In the 80 years since hotel keeper Aldie Mackay first announced seeing a "whale-like fish" in Loch Ness, some 1,000 eyewitness accounts have corroborated her report of the cryptid creature spotted in the freshwater loch of the Scottish Highlands.
And now Dr. Charles Paxton, a research fellow and statistical ecologist at St Andrew's University, is wading through all of the recorded sightings — but not necessarily to determine the existence of “the beast.”
Having gone through 800 of the accounts so far, Paxton has found a sizeable number came from cafe and hotel proprietors, those who would have a vested interest in the sightings, BBC Scotland reports.
Is the she-monster of legend just an invention to boost tourism? According to Visit Scotland, Nessie tourism brings in more than $1.5 million to the area per year.
Mackay's spotting was first reported on May 2, 1933, and her report is widely regarded as the first modern sighting of a monster in the loch. But did she really spy a black creature “wet, with the water rolling off it,” or was she just a marketing genius?
Paxton, who is using the Loch Ness phenomenon to analyze how science handles anecdotal and low-frequency data, said, "I suppose it is possible that people have an agenda.”
"But I stress that I believe the vast majority of people are reporting the truth. They believe they have seen something strange.” He added, "Now there might be a lot of people who are mistaken, but I think they are sincere."
In fact, Paxton says, analyzing the eyewitness accounts may tell us more about ourselves than whether or not the Loch Ness monster exists. More on the mystery will be forthcoming. He is due to publish the results of his study later this year.
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