Loch Ness monster: New study doesn't actually rule it out - lead researcher

Reports of Nessie's death - or non-existence - might be premature, says the man responsible for those very reports.

University of Otago scientist Neil Gemmell announced on Thursday night, after a year hunting for the mythical creature that made Scotland's Loch Ness a household name, he's uncovered no evidence she exists.

But that doesn't mean she doesn't exist.

"We've tested all the major theories about the Loch Ness monster," he told The AM Show on Friday morning.

"We've looked out for evidence of plesiosaurs and giant fish of various kinds. We've taken a whole heap of samples from Loch Ness and analysed them at some level of depth. We can pretty much say there's no evidence of plesiosaurs or giant catfish or sturgeons in our samples. 

"That doesn't mean that they're not here at Loch Ness - it's just very improbable."

Rumours a large creature, perhaps prehistoric in nature, inhabited the northern Scottish lake have been around since the 1930s. Hoaxes like the famous 'surgeon's photograph' emerged almost immediately, and continued over the decades.

The surgeon's photograph.
The surgeon's photograph. Photo credit: File

Proper scientific hunts for the creature began in the early 1960s, with the young Queen Elizabeth reportedly holding a strong interest in finding out what it was. But none of them found anything.

"Hope will stay alive because there's always uncertainty in these studies," said Dr Gemmell.

Neil Gemmell.
Neil Gemmell. Photo credit: The AM Show

"The number of samples taken is finite, the lake is very big. We've sampled extensively across it, but of course there's the opportunity for people to say 'you didn't look in the right place' or 'you didn't look at the right time, so you missed it'. We can't refute that. 

"But what we can say is the increasing probability is that there isn't actually anything extraordinary out there. The sonar studies didn't find it, we didn't find it with our environmental DNA, and you know, every other study that's been done - whether it's been with submersibles and so forth - has not found any definitive evidence of a monster... But what we have found is a heck of a lot of eel DNA."

The eel hypothesis was one of the first suggested back in the 1930s, but that's nowhere near as exciting as the idea of a Jurassic-era plesiosaur surviving tens of millions of years in an icy Scottish loch.

"That idea sort of disappeared for a while and this idea of an extinct marine reptile came to the fore without really any great evidence for it," said Dr Gemmell. 

Of the 250 samples they took from the loch, every single one contained eel DNA. Other potential species - such as trout, salmon and pike - were about five times less common.

Dr Gemmell doubts Nessie could be a giant eel however, with previous sonar measurements of the loch not finding any creatures the size she's meant to be.

"We'll be happy to be proven wrong in the future if somebody comes back with better technologies and can show something different."

His findings will be detailed in a new documentary Loch Ness Monster: New Evidence, which will air on the United States' Travel Channel later this month.



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