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The Search for Nessie, caught on Nessie Cam

Dirk Vander Ploeg's picture


In figure A, I have given my initial impressions of this photograph and it is self-explanatory. To my eye, this photograph is corroborative of past photographic evidence for N. rhombopteryx, particularly the well-known "Surgeon's photo" of 1934. Though claims that fraud was involved in the creation of the "Surgeon's photo" received wide exposure in 1994, these claims remains largely unsubstantiated and many researchers are still inclined to view this photo as an authentic photograph of a specimen of N. rhombopteryx. The second Jones image bears even more resemblance to the 1977 Sandra Mansi photograph of the Lake Champlain "monster", which itself also greatly resembles the "Surgeon's photo". For comparative purposes, I have produced sketches of both the 1934 and 1977 photographs in Figure B. I am of the opinion that the Lake Champlain animals and N. rhombopteryx, if not co generic, are closely related, but others do not share this view.

Figure B - Click here for larger view.

In Figure B, I have given my impression of the third Jones photograph. The object of interest can most likely be interpreted as a long neck arched over the water or the arched segment of an eel-like body. Mrs. Jones informed that this object, when moving, was only briefly held above the water in this position.

Though N.rhombopteryx has been given a Latin name, no biological type specimen has yet been retrieved and the description was based on photographic evidence only. For this reason, there is much debate over the validity of this taxon and much speculation as to the animal's zoological affinities, which may never be resolved until a biological sample is retrieved. Sir Peter Scott and, before him, Dr. Denys Tucker of the British Museum thought that N.rhombopteryx was derived from the marinoe reptile Plesiosaurs (order Sauropterygia, sub-order Plesiosauria). Some plesiosaurs had long necks with small heads, but all had turtle-like bodies (without a shell), four paddle-like limbs and moderately long tails. Plesiosaurs are generally thought to have gone extinct 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period, but there is inconclusive geological evidence that some forms may have persisted into the Palaeocene, early in the Age of the Mammals. Though it is generally assumed that no reptile could tolerate the frigid water temperature of Lock Ness, there is geological evidence of plesiosaurs inhabiting a similar body of freshwater within the Antarctic during the early Cretaceous. Obviously, some types of plesiosaurs had thermal adaptions like those of the living Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coracea), which regularly goes into Arctic waters feeding on jellyfish, or were fully homoeothermic.

Dr. Roy Mackal of the University of Chicago has proposed that N.rhombopteryx is derived from some type of basilosaurine cetacean such as Basilosaurus or Zeuglodon (biologist Gary Mangiacopra also endorsed this theory for N.rhombopteryx, but has since abandoned it). These primitive cetaceans had crocodile-like heads, elongated and eel-like bodies (but with body thickening in the thoracic region), strong paddle-like anterior appendages, reduced rear appendages and caudal flukes approaching those of modern cetaceans. The last basilosaurines are thought to have died out 38 million years ago. Dr. Mackal speculates that some form may have persisted and evolved a long neck approximating that of some plesiosaurs.

Though this controversy will not be resolved until physical evidence is at hand, my two favoured hypotheses for the zoological affinities of N.rhombopteryx are some kind of plesiosaur derivative or a giant, thick-bodies anguilliform fish resembling the conger eels. In deference to Mrs. Jones, who is convinced that the animal she observed was eel-like in nature, I will discuss some of the points concerning the giant eel hypothesis.

The pectoral fins of mature freshwater eels (order Apodes, genus Anguilla) and mature conger eels (order Apodes, genus Conger) does approximate the shape of the large, paddle-like appendage photographed by the Academy of Applied Sciences in Loch Ness in 1972, which was the primary evidence on which the formal description of N.rhombopteryx was based. Though it is generally assumed that no eel species possesses a long "neck" like that repeatedly observed on specimens of N.rhombopeteryx, with considerable distance between the head and pectoral fins. F.W. Tesch, a German eel specialist, has reported a developmental anomaly among eels in which the body grows exceptionally large and faster than the growth of the individual's skin. This condition sometimes results in the vertebrae being bunched together, compressed and dislocated, somewhat approaching the appearance of the enigmatic vertical humps often reported in eyewitness observations of N.rhombopteryx.

Though some have suggested that N.rhombopteryx may represent abnormally large specimens of the common European freshwater eel (Anguilla anguilla), I think it more likely that they are specimens of the European conger eel (Conger conger), which grows to larger size, if they are in fact a known species. Conger eels of 8 feet in length with the diameters of telephone poles are documented, though one of twice those dimensions would be required to account for observations of N.rhombopteryx. Though the conger eels are thought to be wholly marine, congor eel larvae has been documented in the freshwater of the Hudson River, New York, U.S.A., in 1986. In addition, some types of marine eels possess elongated fleshy tubes extending from their external nares, which may approximate the anomalous horn-like appendages reported on the heads of some specimens of N.rhombopteryx and which are visible in what some researchers believe may be a photograph of the head of a specimen of N.rhombopteryx, obtained by the Academy of Applied Sciences in 1975.

There are documented cases of individual eel specimens with abnormal body thickening in the thoracic region, approximating the morphology of plesiosaurs. If N.rhombopteryx does represent some kind of anguilliform fish, the above phenomenon could explain observations of individuals with a large central body and other individuals with a standard eel-like configuration, all within the same species. Many types of eels have a limited amphibious ability, being able to obtain oxygen from the air through their skin, so observations on land are not ruled out.

Though many of the features cited in the following passages are particular to certain eel species, eels as a group seem prone to various developmental anomalies and are somewhat plastic in their morphology. As eel specimens mature, their skeleton decalcifies, approaching a cartilage state, which might explain the difficulty in finding skeletal remains of N.rhombopteryx, if it is an anguilliform fish. If n.rhombopteryx represents an unknown eel species, it could represent a relief Pleistocene form. The Loch Ness Project has documented relief forms of Pleistocene zooplankton in Loch Ness.

Mrs. Jones told me that, based on her observations, she feels that N.rhombopteryx is unlikely to be a plesiosaur derivative, as she had previously assumed, because her impressions were of an elongated, eel-like animal. But she also stated that the long neck and vertical undulations she observed were decidedly anomalous for eels (there may be support for the basilosaurine hypothesis in these observations). She likened the animal she observed to the recently described Cadborsaurus willsi of the North Pacific. C. willsi has been formally described from photographs of what is believed to be a juvenile specimen retrieved from the stomach of a sperm whale in 1937. It is an animal with a pseudo-mammalian, moose-like head, flipper-like pectoral appendages, an elongated, eel-like body and rear appendages configured like that of cetacean caudal flukes. It has been tentatively classified as a plesiosaur derivative, though others have alternately suggested basilosaurine affinities. Dr. Ed Bousfield of the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, has suggested that a population of freshwater-adapted, landlocked C. willsi inhabit Okanogan Lake in British Columbia, Canada. If C. willsi is a plesiosaur derivative, one can postulate an eel-like body configuration without abandoning the plesiosaur hypothesis. After all, who knows what 65 million years of evolution could have done to these animals. At any rate, C. willsi and N.rhombopteryx may share a common ancestor.

Whatever the zoological affinities of N.rhombopteryx may be, there are two general schools of though concerning how these animals came to be in Lock Ness: (1) Individuals regularly go back and forth between Loch Ness and the open sea undetected or (2) there is a resident breeding population of these animals that is now landlocked but that entered Loch Ness when glacial melting at the end of the last ice age caused the sea to flood into Loch Ness, temporarily making it an arm of the Atlantic Ocean. Of the two hypotheses, I favour the latter.

Since the very existence of N.rhombopteryx is still controversial and all evidence in support of the idea is intensely scrutinized, I strongly urge that scientific evaluation of the Nora Jones photographs be done if, for no other reason, only to strengthen their value as evidence. If any parties wish to dispute evidence presented within the text, I can be e-mailed through the "Bessie cam" website and will refer said parties to the proper documentation.

In conclusion, the Nora Jones photographic images effectively demonstrate that, under the right circumstances, video monitoring systems, such as the "Bessie cam" and "Nessie cam", are likely to yield fruitful results.

Text and artwork copyright 1999, Scott Howard Mardis


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