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Trending Science: Is the Loch Ness monster a really big eel?

Scientists suggest the Scottish lake’s mythical monster might be a giant eel.

Fundamental Research

The legend of the beast dates back about 1 500 years, but it wasn’t until the first reported sightings and infamous photo in the 1930s that it began to capture people’s imagination. The Loch Ness monster, or Nessie, has been strangely elusive ever since, and the photo from back then was revealed to have been a toy submarine. Rumours of a strange creature lurking in the murky waters of Loch Ness continue to abound. What could explain these mysterious sightings? An international team of scientists led by New Zealand’s University of Otago has revealed the initial results of a DNA analysis of the waters of Loch Ness – the largest and second-deepest body of fresh water in the British Isles. The year-long investigation might be ready to put the mythical monster to bed.

Fabled sea serpent or just a big fish?

According to the findings, there’s no evidence a Loch Ness monster in reptilian form ever lived in the Scottish lake. The environmental DNA (eDNA) data doesn’t support the belief that the monster is a long-necked ancient reptile called plesiosaur. “Is there a plesiosaur in Loch Ness? No. There is absolutely no evidence of any reptilian sequences in our samples,” Prof. Neil Gemmell, a geneticist at the University of Otago, told ‘CNN’. “So I think we can be fairly sure that there is probably not a giant scaly reptile swimming around in Loch Ness.” The scientists found a surprisingly high amount of eel DNA in the Loch. “We don’t know if the eel DNA we are detecting is gigantic, from a gigantic eel, or just many small eels. These normally grow to about four to six feet in length, and some people are saying they are observing organisms that are much, much larger than that.” “Eels are very plentiful in the loch system - every single sampling site that we went to pretty much had eels and the sheer volume of it was a bit of a surprise,” Prof. Gemmell told ‘Reuters’.

Perpetuating the Nessie phenomenon

The researchers wrote in the study: “Loch Ness is vast and given that eDNA signals in water dissipate quickly, lasting days to weeks at most, there remains the possibility that there is something present that we did not detect because we sampled in the wrong places at the wrong time, or our metabarcoding method could not detect ‘Nessie’ because the sequence could not be matched with anything in the sequence databases.” They added: “Our investigation, like every investigation before it, has no definitive proof of the monster. Proving something does not exist is pretty much impossible. We do however have a further theory to test, that of the giant eel, and it may be worth exploring this in more detail.” Speaking to CNN, Prof. Gemmell leaves the door open for the believers: “A lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. There may well be a monster in Loch Ness. We didn’t find it.” The Scottish economy can also breathe a sigh of relief. A paper describing the team’s findings will be published soon.

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