Monster Hunter

MIT Professor Turns Light Of Science On The Hunt For The Most Famous Monster Of Them All

There are hundreds of lakes in Scotland, but only one of them, Loch Ness, is known throughout the world. Submerged in its waters may be a dinosaur, popularly known as the Loch Ness Monster.

Bob Rines has devoted much of his life pursuing Nessie, as this monster is affectionately called. If the man were a crackpot, this would not be news, but Bob Rines is anything but.

At 79, he has a lifetime of awards and achievements as a scientist and a lawyer. Now, as Correspondent Scott Pelley reports, Rines is risking his reputation on hunting down a creature most of us believe does not exist.

Growing up, Rines learned of all the monster stories, but never believed them. "How could there be a monster," this physicist asks.

But now, he knows it' s all true. "I saw one," he says.

Before giving Bob Rines a reality check, consider his background: he's a world-renowned patent attorney, a physicist and engineer whose groundbreaking work on sonar was used to find the Titanic. He's a professor at his alma mater, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he teaches a course on intellectual property.

But 30 years ago, when Rines was touring Scotland, he saw the Loch Ness monster in the flesh.

"I didn't want to stop looking at what I could not believe," he tells Pelley. "There in the middle of the Loch is the back of what, when we put the telescope and the binocs on it, looked like a giant elephant's back, and as we looked at it, we had 10 minutes, Scott. This isn't a fleeting kind of thing. We had 10 minutes. This lumbering thing turned around, gave us the wonderful spectacle of coming right back in front of us and submerged."

A school of fish? Trick of the light? "That's what the people who've never seen it would say," Rines answers.

The first report of a Loch Ness monster came in the year 565AD when an Irish missionary, visited the Loch, which is 24 miles long and in some places more than 800 feet deep. The missionary described an animal that he said broke the surface with a loud roar and an open mouth. Since then, there have been more than 1,000 alleged sightings, many of them describing Nessie as 20 to 30 feet long with an appearance very prehistoric.

"I remain unconvinced that there is any large prehistoric air-breathing animal living in Loch Ness, says Dr. Angela Milner, paleontologist at the world famous British Museum of Natural History.

"Science relies on having hard evidence and not second-hand reports, eyesight reports and hearsay," she says. "And until somebody actually comes up with some good hard scientific evidence that we can evaluate, it must remain just speculative."

Bob Rines has spent the last three decades combing the Loch for just such evidence. And the more he tried, the more he realized that the only way to sway the skeptics was through a full-scale scientific assault. Last ummer, he did that.

His two-boat navy may not look like much, but it has enough high technology on board to make a camera-shy monster say "cheese." Side scanning sonar targets all large objects in it path. Then this ROV - a sub operated by remote control - hunts them down. The pictures it sends back to the mother ship are stunning. An underwater lunar landscape that whirls like a dervish, concealing walls of rock, craggy cliffs, and caverns that could be hiding places for the elusive Nessie.

"I'm crazy, I'm crazy," says Rines. "You know Christopher Columbus, I'm nowhere near the great man he was, and he was told by all the people who knew everything about science, everything about geography, 'Don't go Chris, you're gonna drop off the end of the flat earth.' Sometimes too much knowledge prevents innovation. Prevents you from even looking."

To do his looking, Rines is using the most advanced sonar in the world. His guide is Gordon Menzies, an engineer and a skeptical Scot who's convinced there's something strange down there.

Why has there not been more evidence of it? "Unless you're pointing and looking at the right time, you've got no chance," Menzies says.

According to international monster hunter Steve Feltham, those who do point and look are often misguided. Ten years ago, Feltham moved to a converted bookmobile on the shores of Loch Ness to look for the monster. In the process, he became a one-man repository of Loch Ness lore.

Rines also relies on photography. He chose to try and film the monster underneath the spot where he saw her surface 30 years ago. In 1972, Rines installed an underwater sound stage there. Whenever a big object passed by, sonar would trigger the lights and start the camera, which was programmed to roll at one frame every 45 seconds. Rines got pictures of fish, but not much else. Then in 1975, something strange swam into view.

" I could see black water, black water, black water, black water, hundreds of them, " he says. "All of a sudden one frame, bang. There's something which immediately, it looks like this, a head, a neck, and an underbody. Only in one frame. Next frame black water, black water, black water. So in 45 seconds something passed the camera and has that shape. And that is why I feel that, impossible as it sounds, this is a carryover of something that should have been dead 65 million years ago."

Rines has always believed that the picture resembles a plesiosaur, an aquatic, air-breathing dinosaur. Dr. Milner, who's looked at the picture, says that's just not possible.

"Loch Ness is an enclosed fresh water lake which has only existed for 5000 years," she says. "The last known plesiosaurs, which were marine animals, died out 65 million years ago. It doesn't seem scientifically logical to me that any one of them could have surived."

Rines says he will take whatever explanation science provides. "But in my mind," he says, "I have a strong conviction of what it was and I certainly would love the rest of the world to enjoy the thought that we don't know everything and some kind of a miraculous carryover was in this lake."

On one of his sojourns, he found something that looked like a "decaying or a decayed carcass and vertebrae and things of this sort" that fits the description of what "paleontologists have told us we might expect to see after many years of rotting."

Rines, the ultimate realist, won't know unless he is able to bring part of it up. But based on his own experience, Steve Feltham won't discount the possibility: " I can't dismiss the hundreds of eye witnesses that I've spoken to," Feltham says. "I can dismiss some of them, but I can't dismiss them all."

A 60 Minutes II crew spent a week searching Loch Ness with Rines. He was trying to locate that carcass he'd seen earlier so he could scoop up part of it using a garden net he'd fastened to the ROV. He couldn't find it.

Upon returning from that visit to Scotland, a dejected Rines was reviewing a videotape of the lake that was taken from land. on a windless night with no boats of any kind in view.

"This is a massive wake in a flat calm bay with some object here that is propelling itself at a substantial velocity, throwing up quite a bit of bubbles in the back," he says. "I think it may be one of those things we've been searching for."

Perhaps. And perhaps not. But at least, it's given Rines enough renewed vigor and encouragement to go back and find out what that is.