A new expedition is setting out next month to finally find the Loch Ness monster. Though hundreds of hunts for the famed cryptid have occurred over the years, no definitive proof of its existence has ever been offered. But soon an international team of scientists headed by New Zealand professor Neil Gemmell will set off, using environmental DNA (or eDNA) to look for proof that Nessie exists -- or once existed.
eDNA is a process that captures DNA from the environment a creature lives in by collecting samples left behind by "skin, scales, feathers, fur, feces, and urine," according to Reuters. Once the DNA is sequenced, it is compared to a huge database of known samples from hundreds of thousands of organisms. This process has long been used to track sharks and whales, but this is the first time it will be used to hunt down the Loch Ness monster.
When you hear about the Loch Ness monster, you most likely think of the famous photo above, taken in 1934 by Robert Kenneth Wilson. Known as the "surgeon's photograph" because he declined to have his name published with the photo in the Daily Mail, this was the first photographic "evidence" that suggested Nessie existed, but it was not the first mention of the creature.
The first written report of the Loch Ness monster comes from the sixth century, which claims Irish monk Saint Columba witnessed locals burying a man who was said to have been mauled by a "water beast." This took place in the River Ness, not the Loch, but some believe this story was used to bolster evidence surrounding Nessie. Another report was made in the 1870s, but it wasn't until the photograph was published that expeditions set out to look for the beast.
Definitive proof of Nessie's existence has never been found. Every "discovery" was eventually found to be a misidentified animal or inanimate object. Some have been deliberate hoaxes. In the 1990s it was discovered that the "surgeon's photo" was nothing more than a sea monster model attached to a toy submarine. A recent expedition did reveal a monster -- but it turned out to be a prop used in the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which sank during a test run.
“While the prospect of looking for evidence of the Loch Ness monster is the hook to this project, there is an extraordinary amount of new knowledge that we will gain from the work about organisms that inhabit Loch Ness,” Gemmell said on his university website. Way to tamp down expectations, Professor!
The results of the expedition are expected to be presented in January 2019.
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