2. The Loch Ness Monster
The Loch Ness Monster (or Nessie to his friends) first achieved worldwide fame and notoriety in the early 1930s. The first major 20th century sighting of the monster occurred as a couple were driving past the Loch in 1933 and observed an enormous animal rolling and plunging in the water before them. Eminent cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has theorized that the then-recent expansion of an old road near the Loch, which involved the clearing of trees and the use of dynamite, not only cleared the view of the water, but may also have disturbed the animals marine habitat. Once word of the 1933 sighting caught on, spotting the famous monster became at first a local, and then a global phenomenon. However, the legend of the Loch Ness Monster did not begin in the 20th century. Its origins actually date back much further than that. There is an old story that dates back to the 6th century and concerns the famed Irish abbot and missionary Saint Columba. In the story, Columba meets a group of picts who are burying a man in the River Ness (which is connected to the Loch). The men explain that a water beast has savaged their friend and that they were unable to save him (this happens quite a lot in Celtic mythology, where carnivorous water horses the kelpie - and aquatic dogs Dobhar-chu- are frequently dragging men to watery graves). Columba commands that his follower swim the lake and, as the fearsome beast attacks him, the abbot makes the sign of a cross and forces the beast never to attack anyone again. It never again did. The Loch Ness Monster is perhaps the most famous cryptid of all time; his only serious competition for the title is Americas Bigfoot and his various relatives (by which I mean to refer to similar cryptids like The Sasquatch and The Yeti - not The Hendersons). By far the most famous image of Nessie was the much-reprinted Surgeons Photograph, which was taken in 1934. Sadly for us, this image has since been proved to be a hoax.
Theories abound as to what the creature could be, the most commonly held, yet easily the most unlikely, is that Nessie is in fact a relict marine reptile, usually assumed to be a plesiosaur. This is ridiculous for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fossil evidence, which gives a very clear timeframe for that species demise during the KT extinction event and no further evidence of its survival after that point (although Id be remiss not to point out the example of the coelacanth, a large fish that was initially known only from fossil records, but was found to be alive in the 1930s). In addition, like all marine reptiles known to science, plesiosaurs would have had to come to the surface to breath air and Nessie is certainly not breaking the surface often enough to do that. There would also be nowhere near enough space for a breeding population of such animals and nothing like enough food. It would also be borderline miraculous for a cold-blooded creature, incapable of regulating its own body temperature, to survive in the freezing waters of the Loch, a body of water that had yet to be formed (it is only 10,000 years old) during the time of the dinosaurs. But, if it isnt a dinosaur, what else could it be? Some cryptozoologists (and a recent documentary film) have put forward an interesting theory (one that, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, Im fairly certain I thought of first). Remember when Samuel de Champlain mistook a sturgeon for a sea monster? Well, some experts think something like that may have happened before... Sleeper sharks are a veritable miracle of evolution. They typically live in Arctic and sub-Antarctic waters, but they are extremely adaptable (even being spotted in the warm waters around the Gulf of Mexico). These large sharks usually live at unfathomable depths, scavenging at some of the very coldest, darkest parts of the seafloor (as deep as 2,200 metres). As a result, they are rarely seen and, until recently, comparatively little was known about them. Evidence suggests that they can prey on (or at least eat the remains of) colossal squid and polar bears. One was once even caught with a complete reindeer inside its belly! The Greenland shark, a type of sleeper shark, can grow to sizes comparable to that of a great white. They also are functionally blind, due to a small, parasitic crustacean that lives in their eyes (I know, right?). However, despite robbing them of their sight, these symbiotic partners can actually act as a lure for prey items in the murky depths. Greenland sharks are thought to be perhaps the longest-lived vertebrates on earth, with some individuals surviving for as much as 200 years. Taking away from the traditional shape that Nessie is said to assume (three humps and a head), a large number of sightings actually suggest a much smaller animal, with eyewitnesses often suggesting that the creature has a manatee or dolphin-like shape (depending on the angle from which it was viewed). Sleeper sharks, with their thick, insulating skin, flattened noses and unusual shape, certainly fit this description. In addition, large shapes that have been seen on sonar in the Loch correspond to sizes and dimensions similar to those of Greenland sharks. Sleeper sharks have been known to migrate into shallow rivers (and have actually been filmed swimming in North Americas St. Lawrence river), but it is disputed as to how well these animals can tolerate freshwater (if at all). However, there is considerable evidence that they can cope with freshwater rather well, at least for short periods of time as they have often been found with freshwater fish inside them. In the Loch, sleeper sharks would have access to a decent amount of prey (including Arctic char and salmon, two species that they are known to feed on). They could also easily live at the depths that large objects were recorded at by the sonar devices of Operation Deepscan in the 1980s. Because they dwell so deeply, they would rarely, if ever, leave any evidence of themselves in the form of corpses washed ashore and would probably come to the shallows only to feed. To this day, people are unfamiliar with sleeper sharks and they certainly would have been in the 1930s and onwards. Such an unusual creature, glimpsed fleetingly and from faraway, could appear bigger than it actually was, especially if its breaking the surface created a V shaped wake so commonly reported by eyewitnesses. This new theory appears to be taking hold and other lake monster sightings from around the world are being investigated as potential sleeper shark sites. Whatever you take from this (admittedly offbeat) idea, it should definitely be noted that the sleeper shark is a creature every bit as fantastic, mysterious and elusive as anything Humankind can dream up.