Since I've had my mind on water monsters recently, I figured I might as well turn my attention to that pillar of cryptozoology, the Loch Ness Monster. I'm not entirely sure why Nessie would capture the public imagination more than any other monsters that conspiracy nuts claim to have seen, but it has, being right up there with Bigfoot. Nessiemania started in the early thirties, with the Inverness Courier publishing a supposed sighting of the creature in 1933. The following year was when the most famous picture of the monster, known as the Surgeon's Photo, was taken.
In 1994, it was revealed that this picture was a hoax, with its actual subject being a toy submarine with a sculpted head. A faked photograph doesn't necessarily mean that the monster isn't real, however, and some still hold on to the hope that it is. Really, though, how would a monster of that size get to a freshwater lake in Scotland, and continue to thrive there for years? Has it been the same creature the whole time? If not, doesn't that require a family of monsters? When you get down to it, it's an absurd conspiracy theory. But at least it's a FUN conspiracy theory, without the offensive nature of other such theories.
Whether stories of the monster predate the sightings in the thirties isn't entirely clear. There are a few older mentions of monsters in the area, beginning with the account of the sixth century monk St. Columba. Adomnán of Iona's account of this saint's deeds has him stopping a monster on the River Ness by making the sign of the cross. Some people have apparently also tried to tie Nessie to ancient stone carvings in the Scottish Highlands.
Nessie is commonly identified as a plesiosaur, although the pictures and reports of its lifting its head and neck out of the water make this pretty much impossible, even if some plesiosaurs DID miraculously survive into the modern era.
Some have linked the Loch Ness legends to those of kelpies, tricky shape-shifting water sprites from Scottish folklore. Traditionally, the kelpies would fool people by turning into horses and then drowning anyone who mounted them, but I suppose one could turn into a big plesiosaur-like monster as well. In fact, the Harry Potter tie-in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them identifies Nessie as a kelpie.