A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Happy Birthday, Nessie

It sounded, at some points, more like a religious gathering.

“I believe in a large, unidentified creature in the loch, possibly amphibious – that is, a fish that goes on land,” one participant said.

Eighty people had gathered for a symposium at the Edinburgh science festival to celebrate the Loch Ness Monster’s birthday – or at least the 80th anniversary of her first modern sighting, April 14th, 1933, followed, a few months later, by the famous hoax photo (above). (Older sightings date back to 565 CE, when St. Columba prayed for someone swimming in the lake not to be devoured by the monster.)

Non-believers offered other explanations for who or what Nessie is. Naturalist Adrian Shine listed some of the many theories, one of the most popular being that she’s a survivor of the Jurassic-era plesiosaurs. (Where’s the rest of her family, though. And anyway, the water’s much too cold.) “I think otters are responsible for some of the sightings, with their tails above the surface,” he concluded.

Believers, however, enjoy the support of some prominent investigators, including Police Detective Simon Dinsdale, who spent his working life tracking down major criminals including an infamous serial killer. Now retired, he’s taken up the case and cause of Nessie.

Fifty years ago, Dinsdale’s father captured the most famous footage ever of something he claimed to be Nessie. Specialists from Britain’s Royal Air Force analyzed the film and concluded it was not a boat or a submarine.

“You should never discount eyewitnesses,” he told the BBC. “More than 1,000 people, I think, are recorded as having seen something large in the loch… seen pretty much the same thing – we’ve described the same thing … I’m experienced at looking at evidence. And I can tell you that … on the balance of probabilities, there is something large and unknown living in this loch.”

Other lake monsters have challenged Nessie for public recognition.

A three-humped creature, known as Bow-Nessie, has been reported several times in England’s Lake Windermere near the town of Bowness.

And many people have claimed to witness Sweden’s favorite, Selma – perhaps seen here streaking across Lake Seljordsvatnet.

Cryptozoologists, who study reports of unknown animals, say that an interesting fact about Nessie and her cousins is that they mostly inhabit lakes that are at roughly the same latitude, all around the world.

For example, thousands of miles away in Lake Tahoe, California, but at roughly the same latitude as Nessie, Bow-Nessie, Selma and others like Brosnya in Siberia’s Lake Brosno, there are several sightings of Tessie each year.

Cave Rock, Lake Tahoe, perhaps home to Tessie. Photo by Abel Jones

Cave Rock was sacred to the Washoe people, who spoke of a creature who inhabited the water around the rock. And after Jacques Cousteau, the French oceanographer, explored the area in the 1970s, he announced that the world was not ready for what he had encountered in its depths, more than 1,600 feet down – deep enough for any creature who likes to guard her privacy.

But Nessie remains the queen of our imagination, albeit carefully nurtured by the Loch Ness tourist industry.

Jonathan Sale, who attended the Edinburgh symposium for The Guardian, concluded that “the monster resembles an aquatic version of Schrödinger’s cat, both existing and not existing.”

In quantum physicist Erwin Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment, the infinite wave-like possibilities of his kitty have to collapse into a single form when an observer opens the box. That means that for the foreseeable future, Nessie can continue to ride her own wave of infinite possibilities – just as long as no one observes too closely.