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Wednesday, 24 July 2019

OPERATION DEEPSCAN

Steve Ravenhill & Family aboard the New Atlantis in 1987
Operation Deepscan was the brainchild of Adrian Shine, a marine biologist, lifelong Nessie researcher and hopeful sceptic. The leader of the Loch Ness project, in cooperation with Darrell Laurence the head of a U.S. company, Laurence Electronics; organised a sonar hunt for the elusive creature of Loch Ness, which would utilise 24 boats fitted with Laurence X-16 sonar units, which had a range of 1300ft and could target objects as small as 1ft long. It commenced on October the 9th 1987 and was at the time, the largest sonar investigation of any body of water anywhere in the world.

24 sonar equipped boats set off from the new clansman hotel witnessed by 250 journalists, 20 television crews and countless spectators from all over the world, who turned up to see this momentous search for the creatures of Loch Ness. Adrian Shine, who addressed the volunteers that day,
asked that they do it for, "all the maligned eyewitnesses who look to you for vindication."


On the first day, 3 strong sonar contacts were recorded from 78 metres (256ft) to 180 metres (590ft). The best of these was made just off Whitefield, opposite Urquhart Bay. Darrell Laurence said that "All the contacts made were larger than a shark but smaller than a whale", and Adrian Shine, leader of the Loch Ness Project, said that in his opinion, "All 3 targets were unlike those which could be expected from the lochs known inhabitants, like salmon, eels or shoals of char", and that they were, "Deep midwater contacts of considerable strength."

However, later, in what appeared to be a partial recantation or at least a more realistic appraisal of the contacts, Adrian speculated, based on size, that they might be seals which had entered the loch! (Of course, it goes without saying that the discovery of a seal capable of growing to a size somewhere between that of a large shark and a small whale, would also be an amazing discovery!)

Somewhat reassuringly, the following day, some of the sonar equipped boats returned to the location, but no further contacts were made, indicating that these anomalous sonar contacts must have been moving midwater targets and not stationary objects.

Nevertheless, the rest of the operation passed without any significant findings and it was largely tabled by the media as a flop and lauded by the scientific community, as proof of the 'non-existence' of the fabled creatures of Loch Ness.

In May of 2017, I was fortunate enough to catch up with Steve Ravenhill, who took part in Operation Deepscan, aboard a vessel named ‘New Atlantis’. Steve Ravenhill was a lifelong fan of Nessie and friends and actively kept abreast of the latest in lake monster lore from his retirement home in Columbia, where he sadly died, early this year.

What follows is an account of this event in Loch Ness history, from a first-hand observer and active participant in this extraordinary expedition!

OPERATION DEEPSCAN


B.O.B: "How did you become involved in Operation Deepscan?"

Steve: "I have been interested in Loch Ness since I was a boy, now many years ago! I first visited the loch in either 1970 or 71. I know that because the LNPIB was still open. I have been there many times since, either staying in a local hotel or renting a boat from Jim Hogan at Caley Cruisers. In Sept 87, I was going back up and Jim informed me that New
Atlantis was available for 2 weeks. I jumped at the chance and rented it for 2 weeks! I took my mother, father, then-wife and her mother; and had a great time learning how to use the sonar. I showed some of my sonar readings to Jim, he asked me to interpret them, which I duly did! He said he was very impressed, said I had a natural aptitude for sonar and told me about ‘Deepscan’ and invited me to join the crew of Atlantis. I accepted and that’s how I got involved!"


B.O.B: "What role did you fulfil in the investigation?"

Steve: "The role of Atlantis was to operate in a support capacity to the main fleet and to verify any contact they might have! I personally took on a lot of the driving and the side scan. We also went off on our own for a bit of, off the record poking around, mostly around Urquhart bay and down by the horseshoe scree."

B.O.B: "Was there ever any discussion about possible sonar contacts that were too ambiguous to be proof?"

Steve: "I can't remember any specific discussion about sonar contact but yes, there must have been some! Plenty of discussion (argument) about the Dinsdale film and various photos!"

B.O.B: "Did you feel that Adrian Shine and company wanted to prove or disprove the existence of the monster?"

Steve: "Adrian always played down the monster hunt side of ‘Deepscan’, but I remember his speech saying, 'we must go out and vindicate the many eyewitnesses', so there was a public side and a private side! I do remember Dick Raynor and a story about some giant eels seen by the Foyers Power Station. As you must know, both of them now go for the big fish theory! David Martin never has believed, Alistair Boyd did not believe, but then he had a hump sighting and now I think he does!"

B.O.B: "Do you believe there is now or has ever been anything like Nessie in the Loch?"
Steve: "Yes I do believe there is something unexplained in loch Ness, I have spoken to eyewitnesses and personally witnessed one deepwater sonar contact as it happened. What the creature is I cannot say, but I do not think there is any 1 theory that covers all the reported sightings! A fish cannot explain the head and neck, as an eel cannot explain the humps!"

B.O.B: "Do you think that Nessie/s live in the Loch all year round, or do you think they travel between the Lochs and the sea?"

Steve: "I don't think they migrate to and from the loch, because any connection from the loch to the sea large enough for these animals to use would be far more obvious! I have just remembered one incident involving one of the boats in the line! They reported over the radio, a deep water rising directly beneath it, from around 400 to 500 feet! We were some distance away and proceeded towards them as fast as we could when suddenly the boat shot forward fearing a collision with the contact! Then contact was broken and by the time we arrived, we were unable to regain or verify contact. I don't think this incident was ever reported."

DEEPSCAN'S DEEPSCAM


B.O.B:
"Do you think that Operation Deepscan was proof that no large Nessie-like creatures live in the Loch?"

Steve: "Don't forget Deepscan never covered all of the loch, only about half, or 60% or so! Think about it! Neither end of the loch was covered, none of the bays were covered and because a lot of the volunteers were inexperienced boat drivers, it was deemed too dangerous to go too close to the sides, especially at the southwest end! Many of the drivers had a struggle just keeping in a straight line without crashing into each other! The loch is pitch black from 6 to 7 feet down, so eyes would be pretty much useless! If they are sensitive to sonar, then Deepscan must have been deafening and they probably pissed off up the other end of the Loch! No wonder we didn't find anything! As well as not covering the ends, and the sides and bays of the loch, there were also gaps in the sonar curtain itself, because the line abreast soon fell apart! Add to that the fact that because there were so many sonars pinging away they interfered with each other and had to be set to the lowest sensitivity level, it was always unlikely there would be any contacts at all! Put yourself in the position of one of these creatures! You are swimming along looking for your dinner, then there is this almighty racket that scares you witless! What would you do? Getaway as far as possible? Find a nice little hidey-hole? You certainly wouldn't hang around to see what's going on!   Alex Campbell, the former water bailiff of Loch Ness, once reported witnessing one of the creatures reacting scared to the sound of an approaching ships engine and diving before it came in to view!"

THE AFTERMATH OF DEEPSCAN


B.O.B:
"Do you believe that Deepscan was a success for the sceptics or believers in Nessie?"

Steve: "Deepscan, What did it achieve? Bluntly, not a lot! 3 deep water contacts? Nothing new there! There was already a good few since around 1982 and Deepscan did not add anything to help solve what they are. We debunked the Rhines gargoyle head photo, Yes! But that was already known and I don't think Adrian Shine had anything else to give to a packed, expectant press conference, but that is just my opinion! It raised a few people’s profiles and made a few local businesses a lot of money! For a week we were followed continually by press and TV looking for interviews. But being a quiet, shy chap, I ran a mile. There were a few of the more prominent 'faces' who saw it as a giant ego trip, sorry no names!"

"That’s about it! Will the mystery ever be solved? No, I don't think so!"


A SHALLOW SUCCESS


At the time, this gargantuan operation was painted as the final 'nail in the coffin' for the mystery of Loch Ness, its aim to disprove (or prove) emphatically, whether any large creature existed in this large and intransigent body of water. The sonar 'net' set by this operation should certainly have captured any large, errant creatures in The Loch and of course, if the 'net' came up empty, then the conclusion that the monsters existed only in the realm of fantasy, or were a mere histrionic frail brained fallacy, would be implicit!

Aside from those initial sonar contacts on the first day of this expedition, nothing further was found. But, as can be seen in the comprehensive trip down memory lane, afforded us by Steve Ravenhill, the mission was not really equipped to find anything significant, due to its being, in composition, fatally oversized and under-skilled. These flaws, coupled with the low sonar intensity, (due to overlap with the other vessels), and up to 40 % of the Loch remaining untouched (including the bays and the sides of the Loch) due to safety concerns; would indicate that the operation was doomed to failure, in lieu of its experimental nature and unnavigable topographical dilemmas.

It is of course, always easy to speculate on the Shudda, cudda, wudda's, with the benefit of hindsight! But perhaps, the operation was not as cut and dry as it was sold to be. In any plan of a prospective nature, there will always be technical issues that are difficult to foresee.

So again, Nessie resists all attempts to be recognized and become a permanent resident of the British Isles! (Joking aside, she was recently refused British residency by the home office, in reply to a somewhat comical campaign to have her naturalized, as part of the Brexit campaign!)

However, when it comes to believing the 'facts' about the creatures that are said to inhabit Loch Ness and other cryptids locales around the world, a little faith, admittedly, can be dangerously stretched, to transform sticks into sea serpents and bears into Bigfoot. However, a lack of faith also can wash over the most blatant evidence, making even the most extraordinary sightings out to be, the experience of frail brains and fraudulent men! A bit of balance on both sides, 'Sceptic' & 'Believer', would certainly be beneficial if any progress is to be made, in finding, cataloguing and more importantly; protecting these elusive beasts, that have survived 'extinction' to make our little island an an altogether more interesting and magical place!

Written by Andrew McGrath


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Sunday, 14 July 2019

WAITING FOR AN ALIBI

Whilst trawling through some recent photos of pareidolia faces in bushes, funny stick shapes, serpentine bow waves, plesiosaurid looking logs and other bits of so-called, 'evidence' online, I suddenly had a moment of clarity...
Paredoilia - Thom Quine
[CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

In a flash, I saw myself from above; earnestly peering down at these peevish and cynically presented photos, as though staring at these magic eye mysteries might manifest my desired monster and prove once and for all that it pays to be among the faithful!

But alas, no! What I in fact saw, was nothing more than the manifestation of a moribund pseudo-religious projection of a guru-esque self-validating science, that had insidiously inserted faith into what should otherwise be an enterprise based upon a factual foundation!  

I wondered, how did we get here? Was the mainstream media commercialisation of cryptozoology responsible or more likely, our current love of likes, AdWords and donate now buttons, that keep the research going, but inevitably create a demand for 'daily evidence' that could never possibly be morally fulfilled.

Historically, human encounters with the alleged 'undiscovered animals' of our world are rare, even for those peoples who inhabit the locales of these supposed beasts, who might only be lucky enough to get one glimpse in an entire lifetime, often spent living within the borders of its monstrous lair! 

So, by definition, a regular communication with the local 'Forest People' or an ability to magically raise the 'Monster from the Lake', should be regarded as nothing more than what it claims to be - Which is a bawdy slight of hand, akin to men who wear capes and pull rabbits out of hats, at children's parties!

Of course, I do not mean to say that there is no evidence, for certainly there have been myriad examples of footprints, film and faeces, that are somewhat hard to refute; but, as far as a running commentary on an ever-increasing pillar of proof is concerned, well let's just say that 'likes' are not currently trusted as good empirical evidence.

So, is there a future for us? More importantly, will we ever attain a credible standing where it counts most - among those professionally engaged in mainstream Life Science? I think not!

Nevertheless, the fringe is there for a reason, to absorb the reputational risk that others are unwilling or unable to take and hopefully, in taking that big leap, to discover something new & hitherto unknown to science.

If we are to honour this call, we must self-police, self school and become self-made citizen scientists, intolerant of our own confirmation bias, as all, but the most brutal sceptic would be.  

Cryptozoology is an exciting arena, filled with curiosity and populated largely with an earnest desire to prove the impossible and add more to the wonder of our world - let's keep it that way!

By Andrew McGrath


For more on Beasts of Britain - Check Out!


Friday, 5 July 2019

DOGGERLAND

In Ancient times a land stretched between Britain and Continental Europe.

This stretch of forgotten territory, called Doggerland, was first discovered in the 20th century, when fishing trawlers began to drag up remains of Deer, Mammoth, Lion, and prehistoric tools and weapons, just east of 'The Wash'.
A hypothetical map of the now submerged Doggerland, 
that once connected Britain to Continental Europe. 
(copyright - Bryony Coles and Vince Gaffney)  

Archaeologists and anthropologists believe the Doggerlanders were hunter-gatherers who migrated with the seasons, fishing, hunting and foraging for food such as hazelnuts and berries.

However, this landmass was submerged by rising sea levels sometime around 6500BC, at a time when the peoples who inhabited these nations, were distinct from those who now call this island home. Throughout the ages, stories were told and depictions were carved, embroidered and chiselled into our heraldry and woven into the folklore of our island, of the European Wildman.

Known by many names, the Wildman or more properly, the Woodwose, has occupied our superstition and our artwork since at least, the 12th century and even appears as a surname around that time in the form of 'Wudewuse'.

Is it possible that when the seas liquidated the land bridge known as Doggerland, these wildmen sought refuge in remote areas of Great Britain, now cut off from their continental cousins, forever?

We know for a fact that large apex predators once roamed our island and even until comparatively recent times, bears and wolves hunted in or forests and hills, and yet these beautiful beasts did not arrive in Britain by sea but were native to the land. A land that was once connected to the European continent.

So what does this legend have to do with our misperceived overpopulation of concrete Britain? Well, what it offers is plausibility to the theory of how the Wildman or Wodewose arrived on our Island via Europe, whilst removing the significant maritime impediment that has been levied against it.

There are currently over 500 contemporary sightings, of a being that closely parallels the medieval descriptions of the European Wildman - or as it's now commonly known - The British Bigfoot!

Written by Andrew McGrath


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Tuesday, 2 July 2019

THE AYRSHIRE FOREST GIANT!



I recently learned of a strange event which took place in the vicinity of Balminnoch Farm, Kirkmichael Rd, near the hamlet of Straiton, Ayrshire, sometime around the 18th or 19th April, this year.

Two men were out hunting in the forest behind Balminnoch Farm, at approximately 11pm when they both came running out of the woods in a very frightened state. Both men believed that they had witnessed a large looming, bipedal figure, very dark in colour and possibly around 9 feet tall!

Bigfoot researcher, Robert Shankland, who initially received the report from a 2nd hand source, visited the location and was met by a local farmer, who greeted him saying, " I know what you’re going to ask me about, so you start talking and I'll tell you if it's about the same thing ".

He then went on to confirm that the story was legitimate and that, it was in actual fact, his own daughter's house that the two men had run to in their panic, banging on the door until she opened it.

The farmer phoned his daughter, (who was in work at the time) who then proceeded to tell Robert that, "The witnesses came running out of the woods like two wee frightened schoolgirls!"  and were in, "A very agitated and nervous state indeed!” 

One of the men, in particular, was, “Very, very scared, of something they had both just seen in the forest.” She also said that the men claimed to have seen something in the forest that was, “On two legs, bipedal, very big & looming.”

Balminnoch Woods is a sizable area, with a small loch to the North, located in The area of Straiton, on the Galloway Forest Park boundary, in which there was a large forest fire, a short time before this sighting occurred, which damaged 5 miles of woodland! 

This particular area has become synonymous with possible Bigfoot activity, where our valued correspondent, Robert Shankland, has found several unusual prints and other anomalies.

Scotland is a vast and pristine nation that boasts a trifling 1.9% of its landmass devoted to urban sprawl. If a Bigfoot-like creature were to endure here in the UK and resist our best attempts to capture and catalogue it, I can think of no more remote a realm in our beautiful isles, than there!