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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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

A FROG AS BIG AS A GOAT - THE MOST MYSTIFYING LOCH NESS MONSTER SIGHTING EVER?


Might the bizarre-sounding cryptid allegedly encountered by diver Duncan Macdonald while underwater in Loch Ness during the late 19th Century have looked something like this? (© Richard Svensson)

Of all of the many Nessie-related subjects documented by me down through the years (and now collected together in my forthcoming book Here's Nessie: A Monstrous Compendium From Loch Ness), few have attracted so many enquiries from readers and correspondents as the extraordinary 'frog as big as a goat' supposedly sighted one day by diver Duncan Macdonald while underwater in Loch Ness during the late 1800s (click here for an earlier mention of this cryptid by me on ShukerNature). The incident was first reported almost half a century later, in Inverness's Northern Chronicle newspaper (by an unnamed writer) on 31 January 1934, and this report has in turn been referred to by a number of subsequent publications, but (as far as I am aware) it has never been republished anywhere in full – until now!

Courtesy of the indefatigable research skills of fellow cryptozoological investigator Richard Muirhead (thanks Richard!), earlier today I was delighted to receive a copy of the original Northern Chronicle article, which actually consisted of several different Nessie-themed items linked together. Here is the quite short but very intriguing one concerning Macdonald's alleged encounter:

A DIVER'S EXPERIENCE

Many stories have been circulated by those who go down to the depths inside a diving-bell. Some of them are, doubtless, true; others, of course, must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. But the truth of any story can very often be guaranteed by a little careful investigation.

Here is such a story, and, as it concerns Loch Ness, and the experience which befell a well-known diver, it might, by reason of its uniqueness, act as a spur to those whose training has fitted them to probe the mysteries of marine zoology, for, in the opinion of the writer, it is but another aspect of the case of the Loch Ness "monster."

Some forty-five to fifty years ago a small sailing vessel carrying a cargo of guano, when making the passage through Loch Ness, struck a submerged reef known as "Johnnie's Point," and sank, fortunately without loss of life.

The mishap occurred during the night, and when dawn broke it was seen that the tops of the masts were still above water.

Realising that the vessel might be raised, a squad of men was quickly on the scene, and chains were passed underneath the hulk.

But ere the job was completed the action of the water suddenly dislodged the craft, and she vanished into the depths.

Still hoping to salve the wreck, the owner secured the services of Mr Duncan Macdonald, a noted diving expert, who was at the time employed at the Crinan Canal.

Mr Macdonald duly arrived, and it was from the Caledonian Canal Company's diving-barge that he carried out operations.

A STRANGE CREATURE

After having made a descent of thirty feet, Mr Macdonald signalled that he wished to come up, and, on being questioned as to whether there was any sign of the ship, he said there was none.

From this it was obvious that further attempts would be useless, so he was undressed, and the party prepared to make for Fort-Augustus, their headquarters.

Now one man in the party, having heard stories of a strange creature which was said to live in the loch, began to question the diver. The latter, however, was at first rather diffident about taking any part in the conversation.

Yet, since the others knew that anything he might tell them would be perfectly true, they persisted, and finally the diver said that he saw a strange creature that day.

It lay, he said, on a ledge of rock, on the self-same ledge, apparently, on which the keel of the wrecked vessel had rested, about thirty feet down.

There, he continued, lay a queer-looking beast, which he described as something in the nature of a huge frog.

It stared at him, but, as it showed neither ferocity nor fear, he did not disturb it. In his own words he "saw that the beast made no effort to interfere with me, and I did not interfere with it." As to size, the diver said the creature was "as big as a goat, or a good wedder [Scots dialect word for a castrated male sheep]."

The story, exactly as given, was told by Mr Donald Fraser, lock-keeper, Fort Augustus, who often heard the diver (his own grand-uncle) tell it many years ago.

STRANGE CREATURES

Naturally, this incident raises some very important questions, and the first is – Is the frog-like creature related in any way to the "monster" or "monsters" which inhabit Loch Ness?

Or does the diver's story show that such creatures are entirely different from the present "monster"?

If this be so, it is not unreasonable to presume that they might prove to be the form, or perhaps one of the forms[,] of life with which – who can tell? – Loch Ness abounds, and on which the "monster" sustains itself.

In any case[,] past reports of strange creatures having been seen in the loch show conclusively that they and their kind have had their homes there for centuries, and, this being so, it would seem that were they living on fish life, i.e., salmon and trout, to the extent that some people think they do, the whole or at least most of the salmon kind – still fairly plentiful – would long since have been decimated.

Thus, there being no reason at all why the above statements should be doubted, it will surely be granted that the time is ripe for some competent body to conduct an investigation into the under-water life of Loch Ness.

This remarkable report does indeed raise some very important questions, though not necessarily the ones posed in it by its anonymous author.

First and foremost: as Loch Ness is famous for the blackness of its waters due to their high concentration of peat, how could Macdonald have perceived this goat-sized 'frog' – or indeed anything else, for that matter – while diving at a depth of 30 ft? Having said that, the very fact that he went down there at all, in search of the sunken guano vessel, suggests that some degree of underwater vision must be possible at such depths in this loch. Perhaps, however, the viewing conditions were not sufficient for him to obtain a clear picture of the creature's form, so, who knows, maybe it wasn't genuinely frog-like after all, but actually was simply a typical Nessie longneck viewed at an angle at which its neck was not visible to him.

Alternatively, there is even the possibility that in reality it was some very large form of vaguely frog-like fish – an extremely big wels catfish Siluris glanis, perhaps, whose wide mouth would certainly call to mind that of a frog if encountered face-on in poor visibility. The wels is not native to Britain, it was introduced to various lakes here from Germany during the 1870s and 1880s, but Loch Ness is not one of the lakes featured in documented introductions. Of course, as so many illegal introductions/releases of non-native species across Britain during the past two centuries readily testify, however, just because no documented introductions of wels specimens into Loch Ness are on record, this doesn't necessarily mean that none has taken place...

Is this what Macdonald really saw? (© William M. Rebsamen)

Moving on, it is well worth noting that the Northern Chronicle's telling of this incident is very matter-of-fact, in stark contrast to modern-day retellings, which generally claim that Macdonald was terror-stricken, refused to speak about his sighting for days afterwards, etc, etc. Consequently, these would appear to be melodramatic embellishments added subsequently by person(s) unknown.

The notion aired by the above report's author that perhaps this creature was not itself Nessie but was instead some second, entirely different species of monster – and one, moreover, that may actually constitute the prey of the 'real' Nessie – offers a fascinating if implausible prospect to say the least, doubling the quandary of whether any type of large cryptid inhabits this vast expanse of freshwater.

Loch Ness is BIG!! (public domain)

Equally thought-provoking is the author's claim that "...past reports of strange creatures having been seen in the loch show conclusively that they and their kind have had their homes there for centuries". On the contrary, because cryptozoological sceptics in particular habitually discount traditional stories of water-horses and water-bulls existing here, for instance, as nothing more than folk-tales, with no factual basis.

Moreover, in a very extensive Fortean Studies paper published in 2001 that surveyed no fewer than 87 cases of mysterious beasts allegedly spied in or on the shores of Loch Ness prior to 1933 (the year that marked the beginning the modern age of Nessie sightings), German cryptozoological investigator Ulrich Magin dismissed all of them as featuring mere legends, unsubstantiated rumours, or creatures that were unrelated to the long-necked Nessie-type cryptids reported from this loch from 1933 onwards. He concluded that there was no pre-1930s tradition of monsters inhabiting Loch Ness, only the possibility that some marine creature had somehow entered it during the early 1930s and that this is what had given rise to subsequent sightings of monsters there. This prospect is one that had been contemplated by the likes of early LNM chroniclers Lieutenant Commander Rupert T. Gould and Dr Anthonie C. Oudemans too.

An engraving of Dr Anthonie C. Oudemans (public domain)

But what did Magin think about Macdonald's 'giant frog'? In his listing, this was Case #32, but, interestingly, he was apparently unaware of its original Northern Chronicle source, because he stated: "This is a story which appears in most books about Nessie but always without reference", and he cited one such book, Peter Costello's In Search of Lake Monsters (1974), as the source that he had consulted.

After quoting Costello's brief version of Macdonald's own description of this underwater mystery beast's appearance, Magin concluded "...the description is unlikely to refer to a long-necked animal or any other animal known in the loch". Or indeed elsewhere, in fact, as I am certainly not aware of any living species of frog-like creature the size of a goat that is currently known to science in the living state (there are of course various extremely large amphibians known from the fossil record).

At present, therefore, the goat-sized 'frog' of Loch Ness remains a major enigma in the Nessie chronicles. Nevertheless, now that its original published source has been resurrected and reproduced here, one of the most mystifying and paradoxical LNM-associated reports – ostensibly unlikely, yet supplied by a very experienced and seemingly highly-reliable eyewitness - is finally readily available for scrutiny and further investigation by future Nessie researchers.


This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted exclusively from my forthcoming book Here's Nessie: A Monstrous Compendium From Loch Ness.

You never know what you may encounter when diving underwater in Loch Ness! (© William M. Rebsamen)





13 comments:

  1. Just to add msytery to this, in 2013, I published a similar sounding story from 1933 .... http://lochnessmystery.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/a-rediscovered-divers-tale.html

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    1. Thanks very much for posting this, I wasn't aware of this sighting before. Do you know of any further underwater sightings at Loch Ness?

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    2. I think the only other one was the Robert Badger underwater sighting, but it lacked any details other than calling it large.

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  2. Makes me think of a giant salamander. These beasties are among the popular theories for Loch Ness. Glasgow Boy, has lots of info on those...
    And I dont see much reason why there cant be a giant salamander and a longneck in the same lake.... Improbable maybe, impossible nope. I honestly am more troubled by the Nessie sightings on land where the longneck has feet instead of paddles...

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    1. I've always been intrigued by a giant salamander Nessie identity too, though unless it was an exceedingly specialised, novel form, I can't see how it could explain the longneck sightings. And the idea of there being two different cryptid species in the loch (assuming that the longneck is a cryptid, and not merely an artefact created by misidentifications of known species) is one that in my view simply doubles the improbability of this lake housing any large cryptid. But, hopefully, one day we shall know for sure...

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    2. Well..
      If I had to guess about Nessie I would think that the salamanders actually live in the lake, whereas Nessie doesnt live there all-year-round but frequents this and maybe other Lochs (there being enough Lochs with some sort of sea-monster report) and actually going to the ocean from the time to time. (Solves lots of problems, like how would the Loch sustain a population of Nessies, why are there no young ones being sighted,etc.)Also I suppose there would be more sightings of Nessie than of the salamanders, as I can see absolutely no need for them to surface ever.... But I admit, two unknown animals in the same lake might be a bit much, but I think it isnt unheard of...

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  3. Thank you Karl, I'd never seen the full text of the original Northern Chronicle article before, just watered-down and/or embellished versions. It really does sound more creditable in the original account! From my perspective the only thing problematic about Macdonald's sighting is the relatively small size, as it otherwise corroborates the theory "Nessie" is a giant, short-necked amphibian. And if the animal Macdonald saw had a longish tail, he could well have missed seeing it.

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    1. Thanks for inspiring me to seek it out!

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  4. Just when I think the Loch Ness couldn't get anymore interesting, I read this article about a "frog-like" creature the size of a goat!! Frogs are the coolest little things! :) Thank you for bringing us this article.

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  5. The Wels Catfish idea sounds pretty sound. Good to finally read the whole story.

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  6. Have you seen the episode of River Monsters where he investigates and concludes a Greenland Shark, I highly recamend it as he interviews an eye witness.

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    1. One small problem with that idea, the loch is freshwater but the Greenland shark wouldn't be able to live in freshwater because as a saltwater creature according to what I've read about it it would hyper hydrate and die in freshwater, however this does not rule out it being another shark, the bull shark for example (probably not really a candidate as such for Nessie being a more tropical shark) can live in freshwater so perhaps a cold water shark has also made the adaptation to freshwater?

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  7. How about a surviving Koolasuchus for a candidate for this creature, perhaps one of those with its tail hidden by poor visibility or mud/weed/peat could be described like this? Article on Koolasuchus at Wikipedia here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koolasuchus for anyone who's interested.

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