I recently published a letter from Tim Dinsdale to Herman Cockrell and was struck by Tim's concern to Herman in case he ever ventured out in his kayak again - "... for heaven's sake, be careful ... the plesiosaurs were predatory animals!".
That was back in 1961 when Tim discussed his first book, "Loch Ness Monster". What he thought of their predatory habits twenty years later as his book approached its final revision may have been less dramatic, but it brought back to mind my article on the possible predatory habits of the creature on land as well something Tim wrote some years later.
That view of mine was twisted by some sceptics, but I want to quote a story I read recently in Tim's other book, "Monster Hunt" on page 38:
During the course of the Loch Ness expeditions I have been careful to collect 'odd' stories, and scraps of information which, for one reason or another, lie outside the usual category of evidence. Much of this information is based on hearsay, which can be very unreliable; but some of it is believable because of the circumstances connected with it. One such account emphasizes the carnivorous nature of the beast — or Beiste, as it is known in the Gaelic. Some years ago, a stag was hunted down one of the glens which lead to the northern shore of Loch Ness.
In fear it entered the water, swimming out strongly. When some way out it became involved in a sudden swirl. Changing direction, it headed back to the shore — but on climbing out, over the rocks and shingle, it was seen, quite literally, to be walking on three legs. The fourth leg was missing! The reason why this account has not been publicized is because the stag was not, I understand, being hunted legally. A recurring situation in the Highlands of Scotland, one may add.
If this story is true, I would surmise the Loch Ness Monster was the only Loch Ness inhabitant capable of parting a deer from one of its legs. The thought naturally arose as to why we don't hear more of these predatory stories. Admittedly, it is rare to even see a deer swimming across the loch, let alone an incident like this. But I would add one other story here. It comes from the Inverness Courier of the 20th October 1933.
The community of Benedictine nuns who once resided near Fort Augustus are now living close to me here at Holme Eden Abbey, and one of the lay sisters, an old Inverness-shire woman, says she can remember fifty years ago talk of an uncanny beast being seen in the Loch, and also that animals grazing by the loch-side disappeared.
Livestock grazing beside the loch shores was undoubtedly a more common thing back in those days than it is now. This is exemplified by the postcard below of sheep moving along the shores of the loch. Clearly, such a sight would not be possible now on these car dominated roads, but I do not see much in the way of shoreline livestock on my trips and there is more in the way of wire fencing between them and the loch.
It also seems as if predation of humans is limited to the old water horse stories. I can think of no instance of a modern story which ascribes the disappearance of anyone to the Loch Ness Monster. Of course, people have disappeared around the loch over the decades and centuries. Most would have fallen into the loch from the shore or from boats and drowned. When searching old newspapers, I found quite a few stories of drowned people from the 19th century when health and safety procedures were not so important.
If such a thing happened alone and the body was never recovered, it is easy to raise a question mark over the cause of the disappearance. But is the lack of human predation a proof against the Loch Ness Monster? After all, if the monster is partial to salmon, trout and the odd deer, then why not humans?
It all goes back to Dinsdale's warning to Cockrell. It is reasonable to assume humans are on the menu if the monster is a form of plesiosaur. After all, it is doubtful that plesiosaurs have evolved into herbivores. Of course, their relatively small jaws could not swallow a human whole, but they could undoubtedly cause a fatal injury.
Yet multiple people have swum the loch and nothing has happened. Was this just expected due to the vast size of the loch or because the creature mainly sticks to the sides of the loch? Is this a proof that the creature is not carnivorous or, for some reason, humans are off the menu? After all, didn't Saint Columba only grant the creature the freedom of the loch if it left people alone? Only kidding.
However, my own opinion is that these creatures will in theory eat humans. If you eat meat and are a lot bigger than a human, it is reasonable to assume you will go for them. I would think, though, that they are opportunistic since their hunting instincts are not primarily geared to seek out humans. For example, a drowned body being scavenged or someone falling in 200 feet above them.
I don't think the number of times swimmers and divers have been in the loch has been statistically significant enough to trigger such an event. The loch has a volume of 7.4 billion cubic metres, the volume of a human is about 0.07 cubic metres. The odds of a human and a Nessie being in proximity are pretty small; but given enough time, something will eventually happen.
On an unrelated but interesting point, you would have noted our quote from the Inverness Courier of 20th October 1933 saying "she can remember fifty years ago talk of an uncanny beast being seen in the Loch". That would place events around 1883. By some strange coincidence, on the very same day, the historian, David Murray Rose, had a letter published in The Scotsman, saying this:
In the summer of 1885, stories were circulated about a strange beast being seen by many people about Loch Ness. It usually only appeared for a few minutes on the surface of the loch, so that no one could properly describe it.
Murray Rose has been panned by sceptics many a time. It's nice to see some corroboration for what he was claiming. Whether the kelpie-averse newspapers picked this up remains to be seen.
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