June 17, 2024

What if the Loch Ness Monster was a Giant Eel? : ScienceAlert

Despite the beautiful thorough debunkings.

One of the last plausible explanations for the beast has also gone into the sleeve pile. After careful investigation, data scientist Floe Foxon of Pinney Associates and the Folk Zoology Society determined that Nessie is unlikely to be seen with giant eels.

“This new work from the Folk Zoology Society brings a much-needed level of scientific rigor and detail to an otherwise slippery subject,” says Foxon.

“Contrary to popular belief, the intersection of folklore and zoology can be scientifically analyzed and has the potential to provide valuable insights into anthrazoological phenomena. This work supports open access science and non-traditional publishing – the future of scientific publishing.”

The Loch Ness monster first appeared in Scottish mythology in the 1930s, when visitors to the freshwater lake began reporting that they had seen something unusual. Nessie, as the monster became known, appeared to resemble a plesiosauror sea serpent.

The famous and much debate Photograph of the Surgeon, sold to the Daily Mail in 1934 by doctor Robert Kenneth Wilson, Shows a creature with a long, elegant, swan-like neck, very similar to a plesiosaur. (That photo is now thought to be a hoax orchestrated by the actor Marmaduke Wetherell.)

Photo of the Surgeon. (Marmaduke Wetherell/public domain)

Geneticist Neil Gemmell from the University of Otago in New Zealand led an international effort to reveal the truth once and for all in 2018. He and his team did extensive sampling of the waters of Loch Ness and filtered out the environmental DNA​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

They found no evidence of sea serpent or plesiosaur DNA. However, they obtained a lot of DNA from European eels (Anguilla anguilla), perhaps not surprising, since the inhabitants of the lake are identified by the eels.

Gemmell and his team concluded that if anyone saw something long and curved in the lake, it might just be a very large eel?

It was this idea that Foxon investigated. He did the analysis of capture data on eels in Loch Ness and other bodies of water in Europe to estimate the probability of seeing a very large one.

In order to be consistent with the the size of Nessie, the eel would have to be very large indeed. And, well, there’s no chance of seeing an eel that big.

In Foxon’s analysis, which included over 20,000 eels, the maximum length recorded for a European eel was 0.932 meters (3.06 feet). It was estimated that the maximum physiologically possible length of a European eel 1.3 meters (4.3 feet).

European eel. The species is critically endangered. (verneau/iNaturalist, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

The Nessie cut in the Surgeon’s Photograph is the uppermost size estimate 2.4 meters, and the size estimate for Nessie in general is around 6.1 meters. This means, Foxon found, if you see an eel in Loch Ness, it probably isn’t a big gun.

“The chance of finding a large eel in Loch Ness is about 1 in 50,000 for a 1 meter specimen, which is reasonable given the loch’s fish stock and suggests that seeing some unknown animals could be large eels,” he writes in his paper.

“However, the probability of finding a specimen over 6 meters is essentially zero; therefore, sightings of larger animals are probably not accounted for by eels.”

Oh well. Back to the drawing board.

The research is published in JMIRx Bio.

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