'Top three' Loch Ness monster photo outed as crude hoax

A stunning picture of the elusive Loch Ness monster described as potentially "in the top three of all-time" ever taken has been proven a fake.

The photographer - Steve Challice from Southampton - took the photo while on holiday last September at Urquhart Castle, which next to the frigid Scottish lake.  

"I started taking a couple of shots and then this big fish came to the surface and then went back down again," he told UK paper The Daily Record, claiming it was 2.5m long.

"If this is a genuine picture of a creature in Loch Ness, it would easily rank in the top three of all time," Loch Ness Mystery Blog author Roland Watson told the tabloid. 

Steve Challice's 'Nessie' photograph.
Steve Challice's 'Nessie' photograph. Photo credit: Steve Challice

Challice said he was sceptical, suggesting it might have been a catfish.  Watson was sceptical, noting it appeared the image might have been digitally altered - something Challice denied, despite being a 3D graphical artist.

The truth, it turns out, is somewhere in between. The image was digitally altered - using a pattern found on a catfish that was uploaded to the internet in 2018.

"The analysis of the photograph's EXIF data led me to conclude this was not a photograph of the Loch Ness Monster," Watson wrote in an update, referring to data stored in the image files supplied by the photographer, which give clues as to when it was taken and whether it had been altered or not.

"I continued to talk to Steve, the photographer, but that has come to an end as he could not provide the original SD card image. But I was looking for something objective and not just opinions that would seal the deal on this one."

He was directed to an article from 2018 which showed an angler posing with an enormous catfish he caught, which weighed a reported 129kg.

"As you can see, the spots on the catfish all line up nicely with the spots on our Nessie," Watson wrote. "The case is closed."

The pattern appeared in a 2018 photo of a catfish and the new one of 'Nessie'.
The pattern appeared in a 2018 photo of a catfish and the new one of 'Nessie'. Photo credit: Loch Ness Mystery Blog / Steve Challice

A New Zealand team which scoured the lake for any evidence the monster - known as Nessie - exists came up empty last year. They collected samples from all over the loch at different depths, and found no DNA traces or anything. 

"I think we can be fairly sure there is probably not a giant scaly reptile swimming around in Loch Ness," said Professor Neil Gemmell, from the University of Otago.

Interestingly, while unable to rule it out completely, he said they hadn't found any evidence of a giant catfish in the loch either.

"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."

But what could it be? 

"There are large amounts of eel DNA in Loch Ness; eels are very plentiful in the Loch system. Is it possible what people are seeing is a giant eel? Well, maybe," he said.

"We don't know if the eel DNA we are detecting is gigantic or just many small eels. It's something we could plausibly test further."

There have been several Nessie hoaxes over the years, including one elaborate plot involving a dead bull elephant seal and another that she was killed in a bombing run by the Nazis in World War II.