the loch, Fiona Mackay and her friend Errol David jumped out of their car and ran along the bank for a clearer view. The object had a long tall neck and moved swiftly in the water, then suddenly dived, creating such a splash that its two observers had to jump back to avoid being soaked. Moreover, other eyewitnesses saw it that night. However, the film ends with no firm suggestions as to what Nessie may be, always assuming that such a creature does exist.

Films #3 and #4 are no more than a few minutes long. The first of these is a brief interview with Adrian Shine at the onset of Operation Deepscan back in 1987, and the second, less than 2 minutes long, is a montage of film clips of early Nessie expeditions, and images as to what it may look like.

All in all, this DVD is an interesting survey not just of Loch Ness as a famous 'monster' lake, but also as a body of water that is actually as puzzling to mainstream zoology as it is to cryptozoology (though it should be borne in mind that as these films were made during the 1990s, their findings are not current). If you are hoping for an exclusively cryptozoological package, you may be disappointed, but worthy of note here is that the cryptozoological coverage is presented in a relatively optimistic, open-minded manner - in stark contrast to the depressing tendency by so many of the more recent LNM documentaries to rule out of hand with smug self-assurance even the faintest possibility of a cryptozoological mystery existing here.

5 comments:

  1. A most excellent Nessie documentary indeed, I recorded it many years ago when it was on The Discovery Channel. Nessie docu's are ten to the dozen, but this was one of those rare occasions where we could learn something from an age-old, seemingly redundant mystery.

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  2. I agree entirely, Neil, that's why, as it hadn't received much cryptozoological attention before, I decided to include this review of it here, in the hope that it would encourage others to watch it. All the best, Karl

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  3. I'll be looking forward to getting the DVD, KArl. When I can...I'm short on funds right now. But I DO plan on getting this. Promise.

    I'm glad Dinsdale's famous film has been given new life here. The guy dedicated most of his life to finding Nessie, despite ridicule. I'm glad to see the possible validation of his work.

    Maybe that "white spot" that was seen on the Surgeon's photograph was validation of its "phoniness," as the Surgeon's photograph has been "proven" to be a hoax??? (Could be...)

    I agree with you about the Sea Owl-footprint issue. A grand opportunity was lost. Sigh...

    On a more personal note---why have Blackmore associated with all of this??? Just what Nessie needs---another debunker. Anyway, good article, Karl. Thanks for the heads up. Say not the struggle naught availeth...:)

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  4. Sorry, mosasaurs where viviparous, as recent fossil finds have shown. They certainly wouldn't have come on land to lay eggs.

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  5. Very thoughtful and detailed review, thanks for sharing this.

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