Google Doodle celebrates (?) Nessie

April 21, 2015 • 7:30 am

Today’s Google Doodle, which contains this amusing animation, commemorates the 81st anniversary of a photograph (see below) that was long taken to be “proof” of the Loch Ness Monster. First the animation:


As the Torygraph notes:

The release of the images coincides with the anniversary of the publication of the renowed “Surgeon’s Photograph” of the Loch Ness Monster, in the Daily Mail, on April 21 1934 – a photo that was revealed to be a fake by The Sunday Telegraph in 1975.

Here’s that famous photo, which I’m sure you’ve all seen:


Time magazine explains the ruse:

Eighty-one years ago, Colonel Robert Wilson snapped a grainy photograph of what appeared to be a prehistoric sea creature raising its head out of the depths of Scotland’s Loch Ness — inspiring the legend of one of earth’s most infamous monsters, Nessie. On Tuesday, Google honored the anniversary of that celebrated photo with an animated Google Doodle.

Wilson said he took the shot of the Loch Ness Monster, printed in the Daily Mail in 1934, when he was driving across the northern shore and noticed something in the water. But Wilson himself never claimed the photo as proof of a monster and disassociated his name from the picture by calling it the “surgeon’s photo.”

In 1994, then 93-year-old Christian Spurling confessed that he had built the neck and attached it to a toy submarine. The toy was then photographed by a big-game hunter named Marmaduke Wetherell to spite the Daily Mail for a perceived injustice from a previous Loch Ness Monster search.

The Torygraph’s article reports that Google spent a week in the Loch Ness area, photographing it with Google Streetview, including a camera attached to a boat (you can see all the Streetview images here):

Photo: Google

And, sure enough, they turned up an image that Nessiephiles will take as evidence for the monster (photos by Google):


And an enlargement:


There’s no wake, and that’s a strange profile for bits of a plesiosaur sticking out of the water! At any rate, Wikipedia has a good article on the long and fruitless search for Nessie, and the many hoaxes and false sightings.

Resident writer Greg Mayer teaches a course on pseudoscience and cryptozoology, and I expect he might have something to add.


47 thoughts on “Google Doodle celebrates (?) Nessie

  1. It’s all about tourism isn’t it? Little bit cold for camping out or water skiing so look for a monster.

    1. It’s all about tourism isn’t it?

      When my aunt ran a caravan site (errr, does that translate to “RV park” for the North Americans? something not far off that, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a caravan in popular NA culture) next to Loch Ness, she was adamant that the monster really existed and that she’d seen it. That proved the beast’s non-existence to my satisfaction.

    1. Yeah, cool graphic, and the gears are turning in the correct direction. Though the pitch of the propeller is absurd. (Can tell I’m an engineer, can’t ya? 😉

  2. When I was a post-doc in San Diego (*wistful sigh*) we had a very good technician who totally fell for this stuff. Especially Big Foot. It took me years to talk him out of it, and I think he actually resented that I succeeded.

    1. Did you ever read “Round in Circles” by Jim Schnabel?

      The reaction to that book was almost as funny as the book itself. I read a rant by the author Lia Matera. She was absolutely incensed that Schnabel debunked the crop circle mythhology so thoroughly. She was in complete denial.

      Some people really, really, really need their superstitions. L

  3. I work for a company that actually was involved in serious Nessie research in the 1960’s. I have photos of our submarine. Yes, we had a submarine.

    1. More than a few trials of ROV and diving technology have used Nessie to drum up interest and cheap advertising. Perfectly rational thing to do, and a mutually beneficial arrangement between the technology company and the tourist-fleecers.
      There’s a minor issue that if you’re developing diving equipment in Aberdeen, then Loch Ness is the nearest really deep piece (700-odd feet, it’s hard to measure) of water and a damned sight cheaper to get to than Loch Morar (~1000ft), the Sound of Raasay (1000ft+) or out towards Rockall for the next 700ft+ contour. Plus, the water conditions on Loch Ness are normally better than out in the Atlantic.

      1. We were searching for Nessie, not testing any sort of equipment. The sub still exists. One of the members of the team (Roy Mackal of University of Chicago) also invented a crossbow harpoon to shoot from the sub in order to get a tissue sample should they spot a Nessie.

        1. There was some work done recently on whale genetics where they got their samples by shooting the whales (orcas?) with an arrow tipped with a kitchen abrasive pad. It would pick up enough skin fragments for a DNA ID, relatedness, etc.

        2. I don’t think the harpoon would work in this case. Nessies are invisible like electricity and skeletons.

        3. A zoological colleague here in Wisconsin, also interested in cryptozoology, wanted to meet Roy Mackal for lunch, and we made some effort to contact him some years ago, but the arrangements were never made, for reasons I cannot now recall. Sadly, Mackal died a couple of years ago.

  4. The original “Nessie” photo is obviously of a small object — look at the waves. Anyone with knowledge of waves on water would see this immediately.

    Like someone else said — it’s all about tourism. What else brings someone that far north in Scotland? (I have a lot of Scottish heritage, Stewart and Campbell.) The good climbing is further south (and west) for the most part. There’s probably good fishing up there and further north.

    1. “The original “Nessie” photo is obviously of a small object — look at the waves.”

      That’s what I think every time I see that picture.

  5. It’s not just about tourism because given the many clear explanations and debunkings of claimed “sightings” there’s still some reason the tourists are coming and the believers are believing. The Loch Ness Monster feeds into an appetite for wonder, mystery, and the idea that it takes a special person to ignore the experts and have faith.

    I have a friend who insists that the question of the Loch Ness Monster is still open because it’s closed-minded to dismiss “possibilities.” The same blanket rule regarding “possibilities” also happens to cover space aliens, fairies, miracles, the paranormal, reincarnation, karma, and God. And anything else that trips the fancy, apparently.

    It seems to me that it’s possible to fall deeply in love with a self-image, particularly that of a daring renegade believer bucking the ordinary in order to embrace extraordinary “possibilities.”

    1. That’s a good point. Self-image also drives much of advertising. They sell a car based on the projected image of the actor driving it: wealth, power, and sex appeal. (Everything I am not, but wish I were. Think of the possibilities.
      Movies very often portray the daring renegade believer as the protagonist. Someone you instantly identify with. Keep in mind that the normal, healthy, skeptical and more or less mundane characters do not make interesting novels and screenplays.

      1. A few years ago someone wrote an article for the Skeptical Inquirer on the topic of ‘the skeptic in film and literature.’ As I recall it was, for the most part, a sad and sorry parade of mean or foolish nay-sayers who routinely ended up badly — often killed by the very occult forces or monsters they’d been so busy denying.

        In fact, if you looked at the evidence given in the movie or book only a total idiot or ideologue would have been skeptical. This ironically provides a double-edged model of the nonbeliever, since all you have to do is contrast the storybook world with the real one in order to realize why the negative caricature of the Willfully-Blind Skeptic doesn’t actually apply to real life doubters.

        1. Yes, I’ve always cringed at how reason has been undermined by paeans to human intuition and emotion in movies and TV.

          I love the Original Star Trek series, but even in a show that is reputed for introducing more intelligence in it’s plots and characters, emotion almost always was elevated over reason. Spock’s intellectual analysis would only carry the day so far, but it always took that “particularly human, intuition/emotional-leap” – usually Kirk’s – to solve whatever problem they had.
          Leaving Spock at the end to mutter about how illogical it all was and Kirk/Bones to smile at the fact Spock just doesn’t get it.

          Another example that just sticks in my throat is in Jurassic Park. After all hell has broken loose on the island, Laura Dern’s character is sitting with Park Owner John Hammond, and Hammond is lamenting his fate, and wondering how to fix things, and Dern says: “But you can’t think through this one John, sometimes you have to feel it.”

          First of all, WFT does that even mean? Second, the last thing anyone needed to do was forgo reasoning for feeling in such situations. Spielberg is a notorious sentimentalist, but the sentiment against following reason to it’s end rather than leading with emotion is nonetheless endemic in film/TV.

          (And it’s not entirely mysterious, as people tend to be moved by emotion which is why they go to movies).

        2. This is why reality TV sucks. Well-written fiction is so much more interesting than the banality of everyday existence.

          (I’m the first to concede that there are many fascinating factual stories to be told, but that still requires a talent for narrative that is, almost by definition, wholly absent from ‘reality TV’).

  6. ‘Time’ is wrong to say the surgeon’s picture started the legend. There have been legends of something in Loch Ness for hundreds of years. It was the first picture seen as confirmation of the legend.

    I love this doodle (well, I loved it yesterday, since time zones mean it’s Wednesday in NZ).

    1. In their recent (2013?) book “Abominable Science”, Don Prothero and Daniel Loxton argue that there was no “historical” Nessie before 1933. Yes, there were folkloric traditions of kelpies and other supernatural water monsters, but these are found throughout the Highlands, were never particularly associated with Loch Ness, and in any case bear no resemblance to the popular plesiosaur-ish image of Nessie. Prothero and Loxton suggest that it was the dinosaurs in the movie “King Kong” that kick-started the Nessie legend in 1933.

      Apart from all the manifold biological problems involved in Nessie’s existence, the fact that the true believers are still arguing about grainy black-and-white photos taken in the 1930s, when every single visitor to the loch for the last 10 years has been armed with a high-resolution camera phone (yet with no results) is pretty much all the evidence needed to show that the monster is a myth.

  7. Closer to where I came from is the story of Champ – which I would hear about from time to time when camping in the Adirondacks south of Montreal.

    That’s probably even more ridiculous as as story goes, but hey …

  8. I would love it if Nessie existed, but it doesn’t make sense trophically, does it? It’s hard to put a 5th trophic-level predator in an oligotrophic lake. But if any “cryptozoologists” want to correct me, please do.

    1. You’re quite right. I’ve scuba-dived in Loch Ness, and ventured deeper into it in a manned submersible. I don’t recall seeing a single living organism on either occasion, except possibly some wisps of algae around the shoreline. It seemed utterly barren, just silt-covered rocks and dead tree branches, all immersed in frigid water the colour of dilute tea. As you suggest, it’s so oligotrophic that the idea it might support a population of giant predators is hardly worth a moment’s consideration.

      1. That’s why fictional (deliberately) versions of the story add other twists. The “Choose Your Own Adventure” book _The Cave of Time_, for example, has Loch Ness containing a connection to the cave in question. (How that works when the player finds the cave in the US somewhere, I don’t know.)

  9. Of course Nessie is real. She eats snipes. That’s why you don’t see snipes in Scotland. Do you? Well do you? I rest my case.

  10. I was into Nessie (and Bigfoot) well into my teens until my interest skeptical investigations got the better of me.
    I even won a school-wide public speaking contest, my theme being The Lock Ness Monster (and hypothesizing it was a Plesiosaur). It was always a wonderful fantasy to imagine being in Loch Ness and finding the creature. And I remember when the famous “underwater flipper” shots were front page news in the newspaper.

    Now that I’m removed from it all, I’m amazed at the amount of effort that has actually been expended actually searching for Nessie (the submarines, the sonar sweeps, etc). I mean, from the photos to the anecdotes, it just seems so patently fabricated and threadbare it’s hard for me to see a serious person devoting such resources to “finding” it.

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