Hoaxes & Rumors

Is the Loch Ness Monster Just a Giant Catfish?

Is the Loch Ness Monster Just a Giant Catfish?

The Loch Ness monster has once again made headlines after it has been claimed that the elusive sea creature may be nothing more than a giant catfish.

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Loch Ness Catfish

Nessie hunter Steve Feltham spent nearly a quarter of a century searching for the Loch Ness monster, apparently losing his girlfriend and home along the way.

In July 2015 Feltham told the press that he has concluded that Nessie is nothing more than a big fish. “The most likely solution is a Wels catfish,” he told Sky News. “I just don’t think that Nessie is a prehistoric monster…What a lot of people have reported seeing would fit in with the description of the catfish with its long curved back.”

According to Reuters, Wels catfish are not native to the area, but have been introduced to the lake for sport fishing. Encyclopedia Britannica reports that these fish can reach 15 feet in length and possibly weigh up to 660 pounds. Various sources estimate the lifespan of a Wels to be 30 to 60 years.

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Water in the loch only reaches 5-11 degrees C, and Wels catfish do not spawn until water temperatures reach 20-22 degrees C, which means a large specimen suggested by Feltham likely did not originate there.

Felthan said that despite his conclusion, “I certainly don’t regret the last 24 years. I’m in my utopia living here on the shores of the loch.”

“The monster mystery will last for ever and will continue to attract people here, monster or not.”

There have been several large-scale searches over the loch in recent years, such as the 2003 search funded by the BBC which included 600 sonar beams and satellite tracking. The final conclusion was that the monster did not exist. The search also apparently didn’t spot a giant catfish. One specialist told the BBC at the time, “We went from shoreline to shoreline, top to bottom on this one, we have covered everything in this loch and we saw no signs of any large living animal in the loch.”

Fake News

Feltham’s story appears to have inspired a fake news article about a man named Jim Sheridan who caught an 1870-pound Wels catfish, debunking the Loch Ness monster legend.

large catfish

The photo above has been circulated with the fake story, but it appears to have been lifted from the Sportex Italia Facebook page, as evidenced by tell-tale green tarp and the man’s baseball cap with yellow lettering. That particular photo is no longer on the page, but nearly identical shots still reside there. The large fish appears even larger by a trick of forced perspective, meaning the fish is closer to the camera than the man.

There have been no news reports of a man named Jim Sheridan catching a giant catfish, nor does the size of the fish reported in that story correlate to the largest Wels catfish ever recorded.

World’s Largest Catfish

In early 2015 a 280-lb, 8.8-foot Wels catfish (shown below) was caught in Italy’s Po Delta river by fisherman Dino Ferrari. Despite images showing the massive fish, it wasn’t the largest catfish ever caught. That title belonged to a 342-pound lau-lau catfish caught in 2009 in Brazil.

280 lb catfish

Facebook / Sportex Italia

An episode of River Monsters also highlighted the massive Wels catfish, as seen in the video below.


Although sightings of the Loch Ness monster allegedly date back more than a thousand years, the first modern sighting is said to have occurred in 1868, and it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the modern legend bloomed. That is around the time the famous black and white photo now known as the Surgeon’s Photograph appeared. That grainy photo depicted a long head protruding from the water, and was the subject of the debate and analysis for years. It was eventually outed as a hoax 60 years later, but by that time the legend of Nessie had grown to epic proportions.

Sturgeon Theory

Feltham isn’t the first to suggest that Nessie is no more than a giant fish. A 1994 AP story reported that a Loch Ness hunter at that time had concluded that the mysterious creature was likely a large, lost sturgeon. “It isn’t impossible to imagine one of them blundering up the River Ness in search of a mate and failing to find one,” Adrian Shine said. Shine had searched for the monster for 20 years and led a massive expedition in 1987 to search for the creature. Shine’s conclusion came after a study by the scientific journal The Scottish Naturalist which found that the loch didn’t have enough fish to support a monster the size of Nessie.

Loch Ness Monster From Space?

In April 2014, amateur Loch Ness Monster hunters claimed that a satellite image show the creature swimming just below the surface of the water.

The hunters, Peter Thain and Andy Dixon, spotted the image from Apple’s satellite map app, meaning the photo can only be seen on iPads and iPhones.

The men claimed the photo shows a wake without any apparent boat, so whatever is causing of the wake must lie directly below the surface. The location of the mysterious wake is outside of the village of Dores on the south shore of the loch.


The Mirror quoted Dixon’s thoughts on the photo:

“I could see something big under the water and I saved it to my phone. My first thought was that it was the monster and I contacted Gary Campbell of the Official Loch Ness Monster Club. I was a believer in Nessie even before this but I had never been. Now I am so excited, I can’t wait to get up north and pay a visit – with a camera of course. Unfortunately I have not seen anything since but I will keep looking.”

The men asked boating experts about the photo, who confirmed it looked like a boat wake, but did not see a boat causing the wake.

Gary Campbell of the Official Loch Ness Monster Club also weighed in on the photo. “What ever it is, it’s just below the surface and heading south so unless there have been secret submarine trials going on in the loch, the size of the object would make it likely to be Nessie.”


Sometimes, however, a satellite image does not tell the full story. Consider the Google Maps “murder scene” that circulated in 2013. That photo ended up being a wet dog on a dock. Regarding this photo, some commenters online have suggested that the image shows a large wake for a boat that is simply not discernible in the photo. Another theory is that the photo is a composite of several overlapping images, with the boat that caused the wake not included in the final image. This phenomenon is most commonly seen with distorted, or even half-missing, people in Google’s Street View.

What do you think this photo shows?

Bottom Line

A Loch Ness monster researcher has concluded after nearly a quarter of a century that the mysterious sea creature is likely just a large Wels catfish. The story has prompted a fake news item which claims a man caught a 1-ton catfish, debunking the legend. In 1994, a similar story was reported in which another Loch Ness researcher concluded Nessie was probably just a large sturgeon.

A recent photo supposedly showing the Loch Ness monster has been debated, although the most likely explanation is that it merely shows the wake of a boat.

Additional sources

  • Tamas, Gizella. Carp and Pond Fish Culture. 2nd ed. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2007. 135. Print.
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