Scientists examining Loch Ness say they may have found the key to the centuries-old mystery of whether a giant monster really does lurk within its murky depths.
Some 250 water samples were taken by a team from New Zealand during the most extensive study ever carried out on what is the UK’s largest body of freshwater.
Subsequent analysis did not quite reveal evidence of a shark, giant catfish or living relic of a prehistoric era – but did conclude that there may indeed be something out there.
DNA from eels was so abundant in the water it led to the conclusion giant specimens could be dwelling deep in the loch, which upon rising to the surface may have been mistaken for the mythical monster.
The work was carried out by geneticist Professor Neil Gemmell, from the University of Otago.
He said: “There is a very significant amount of eel DNA.
“Eels are very plentiful in Loch Ness, with eel DNA found at pretty much every location sampled. There are a lot of them.
“Our data doesn’t reveal their size, but the sheer quantity of the material says that we can’t discount the possibility that there may be giant eels.
“Therefore we can’t discount the possibility that what people see and believe is the Loch Ness Monster might be a giant eel.
“Divers have claimed that they’ve seen eels that are as thick as their legs in the loch, whether they’re exaggerating or not – I don’t know – there is a possibility that there are very large eels present in the loch.
“Whether they are as big as around 4m as some of these sightings suggest – well, as a geneticist I think about mutations and natural variation a lot, and while an eel that big would be well outside the normal range, it seems not impossible that something could grow to such an unusual size.”
He added: “Further investigation is needed to confirm or refute the theory, so based on our data, giant eels remain a plausible idea.”
Past theories as to what the monster may be have included seals, sharks, catfish, sturgeon, or the long-extinct prehistoric species the plesiosaur.
However, these were discounted by the DNA results.
The legend of the Loch Ness Monster dates back around 1,500 years, with the first apparent sighting of an unrecognisable “water beast” in the River Ness recorded in 565.
There was also one less-than-spectacular sighting of something “wriggling and churning up the water” in 1872.
But it was in the 20th century when the legend was spectacularly revived.
On 22 July 1933, a man named George Spicer, who was travelling with his wife, reported seeing “a most extraordinary form of animal” cross the road in front of their car. The unidentified creature was apparently enormous – around 25ft long and 4ft high, with no discernable limbs, but with a large body and long neck. Spicer said it left a trail of broken undergrowth as it headed towards the loch.
The following year, after at least two more sightings of unexplained creatures in the area, the most famous photograph of the Loch Ness Monster was taken by respected British surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson.
It was published in the Daily Mail on 21 April 1934, but Wilson initially refused to have his name published alongside, so it became known as “the surgeon’s photograph”.
In the 1990s the photograph was revealed to have been a hoax masterminded by a man named Christian Spurling, who reportedly wanted to get some form of revenge on the Daily Mail after the newspaper publicly ridiculed his father-in-law, the actor and director Marmaduke Wetherell, for claiming he had found “Nessie footprints” which later turned out to be fake.
Spurling made the “monster” out of a toy submarine fitted with a serpent head and neck.
Since then, regular “sightings” have been claimed, and even more regular hoaxes made.
Additional reporting by SWNS
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies