No one can prove that Sasquatch doesn’t exist—you can’t prove a negative, right?—but it might be possible to establish that something ordinary and depressingly mundane lies behind the legend (as I attempt to explain in my upcoming essay on the topic for VIAmagazine.com.)
That’s what’s going on along the misty shores of Loch Ness, home to one of the other A-list stars of cryptozoology, the Loch Ness Monster.
A couple years ago in the Scottish hamlet of Drumnadrochit I spent a day with Adrian Shine, a Nessie investigator straight out of central casting. With his full, gray Gandalf beard, heather tweeds and mischievously twinkling eyes, he so thoroughly looks the part that he once appeared in a hilarious Loch Ness monster send-up for a Toyota commercial.
Shine is regularly mocked and dismissed by believers in the “big beastie,” as it’s known locally, because he asserts that there’s a rational and scientific explanation behind the region’s tourism cash cow.
His rivals speculate that Nessie might be a surviving plesiosaur, a large, long-necked aquatic reptile thought to have vanished from the earth some 60 million years ago. Bolstering this theory is the coelacanth, a fish that supposedly died off around the same time, which has since been found very much alive.
But Shine, who has spent 30 years researching the legend—including nearly killing himself by going down into the lake in a homemade deepwater submersible known as a bathyscaphe—is having none of that, not least because the plesiosaur couldn’t raise its head up out of the water, as the creature is clearly doing in the grainy photograph most often cited as proof of the monster’s existence.
Shine told me he thinks it’s likely that Nessie is actually a large Atlantic sturgeon that reached Loch Ness through the Caledonian Canal. These prehistoric-looking fish, among the oldest in the sea, can grow as long as 15 feet, have rows of bony plates on their backs and strikingly hideous heads that resemble crocodiles.
“It is,” he said, “a very strange looking fish.”
No sturgeon has ever been found in Loch Ness, but they regularly swim up other rivers in Scotland and England, and Shine thinks there’s a good chance one occasionally visits his lake.
To test the theory, he put a small sturgeon in a pond next to his center to gauge the reactions of visitors. Some guessed it was a shark, others a crocodile. Almost no one thought it was a sturgeon.
“There is a mystery in Loch Ness,” Shine told me. “People have definitely seen something, and there's a lot we don't really understand. But that doesn't necessarily mean there's a monster out there.”
It’s certainly the most rational possibility. It also leads to the question: Might something as mundane as a bear be behind the legend of Sasquatch?
Photography by StaraBlazkova (monster); John Flinn (Adrian Shine)
This blog post was first published in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.