Loch Ness monster buffs hope to inspire new generation of hunters

An expedition this past weekend to find the legendary Loch Ness monster, or “Nessie” for short, has aimed to not only uncover more secrets of the lake’s natural environment, but to continue a legacy of exploration in the Scottish Highlands and inspire a new generation of Nessie hunters.

On Saturday and Sunday, the Loch Ness Centre in the village of Drumnadrochit and the Loch Ness Exploration group undertook the largest search for Nessie in 50 years, with around 100 surface watch volunteers participating each day.

The search, which also attracted over 300 online volunteers monitoring Loch Ness via livestream, aimed not only to inspire a younger generation of monster hunters but to showcase new technology being used to explore Britain’s largest body of water at about 36 kilometers long and 230 meters deep, such as hydrophones and thermal-imaging drones.

First reported in the tale of St. Columba from the year 565, who apparently banished a water beast while on a mission to convert the local population to Christianity, stories of a monster in Scotland’s Loch Ness had existed as a local legend for centuries.

However, one evening in 1933, the manager of the Drumnadrochit Hotel, Aldie MacKay, burst into the hotel bar and described seeing a “whale-like water beast,” sparking the modern Nessie legend known all over the world today.

Ninety years on, the old Drumnadrochit Hotel now houses the Loch Ness Centre, a tourist attraction delving into every facet of the Nessie phenomenon, from the myths to the ongoing scientific investigations into the loch and its mysteries.

Following a new 1.5 million pound ($1.9 million) refurbishment in January this year, the Loch Ness Centre approached Alan McKenna of Loch Ness Exploration to undertake “The Quest” — the biggest search for Nessie since 1972.

McKenna, 36, started Loch Ness Exploration two years ago to revive the spirit of previous organizations dedicated to discovering the truth of Loch Ness, such as the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau of the 1960s and 1970s, and the Loch Ness Project of the 1980s.

A social worker from Edinburgh, McKenna was captivated by the story of Nessie at around age 9 when he discovered Tim Dinsdale’s book “The Story of the Loch Ness Monster” at his grandparents’ house, reading it in its entirety in one night.

Now, he makes the three-hour drive to Loch Ness every month to continue the area’s tradition of exploration, citing figures like full-time “Nessie Hunter” Steve Feltham, who has lived by Loch Ness for 30 years, and naturalist Adrian Shine of the Loch Ness Project as his inspirations.

Whether visitors believe in Nessie’s existence or not, McKenna’s dream is to bring them together to discover the truth behind the loch’s unexplored depths, as well as to admire the area’s natural beauty.

“You don’t have to come here looking for Nessie. You can come here for the natural environment,” McKenna said, “This place is so unique, and it really captures hearts and imaginations.”

Believing science holds the answer to the mysteries of Nessie and its habitat, McKenna hopes the Loch Ness Exploration’s deep-scan and hydrophone results — due to be published over the coming weeks — will inspire a new generation of “Nessie Hunters” to continue the legacy of exploration, describing himself as a “guardian” of that history.

“It would be great to find Nessie or whatever is supposed to be down here, but it’s a lost world not many people have seen. So that would be my way forward, to get everyone’s eyes on the loch,” McKenna said.

Many who answered the Loch Ness Exploration and the Loch Ness Centre’s call for volunteers this weekend feel the same way.

Craig Whitefield, a 29-year-old medical center worker who drove four hours to participate, has also been fascinated by the Nessie legend since childhood, and believes the monster should be respected as potentially undiscovered or prehistoric marine life.

“Any sighting of a monster is going to be a bonus, but for me it’s more about wildlife conservation and seeing what’s in the loch that hasn’t been discovered,” Whitefield said, “Being part of the legend was something I couldn’t pass up.”

By Zanib Sabahat Ali