THE Loch Ness monster is a mysterious creature that is said to haunt the Scottish Highlands – and has inspired decades of myths and stories.
Experts have never been able to prove Nessie is real despite numerous "sightings" – we take a look at the evidence.
What are the origins of the Loch Ness monster story?
Nessie was first "spotted" back in 565 – a biography of Irish monk Saint Columba mentions a giant "water beast" dragging a man to his death in Scotland's River Ness.
However, wider interest in the monster was not sparked until 1933 after a road was built along the loch, making it far less isolated.
Within months, several people came forward claiming to have seen a giant beast lurking near the water.
The following year saw the publication of the "surgeon’s photograph", probably the best-known image of the creature.
In 1975 the famous shot was exposed as a hoax, made using a toy submarine with a carved monster’s head.
There have now been over 1,000 reported sightings, and as the legend gathered popularity Nessie became the subject of a host of documentaries and feature films.
The Scooby Doo gang tried to solve the mystery in a 2004 cartoon, while Ted Danson starred in the 1996 family drama Loch Ness.
Many scientists have tried to prove (or indeed quash) the existence of the monster.
In 2003, the BBC conducted the largest ever search for Nessie, using 600 sonar beams and satellite tracking to explore the loch – but the researchers found nothing.
In 2017, the story of the Loch Ness monster topped a poll of the UK's greatest unexplained mysteries.
What have been the most famous sightings?
Nobody has yet proved that the Loch Ness Monster is real – but that certainly hasn’t stopped people trying.
Many pictures claiming to show Nessie have been exposed as pranks, with others explained away as a case of mistaken identity.
The Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register, which keeps a record of every possible glimpse of Nessie and there have now been 1000 reported sightings.
Here's a timeline of the most credible sightings recorded.
1934 – The "surgeon's photograph"
The "surgeon's photograph", snapped by Colonel Robert Wilson in 1934, is probably the most famous Nessie sighting ever. It was later exposed to be a hoax.
Wilson's snap ignited curiosity around the Loch Ness Monster and led to a spate of other "sightings".
2012 – Fort Augustus photo
George Edwards claimed he had seen Nessie in a photo taken from Fort Augustus on the loch's southern tip.
The stunning picture of Loch Ness in 2012, claimed that he had finally found definitive proof of the giant creature's existence.
A year later, the boat skipper admitted he had made the whole thing up.
The image was created with a fake fibreglass model of Nessie from a National Geographic documentary, and Edwards had even let many of the tourists he ferries around the loch in on his prank.
2014 – Apple Maps satellite photo
In 2014, a satellite photo on the Apple Maps app seemingly showed a 100ft shape swimming in the loch.
The mysterious outline sparked renewed interest in Nessie after a lull of several years, with the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club claiming it was "likely" to be the camera-shy monster.
However, experts insisted it was merely a boat and its wake.
2017 – Amateur photographer snap
In September 2017, amateur photographer Ian Bremner took this photo from the banks of the loch.
His friends claimed it showed three seals playing together, but the whisky warehouse worker suggested it "could be Nessie".
May 2017 – Urquhart Bay
In May 2017, tourist Hayley Johnson from Manchester saw a strange and dark shape at dusk in the loch’s Urquhart Bay – a "favourite haunt" of Nessie.
The 28-year-old, a care assistant from Abbey Hey, Manchester, said: “I was really excited about Nessie as a child but to be honest I thought Nessie had probably died in the 1930s.
"I didn’t think she was alive any more. I know now that she is very much alive. I’m just so excited – it’s unbelievable what’s happened.”
September 29, 2017 – Live feed
American Diana Turner was watching a live feed of the Loch from her home in Michigan when she claims she saw the beast pop its head out of the water.
She reported it on September 29, 2017 to the officials in charge of the Nessie spottings.
Gary Campbell, the recorder and keeper of the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register, told the Daily Mail: "The sighting lasted about two minutes and other than a boat in the distance, she saw no other traffic on the loch.
"She saw a wake and it does not appear to be that of a boat. She made the recording on September 29, but has only notified us of it now.
"But we have accepted it and it means the number of sightings [this year] is the most we have had this century."
November 2017 – School boy sighitng
In November 2017, a nine-year-old school boy was convinced he'd seen Nessie.
Sam Knight snapped what he believed was Nessie's fin breaking the surface during a cruise with mum Jo.
The stunning image shows a dark triangle poking out of the water – sparking extensive debating whether it was a was a wave or an animal.
Sam took the picture on November 2nd as part of an extensive Nessie hunt during a family holiday, and even hatched a plan to tie the beast to the boat and take a DNA sample.
October 2017 – Newlywed sighting
Newly wed Rebecca Stewart was touring with husband Paul when she said she spotted Nessie.
During their romantic honeymoon break, newlyweds claimed to have spotted the legendary beast in the waters.
June 2017 – Aussie tourists
Australian tourists Peter Jackson and Phillippa Wearne were driving alongside the loch in the Highlands when they saw something big and fast moving through the water.
They took a snap showing a dark figure in the loch.
March 2018 – Nessie goes Stateside
Shocking photographs of a Loch Ness Monster-type beast found on a US beach sparked talk Nessie could have moved Stateside.
The mystery creature was reportedly found on Wolf Island in the state of Georgia by a father and son, who were out on a boat trip.
Dad Jeff Warren spotted what he said he thought was a dead seal lying in the surf.
But upon closer inspection, Jeff said it became clear he had no idea what the animal was.
Images show the supposed carcass – which Warren said was being eaten by birds when he arrived – lying in the sand.
It appeared to have a long tail and two fins, as well as a long neck and a tiny head – features usually associated with Nessie in popular culture.
June 2018 – Creature 'cavorting'
On June 1, 2018, footage emerged of a distant object "cavorting" in the famous loch for a full 10 minutes.
Eoin O’Faodhagain was left stunned by the 20ft creature diving and surfacing in the loch – with his footage now accepted by the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register.
August 2018 – anonymous video
And on 19 August 2018 footage emerged allegedly showing the beast poking out of the waters of the loch.
The video was posted online by an anonymous visitor to the site, who said: "Went to the beach Loch Ness for a day out as the weather was lovely so I thought I'd make the most of it.
July 2019- Sonar image
In July 2019 boat skipper Mike Bell, 24, claimed he had captured a sonar image of the 25ft-long monster.
The sonar pictur, taken while he was taking a group of tourists for a trip on Loch Ness on June 27, shows the bottom of the loch, a fish and a long, thin object about 115ft below the surface.
September 2019 – Eeel-like creature
A huge eel-like creature was filmed on the River Ness near where it flows into Loch Ness by a camera set up to monitor trout and other fish.
The video, shared online by the Ness Fishery Board, captured the outline of a long, slender creature in the Scottish Highlands loch.
Amazing footage from an underwater camera shows the “serpent” slithering through the water from the left and dwarfing fish in its path.
February 2020 – Huge skeleton found
Locals in Scotland were left baffled after a snap of what looked like a rotten carcass was posted online earlier, with some suggesting it could be the remains of the Loch Ness Monster.
The pic was shared on Aberdeen-based community Facebook page Fubar News yesterday – hours after Storm Ciara battered Britain with 90mph winds.
Fubar News posted: "Came across this weird creature today near Aberdeen. Any ideas what it could be?"
Possible suggestions of the identity of the mysterious North sea creature were put forward – with folk saying it was a whale, orca or dolphin
But some users joked the carcass could be the remains of Scotland's very own Loch Ness Monster.
April 2020 – 'Biggest ever' sighting
Eoin O'Faodhagain claimed to have witnessed the biggest ever "confirmed" sighting of the mythical beast in Urquhart Bay.
He describes spotting a 30ft long shape in the water before quickly hitting record on his camera.
In the video, a long black shape can be seen floating atop the water.
November 2020 – Spotted on Sonar
The Loch Ness Monster was spotted on sonar after a mysterious shape was detected 600ft below the surface, it's claimed.
The image captured by retired skipper Rod Michie, 77, has emerged just a month after a similar sighting.
The image appeared to show either a 33ft-long Nessie, or simply a large shoal of fish.
Mr Michie's image was recorded on the Jacobite Queen in June 2015 off Urquhart Castle – said to be a favourite haunt of Nessie – at around 750 feet.
January 2021 – Three sightings in 11 days
Three sightings of the Loch Ness monster were logged in just 11 days in January 2021.
The first was on January 11, but enthusiast Eoin O’Faodhagain believes he’s seen it twice since then.
He spotted it splashing about eight days later, when he says the beast was visible for 20 minutes.
And on January 22, he watched on webcam as two shapes, about 100ft apart, swam in the lake.
March 2021 – Mysterious black shape
Kalynn Wangle, 28, from Oregon, USA, filmed a mysterious black shape via webcam as it moved along the surface of the water in the Scottish Highlands.
According to the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register, the creature was seen moving for several minutes before disappearing.
Kalynn Wangle, 28, posted the clip on YouTube after capturing it on webcam on March 17.
What theories are there about the real Nessie?
Many of the theories of what really dwells in Loch Ness are based on people mistaking other large creatures or objects for Nessie.
Sightings have often been dismissed as being large eels and catfish or otters and deer swimming in the water, viewed from long distance.
In 2013, TV presenter Jeremy Wade made a special edition of River Monsters devoted to the legend.
He compared Nessie's characteristics with the Greenland shark, which grow to 20 feet in length and survive in the fresh waters of the loch.
It has also been claimed that sightings of Nessie are caused by misidentifying inanimate objects – tree trunks, logs and optical effects caused by wind conditions have all been suggested.
One scientific theory put forward to support the traditional idea of the monster's huge size and appearance is that it is a plesiosaur – a type of giant long-necked reptile that went extinct over 60 million years ago.
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