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Scientific fossil discovery: Loch Ness Monster isn’t ‘plausible’

Headlines made scientists call Nessie of Loch Ness “plausible” after a fossil discovery, but the monster itself wasn’t what they thought was real.

The legend of the Loch Ness Monster has been known around the world for almost 100 years and has existed in local lore for much longer. The creature nicknamed Nessie is believed to be a sea monster that inhabits the Scottish lake for which it is named: Loch Ness.

The Telegraph and LAD Bible were two of many media outlets who made headlines claiming that the Loch Ness Monster’s existence in modern times had become “plausible” after a fossil discovery.

The stories claim that a team of researchers declared the existence of Nessie, the legendary sea monster that lives in a Scottish lake, to be “plausible” after an archaeological dig in Morocco uncovered evidence that plesiosaurs, an ancient marine reptile that lived alongside dinosaurs lived, possibly existed lived in fresh water.

According to legend, the Loch Ness Monster is best described as a plesiosaur.

THE QUESTION

Did scientists say that a fossil discovery means it’s “plausible” that the Loch Ness Monster is real?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

That's wrong.

No, scientists haven’t said that a fossil find means it’s plausible that the Loch Ness Monster is real.

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WHAT WE FOUND

On July 21, scientists from the University of Bath, the University of Portsmouth and Morocco’s Universite Hassan II published a study reporting the discovery of small plesiosaur fossils in a 100-million-year-old river system in the desert areas of Morocco.

“This discovery suggests that some species of plesiosaurs traditionally thought to be marine animals may have lived in fresh water,” the University of Bath said in a press release a few days later.

Plesiosaurs were ancient aquatic reptiles that resembled and lived alongside dinosaurs. They had long necks and sharp teeth, and had flippers attached directly to their bodies. The largest plesiosaur they could find among the fossils was about 10 feet long.

How does this relate to the Loch Ness Monster?

Although the fossils are smaller than Nessie’s assumed 20-foot length, they look similar to the popular interpretation of the Loch Ness Monster, which is believed to be a plesiosaur that popular legend has survived into modern times . But until this new study, plesiosaurs were thought to have lived only in salt water, and Loch Ness is a freshwater lake.

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The University of Bath addressed the legend of the Loch Ness Monster in its press release on the study. Researchers said that while it’s “plausible” that a plesiosaur lived in freshwater many millions of years ago, that doesn’t mean it’s plausible that a large monster lives in Loch Ness today.

“But what does all this mean for the Loch Ness Monster? On one level it’s plausible. Plesiosaurs were not confined to the oceans, they inhabited freshwater,” the press release reads. “But the fossil record also suggests that the last plesiosaurs eventually became extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs, nearly 150 million years ago, 66 million years ago.”

The University of Portsmouth used the same wording in its own press release on the results. The Loch Ness Monster is never mentioned in the abstract of the study the researchers wrote to accompany their findings.

According to paleontologist Nick Longrich, one of the study’s authors, headlines describing the existence of the Loch Ness Monster as “plausible” take this statement from the press release out of context.

“The existence of a plesiosaur in Loch Ness is neither probable nor probable nor plausible,” Longrich told VERIFY in an email. “It turns out that plesiosaurs did in fact invade fresh water (surprisingly often!), so *that part* of the scenario is actually plausible, and it’s conceivable that there were Mesozoic plesiosaurs that inhabited large lakes, like the living one Baikal seal today in Lake Baikal.”

Lake Baikal in Siberia has the most water of any freshwater lake in the world and is millions of years old. The Baikal seal is the only large oceanic animal that has evolved to inhabit a freshwater lake today.

So this new fossil discovery indicates that there were likely plesiosaurs that could inhabit a freshwater river more than 66 million years ago. And it was even plausible that a plesiosaur could have existed in a large lake.

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Longrich said that even 66 million years ago, Loch Ness still wouldn’t fit the bill. Loch Ness is too small and not old enough. It has 3,000 times less water than Lake Baikal and is millions of years younger. Loch Ness was buried under ice during the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago.

“Buried under ice isn’t exactly a great place for a marine reptile to survive for thousands of years,” Longrich said.

Then there’s the final nail in the coffin, mentioned in the press release itself: plesiosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago, according to the fossil record. Longrich said plesiosaurs, even a small group of them confined to a single Scottish lake, should have left some fossils if they had survived continuously for the past 66 million years.

“So it’s an interesting thought experiment and it’s odd that part of the scenario isn’t entirely impossible, but the rest is,” Longrich said.

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Alley Einstein

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