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Underwater Studies at Loch Ness

The Monster Hunters

Dr. Robert Rines, Veteran Monster Hunter

It was during a visit to the Scottish Highlands over thirty years ago that Robert Rines first learned about the mysterious Loch Ness monster. The scientist and inventor in him was intrigued with the possibility of applying modern technology to solve an ancient mystery.

Using underwater sonar, lights and cameras, Rines began searching for "Nessie" in 1970. Two years later he had his first sighting. Recalls Rines: "For about 10 minutes we watched a hump go out of Urquhart Bay, turn round, come back and submerge in front of us. I couldn't believe it. I had great trouble getting the Super 8 cine-camera to my eye. I just wanted to keep looking. Eventually, I did get some footage of what looked like a blob on the water, but I had a telescope with me and what I saw resembled the back of an elephant. I could make out its crest and its mottled gray skin. Estimating its size from a fifty-four foot boat on the loch, we decided the hump was at least twenty-five feet and four feet out of the water."

By 1974, Dr. Rines had persuaded his Academy of Applied Science colleagues - including Harold Edgerton, inventor of the strobe light, and Dr. Charles Wyckoff, who created the high-resolution photographic film used in NASA's space exploration programs - to join him at Loch Ness for another hunt. Armed with even more sophisticated technology, they captured the celebrated "flipper" picture. Simultaneous sonar imaging also revealed what appeared to be two animal bodies and convinced the Rines' team that there was indeed unidentified life in Loch Ness.

Computer-enhanced images were released to a magazine, and although the technique was employed by NASA, the pictures met with some skepticism. "You don't change a picture by enhancing it and our flipper pictures didn't change," Rines maintains. "For thirty years, those pictures have stood the test of time and the great weight of scientific opinion is that they were of something we couldn't identify in Loch Ness."

In 1976, Rines had his third breakthrough. "Employing a time-lapse strobe system taking photographs every 35 to 40 seconds, we lucked out with those head, neck and body pictures. They were amazing.

Whatever they were, they weren't there 40 seconds before and they weren't there 40 seconds later. These things came in and - bang - we just got one shot of them.

Expert examination revealed images like the long-extinct plesiosaur or elasmosaur - which was crazy - but official science said they would need more than one picture before they would say that's what it was."

The Academy, with the help of Sir Peter Scott, used the flipper picture, the two animal pictures and the body, neck and head picture to apply to both Houses of Parliament to get whatever it was they had photographed protected under a conservation act.

But then Dr. Rines gave up the hunt and returned to Boston to protect a different kind of threatened species: the American patent protection system. "Sir Peter said 'You're so close, keep going,' but instead I started a graduate law school to try and save the patent system," says Rines. Franklin Pierce Law Center opened its doors in 1973 (More information). "Doc (Edgerton) would say 'the find of the century is in Loch Ness. What are you doing spawning more lawyers?' but I felt that with Nature Magazine giving us its imprimatur and saying 'This is the real thing!' how could science resist carrying on from where we left off? That was my mistake."

It wasn't until 1997 that Dr. Rines returned to Loch Ness. "Charlie (Wyckoff) and I looked at each other one day and decided we were a couple of old dinosaurs," he recalled. "We were the only ones left from the previous expeditions. We felt we owed it to Doc and the others to go back and take the next step."

Justice, Rines' son, joined him and Wyckoff on the expedition. Accompanied by experts in the technology that had helped find the Titanic and the wreckage of TWA 800 and by a NOVA film crew, they made two sonar contacts "the size of whales" and put new heart and vigor into the epic investigation.

"We were still not convinced the problem could be solved, particularly since we did not have the number of contacts we had in the 70's and the one we had wasn't as big, but it opened the window," said Rines.

"So Charlie and I went back and we said 'No one is going to be happy with any sonar pictures, we've got to get a continuous video evidence of these things coming in and going out so the general public and, more importantly, the scientific community will be convinced."

Dr. Wyckoff died in 1998, but Dr. Rines returned to the loch with his son and their new team, installing an array of sonar-triggered underwater lights and video cameras in Urquhart Bay. The array was designed by Justice as a project for his science degree at Notre Dame College in New Hampshire.

The peat particles in the water of the loch have a severe impact on the camera's range, but now, based on past experiences, the 250 watt quartz halogen lamps have been moved well forward of the cameras, effectively extending the range to 40 feet and fueling the team's hopes for success.

"In the past we weren't skilled enough to have the right instrumentation to get close enough to make an identification of what we had seen - and we didn't have enough time," Rines said.

The equipment runs continuously, monitored over the Internet."If anything comes through, we're not going to get part of it, we're going to get the whole thing - and this time I think it will be quite conclusive."

Monster hunters tend to be regarded with some amusement and even ridicule, but Rines remains a respected figure both locally and internationally by his dedication and his application of rigorous scientific methods. Some of the techniques he has pioneered at Loch Ness have been used in other fields of underwater research.

Dr. Rines is a member of the American Inventors' Hall of Fame and has been recognized for many achievements, including his work in improving radar and sonar imaging. Outside of science, Rines talents in music and the arts have garnered him the Broadway equivalent of an Oscar.

Rines shows no sign of slowing down. He plans to endow an art gallery at Notre Dame in memory of his late wife Carol, who was an artiste, and is determined to enthuse young people with his love for science.

Hanging in the American Inventors' Hall of Fame are his underwater photographs and a specially-commissioned painting of what he believes the Loch Ness Monster might look like. "Maybe it's wrong, but little kids who see it will know science can be fun, that it can be an adventure - and, if our hypothesis turns out to be right, can be earth-shattering!"

(source: Inverness Courier, July 23, 1999)

Copyright 2007 Academy of Applied Science