Scientists Reveal the Creature Behind 'Loch Ness Monster' Sightings

Scientists examining Loch Ness announced on Thursday that the Scottish lake's fabled monster could actually be a giant eel after significant amounts of eel DNA were found in numerous tests of the lake's water.

It was the most extensive study ever carried out on the United Kingdom's largest body of freshwater, with 250 samples taken and examined. Researchers from New Zealand set out to catalog all living species in the loch by extracting DNA from water samples. The aim of the research was actually not to find the "monster," commonly known as "Nessie," but to improve knowledge of what plants and animals live in Loch Ness.

A global, two-hour special Loch Ness Monster: New Evidence will premiere on Sunday, September 15 at 8pm on Travel Channel in the US, and then on September 15 at 7pm on Discovery Channel in the UK. The documentary will explore the various hoaxes associated with the lake, as well as the new research.

A popular photo of the Loch Ness Monster taken in 1934 abides in the public consciousness as the image of the "monster." The photograph was allegedly taken by Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson—though it was later exposed as a hoax by one of the participants on his deathbed. More than 1,000 people claim to have seen "Nessie" and the lake in the Scottish Highlands is, consequently, a popular tourist attraction.

Loch Ness Monster
A view of the Loch Ness Monster, near Inverness, Scotland, April 19, 1934. The photograph, one of two pictures known as the 'surgeon's photographs,' was allegedly taken by Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson, though it was later exposed as a hoax. (Keystone/Getty Images)

Some Twitter users jokingly refused to believe the announcement on Thursday, others just made memes on hearing the news.

One user said, "If it's not 'Nessie is real' then I don't want to hear it."

The research was carried out by geneticist Professor Neil Gemmell from the University of Otago in New Zealand.

He said, "There is a very significant amount of eel DNA. Eels are very plentiful in Loch Ness, with eel DNA found at pretty much every location sampled. There are a lot of them," according to the BBC.

Is that the answer to the riddle which has fascinated the world for generations?

"Well, 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," Gemmell said on Thursday.

"Therefore" he continued, "we can't discount the possibility that what people see and believe is the Loch Ness Monster might be a giant eel.

"Divers have claimed that they've seen eels that are as thick as their legs in the loch, whether they're exaggerating or not – I don't know – there is a possibility that there are very large eels present in the loch."

He added: "Further investigation is needed to confirm or refute the theory, so based on our data, giant eels remain a plausible idea."

Past theories as to what the monster may be have included seals, sharks, catfish, sturgeon, or the long-extinct prehistoric species the plesiosaur. These theories were discounted, however, by the DNA results.

The legend of the Loch Ness Monster dates back approximately 1,500 years, with the first apparent sighting of an unrecognizable "water beast" in the River Ness recorded in 565. Another, less than spectacular sighting in 1872 recounted something "wriggling and churning up the water."

Correction Thursday, September 5 at 4:05 p.m. ET: This story has been corrected to include the reporting and documentary-special information from the Travel Channel.

Scientists Reveal the Creature Behind 'Loch Ness Monster' Sightings | World
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