Is the Loch Ness real? We may soon have an answer.
A team of scientists have proposed using actual science to figure out if the mythical creature allegedly lurking in Scotland's River Ness is actually real.
Their proposal? Using environmental DNA, or eDNA, a sampling method already used to track movements in marine life. When an animal moves through an environment, it leaves behind residual crumbs of its genetics by shedding skin or scales, leaving behind feathers or tufts of fur, perhaps some feces and urine.
Scientists think those residual clues left behind by a monster like that of the Loch Ness could be collected by eDNA and subsequently used to prove its existence.
“This DNA can be captured, sequenced and then used to identify that creature by comparing the sequence obtained to large databases of known genetic sequences from hundreds of thousands of different organisms,” team spokesman Professor Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago in New Zealand told Reuters.
It's certainly not the first time that people, scientifically minded or not, have attempted to track the legendary monster’s existence. A sixth century document chronicles the tale of an Irish monk named St. Columba, who banished a “water beast” to the bottom of the River Ness.
Ever since, people have tried to find proof of the monster nicknamed “Nessie.” In 1934, an amateur photographer claimed his photograph of a long, brontosaurus-like neck protruding from the choppy waters was proof of the Loch Ness monster's existence. But an analysis at the turn of the century showed that that was definitively not the case—what appeared to be Nessie was in fact a “sea monster model” atop a toy submarine.
Scientists have long been intrigued by the monster’s potential existence, though countless scuba-diving and sonar experiments have turned up empty-handed. In 2003, the BBC sponsored a mission that used 600 sonar beams and state-of-the-art satellite tracking to sweep the river of any evidence of the monster, but turned up empty.
A pivotal year in the hunt for the Loch Ness monster was 2016. A team sent an underwater robot to probe the murky bottoms of the River Ness, and did turn up something: a 1970s-era movie prop used in the filming of a rather apt film for such a discovery, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
Later that year, another amateur photographer claimed to have photos that showed three slippery humps glistening in the sun, which he insisted was proof of the Loch Ness monster's existence. But others downplayed it, saying it could be indicative of other creatures living in the river—three jumping salmon, or three otters mid-swim, perhaps even three slippery seals—or simply a trick of light and depth from the water’s famously rocky waves, a mirage that appeared to show a slithering reptile but really was nothing more than an optical illusion.
The international group of scientists hope that their mission, which begins next month, could finally put the mystery of the monster to rest. Gemmell said that while the monster itself was a “hook” for the project, it will actually serve as a biological survey of the organisms within the River Ness. “There is an extraordinary amount of new knowledge that we will gain from the work about organisms that inhabit Loch Ness,” Gemmell said in a university press statement, citing new strains of bacteria and invasive salmon as potentially important in our understanding of the changing Scottish river ecology.
The proof—or lack thereof—of the Loch Ness monster will be presented in January 2019.