The Surgeon Photograph of the Loch Ness Monster

On this Day:

1933, the first known photo of the Loch Ness monster was taken by Hugh Gray.

The Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie, is a creature in Scottish folklore that is said to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It is often described as large, long-necked, and with one or more humps protruding from the water. Popular interest and belief in the creature has varied since it was brought to worldwide attention in 1933. Evidence of its existence is anecdotal, with a number of disputed photographs and sonar readings.

The scientific community regards the Loch Ness Monster as a phenomenon without biological basis, explaining sightings as hoaxes, wishful thinking, and the misidentification of mundane objects. The pseudoscience and subculture of cryptozoology has placed particular emphasis on the creature.

In August 1933, the Courier published the account of George Spicer’s alleged sighting. Public interest skyrocketed, with countless letters being sent in detailing different sightings describing a “monster fish,” “sea serpent,” or “dragon,” with the final name ultimately settling on “Loch Ness Monster.” Since the 1940s, the creature has been affectionately called Nessie.

Saint Columba (565)

The earliest report of a monster in the vicinity of Loch Ness appears in the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán, written in the sixth century AD. According to Adomnán, writing about a century after the events described, Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he encountered local residents burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man was swimming in the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” that mauled him and dragged him underwater despite their attempts to rescue him by boat. Columba sent a follower, Luigne moccu Min, to swim across the river. The beast approached him, but Columba made the sign of the cross and said: “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.” The creature stopped as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and fled, and Columba’s men and the Picts gave thanks for what they perceived as a miracle.

Believers in the monster point to this story, set in the River Ness rather than the loch itself, as evidence for the creature’s existence as early as the sixth century. Skeptics question the narrative’s reliability, noting that water-beast stories were extremely common in medieval hagiographies, and Adomnán’s tale probably recycles a common motif attached to a local landmark. According to skeptics, Adomnán’s story may be independent of the modern Loch Ness Monster legend and became attached to it by believers seeking to bolster their claims. Ronald Binns considers that this is the most serious of various alleged early sightings of the monster, but all other claimed sightings before 1933 are dubious and do not prove a monster tradition before that date. Christopher Cairney uses a specific historical and cultural analysis of Adomnán to separate Adomnán’s story about St. Columba from the modern myth of the Loch Ness Monster, but finds an earlier and culturally significant use of Celtic “water beast” folklore along the way. In doing so he also discredits any strong connection between kelpies or water-horses and the modern “media-augmented” creation of the Loch Ness Monster. He also concludes that the story of Saint Columba may have been impacted by earlier Irish myths about the Caoránach and an Oilliphéist.

D. Mackenzie (1871 or 1872)

In October 1871 (or 1872), D. Mackenzie of Balnain reportedly saw an object resembling a log or an upturned boat “wriggling and churning up the water,” moving slowly at first before disappearing at a faster speed. The account was not published until 1934, when Mackenzie sent his story in a letter to Rupert Gould shortly after popular interest in the monster increased.

Alexander Macdonald (1888)

In 1888, mason Alexander Macdonald of Abriachan sighted “a large stubby-legged animal” surfacing from the loch and propelling itself within fifty yards of the shore where Macdonald stood. Macdonald reported his sighting to Loch Ness water bailiff Alex Campbell, and described the creature as looking like a salamander.

Aldie Mackay (1933)

The best-known article that first attracted a great deal of attention about a creature was published on 2 May 1933 in Inverness Courier, about a large “beast” or “whale-like fish”. The article by Alex Campbell, water bailiff for Loch Ness and a part-time journalist, discussed a sighting by Aldie Mackay of an enormous creature with the body of a whale rolling in the water in the loch while she and her husband John were driving on the A82 on 15 April 1933. The word “monster” was reportedly applied for the first time in Campbell’s article, although some reports claim that it was coined by editor Evan Barron.

The Courier in 2017 published excerpts from the Campbell article, which had been titled “Strange Spectacle in Loch Ness”.

“The creature disported itself, rolling and plunging for fully a minute, its body resembling that of a whale, and the water cascading and churning like a simmering cauldron. Soon, however, it disappeared in a boiling mass of foam. Both onlookers confessed that there was something uncanny about the whole thing, for they realised that here was no ordinary denizen of the depths, because, apart from its enormous size, the beast, in taking the final plunge, sent out waves that were big enough to have been caused by a passing steamer.”

According to a 2013 article, Mackay said that she had yelled, “Stop! The Beast!” when viewing the spectacle. In the late 1980s, a naturalist interviewed Aldie Mackay and she admitted to knowing that there had been an oral tradition of a “beast” in the loch well before her claimed sighting. Alex Campbell’s 1933 article also stated that “Loch Ness has for generations been credited with being the home of a fearsome-looking monster”.

George Spicer (1933)

Modern interest in the monster was sparked by a sighting on 22 July 1933, when George Spicer and his wife saw “a most extraordinary form of animal” cross the road in front of their car. They described the creature as having a large body (about 4 feet (1.2 m) high and 25 feet (8 m) long) and a long, wavy, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant’s trunk and as long as the 10–12-foot (3–4 m) width of the road. They saw no limbs. It lurched across the road toward the loch 20 yards (20 m) away, leaving a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake. Spicer described it as “the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life,” and as having “a long neck, which moved up and down in the manner of a scenic railway.” It had “an animal” in its mouth and had a body that “was fairly big, with a high back, but if there were any feet they must have been of the web kind, and as for a tail I cannot say, as it moved so rapidly, and when we got to the spot it had probably disappeared into the loch.”

On 4 August 1933 the Courier published a report of Spicer’s sighting. This sighting triggered a massive amount of public interest and an uptick in alleged sightings, leading to the solidification of the actual name “Loch Ness Monster.”

It has been claimed that sightings of the monster increased after a road was built along the loch in early 1933, bringing workers and tourists to the formerly isolated area. However, Binns has described this as “the myth of the lonely loch,” as it was far from isolated before then, due to the construction of the Caledonian Canal. In the 1930s, the existing road by the side of the loch was given a serious upgrade.

Hugh Gray (1933)

Hugh Gray’s photograph taken near Foyers on 12 November 1933 was the first photograph alleged to depict the monster. It was slightly blurred, and it has been noted that if one looks closely the head of a dog can be seen. Gray had taken his Labrador for a walk that day and it is suspected that the photograph depicts his dog fetching a stick from the loch. Others have suggested that the photograph depicts an otter or a swan. The original negative was lost. However, in 1963, Maurice Burton came into “possession of two lantern slides, contact positives from the original negative” and when projected onto a screen they revealed an “otter rolling at the surface in characteristic fashion.”

Arthur Grant (1934)

On 5 January 1934 a motorcyclist, Arthur Grant, claimed to have nearly hit the creature while approaching Abriachan (near the north-eastern end of the loch) at about 1 a.m. on a moonlit night. According to Grant, it had a small head attached to a long neck: the creature saw him, and crossed the road back to the loch. Grant, a veterinary student, described it as a cross between a seal and a plesiosaur. He said he dismounted and followed it to the loch, but saw only ripples.

Grant produced a sketch of the creature that was examined by zoologist Maurice Burton, who stated it was consistent with the appearance and behavior of an otter. Regarding the long size of the creature reported by Grant; it has been suggested that this was a faulty observation due to the poor light conditions. Paleontologist Darren Naish has suggested that Grant may have seen either an otter or a seal and exaggerated his sighting over time.

“Surgeon’s photograph” (1934)

The “surgeon’s photograph” is reportedly the first photo of the creature’s head and neck. Supposedly taken by Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynaecologist, it was published in the Daily Mail on 21 April 1934. Wilson’s refusal to have his name associated with it led to it being known as the “surgeon’s photograph”. According to Wilson, he was looking at the loch when he saw the monster, grabbed his camera and snapped four photos. Only two exposures came out clearly; the first reportedly shows a small head and back, and the second shows a similar head in a diving position. The first photo became well known, and the second attracted little publicity because of its blurriness.

For 60 years the photo was considered evidence of the monster’s existence, although skeptics dismissed it as driftwood, an elephant, an otter or a bird. The photo’s scale was controversial; it is often shown cropped (making the creature seem large and the ripples like waves), while the uncropped shot shows the other end of the loch and the monster in the centre. The ripples in the photo were found to fit the size and pattern of small ripples, rather than large waves photographed up close. Analysis of the original image fostered further doubt. In 1993, the makers of the Discovery Communications documentary Loch Ness Discovered analyzed the uncropped image and found a white object visible in every version of the photo (implying that it was on the negative). It was believed to be the cause of the ripples, as if the object was being towed, although the possibility of a blemish on the negative could not be ruled out. An analysis of the full photograph indicated that the object was small, about 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 ft) long.

Since 1994, most agree that the photo was an elaborate hoax. It had been described as fake in a 7 December 1975 Sunday Telegraph article that fell into obscurity. Details of how the photo was taken were published in the 1999 book, Nessie – the Surgeon’s Photograph Exposed, which contains a facsimile of the 1975 Sunday Telegraph article. The creature was reportedly a toy submarine built by Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell. Wetherell had been publicly ridiculed by his employer, the Daily Mail, after he found “Nessie footprints” that turned out to be a hoax. To get revenge on the Mail, Wetherell perpetrated his hoax with co-conspirators Spurling (sculpture specialist), Ian Wetherell (his son, who bought the material for the fake), and Maurice Chambers (an insurance agent). The toy submarine was bought from F. W. Woolworths, and its head and neck were made from wood putty. After testing it in a local pond the group went to Loch Ness, where Ian Wetherell took the photos near the Altsaigh Tea House. When they heard a water bailiff approaching, Duke Wetherell sank the model with his foot and it is “presumably still somewhere in Loch Ness”. Chambers gave the photographic plates to Wilson, a friend of his who enjoyed “a good practical joke.” Wilson brought the plates to Ogston’s, an Inverness chemist, and gave them to George Morrison for development. He sold the first photo to the Daily Mail, who then announced that the monster had been photographed.

Little is known of the second photo; it is often ignored by researchers, who believe its quality too poor and its differences from the first photo too great to warrant analysis. It shows a head similar to the first photo, with a more turbulent wave pattern and possibly taken at a different time and location in the loch. Some believe it to be an earlier, cruder attempt at a hoax, and others (including Roy Mackal and Maurice Burton) consider it a picture of a diving bird or otter that Wilson mistook for the monster. According to Morrison, when the plates were developed Wilson was uninterested in the second photo; he allowed Morrison to keep the negative, and the photo was rediscovered years later. When asked about the second photo by the Ness Information Service Newsletter, Spurling ” … was vague, thought it might have been a piece of wood they were trying out as a monster, but was not sure.”

Taylor film (1938)

On 29 May 1938, South African tourist G. E. Taylor filmed something in the loch for three minutes on 16 mm colour film. The film was obtained by popular science writer Maurice Burton, who did not show it to other researchers. A single frame was published in his 1961 book, The Elusive Monster. His analysis concluded it was a floating object, not an animal.

William Fraser (1938)

On 15 August 1938, William Fraser, chief constable of Inverness-shire, wrote a letter that the monster existed beyond doubt and expressed concern about a hunting party that had arrived (with a custom-made harpoon gun) determined to catch the monster “dead or alive.” He believed his power to protect the monster from the hunters was “very doubtful.” The letter was released by the National Archives of Scotland on 27 April 2010.

The following part of the post concerns the attempts to find the Loch Ness Monster. Readers may wish to skip over this part to The Story section of this post.

Sonar readings (1954)

In December 1954, sonar readings were taken by the fishing boat Rival III. Its crew noted a large object keeping pace with the vessel at a depth of 146 metres (479 ft). It was detected for 800 m (2,600 ft) before contact was lost and regained. Previous sonar attempts were inconclusive or negative.

Peter MacNab (1955)

Peter MacNab at Urquhart Castle on 29 July 1955 took a photograph that depicted two long black humps in the water. The photograph was not made public until it appeared in Constance Whyte’s 1957 book on the subject. On 23 October 1958 it was published by the Weekly Scotsman. Author Ronald Binns wrote that the “phenomenon which MacNab photographed could easily be a wave effect resulting from three trawlers travelling closely together up the loch.”

Other researchers consider the photograph a hoax. Roy Mackal requested to use the photograph in his 1976 book. He received the original negative from MacNab, but discovered it differed from the photograph that appeared in Whyte’s book. The tree at the bottom left in Whyte’s was missing from the negative. It is suspected that the photograph was doctored by re-photographing a print.

Dinsdale film (1960)

Aeronautical engineer Tim Dinsdale filmed a hump that left a wake crossing Loch Ness in 1960. Dinsdale, who reportedly had the sighting on his final day of search, described it as reddish with a blotch on its side. He said that when he mounted his camera the object began to move, and he shot 40 feet of film. According to JARIC, the object was “probably animate”. Others were sceptical, saying that the “hump” cannot be ruled out as being a boat and when the contrast is increased, a man in a boat can be seen.

In 1993 Discovery Communications produced a documentary, Loch Ness Discovered, with a digital enhancement of the Dinsdale film. A person who enhanced the film noticed a shadow in the negative that was not obvious in the developed film. By enhancing and overlaying frames, he found what appeared to be the rear body of a creature underwater: “Before I saw the film, I thought the Loch Ness Monster was a load of rubbish. Having done the enhancement, I’m not so sure”.

“Loch Ness Muppet” (1977)

On 21 May 1977 Anthony “Doc” Shiels, camping next to Urquhart Castle, took “some of the clearest pictures of the monster until this day”. Shiels, a magician and psychic, claimed to have summoned the animal out of the water. He later described it as an “elephant squid”, claiming the long neck shown in the photograph is actually the squid’s “trunk” and that a white spot at the base of the neck is its eye. Due to the lack of ripples, it has been declared a hoax by a number of people and received its name because of its staged look.

Holmes video (2007)

On 26 May 2007, 55-year-old laboratory technician Gordon Holmes videotaped what he said was “this jet black thing, about 14 metres (46 ft) long, moving fairly fast in the water.” Adrian Shine, a marine biologist at the Loch Ness 2000 Centre in Drumnadrochit, described the footage as among “the best footage [he had] ever seen.” BBC Scotland broadcast the video on 29 May 2007. STV News North Tonight aired the footage on 28 May 2007 and interviewed Holmes. Shine was also interviewed, and suggested that the footage was an otter, seal or water bird.

Sonar image (2011)

On 24 August 2011 Loch Ness boat captain Marcus Atkinson photographed a sonar image of a 1.5-metre-wide (4.9 ft), unidentified object that seemed to follow his boat for two minutes at a depth of 23 m (75 ft), and ruled out the possibility of a small fish or seal. In April 2012, a scientist from the National Oceanography Centre said that the image is a bloom of algae and zooplankton.

George Edwards photograph (2011)

On 3 August 2012, skipper George Edwards claimed that a photo he took on 2 November 2011 shows “Nessie”. Edwards claims to have searched for the monster for 26 years, and reportedly spent 60 hours per week on the loch aboard his boat, Nessie Hunter IV, taking tourists for rides on the lake. Edwards said, “In my opinion, it probably looks kind of like a manatee, but not a mammal. When people see three humps, they’re probably just seeing three separate monsters.”

Other researchers have questioned the photograph’s authenticity, and Loch Ness researcher Steve Feltham suggested that the object in the water is a fibreglass hump used in a National Geographic Channel documentary in which Edwards had participated. Researcher Dick Raynor has questioned Edwards’ claim of discovering a deeper bottom of Loch Ness, which Raynor calls “Edwards Deep”. He found inconsistencies between Edwards’ claims for the location and conditions of the photograph and the actual location and weather conditions that day. According to Raynor, Edwards told him he had faked a photograph in 1986 that he claimed was genuine in the Nat Geo documentary. Although Edwards admitted in October 2013 that his 2011 photograph was a hoax, he insisted that the 1986 photograph was genuine.

A survey of the literature about other hoaxes, including photographs, published by The Scientific American on 10 July 2013, indicates many others since the 1930s. The most recent photo considered to be “good” appeared in newspapers in August 2012; it was allegedly taken by George Edwards in November 2011 but was “definitely a hoax” according to the science journal.

David Elder video (2013)

On 27 August 2013, tourist David Elder presented a five-minute video of a “mysterious wave” in the loch. According to Elder, the wave was produced by a 4.5 m (15 ft) “solid black object” just under the surface of the water. Elder, 50, from East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, was taking a picture of a swan at the Fort Augustus pier on the south-western end of the loch, when he captured the movement. He said, “The water was very still at the time and there were no ripples coming off the wave and no other activity on the water.” Sceptics suggested that the wave may have been caused by a wind gust.

Apple Maps photograph (2014)

On 19 April 2014, it was reported that a satellite image on Apple Maps showed what appeared to be a large creature (thought by some to be the Loch Ness Monster) just below the surface of Loch Ness. At the loch’s far north, the image appeared about 30 metres (98 ft) long. Possible explanations were the wake of a boat (with the boat itself lost in image stitching or low contrast), seal-caused ripples, or floating wood.

Google Street View (2015)

Google commemorated the 81st anniversary of the “surgeon’s photograph” with a Google Doodle, and added a new feature to Google Street View with which users can explore the loch above and below the water. Google reportedly spent a week at Loch Ness collecting imagery with a street-view “trekker” camera, attaching it to a boat to photograph above the surface and collaborating with members of the Catlin Seaview Survey to photograph underwater.

Sonar study (1967–1968)

D. Gordon Tucker, chair of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Birmingham, volunteered his services as a sonar developer and expert at Loch Ness in 1968. His gesture, part of a larger effort led by the LNPIB from 1967 to 1968, involved collaboration between volunteers and professionals in a number of fields. Tucker had chosen Loch Ness as the test site for a prototype sonar transducer with a maximum range of 800 m (2,600 ft). The device was fixed underwater at Temple Pier in Urquhart Bay and directed at the opposite shore, drawing an acoustic “net” across the loch through which no moving object could pass undetected. During the two-week trial in August, multiple targets were identified. One was probably a shoal of fish, but others moved in a way not typical of shoals at speeds up to 10 knots.

Robert Rines studies (1972, 1975, 2001, 2008)

In 1972, a group of researchers from the Academy of Applied Science led by Robert H. Rines conducted a search for the monster involving sonar examination of the loch depths for unusual activity. Rines took precautions to avoid murky water with floating wood and peat. A submersible camera with a floodlight was deployed to record images below the surface. If Rines detected anything on the sonar, he turned the light on and took pictures.

On 8 August, Rines’ Raytheon DE-725C sonar unit, operating at a frequency of 200 kHz and anchored at a depth of 11 metres (36 ft), identified a moving target (or targets) estimated by echo strength at 6 to 9 metres (20 to 30 ft) in length. Specialists from Raytheon, Simrad (now Kongsberg Maritime), Hydroacoustics, Marty Klein of MIT and Klein Associates (a side-scan sonar producer) and Ira Dyer of MIT’s Department of Ocean Engineering were on hand to examine the data. P. Skitzki of Raytheon suggested that the data indicated a 3-metre (10 ft) protuberance projecting from one of the echoes. According to author Roy Mackal, the shape was a “highly flexible laterally flattened tail” or the misinterpreted return from two animals swimming together.

Concurrent with the sonar readings, the floodlit camera obtained a pair of underwater photographs. Both depicted what appeared to be a rhomboid flipper, although sceptics have dismissed the images as depicting the bottom of the loch, air bubbles, a rock, or a fish fin. The apparent flipper was photographed in different positions, indicating movement. The first flipper photo is better-known than the second, and both were enhanced and retouched from the original negatives. According to team member Charles Wyckoff, the photos were retouched to superimpose the flipper; the original enhancement showed a considerably less-distinct object. No one is sure how the originals were altered. During a meeting with Tony Harmsworth and Adrian Shine at the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition, Rines admitted that the flipper photo may have been retouched by a magazine editor.

British naturalist Peter Scott announced in 1975, on the basis of the photographs, that the creature’s scientific name would be Nessiteras rhombopteryx (Greek for “Ness inhabitant with diamond-shaped fin”). Scott intended that the name would enable the creature to be added to the British register of protected wildlife. Scottish politician Nicholas Fairbairn called the name an anagram for “Monster hoax by Sir Peter S”. However, Rines countered that when rearranged, the letters could also spell “Yes, both pix are monsters – R.”

Another sonar contact was made, this time with two objects estimated to be about 9 metres (30 ft). The strobe camera photographed two large objects surrounded by a flurry of bubbles. Some interpreted the objects as two plesiosaur-like animals, suggesting several large animals living in Loch Ness. This photograph has rarely been published.

A second search was conducted by Rines in 1975. Some of the photographs, despite their obviously murky quality and lack of concurrent sonar readings, did indeed seem to show unknown animals in various positions and lightings. One photograph appeared to show the head, neck, and upper torso of a plesiosaur-like animal, but sceptics argue the object is a log due to the lump on its “chest” area, the mass of sediment in the full photo, and the object’s log-like “skin” texture. Another photograph seemed to depict a horned “gargoyle head”, consistent with that of some sightings of the monster; however, sceptics point out that a tree stump was later filmed during Operation Deepscan in 1987, which bore a striking resemblance to the gargoyle head.

In 2001, Rines’ Academy of Applied Science videotaped a V-shaped wake traversing still water on a calm day. The academy also videotaped an object on the floor of the loch resembling a carcass and found marine clamshells and a fungus-like organism not normally found in freshwater lochs, a suggested connection to the sea and a possible entry for the creature.

In 2008, Rines theorised that the creature may have become extinct, citing the lack of significant sonar readings and a decline in eyewitness accounts. He undertook a final expedition, using sonar and an underwater camera in an attempt to find a carcass. Rines believed that the animals may have failed to adapt to temperature changes resulting from global warming.

Operation Deepscan (1987)

Operation Deepscan was conducted in 1987. Twenty-four boats equipped with echo sounding equipment were deployed across the width of the loch, and simultaneously sent acoustic waves. According to BBC News the scientists had made sonar contact with an unidentified object of unusual size and strength. The researchers returned, re-scanning the area. Analysis of the echosounder images seemed to indicate debris at the bottom of the loch, although there was motion in three of the pictures. Adrian Shine speculated, based on size, that they might be seals that had entered the loch.

Sonar expert Darrell Lowrance, founder of Lowrance Electronics, donated a number of echosounder units used in the operation. After examining a sonar return indicating a large, moving object at a depth of 180 metres (590 ft) near Urquhart Bay, Lowrance said: “There’s something here that we don’t understand, and there’s something here that’s larger than a fish, maybe some species that hasn’t been detected before. I don’t know.” (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

The FBI have discovered that Al Capone had a cousin in Scotland.

They called him the Loch Ness Mobster.

Second, a Song: has “Ten thousand videos on Top 10 lists, Origins, Biographies, Tips, How To’s, Reviews, Commentary and more on Pop Culture, Celebrity, Movies, Music, TV, Film, Video Games, Politics, News, Comics, Superheroes. Your trusted authority on ranking Pop Culture.” (per

Here is Mojo’s video on “The Mystery of the Loch Ness Monster Explained”. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“The inclination to believe in the fantastic may strike some as a failure in logic, or gullibility, but it’s really a gift. A world that might have Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster is clearly superior to one that definitely does not.” – Chris Van Allsburg

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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