Could the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster finally be solved?
A new study has given Nessie hunters hope that the legend of the monster could be real.
The mystery of the Loch Ness Monster has fascinated people from around the world for hundreds of years.
The beast that lives in the loch near Inverness drives hundreds of thousands of tourists to the area each year, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious creature.
Yet despite more than 1000 sightings, there has been no proof that the Loch Ness Monster exists.
Now Nessie hunters have been given new hope that the legend is real, following a study by Professor Neil Gemmel, a geneticist at The University of Otago, New Zealand.
Having taken 500 million DNA sequences from the loch, the results were compared against global databases to reveal a comprehensive picture of life present in the loch.
The most popular theory is that Nessie is a plesiosaur, a long-necked aquatic reptile which became extinct.
On Thursday, the professor said that there is no evidence of reptilian sequences were found, ending speculation that the creature is some kind of dinosaur.
'There may well be a monster - we don't know - we didn't find it.'Professor Neil Gemmel
Professor Gemmel said the most plausible theory could be that Nessie is a type of giant eel following large amounts of eel DNA found in the water.
"As a geneticist I think about mutations and natural variation a lot, and while an eel that big would be well outside the normal range, it seems not impossible that something could grow to such unusual size," he said.
While the research may have led Nessie hunters to a potential explanation of what type of creature the Loch Ness Monster is, Professor Gemmel added that for now, her origin still remains a mystery.
"There may well be a monster - we don't know - we didn't find it," he said.
"People love a mystery, we've used science to add another chapter to Loch Ness' mystique."
The history of Nessie
The origins of the monster in the loch go back to the sixth century, when Irish monk St Columba happened upon a man who had been killed by a water beast.
He sent a follower into the water who encountered the monster, but after the monk made the sign of the cross, it fled "as if pulled by ropes".
Since then reports of sightings began, but it wasn't until the 1930s that the term Loch Ness Monster was coined, with the name Nessie attributed to the creature a decade later.
One of the most famous sightings was in 1934, a grainy black and white photograph showing what appeared to be a small head, long neck and back in the Loch.
The photograph was considered to be proof of Nessie's existence, however it is now thought the image was a hoax, with the body moulded from putty and attached to a toy submarine.
While fans of Nessie make the trip to Loch Ness from all over the world to catch a glimpse of the creature, sightings have been made by those much closer to home.
Mike Bell, who runs daily sightseeing trips on the Nessie Hunter boat, caught a glimpse of something while out on a boat ride with tourists earlier this year.
"There was a young man on board the boat and he pointed to something on our sonar," he explains.
"Now our sonar tells us what's underneath the boat at any given time.
"When we looked at it, we realised we had went over something. It was at a depth of around 100ft and it was around 20ft long, whatever it was.
"Now that's all we know about it though. So it really leaves a lot to the imagination."
'Suddenly I spotted this thing going through - all you could see was the spray of water coming off of it and so as it hit each oncoming wave, you'd get a bigger splash of water.'Steve Feltham
Steve Feltham is perhaps one of Loch Ness' most recognisable characters, having relocated his entire life to the shore of the loch at Dores and dedicating his life to discovering what lies beneath the water.
"For the last 28 years and two months, I've been full time watching and waiting trying to solve the mystery of what's in Loch Ness," he says.
In 1991, he caught a glimpse of something in the water, and he's been trying to spot Nessie again ever since.
"It was 11am in the morning, the waves were coming out of the bay - they must have been a foot and a half high, maybe two foot high," he says.
"Suddenly I spotted this thing going through - all you could see was the spray of water coming off of it and so as it hit each oncoming wave, you'd get a bigger splash of water.
"This was for less than ten seconds and I just froze and pointed and went "what the..." and it was gone."
With gift shops near the shore selling cuddly toys, plastic figurines and even snow globes hiding the mysterious monster within, tourists continue to flock to the area in hopes of catching a glimpse of Nessie.
One family said: "We've come from Wakefield in Yorkshire and we've come to Loch Ness because we want to see Nessie obviously.
"There's so many sightings, there must be something there."
A couple from Sweden added that the idea of Nessie is encapsulated in the magic of the unknown.
"She means like eternal life and a sort of trust in that. It's a personal thing, everyone has their own Nessie.
"It's important to have imagination. And I think okay, so we know some things are not real, but still imagination. I think if you believe in something, then the possibilities are endless."
'She means like eternal life and a sort of trust in that. It's a personal thing, everyone has their own Nessie.'Tourists
For Steve, no matter the outcome of the study, he believes that there is something in the water in Loch Ness and he will continue to dedicate his life to finding out the truth.
"We don't know what the answer is. All we know for sure is that reliable people keep describing something.
"What I've dedicated my life to is the fascination with the potential and the possibility of what the explanation is. So I will continue observing this phenomena and see where it goes next."