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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Friday, 12 October 2012

IN CONFERENCE WITH NESSIE AT EDINBURGH 25 YEARS AGO - A RETROSPECTIVE

Loch Ness monster (Richard Pullen)


I can scarcely believe that it has been 25 years since I wrote this article, which I re-read recently for the first time in a very long while, recounting the highly significant symposium on the Loch Ness monster organised by the International Society of Cryptozoology and hosted by the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh in 1987. So here it is, presented online for the very first time as a ShukerNature exclusive - a retrospective of a unique event in cryptozoological history, and yes, I was there!

Early Nessie postcard in my collection (Dr Karl Shuker)

In 1982, Cryptozoology took a momentous step forward, with the establishment of the International Society of Cryptozoology (sadly now defunct), which was the world's first scientific society devoted to the investigation of animals whose existence is currently not officially recognised by science. Cryptozoology's further advancement towards full acceptance was greatly assisted by the ISC's policy of staging an Annual Members Meeting, held each year at a different scientific institution and attracting considerable professional and public interest. In 1985, the ISC also sponsored a one-day cryptozoological Symposium contained within the Third International Congress of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology, held at the University of Sussex, Brighton, which marked the ISC's first visit to the British Isles.

Two years later, however, July 1987 saw the first ISC Annual Members Meeting to be staged in the UK. Moreover, this was also the first two-day Members Meeting held by the Society, and the first in which the presentations were grouped thematically. In addition, by special accord the gathering on this particular occasion took the form of a joint meeting - of the ISC and of the Scottish Branch of the SHNH (the Society for the History of Natural History), whose base is the Natural History Museum, London.

Loch Ness - early sepia postcard in my collection (Dr Karl Shuker)

The meeting was held at Edinburgh's auspicious Royal Museum of Scotland. In addition to ISC and SHNH Members, for a nominal fee of £1.00 non-members were also admitted. The symposia were chaired by the Museum's then Curator of Mollusca, Mr David Heppell, who also served at that time on the ISC's Board of Directors.

Day Two’s symposium was devoted to cryptozoological cats, in which, as one of several participating speakers, I presented a paper on the origin and possible zoological identity of the Kellas cat. Other papers dealt with British mystery cats, the king cheetah, the onza, and the Queensland tiger. Day One’s symposium, conversely, which I also attended and is the subject of this article, was devoted entirely to the world’s most famous mystery beast – the Loch Ness monster.


Humorous Nessie postcard in my collection (Dr Karl Shuker)


SEARCH FOR NESSIE

At 10.00 am on 25 July, Day 1's symposium formally commenced. It was entitled ‘The Search For Nessie in the 1980s’, and was officially initiated by Dr Robert G. Anderson, Director of the National Museums of Scotland, who welcomed the societies and the audience to the museum. He dedicated the meeting to the memory of two persons who were noted for their keen cryptozoological interests - the late David James (Honorary Member of the ISC and co-founder of the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau - LNIB), and the late Ian Lyster (Curator of Ornithology at the Royal Museum of Scotland).

The popular plesiosaurian concept of Nessie (Richard Svensson)

The first paper, entitled ‘The History of the Loch Ness Monster’, was presented by Dr Richard Fitter – then Chairman of the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society (FFPS) and also a co-founder of the LNIB (which functioned from 1962 to 1976). Dr Fitter recounted a concise history of the Loch Ness phenomenon, from the days of St Columba's sightings of the monster during the 6th Century AD, through the resurgence of Loch Ness interest in the early 1930s, onwards to the LNIB's work during the 1960s, and into the 1980s and recent studies, complementing his presentation with a 12-minute film.

St Columba confronting the monster (William M. Rebsamen)

After the fundamental Nessie question: "Is there a Loch Ness monster?", the next most-repeated query must surely be: "What is the Loch Ness monster?" This latter subject was dealt with comprehensively by Prof. Roy Mackal, a prominent biochemist, cryptozoologist (he was the ISC's Vice-President), and longstanding Loch Ness investigator. In his paper, ‘The Biology of the Loch Ness Monster’, Prof. Mackal analysed the morphology and physiology of each group of animals put forward in the past as identities for Nessie. He concluded that mammalian or reptilian identities were the most likely candidates, with amphibian or soft-bodied invertebrate suggestions amongst the least plausible.

Prof. Roy Mackal's Nessie book

Mackal also spoke about a possibility of obtaining evidence that would conclusively identify at least one North American version of Nessie. For he noted that in Canada, fishermen have reported to him that they often see such creatures following the salmon swimming upstream in rivers to spawn. Mackal suggested that if nets were stretched across one such river at the time when the salmon appear, it may actually be possible to snare one of these Nessie-type beasts! Needless to say, such an acquisition would constitute a tremendous zoological discovery, and it is to be hoped that such a promising venture will indeed take place.

Look what I found at Loch Ness! (Dr Karl Shuker)

The next paper, ‘Public Perceptions of the Loch Ness Monster’, was presented by Dr Henry Bauer, Professor of Chemistry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dr Bauer focussed his attention not upon the monster itself or monster research findings, but instead upon the sociological, philosophical, and psychological components of these subjects. The result was a most thought-provoking presentation, discussing the nature and features of belief and disbelief using Nessie as the example, and examining the ways in which these have varied during the long history of Loch Ness reports and investigations.

'Nessie Mystery Solved' postcard in my collection (Roger Latham, 1986)


IMPRESSIVE EVIDENCE

The most famous and contentious photo purportedly of Nessie ever obtained is certainly the popularly-termed 'Surgeon's Photograph', taken in April 1934 by London gynaecologist Robert Kenneth Wilson, and depicting a black object resembling a slender neck surmounted by a small head extending above the rippled water surface. In his paper entitled ‘The Wilson Nessie Photo: A Size Determination Based on Physical Principles’, Prof. Paul LeBlond, an oceanographer at the University of British Columbia, demonstrated that a size estimate of the object in Wilson's photograph can be obtained by relating the appearance (in terms of surface disturbance and wave formation depicted in the photo) of Loch Ness's surface to wind speed and thence to wind waves' lengths. This is a principle which Prof. LeBlond had already applied to the equally controversial Mansi photograph of a creature-like object on Lake Champlain, and will be of great benefit it to future aquatic monster research.

The 'Surgeon's Photograph' (Robert Kenneth Wilson/Daily Mail)

Following lunch, the presentations continued with a paper entitled ‘Recent Fieldwork by the Loch Ness and Morar Project’, presented by Mr Adrian Shine, the Project's Field Leader. In 1974, the British-instigated Loch Morar Expeditions began, and were succeeded by the Project, which concentrated thereafter upon Loch Ness. Much of its efforts were directed towards sonar/echo-sounding investigations, and Mr Shine described the more recent work in this line carried out by the Project, plus a new survey involving an extensive multi-craft, underwater sonar sweep along the Loch, in an attempt to detect the presence of any large creatures which may exist there.

Morag, the Loch Morar monster (Michael Playfair)

Certainly the most visually impressive (but again highly controversial) evidence for the existence of such beasts to have been procured via underwater photography consists of the "flipper" photographs. These were obtained in 1972 by the Loch Ness research team from the USA’s Academy of Applied Science, headed by its president Dr Robert H. Rines. Consequently, in his paper ‘A Review of Research Contributions to Date of the Academy of Applied Science at Loch Ness’, Dr Rines discussed in detail these photographs (and the criticisms which have been levelled at them by various armchair Nessie sceptics), together with the further, equally intriguing, underwater pictures obtained by the Academy team in 1975. One of these latter pictures was thought by some to feature the head and neck of a large creature, another resembled a close-up of a creature's head. Moreover, he ended his paper with the tantalising statement that his team now had access to recently-declassified equipment that should render the loch transparent (figuratively-speaking, that is) as far as future searches and observations appertaining to Loch Ness's mysterious denizens were concerned.

One of the AAS's 1972 'flipper' photographs (Dr Robert H. Rines/Academy of Applied Science)


CLASSIC FILM

In a special announcement following Dr Rines's presentation, the ISC formally honoured the final speaker at this symposium - aero-engineer, author, and world-renowned Loch Ness investigator Mr Tim Dinsdale - for his most distinguished and significant contributions to Loch Ness monster research. This was well-deserved recognition for the sterling work of this most diligent, courteous, and respected cryptozoological researcher. (Tragically, less than five months after attending this conference, Tim Dinsdale suffered a major heart attack and died.)

In his paper, entitled ‘Three Decades of Nessie Hunting: A Personal Odyssey’, Mr Dinsdale traversed through his many memorable years of very impressive and fascinating personal investigations of the Loch Ness phenomenon, which began in earnest with what was most probably the most exhilarating moment in his entire three-decade quest. This occurred on 23 April 1960, when he obtained his classic film of a huge creature-like object, partially visible above the water surface, swimming rapidly across the loch. This electrifying event served as a source of great motivation for him during his subsequent researches, detailed within his presentation, which continued each year since then. Also referred to alongside these were his involvements with many of the investigations that had at some stage or another been carried out by other researchers at the Loch from 1960 onwards, plus the wide diversity of equipment, techniques, and vehicles that he has utilised in his examination and exploration of one of cryptozoology's most endearing and enduring of enigmas.

The first Nessie book that I ever read was this one, by Tim Dinsdale, purchased for me as a child by my mother

Following Mr Dinsdale's presentation, a panel debate took place, during which an interesting exchange of questions, replies, and opinions took place between the audience and the panel – consisting of all of the Loch Ness symposium’s speakers.

At the end of Day Two, following David Heppell's final remarks as Chairman the joint meeting of the ISC and SHNH was formally adjourned - but all was not completely over. A small party of us set off for a day trip to Loch Ness itself. Sadly Nessie did not make an appearance, but we were able to visit the notable Loch Ness Exhibition Centre at Drumnadrochit.

View across Loch Ness (Dr Karl Shuker)

This contained a veritable cornucopia of Nessie information and exhibits - ranging from analyses of all of the major surface and underwater monster photographs obtained to date, selections of sonar evidence recorded, and models of the Loch itself plus the various animal forms that have been offered as possible Nessie identities, to living examples of some of the Loch's more modestly-sized inhabitants, exhibits of various vehicles and pieces of scientific equipment used in Loch Ness researches, and much more. It even boasted a monstrously-large plesiosaurian Nessie replica gazing intently at the Centre's visitors from its very own adjacent pool (see photo below) - just in case the real star failed to give a performance.

The Nessie replica (StaraBlazkova/Czech Wikipedia)


NOTABLE SUCCESS

From the size of the audience and the considerable interest that it engendered amongst the general public and the media, as well as amongst the scientific fraternity, this Sixth ISC Annual Members Meeting had evidently been more than just a notable success in itself. It had also constituted a most favourable and significant contribution to cryptozoology's continuing emergence as a respectable and respected scientific discipline. Moreover, its presentations had underlined very effectively the tremendous impact upon science that cryptozoological discoveries do (and will continue to) make.

'Pair o' Handies Nessie Catcher' postcard in my collection (Roger Latham)

And who knows? Dr Robert Rines's declassified equipment may one day provide the first unequivocal proof for the existence of a freshwater animal of the Nessie type - unless of course some carefully-aligned nets stretched across certain Canadian rivers during a future salmon spawning season scoop up (literally!) the elusive evidence first!

Newspaper cartoon by Mac from London's Daily Mail for 17 February 2012, offering a wonderfully original, cryptozoologically-themed take on the prospect of Scotland becoming independent from the United Kingdom (Mac/Daily Mail)

Twenty-five years have passed since this symposium took place and, sadly, some of its participants are no longer with us. But the interest generated globally by the LNM phenomenon shows no sign of abating, and perhaps, in the safe hands of new and future generations of Nessie seekers, cryptozoology may yet unveil a major surprise within the dark, secret waters of the world's most famous monster-linked lake.


Another delightfully light-hearted Nessie postcard from my collection (Dr Karl Shuker)

8 comments:

  1. Laurence Crossen13 October 2012 21:26

    Even Henry Bauer seems to me to misunderstand the idea of a sea serpent coming from the sea occasionally. It can still swim in by river and even with a dam if it can locomote on land by vertical undulations. It is not limited to arrival long ago. If it is a basilosaur-like cetacean, as I suppose, then it might pursue fish runs and give birth there. This is more like what Rupert Gould expressed in his Case for the Sea Serpent than what Bauer thinks.

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  2. What's most striking to me is how there hasn't been a single significant development in the field of Loch Ness Monster study in the last 25 years. Believers still write unconvincing apologies to explain why the St. Columba story should be taken more seriously than the stories of frogs turning into flowers and people spontaneously changing sex that share the the same book with it; the Surgeon's Photograph still obviously shows a miniature subject, something that was clear even before the hoaxer's confession; and Rine's completely retouched photographs are still treated as if they were taken from life. Yet there's still not a single scrap of physical evidence for a creature that's supposed to live in one smallish (in the grand scheme of things) lake in a modern country after 25 years of looking. Can you name another scientific endeavor that could still be taken seriously if it failed to move forward at all in quarter century?

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  3. Ball lightning, Fermat's Last Theorem (until finally resolved), locating the God Particle (opinion still divided as to whether it has been located), the reality of meteorites (until resolved after having been dismissed as nonsense for centuries), etc etc. And what proportion of LNM investigation has been truly scientific anyway? Not a high one, as science has tended to turn its gaze away rather than confront the mystery. Re the Surgeon's Photo: I agree that it MAY show a miniature subject, but where and what is it? Don't suggest a miniature submarine that conveniently sank out of reach to the loch bottom and for whose existence there is no more tangible evidence than for the LNM itself. Why should a supposed deathbed confession by someone whose relative just so happened to have previously been publicly humiliated by the LNM saga be considered more reliable than the eyewitness reports of LNM observers? And how do we know that the LNM lives permanently in the lake anyway? Depending upon its identity (if it truly exists), it could be a species able to migrate from one freshwater body of water to another, or even migrate back and forth from the sea. I agree entirely that the LNM phenomenon is mystifying, but it certainly warrants investigation.

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  4. Thanks for that, I wish I had been there in 1987!

    You say Dr.Mackal put amphibians way down his list. You will note the animal on the cover of his book is a modified amphibian which was top of his list.

    Can I presume in the ten years between his book and the symposium, he had a change of mind?

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  5. Hi there, Yes he did change his mind, as have quite a few Nessie seekers over the years re its possible identity, with the late Dr Maurice Burton perhaps exhibiting the greatest about-face, from an initial believer to an avowed sceptic. It was certainly a most interesting meeting, which I'm sure you would have enjoyed. All the best, Karl

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  6. Laurence Crossen15 October 2012 20:25

    If the creature comes and goes, as Rupert Gould proposed, then this gives us a testable prediction. If it visits for fish runs and the fish runs do not take place as much as they used to due to the dams, then it might visit less frequently. If it gave birth in the lake about the time of the fish runs to provide safety and food for its young, then it might not try that as often anymore.

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  7. Laurence Crossen16 October 2012 20:27

    Where ever the fish runs are best nowadays one could set a camera to record the sea serpent in the river, whether that is at Loch Ness or another river. If the Loch is a place they gave birth then the instinct to return there would be strong but may have been largely defeated by modern developments. The sea serpent would readily pursue fish runs at other rivers and adapt so then it would give birth at another location.

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  8. Fish runs are regularly monitored with underwater cameras even today. These schemes have not to my knowledge uncovered any evidence for anadromous sea serpents.

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