What the Loch Ness Monster Might Actually Be

The Loch Ness Monster is one of the most persistent urban legends of all time, but recently a new solution to her mystery has cropped up. According to a report by The Conversation, scientists have conducted a new survey of the loch indicating that Nessie was most likely a giant eel. That is if she ever existed at all.

The Loch Ness Monster has allegedly been sighted countless times going back at least as far as 565 A.D. Theories about what the alleged monster might have persisted as well, but none has satisfied the rigor of science — until now. A team led by geneticist Prof. Neil Gemmel of the University of Otago, New Zealand surveyed Loch Ness for genetic traces of animals that are or have been in the water. Based on their findings of "e-DNA," they present a strong theory that Nessie sightings have actually been glimpses of giant eels.

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(Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

Gemmel's team took over 200 samples of water from throughout Loch Ness — including the surface and the depths at varying points — and compared them with samples from five other "monster-free" lochs nearby. From this, they were able to create a census of all the plant and animal life living in the loch based on the traces of cells they leave behind in the water. This is environmental DNA, or "e-DNA."

The team discovered over 3,000 species of life in the loch and was able to rule out some of the Loch Ness Monster theories that have persisted for years. That includes sharks, catfish and sturgeon, as well as large exotic fish and prehistoric sea monsters like the plesiosaur. Gemmel was specific in denouncing this popular theory, saying there's "not a single reptile in our vertebrate data and nothing that sat in the expected place that a plesiosaur [DNA] sequence might be predicted to lie – somewhere between birds and crocodilians."

What they did find was an abundance of eel DNA all throughout the loch. Gemmel's team reportedly found eels in "pretty much every location sampled" throughout the massive body of water. Based on these findings, the most likely candidate for Nessie is a family of exceptionally large eels, paired with a psychological phenomenon called "expectant attention."

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(Photo: Sergey Krasovskiy/Stocktrek Images)

"Expectant attention" comes when people expect or even want to see something unusual, and therefore misinterpret their own visual cues. This is not an uncommon phenomenon in those who study animals — scientists sometimes debunk sightings of extinct wildlife that people are hoping to rediscover. Sadly, they are almost always mistaken.

While Gemmel's survey would appear to rule out any possibility of an oversized monster somehow living in the depths of Loch Ness undetected, he admits that there is still room for mystery. About 20 percent of the DNA found in his study was reportedly "unexplained," though this is normal for an e-DNA study. He also noted that the study was able to accurately detect traces of land animals that rarely dip into the water, including humans, so its accuracy is hard to doubt.

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In all likelihood, the legends of Nessie will likely persist forever, especially as they receive local enthusiasm and support the booming tourism industry of Scotland. However, for those inclined to keep up on the latest plausible theories, this is one to keep in mind.