The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Over 500ft down, is this Nessie caught on sonar?

Wednesday, 30th September, 4.30pm, Loch Ness. Contact. With a massive 33ft ‘creature’

- By Mike Merritt

IT is one of the world’s most enduring myths, inspiring Hollywood movies and countless scientific investigat­ions.

Now 21st-Century sonar imaging would appear to have achieved what others have previously failed to do – and recorded the most compelling and startling evidence yet of the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.

The find has left experts astounded by the clarity – and the size – of the object, which was spotted last Wednesday lurking nearly 600ft below the surface of the loch, the second deepest in the UK.

Images of a crescent-shaped mass, estimated at 33ft long, were captured by a tourist cruise boat, carrying 12 passengers on the final trip of the day around 4.30pm.

Skipper Ronald Mackenzie, 49, of Cruise Loch Ness, who has worked on the loch for more than 30 years, said: ‘I’ve always got my eyes glued to the screen but I’ve never seen anything like this. We had a strong contact. It was right smack bang in the middle of the loch at about 170m [558ft] down.’

Ironically, some of the tourists on board the two-year-old catamaran missed the sighting as they were watching a sea eagle pass close by at the time.

Mr Mackenzie added: ‘We were at our halfway point off Invermoris­ton, where we turn around. The water is 189m [620ft] deep there. That’s when I saw on the sonar something more eye-catching than a sea eagle.

‘Because the boat was doing 10.7 knots it was unable to detect if the object was moving or stationary, but it was big – at least 10m

‘This is the best ever sighting of Nessie’

[33ft]. The contact lasted ten seconds while we passed over. We have had contacts in the past, but nothing like this.

‘We have real state-of-the-art sonar on the new boat. It doesn’t lie. It can’t lie. It captures what’s there. All the dots nearer the surface are shoals of Arctic char and, deeper down, there are ferrox trout. So it gives you a good idea of the size of this large crescent shape.

‘I believe there’s something in the loch and nobody knows what it is and we should leave it alone. I’ve always thought there was something there, be it a big eel or a sturgeon or a big fish of some sort – or even Nessie. It’s blown me away. I’ve been looking at it all night and all morning. I’m no sonar expert, but this is baffling.’

The legend of the monster is said to be worth £41 million to the region in tourism income.

It has led to a string of films, including the 1996 hit Loch Ness, starring Ted Danson and Joely Richardson.

There have been eight accepted sightings this year by the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register.

Last night, after studying the images, leading sonar expert Craig Wallace described them as ‘100 per cent genuine’.

Mr Wallace, a marine robotics senior applicatio­n specialist with Kongsberg Maritime, has surveyed

Loch Ness half-a-dozen times. Four years ago, using groundbrea­king sonar and camera equipment, he detected and discovered a lost model of Nessie, which was used during the filming of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in the 1970s.

Mr Wallace said: ‘There is no question that there is a real, clear and distinct contact. It is a 100 per cent genuine target.’

Speculatin­g on what the object might be – if not the monster – he added: ‘I do believe large sturgeon enter Loch Ness. It may be a sturgeon or a small shoal of fish.

‘With the type of equipment used it is difficult to determine the size of the object – even a small fish at those depths can appear very large. But it is certainly a fascinatin­g and interestin­g contact. Without doubt it adds to the debate about Nessie.’

Sturgeon are long-lived, latematuri­ng fishes with distinctiv­e characteri­stics such as a fin similar to those of sharks and an elongated, spindle-like body armoured with five lateral rows of bony plates. While some typically range from seven to 12ft in l length, the largest on record was a beluga female captured in the Volga estuary in 1827, measuring 24ft long and weighing 3,463lb.

Yesterday, Steve Feltham, who has set a world record for the longest vigil of searching for the Loch Ness Monster, described the images as ‘most compelling’.

He said: ‘It is extremely exciting. I have known Ronald Mackenzie for 30 years. He’s a Highland lad who does not seek publicity and shies away from fanciful Nessie theories. He’s not somebody who would cry wolf but within seven minutes of getting the contact he messaged me and I said “wow”.

‘If I was asked to pick the best ever sighting of Nessie, I would say this one. It is startling.’

Mr Feltham this year celebrated both the beginning of his 30th year looking for Nessie full time and 50 years since his first visit to Loch Ness, which sparked his lifelong fascinatio­n. He added: ‘Most sightings can be explained but that still leaves those that can’t.

‘It’s not going to be a dinosaur or a giant eel. But it’s something living in that loch that’s bigger than is currently known about.’

I’ve never seen anything like this. We have state of the art sonar. It can’t lie. It captures what’s there. I believe there’s something in the loch... and we should leave it alone

 ??  ?? DEEP DARK SECRET: The image, ringed, from the boat’s sonar. Left, an artist’s impresson of the monster
DEEP DARK SECRET: The image, ringed, from the boat’s sonar. Left, an artist’s impresson of the monster
 ??  ?? AMAZED: To ur boat skipper Ronald Mackenzie
AMAZED: To ur boat skipper Ronald Mackenzie

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