Loch Ness Monster Hoaxes

Ancient Scottish legend told of a "beast" that lived in the waters of Loch Ness. St. Columba, for instance, was supposed to have encountered a large serpent in the River Ness over 1400 years ago. But the modern history of Nessie began in 1933 when a new road was completed along the northern shore of the Loch, providing easy access to unobstructed views of the water. Soon after this, a couple spotted an "enormous animal" in the Loch. The Inverness Courier wrote up their sighting, describing what they saw as a "monster;" intense media interest followed; and thus was born the modern Loch Ness Monster.

Since 1933 Nessie sightings have been reported quite regularly. There are three possible explanations for these reports: 1) Nessie really does exist, and the sightings are evidence of this; 2) People overly eager to believe the legend are interpreting any unusual movement or shape in the water as Nessie; and 3) people are lying about what they've seen.

The first explanation (Nessie's real) is extremely unlikely, but the staff of the Museum of Hoaxes has a soft spot for Nessie, so we're unwilling to completely rule this out. But common sense would dictate that the second explanation (misinterpretation) probably accounts for the majority of the sightings, and the third explanation (deliberate lying) accounts for the rest. Collected below are some of the most notorious Nessie hoaxes (suspected and known).
The Hoaxes

The Spray Photograph (1933)

On November 12, 1933, Hugh Gray was walking back from church along the shore of Loch Ness when, so he later claimed, he saw an "object of considerable dimensions—making a big splash with spray on the surface" of the Loch. Luckily he had his camera with him, so he began snapping pictures. Only one of the pictures showed anything. Nessie believers hailed it as the first photographic evidence of the monster. Skeptics, however, dismissed it as a blurry mess that doesn't show anything at all. Many have suggested that it looks like a distorted image of a dog (perhaps Mr. Gray's own) carrying a stick in its mouth as it swims through water. more…

The Surgeon’s Photo (1934)

In April 1934, Colonel Robert Wilson, a respected British surgeon, came forward with a picture that appeared to show a sea serpent rising out of the water of Loch Ness. Wilson claimed he took the photograph early in the morning on April 19, 1934, while driving along the northern shore of the Loch. He said he noticed something moving in the water and stopped his car to take a photo. For decades this photo was considered to be the best evidence of the existence of a sea monster in the Loch. But Wilson himself refused to have his name associated with it. Therefore it came to be known simply as "The Surgeon's Photo." more…

Loch Ness Monster Captured (1934)

The Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung ran a photo-feature reporting the capture of the Loch Ness Monster. Hunters, it was said, had been searching for the elusive monster for months until finally lookouts on shore reported seeing Nessie make a rare visit to land. So fishing vessels moved in to prevent her from returning to the water. Then a steel net was thrown over her. The capture proved surprisingly easy. She was taken alive to an aircraft hangar in Edinburgh. Tourist revenue from her display was expected to be enormously lucrative. The report was an April Fool's Day joke. more…

Nessie Killed by German Bomb (1941)

Italy's Popolo D'Italia newspaper reported that the Loch Ness Monster had been killed by a direct bomb hit in a German air raid. However, the Italian reporting was proven to be a hoax when Nessie sightings continued unabated. Specifically, when J. MacFarlan-Barrow and his three children saw Nessie while boating on the Loch in August 1941, the Daily Mail made a point of noting that Nessie had survived the Nazi attempt on her life.

The Stuart Photograph (1951)

On July 14, 1951, Forestry Commission employee Lachlan Stuart took a picture of mysterious humps rising from the loch. Over twenty years later researchers visited the spot where he had taken the picture and realized the humps would have been in extremely shallow water close to the shore, meaning that Stuart's monster must have been awfully flat. Confirming their suspicions, author Richard Frere later revealed that Stuart had confessed to him the humps were nothing more than bales of hay covered with tarpaulins. more…

The MacNab Photograph (1955)

Bank manager Peter MacNab took this photo on a "warm hazy" July afternoon in 1955, but he didn't share it with the world until October 1958 on account of "diffidence and fear of ridicule." It quickly came to be considered a classic Loch Ness Monster photo. However, MacNab distributed two slightly different versions of what he claimed was the original negative, leading many (even Nessie believers) to suspect a hoax, because if MacNab did doctor the image (either painting in the monster, or painting out a boat) he may created multiple "original" negatives during this process and then forgotten which was the original "original". more…

Italian Newsman Claims He Invented Nessie (1959)

Italian newsman Francesco Gasparini claimed in an article published in the Milan weekly magazine Visto that he had invented the Loch Ness Monster. His story was that in August 1933, while working in London as a UK correspondent for an Italian newspaper, he saw a two-line item in the Glasgow Herald about a "strange fish" caught in Loch Ness. Having nothing else to write about, he expanded on this, turning the fish into a monster, and soon "other papers began to print eyewitness accounts of the monster being sighted." Gasparini's claim was not taken very seriously. "The man is talking rot," one Scot was quoted as saying.

Body of Nessie Found (1972)

On the day before April Fool's Day, 1972, a team of British zoologists from the Flamingo Park Zoo found a mysterious carcass floating in Loch Ness. Initial reports claimed it weighed a ton and a half and was 15 ½ feet long. more…

Frank Searle, Monster Hunter

Frank Searle, a former army captain, arrived in Loch Ness to search for the monster during the early 1970s and soon established a reputation as a definite character. He was like a colonial-style adventurer, assisted by a succession of attractive young "monster huntresses." He took an enormous number of photos of Nessie, many of which were published by the media, but all of which have been dismissed by experts as fakes. His early photos, such as the one to the right (taken in October 1972) have been identified as pictures of floating tree trunks. In later photos he progressed to cutting-and-pasting dinosaurs from postcards into his images.... more…

The Flipper Photo (1972)

August 7, 1972: An expedition to find Nessie led by Dr. Robert Rines of the Academy of Applied Science struck gold when its underwater camera took a picture of what appeared to be the flipper of a large aquatic animal resembling a plesiosaur. However, the relatively clear image of a flipper shown to the public was not quite what the camera had initially recorded. The initial image was far less distinct. (It basically looked like a shot of a bunch of bubbles or sediment in the water.) This initial picture was then computer enhanced by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, and apparently the computer-enhanced image was further... more…

Nessiteras Rhombopteryx (1975)

Sir Peter Scott of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau participated in the 1972 expedition that produced the flipper photo. Feeling that the photo provided proof that some kind of large creature existed in the loch, he decided to give the animal a scientific name: Nessiteras Rhombopteryx (which meant "the Ness wonder with a diamond fin"). But London newspapers soon pointed out that if you juggled around the letters in this name, you got the phrase "monster hoax by Sir Peter S." Was this evidence that the flipper photo had been a deliberate hoax? Scott denied it. Dr. Rines came to his rescue by pointing out that if you juggled the... more…

The Loch Ness Muppet (1977)

May 21, 1977: Anthony 'Doc' Shiels claimed that he took this picture while camping beside Urquhart Castle. Its startling clarity (it's probably the clearest picture of Nessie ever taken) has made it popular with the public. But it's hard to find any expert willing to take it seriously, simply because the creature depicted in it looks so obviously fake. (And it's odd that there are no ripples in the water around the neck.) Skeptics refer to Shiels's monster as "The Loch Ness Muppet." The fact that Shiels was a showman, "wizard," and psychic entertainer who was developing a side business as a professional monster hunter didn't help his... more…

Loch Ness Conger Eels (2001)

On May 2, 2001, two large, serpent-like conger eels were found on the shore of the loch, the largest one being almost 7ft long. Since the eels were saltwater creatures and the loch is freshwater, it was doubtful they got there of their own accord, although some did speculate that their presence was evidence of an underground tunnel link between Loch Ness and the sea. A more popular theory was that they had been dumped there purposefully by an angler, who might have been inspired by recent talk about Nessie being some kind of large eel. [Loch Ness Project]

The Loch Ness Fossil (2003)

On July 2, 2003, Gerald McSorley, a Scottish pensioner, found a fossilized section of a plesiosaur vertebrae when he accidentally tripped and fell into the loch. Nessie enthusiasts speculated the fossil might have come from an ancestor of the monster. But subsequent examination revealed the vertebrae were embedded in limestone not found near Loch Ness, and the fossil showed signs of having recently been in a marine environment. In other words, it was clear the fossil had been planted at the loch. [BBC News]

The Loch Ness Tooth (2005)

Two American students visiting Scotland claimed to have found an enormous tooth (possibly belonging to Nessie) lodged in the carcass of a deer along the shore of the loch. However, (so they said) a game warden almost immediately confiscated the tooth from them, though not before they got a few pictures of it. The students subsequently created a website to publicize their find and lobby for the return of the tooth. Animal experts identified the "tooth" from its picture as the antler of a roe muntjac deer. The website and accompanying story turned out to be a publicity stunt for a horror novel by Steve Alten titled The Loch. more…

The Edwards Photo (2012)

George Edwards, skipper of a Loch Ness tour boat, produced an image of a dark hump in the water. He claimed that the photo had been examined by a team of US military experts, who declared there was no doubt it showed an "animate object." But a little over a year later, Edwards confessed the photo was a fake. It actually showed a fiberglass hump created for a 2011 National Geographic documentary, "The Truth Behind the Loch Ness Monster." Edwards was unrepentant about the hoax, arguing that people come to Loch Ness for "a bit of fun" and not "for the science" — and that hoaxes such as his own helped to bring them there.