It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Feb 13, 2012

Famous Loch Ness Surgeon’s Photo is a Hoax

At the very beginning, I would like to highlight that this post does not target the Loch Ness Monster of being a hoax. May be, it is, may be, it is one of these true stories, which is hard to believe. There are multiple encounters and multiple pictures, and to claim that they are not true, we should review each case one-by-one (like this one below), and the post does not carry such ambitious target.

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No, would like to address probably the most famous photo, which could noticeably change the public perception of the story and make it famous. So, it is all about “surgeon’s photograph” only.

Surgeon’s Picture

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This famous picture, which shows what looks like the head of a prehistoric creature emerging from the waves of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, was allegedly snapped by Col. Robert Wilson, a respected London gynecologist, in 1934. Dr. Wilson was driving along the loch when a companion glanced down at the water and shouted: "My God, it's the monster!" Despite taking the historic picture, Dr. Wilson himself always denied the Loch Ness Monster even existed and insisted he had just taken a picture of some animal in the water he didn't recognize. The picture was taken at the distance of 200 to 300 meters (half a mile).

Nevertheless, after the surgeon's photo spread around, the creature gained worldwide attention, and it was identified by the scientists as plesiosaur - a long-necked, seafaring reptile supposedly extinct. Before the photo, Loch Ness was the stuff of legend and myth. Many bodies of water in Northern Scotland have ancient legends about monsters that were never written down. A tale that supposedly occured in 565 A.D. tells of Saint Columba who saved a swimmer from a hungry monster in the Ness river. This story was recorded in the book The Life of Saint Columba sometime in the late 7th Century and is often connected with later sightings in the in the nearby lake.

The locals knew the ancient history of the sea serpent and a few months before the publication of the famous photo a couple claimed they had seen a large "monster' in the lake. But people came to the lake more to relax than to go on expeditions looking for mythical beasts. After the photo, the scientific experts were called in and cryptozoologists offered their opinions to any who would listen.

Hoax Revealed

While the public opinion was mostly uniform over the years, that the image is real, there were always skeptical minds, who questioned it. For example, in 1984, Stewart Campbell analyzed the photo in an article in the British Journal of Photography. He argued that whatever was in the photo could have been only two or three feet long. He guessed that it was probably an otter or a marine bird.

Finally, in 1994, a man named Christian Spurling finally put an end of the picture circulation as a real thing, confessing to the hoax. Spurling explained that his father-in-law Marmaduke Wetherall had staged the picture using a fake monster head attached to an 18-inch long toy submarine.

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Duke Wetherell apparently compiled his elaborate plan as revenge upon the London Daily Mail newspaper. In 1933, the Daily Mail had hired Wetherell to find the Loch Ness Monster. Soon after arriving at the lake, Wetherell found some strange tracks of a four-toed creature in the soft mud near the water. Wetherell estimated that whatever left the tracks must be twenty feet in length. Plaster casts were taken and sent to the London Museum of Natural History. While the world awaited the Museum's analysis, however, hundreds of monster hunters and tourists showed up at the Loch. Unfortunately after a few weeks the Museum announced that the tracks were not that of an unknown monster, but those of a hippo. Apparently Wetherell himself had been hoaxed. The dried foot used to make the print was probably part of an umbrella stand or ash tray. The Daily Mail was angered at Wetherell and ridiculed and humiliated him.

All right," he reportedly told his 21-year-old son, Ian. "We'll give them their monster." Ian drafted his stepbrother, Christian Spurling, who built the model, erecting the neck over the sub's conning tower in layers of plastic wood and stabilizing it low in the water with strips of lead. It took eight days. Duke and Ian Wetherell photographed it in the shallows of a quiet bay in the loch, and quickly sank it when they heard a keeper approaching. Now all they needed was a respectable front to take the plates to be developed at a local chemist. Through a middle man they enlisted Colonel Wilson, whose credentials lent the tale credibility.

Dr. Wilson apparently went along with the hoax to be a good sport, without the slightest inkling it would be so successful. The British Medical Association warned him his tale was putting the medical profession under a cloud. He clammed up, implying that he could not talk because his companion in the car that day was a married woman.

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Why definitely not Plesiosaur?

While we do not know for sure, does Loch Ness Monster exist, and if positive, what is its true identity, there is very much doubt that it is indeed Plesiosaur, the most popular and romantic candidate on this role.

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The Plesiosaurs were prehistoric aquatic reptiles which lived in the warm seas which surrounded Scotland 70,000,000 years ago. They became extinct 65,000,000 years ago during the great extinction which may have been caused by the impact of huge meteor or planetoid. There is no continuity in the fossil record after that time.

There were several types of aquatic reptile including the ichthyosaurs, which were fish-like in appearance, and many species of plesiosaur. Some had short necks and large heads; others had small heads and long necks similar to the fictitious animal shown here.

If we are going to consider the possibility of plesiosaurs in Loch Ness we must consider how they could have arrived here. Around 12,000 years ago Loch Ness was still within the grips of the Lomond advance of ice and the loch would have been a solid block of ice. No animals at all could have lived in it then and farfetched suggestions that plesiosaurs could have survived in deep freeze until the ice thawed, is pure science fiction. If plesiosaurs came into the loch it must have happened after the ice retreated when access to the loch would have been easier until the land bounced back from the weight of the ice and the loch's level rose. These creatures, then, must have been living in substantial numbers in the North Sea if a viable community were to become trapped in the loch. If there were large numbers in the North Sea only a few thousand years ago where are they today? This factor alone should rule out the plesiosaur, but there are other factors too.

The plesiosaur was a creature of warm shallow seas. It may or may not have been warm-blooded, but it is unlikely that it could have survived in the ice age seas and the deep cold fresh water of Loch Ness. This is a critical issue which would rule it out as a candidate. Also, the plesiosaur breathed air and, if it were to somehow survive in Loch Ness, it would need to have a high metabolic rate. These two factors, alone or combined, mean that the animals would have to surface regularly and would be seen often.

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