Cryptozoology is a quirky field. It’s a rogues gallery of creatures, ranging from clever hoaxes and mythological misidentifications to beasts that leave interesting but frustratingly ambiguous evidence. And I’ve always felt that the Loch Ness monster fell somewhere in the middle of those spectrums. Sure, there’s lots of eyewitness testimony, and it goes back hundreds of years, which is more than can be said of el chupacabra, which seems to have just appeared on the scene out of thin air in the 90s. On the other hand, look at Bigfoot. Reports of Sasquatch go back thousands of years. We have footprints, hair samples, scat, some convincing video footage, lots of physical evidence that something may be out there. But I feel like this is an interesting theory, and one I’ve wondered about myself in the past.
Could natural disasters have inspired the some of the great monsters of mythology? An Italian geologist named Luigi Piccardi believes that stories from around the world of dragons’ lairs and monsters lashing out might be attributed to fault lines and seismic activity. And Piccardi also thinks that earthquakes could have helped spawn one of our more recently invented demons: the Loch Ness monster.
“When you look at the reports of people who saw the monster, they say we heard a great noise, saw a large commotion in the water, and that the waves rocked,” Piccardi told Katherine Chang for ABC News in 2001. “They say we couldn’t see the beast because the water hid the creature. The usual sighting is humps moving in the lake and normal waves, which can be related to the seismic effect.”
Piccardi has made a career of explaining away mythic monsters, and Nessie is just one of his targets, reports Kate Wheeling for Pacific Standard. In a talk from 2001’s Earth System Processes meeting, Piccardi discussed the potential that some ancient Greek cults and myths might have been inspired by dramatic geological activity near fault lines. He then pointed to Scotland, as a possible, more modern, example of this phenomenon:
In the original Latin description the dragon appears ‘cum ingenti fremitu’ (with strong shaking), and disappears ‘tremefacta’ (shaking herself), which seems to point to a telluric nature of the monster living in the lake. In fact, Loch Ness is positioned directly over the fault zone of the most seismic sector (for example the M=5 earthquake of 18.09.1901) of the Great Glen Fault, the major active fault in Scotland. In this light, many modern eyewitness reports attributed to Nessie may find a simple natural explanation.
Piccardi admits his evidence is circumstantial, and diehard believers in the Loch Ness Monster aren’t convinced: there have been several Nessie sightings reported so far this year. Even Google is getting in on the hunt. After the talk, Gary Campbell, the president of the Loch Ness Monster Fan Club, still stuck to his guns, writes Wheeling:
As Gary Campbell, president of the Loch Ness Monster Fan Club, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, ‘Piccardi seems to forget that we have a thousand stories of people who say they have seen in the water something solid like a head and a neck.’
However, Nessie’s true believes aren’t the only skeptics: as David Bressan wrote for Scientific American in 2013, “a surviving plesiosaur in Loch Ness can more reasonable [sic] be explained by a combination of hoaxes, misidentification of common animals and promotion for tourists.”
Whether the Loch Ness Monster was a sign of underground tremors or just an oddly-shaped log, some diehard believers still think the beast is out there, lurking in the depths.
I get that this might not explain all Nessie sightings, or sightings of lake monsters in general for that matter. But I do feel like most sightings come down to humps in the water or weird waves. There’s no tracks, no scat, no real details either. With Bigfoot, people have come face to face with the creature, seen it from only a matter of yards. But Nessie? It always seems far away, just a black plesiosaur-like creature. For now, it will have to remain in the realm of other, more ambiguous cryptids.