Two articles appear below:
1 Bigfoot & Nessie...
2 Origin of Monster's Photo

Bigfoot & Nessie:  Living Fossils or Mythical Monsters?

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 149, 2013 March)


Cryptozoology is concerned with the elusive quest for mysterious creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster (Nessie for short). Many proponents of this fringe science claim these creatures exist and that there is sufficient evidence to support this conclusion. Others, however, maintain that these creatures are nothing more than mythical animals. The purpose of this article is to determine which conclusion is most likely to be correct.


There have been sightings of a hominid-like creature in a number of different geographical regions where it is known by a variety of names: Bigfoot (American northwest), Sasquatch (Canada), Yeti (Himalayas) and Yowie (Australia).

Generally speaking, the alleged sightings of these animals have occurred in wilderness areas and from these reports it is possible to describe Bigfoot and his cousins as hairy man-like beings with large feet that stand 2 to 3 meters tall and weigh in the vicinity of between 225 and 363 kg.

Cryptozoologists sometimes suggest that these creatures (whom for the purpose of this essay, I will collectively call beast-men) are living fossils like the coelacanth — a fish that was thought extinct for millions of years until a live specimen was caught off south-eastern Africa in 1938.

This hypothesis, although plausible, lacks the substantiating evidence as with the coelacanth — namely, a specimen that can be subjected to scientific study. Unfortunately, all that is offered as proofs for the existence of beast-men are plaster casts of footprints, film and eyewitness testimony.


Europeans have found strange man-like footprints in the Himalayas since 1915 between the altitudes of 3658 meters and 6707 meters, with the majority at 4573 meters or higher. Probably the most well known example are those found by Eric Shipton on the Menlang glacier in November 1951, the intense publicity of which was instrumental in bringing the Yeti myth to the attention of a world-wide audience. Could these footprints be of an animal unknown to science?

The problem with this assumption is that footprints of known animals found at the altitudes mentioned — bears for example — could, under certain conditions, appear man-like:
"At moderate speeds the track [of a bear] is often a composite one, with the fore and hind foot superimposed; in these circumstances it can give the appearance of a single track made by a bipedal creature. The outline of the composite track, particularly in snow that has been subjected to melting, is at first sight, extraordinarily human-like." (J. Napier: Bigfoot - The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality, page 151.)
The Himalayas and adjacent ranges are also inhabited by hermits and mystics who are capable of enduring intense cold and privations, and often wander naked at high altitudes. Given that tracks of known animals (including man) can be altered in size and shape by melting, sublimation, and the effects of high winds and blizzards to resemble those of a hominid creature, the possibility that footprints attributed to the Yeti are nothing more than this cannot be ruled out.

Tracks attributed to Bigfoot have been found in northwest America since the 1920s. Here, the case for the existence of some unknown creature appears at first glance stronger than is the case with the Yeti because most footprints have not been found in snow. However, Bigfoot tracks show a wide range of variation and that makes the assumption these footprints are from the same creature, or species of creature, doubtful. Consequently, several possibilities come to mind — all of the tracks are hoaxes, or some of the tracks are hoaxes and others genuine. The problem is how can we distinguish between a clever hoax and a genuine footprint in the absence of a Bigfoot specimen that can be studied for comparison?

For example, the Bigfoot phenomenon started to gain significant attention in 1958 due to the activities of Ray L. Wallace (1918-2002) who, according to his son, Michael Wallace, asked a friend to carve a pair of wooden feet 16 inches long that could be strapped on and used to make prints. When these footprints were discovered The Humboldt Times (a local newspaper) ran a front-page story on the find, thereby lending credence to the idea that a mysterious creature was roaming the forests of Humboldt County, California. If this admission had not been made, then some might still consider these footprints genuine.

In Australia the situation is no better — those footprints that have been discovered and attributed to the Yowie are of an unconvincing nature, and therefore more likely to be the products of hoaxers than an unknown animal:
"When prints are found, they tend to be unlike anything any plausible animal could be expected to make, and certainly unlike one another. Feet are a pretty fundamental part of a species' adaptation to its ecological niche: a species may have four different hair colours but it simply cannot have several different types of feet." (M Smith: Bunyips & Bigfoots — In Search of Australia's Mystery Animals, page 164.)
Probably the most well known film of Bigfoot is the one shot by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin on 20th October 1967 at Bluff Creek in northern California. However, when the film is examined the gait of the creature is not consistent with that of an erect ape-like animal. Rather, it is more consistent with that of a human being dressed in a monkey suit attempting to imitate an erect ape-like animal. In the final analysis the film and photographic evidence is inconclusive for the same reason as the footprints — namely, the possibility that they are nothing more than cunning fabrications.

Sightings of beast-men are also inconclusive due to the physiology and psychology of human perception. For example, according to Benjamin Radford (see bibliography) even proponents of Bigfoot admit that many sightings (perhaps up to 80%) turn out to be either hoaxes or misidentification of known animals or objects. This can be seen in the case of Anthony Wooldridge, an experienced Himalayan hiker, who photographed what he thought was a Yeti. The photograph was of a convincing nature, however, when researchers returned to the scene of the encounter, they discovered that Wooldridge had photographed a rock outcropping whose shape gave the impression of a man-like being under the conditions that prevailed when the picture was taken.

It is possible that many sightings of beast-men arise from the psychological phenomena known as pareidolia — where a vague or obscure stimulus is perceived as something clear and distinct because the brain attempts to make sense of ambiguous data by filling in the gaps. The final form the illusion takes is probably moulded by the conscious and unconscious desires and beliefs of the percipient — if you are hiking through mountains rumoured to be inhabited by a hairy monster then, under the right conditions, that is what you will 'see'. What about the remaining 20% — can these be considered genuine? Unfortunately, without any substantiating evidence in the way of physical remains that withstand scientific scrutiny, little weight can be given to eyewitness testimony.

In order for these beast-men to survive as a species, there would have to be a fair-size population — adult males and females, infants and adolescents. Furthermore, the various groups would also require a considerable territorial range in order to secure the food, water and shelter essential to survival. For example, gorillas live in bands of 5 to 15 individuals that include a dominant silverback, one or two subdominant males, several mature females and young. Adult males can attain a height of 1.6 meters, weigh up to 181 kg and consume approximately 16 kg of vegetable matter per day. These bands roam within a territory that ranges up to 40 square km and build makeshift camps in the form of nests constructed from grass and leaves.

I think it is reasonable to assume that beast-men would have similar behaviour patterns and requirements to those of gorillas. In fact their needs would be greater due to their larger size and, as a consequence, would leave many traces of their presence in their environment. Yet no incontrovertible traces have been found. So, if they exist, then where are they?

Depending on its diet, the Yeti (if it exists) could theoretically occupy a niche just below the snow line of the Himalayas, even during winter. On the other hand, if it is a vegetarian it could survive in the forests of the major Himalayan river valleys, most of which are largely unexplored. Possibilities, however, do not equal actualities — although it is possible that an animal unknown to science could live in these areas, this cannot be considered proof that it does.

The situation with regard to Bigfoot is slightly different — the forests of the American northwest are not a rich source of food in winter, so it is difficult to see how a Bigfoot population could survive during this period. Furthermore, the area is not as isolated as the Himalayas, as indicated by the number of people who claim they have seen the creature, and this highlights the fact that if these animals actually existed (and remember, even extremely rare and endangered species can be proven to exist if they are extant), then conclusive proof would not remain so elusive for so long.

The circumstances in Australia are just as bad — those areas where Yowies have allegedly been sighted occur in New South Wales and Queensland locations that are widely separated from each other and have been heavily settled for some time. Consequently, it is difficult to see how gene flow could occur between widely separated groups to maintain species viability, and how such populations in close proximity to human habitation could have remained unconfirmed since European settlement.

Unfortunately, after decades of searching there is still no sound evidence for the existence of any beast-men. No one has ever found any contemporary remains in the way of bones, carcasses, hair or scat that have withstood scientific scrutiny. Nor is there any evidence that a community of these creatures exists in the vicinity of the alleged sightings. Also, there is no evidence in the fossil record that shows the evolution of such animals, although some believers have suggested that Gigantopithecus, a large extinct ape-like creature, is a likely candidate. Unfortunately, the only fossils of this animal found so far consist of teeth and lower jaws. Until a more complete skeleton is discovered it is not possible to determine if Gigantopithecus' stature and gait bears close resemblance to that ascribed to Bigfoot and the Yeti.

Every culture has its menagerie of mythical creatures — mermaids, the Minotaur, werewolves and other man-animal hybrids. Many of these fabulous beasts may have arisen from misidentification of known animals, hallucinations or simply fabrications by hoaxers who derive pleasure from deceiving others and/or the attention gained by claiming to have found or seen something unusual. Until we have an actual specimen of a Bigfoot or Yeti that can be subjected to scientific study to confirm its authenticity, the only conclusion based on reason is the case for the existence of beast-men remains unproved.


Loch Ness is a narrow lake in northern Scotland. It extends in a north-eastern direction for about 39 km from Fort Augustus to a point near the city of Inverness, has an average width of about 2 km, and is about 230 meters at its greatest depth.

Many legends concerning monsters are associated with Scottish lakes, and Loch Ness is the most well known example. However, are people correct when they assume the Loch Ness Monster is more than just a myth?

Proponents of the Loch Ness Monster claim that this beast has been sighted down through the centuries and offer this as proof of its existence. According to believers, the earliest account of the monster is a legend that in about 565 AD, Saint Columba, who had come to Scotland to convert the Picts to Christianity, drove off the creature with his mystical powers when it threatened one of his followers. Is it possible that this and other ancient sightings are trustworthy accounts?

Unfortunately, when these claims are investigated they are found to be unwarranted. For example, the encounter between Saint Columba and the beast is recorded in Adamnan's Vita Sancti Columbae written almost 100 years after the saint's death. Like all biographies of this kind, it contains amazing and improbable events that are designed to impress the reader with the saint's alleged miracle-working abilities — in other words, a pious fabrication. Consequently, it is a most untrustworthy document and, furthermore the encounter occurred in the River Ness, an entirely different body of water. Indeed, the situation with regard to the alleged historical evidence can best be summarized as follows:
"The entire Loch Ness Monster tradition crumbles at the first sceptical probe. It is simply untrue that the loch has been, as Roy Mackal claims, 'the site of strange observations for over 1400 years.' No-one began seeing 'monsters' in Loch Ness until the nineteen-thirties." (R Binns: The Loch Ness Mystery Solved, page 59)

In an effort to overcome this problem, believers often claim that it was the inaccessibility of Loch Ness that prevented the monster being sighted prior to the 1930s. This claim, however, is also without foundation — during the 19th century Loch Ness was a very popular tourist destination, with paddle steamer excursions that took in the entire length of the lake. Furthermore, access to the area was also possible via the north shore road as described in the 1906 edition of Ward Locke and Company's 'Red Guide' to Oban, Fort William and the Western Highlands.

As will be seen, the Loch Ness phenomenon is of early 20th century origin, the catalyst of which was a report in the Inverness Courier (02/05/1933) titled "Strange Spectacle on Loch Ness." In this report it was claimed that whilst driving along the north shore road, a husband and wife observed a whale-like creature disporting itself on the waters of the lake a quarter mile from shore.

The actual event, however, was much less dramatic than the media hype: The unnamed couple in the report was John and Donaldina Mackay, and the anonymous author of the news item was Alex Campbell who had embroidered the incident to a considerable degree. The prosaic fact is that Mrs. Mackay saw a disturbance on the lake — at a range of about 100 yards — that, upon reflection, appeared to be caused by two ducks fighting (Mr. Mackay saw nothing as he was too busy driving).

The plain truth of the matter is that the idea of a monster in Loch Ness would probably have died a natural death if it hadn't been for the actions of Alex Campbell, a firm believer in the reality of the monster legend prior to 1933, who promoted the idea by drawing his alleged sightings — which contain many contradictions — and those of others (also of questionable veracity) to the attention of the often uncritical press. Indeed, when loss of interest in the monster began to occur in 1934 the number of sightings fell to barely two per year until 1957 when Constance Whyte's book More Than a Legend revived interest in the idea.

What other evidence can believers offer to counter the claim that Nessie is nothing more than a kind of collective delusion? Unfortunately, the only evidence that is offered as proof is photographs and cine film. The problem with this kind of evidence is that known objects can, under the right conditions appear as something startlingly different (more on this later), while photographs and cine film can be outright hoaxes. For example, the photograph (probably the most famous) known as the "surgeons photo", was allegedly taken by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson in 1934 and appears to show the head and neck of a plesiosaur-like animal. Unfortunately, the object in the photo is actually a model sea serpent attached to a 14-inch toy submarine, a fact admitted by Christian Spurling who was involved in the hoax along with his stepbrother, Ian Wetherel, the actual photographer.

Examples of images that may not be hoaxes but are nevertheless inconclusive include the film shot by Tim Dinsdale in April 1960 that shows something (a boat perhaps?) moving through the lake's waters, though what it actually is remains uncertain. In 1970, the American Academy of Applied Science conducted a study to determine the monster's existence using automatic cameras and sonar, and in 1972 one of the underwater cameras photographed what appears to be a flipper 6 to 8 feet in length. However, its anatomical features are not consistent with an efficient swimming design, a fact that casts doubt on any claim that it is a flipper. In 1975 another camera photographed something that could be interpreted as the face of the beast or, for that matter, a piece of driftwood.

Several instances of what appear to be large moving objects have also been detected under the waters of the lake through the use of sonar. However, the thermal gradients and fluctuations in Loch Ness make the interpretation of data difficult and, once again, the results are inconclusive.

Despite the lack of sound evidence, believers often attempt to lend credence to their views by claiming that the beast is a surviving species of plesiosaur — a marine reptile that dominated the seas of the Mesozoic Era (circa 225 million years before present). The problem is that there is no evidence in the fossil record indicating plesiosaurs survived past the Mesozoic and into the Cenozoic, or age of mammals.

Another problem with this idea is that there can't be just one Nessie. In order for the beast to have existed for so long (as believers claim), there would need to be a breeding population of them (possibly between 12 and 100 animals). Given the number of tourists to the area, dedicated cryptozoologists and scientific expeditions to locate the creature over the last seventy years, incontrovertible evidence would have shown up by now in the way of a carcass washed ashore, or the discovery of other contemporary remains.

In an attempt to overcome this difficulty some believers claim there is only one monster that, during the 1930s when young and small, gained egress to the lake via the river system. The problem with this idea is that if it were true then the creature would be a saltwater animal and, as such, could not survive in the fresh water environment of Loch Ness. Furthermore, the problem of a breeding population still remains — it has merely been shifted to the oceans, and there is no sound evidence that plesiosaurs, or creatures very much like them, inhabit the seas of our era.

Given that, based on the available data, it is unlikely there is an animal unknown to science dwelling in Loch Ness, how can the many sightings be explained? The most likely answer is that these sightings have resulted from a combination of the following factors:
(1) A belief in the existence of the monster that arose from the promotion of the idea by people such as Alex Campbell, who appears to have been a believer from the outset, and mostly uncritical press coverage of the idea.

(2) Misapprehension of natural phenomena under less than ideal conditions of visibility, such as wake-effects of boats, flocks of birds flying close to the surface of the lake, logs and the mirages that are common to Loch Ness at morning, a time when chances of observing the creature are considered best.

These factors, combined with a predisposition to believe in the monster's existence, and the broad and featureless expanse of the lake's waters, which makes judgment of size and distance difficult, as well as the air of mystery created by the landscape, is probably sufficient to account for the phenomena.


Binns, R The Loch Ness Mystery Solved, W.H. Allen & Co., London 1984.

Napier, J. Bigfoot: The yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality, Readers Union Ltd., Devon, 1974.

Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, 2001.

Radford, B. Bigfoot at 50: Evaluating a Half-Century of Bigfoot Evidence, Skeptical Inquirer, March 2002.

Smith, M. Bunyips & Bigfoots — In Search of Australia's Mystery Animals, Millennium Books, Alexandria, Australia, 1996.

The Skeptic's Dictionary, http//

Tweedie, M. The World of the Dinosaurs, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1977.



(Investigator 150, 2013 May)

I refer to the article by Kirk Straughen, "Bigfoot and Nessie: Living Fossils or Mythical Monsters?"

The story behind the Surgeon's Photo is quite interesting; in 1933 the London Daily Mail hired flamboyant movie-maker and big game hunter Marmaduke Wetherell to find the Loch Ness monster.

In December 1933, Wetherell discovered some large footprints in mud on the shoreline. Estimating they were from a large creature, some twenty feet in length, he made plaster casts of the prints and sent them to the London Museum of Natural History for identification. To his disappointment the Museum identified them as being those of a hippo, and, since wild hippos are rare in Scotland, it was assumed someone had used a dried hippo's foot, (one that had been converted into an umbrella stand), to make the footprints.

It is not known if Wetherell was actually involved in the hoax, although it is more likely he was an innocent victim. Nevertheless, the Daily Mail publicly ridiculed Wetherell and, angry at the attack on his reputation, he decided to have his revenge.

Several months later there were sensational developments when a highly respected British gynecologist, Robert Kenneth Wilson, released a photo apparently showing a sea serpent like creature swimming in the loch. Although disputed by many this particular photo remained the strongest evidence of the existence of the Loch Ness monster until 1994 when Christian Spurling, (cited in various sources as being either Wetherell's stepson or son-in-law), admitted the photo had been a hoax.

He claimed that in order to have revenge on the Daily Mail, Wetherell had asked him to build a "monster". He agreed and, using materials obtained by Wetherell's son Ian Marmaduke, he had moulded plasticine into a monster-like head and neck which he mounted on a clockwork powered toy submarine purchased from Woolworth's.

Also involved were Maurice Chambers (an insurance agent), who had asked Wilson to offer the pictures to the Daily Mail. This then, was the origin of the "surgeon's photo" of the Loch Ness monster. Comedienne Wendy Harman probably best summed up the status of the Loch Ness monster in the television show "20 – 1 Conspiracies" on Channel 9, on the 19th September 2006, when she commented, "If there really was a Loch Ness monster the Japanese would have hunted it down for scientific purposes by now, don't you think." 

Laurie Eddie

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