An international team of scientists, led by a Kiwi academic, told a press conference of journalists from around the world this evening that there is no evidence a Loch Ness Monster, at least in reptilian form, ever lived in the Scottish lake.
University of Otago professor Neil Gemmell has instead provided an alternative explanation for Nessie — that people had been seeing either giant eels or a collection of many smaller eels.
“There is a very significant amount of eel DNA. Eels are very plentiful in Loch Ness,” the professor said.
“Our data doesn’t reveal their size, but the sheer quantity of the material says that we can't discount the possibility that there may be giant eels in Loch Ness.”
The explanation is consistent with early theories from the 1930s.
Professor Gemmell said bigger eels could grow to about 1.8 metres, but people were reporting sightings of something “much, much larger than that”.
He said he believes no matter what science reveals, there will always be people looking for Nessie.
He said the Loch Ness myth provided the team with an opportunity to showcase the science of environmental DNA, or eDNA, to the world.
“I think we’ve captured some imaginations," he said of the year-long project, and the unique publicity it has generated. "We’ve communicated science in a way which has been more compelling than perhaps most of the science I’ve been involved in.”
Hundreds of water samples were taken from the lake to a Dunedin lab last year. The DNA from those samples was extracted and sequenced, resulting in around 500 million sequences that were analysed against existing databases.
The team found everything from deer, badgers, foxes, rabbits, voles and multiple bird species.
“These findings indicate eDNA surveys of major waterways may be useful for rapidly surveying biological diversity at a regional level,” Mr Gemmell said.
As creatures moves through the loch, they leave tiny fragments of DNA through their skin, scales, feathers, fur, faeces and urine, which can be used to identify the animal.
Professor Gemmell was quick to maintain that the study’s main purpose was to catalogue the biodiversity of Loch Ness.
The professor also said while the team was not able to identify 20 percent of the DNA they collected, this was typical of eDNA sequencing and is mostly due to error.
The team will be releasing their data publicly.
VisitScotland said the Nessie phenomenon is worth millions to the Scottish economy, with hundreds of thousands of visitors travelling to Loch Ness and Drumnadrochit every year to catch a glimpse of the mythical monster.