Why the Search for the Loch Ness Monster (and Other Beasts) Continues 90 Years After That First Blurry Photograph

But there is evidence to support the existence of three-meter long beasties that looked a bit like the Loch Ness monster. These reptiles are known as plesiosaurs and they were wiped out in the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period.

Discoveries of plesiosaur fossils suggest they may have lived in freshwater. The fossils included bones and teeth from three-meter long adults and an arm bone from a 1.5 meter-long baby. However, it’s unlikely that the Loch Ness monster is a plesiosaur.

Unfortunately the truth comes down to biology. There might be enough food and enough space in the loch but what there is not enough of is other living Loch Ness-like monsters to make a viable population of animals to support Nessy’s existence.

So Why Look for Nessy or Other Monsters?
In August this year, Inverness played host to monster hunters scouring the loch with drones equipped with hydrophones and boats pinging sonar, all in the hope of proving the existence of Nessy. They didn’t find anything, which strongly suggests that Loch Ness remains monster-free.

Monster hunting mania is not reserved to the Loch Ness monster alone. The Mokele-mbembe is another a mythical water-dwelling beast that supposedly lives in the Congo River Basin and looks like a dinosaur. Like Nessy, I doubt it exists.

But I’m not a total party-pooper and I think people should continue their searches for seemingly extinct creatures. Take the thylacine, or Tasmanian wolf, for example. The last Tasmanian wolf was believed to have died in captivity in the 1930s.

However, recent research found that it’s possible the Tasmanian wolf went extinct much later than first thought and maybe hung on until the 2000s. In fact, researchers report that small groups of thylacines may have survived.

And sometimes animals we thought were extinct did come back to the modern world. The coelacanth is perhaps the most famous example.

This fish has a very long fossil record, from the Devonian period through to the end of the Cretaceous period. Then they were gone, thought lost in the same event that destroyed the dinosaurs and plesiosaurs. Not one fossil coelacanth has been described from Paleogene period sediments to today.

But in 1938 a single specimen, caught by fishermen, was found in a South African market by ichthyologist (a marine biologist who studies different fish species) Marjorie Courtney Latimer.

There followed a hunt for the next 20 years to find the population (do read the excellent A Fish Caught in Time) and we now know of two Latimeriid coelacanths in populations around Indonesia and southern Africa.

The take home message of this is: don’t let anything put you off looking for excitement, or even monsters. You might just find something amazing.

Neil J. Gostling is Associate Professor in Evolution and Paleobiology, University of Southampton. This article is published courtesy of The Conversation.