Speculation was buzzing in late August after New Zealand geneticist Neil Gemmell announced that he was about reveal new information regarding the possible nature of the Loch Ness Monster. As he said at the time:
“There have been over a thousand reported sightings of something in Loch Ness which have driven this notion of a monster being in the water. From those sightings there are around four main explanations about what has been seen. Our research essentially discounts most of those theories, however one theory remains plausible.”
In 2018. Professor Gemmell and his team traveled to Loch Ness to investigate its environmental DNA, cataloging the life forms lurking within its waters.
They took 250 water samples from all over the loch, then extracted and sequenced the DNA from those samples. They ended up with 500 million sequences that needed to be analyzed.
And that brings us to yesterday, when Professor Gemmell finally revealed their findings at a press conference at Drumnadrochit, right on the shores of Loch Ness. The conclusion they’ve come to is that, possibly, the Loch Ness Monster might just be a really big eel.
“Unfortunately, we can’t find any evidence of a creature that’s remotely related to [the plesiosaur] in our environmental-DNA sequence data. So, we don’t think the plesiosaur idea holds up based on the data we have.” – Loch Ness Hunters
According to their data, Gemmell and his team didn’t find any shark, catfish or sturgeon DNA in Loch Ness, either, possibly ruling out theories regarding those species. However, what they did find was a very large amount of eel DNA, which they “found at pretty much every location sampled.”
While they can’t say anything about the size of the eels, they feel their discovery at least lends credence to the idea. “The sheer quantity of material,” they write, “says that we can’t discount the possibility that there may be giant eels in Loch Ness.”
(Recently, the Ness District Salmon Fisher Board shared a video on their Facebook page of what appeared to be a large eel-like creature swimming around. Possibly related?)
Case closed? Not a chance.
While this announcement is no doubt underwhelming for anyone who was expecting definitive proof of the Loch Ness Monster’s existence, perhaps even as something truly monstrous, hope remains. Just because Nessie DNA wasn’t found in these samples, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist. As the researchers themselves say on their website:
“…any survey must accept that it may not find all species present because sampling effort is inadequate, the species is migratory (e.g. sturgeon), small, at low abundance in the system, sheds cells at low rates, or is missed by the metabarcoding.”
Besides, a giant eel is still something, right?
The search can, and will, continue. Meanwhile, Professor Gemmell and his team will appear on a two-hour special about their work on the Travel Channel on September 15, 2019. You can read more about their research at the Loch Ness Hunters website.