Operation Cleansweep 2001
On Saturday 5th May 2001, Operation Cleansweep
came to an end. This expedition, led by Jan Sundberg
of the Global Underwater Search Team (GUST) commenced
on April 23rd with two objectives.
1. To search Loch Ness from end to
end using a Simrad SM 2000 multibeam sonar
mounted aboard Caley Cruiser's "Highland Commander
2. To temporarily isolate a small
specimen of the Loch Ness Monster for DNA examination.
For this, a large "eel trap", 7ms long and
1m in diameter (The Comet trap) was used. Due to the
concerns of Scottish Natural Heritage, (see Nessie
Dead or Alive) the trap was used in shallow water
and was unbaited. It was felt that a likely candidate
for the monster might be a large eel, one of the original
local theories incidentally and that eels might enter
a trap while seeking cover.
Some 50 hrs of sweeps with the scanning
sonar were completed without any unambiguous result.
An unrecorded contact was reported by Inge Falk, the
sonar operator while the vessel was moored for the
night in the Urquhart Bay Harbour. A large layer was
also reported which dispersed at dawn. This may have
been a temperature effect or could be due to a vertically
migrating acoustic "scattering layer" of
The trap was not successful, though two large eels
were in fact discovered at Loch Ness! On Wednesday
2nd May, the passengers on Tony Harmsworth's
"Discover Loch Ness" (www. discoverlochness.com)
minibus tour descended the steps to the beach beneath
the "Wellington lay-by" near Abriachan on
the A82 road. Close to the surf were two very large
dead eels, much larger than the known freshwater species
Tony Harmsworth reported this to
Adrian Shine at Loch Ness 2000, who visited
the site and had them transported to the Loch Ness
Project's laboratory within the Centre.
He identified them as conger eels
(Conger conger) which are exclusively marine. This
identification was confirmed by Tony Wall of the Inverness
based Fish Vet Group. A post mortem also revealed
that one of them had been feeding on Mackerel, another
salt water fish. Both had been killed by punctures
to the brain and there were signs of gaff marks. The
larger eel was 6ft 1.25 ins long (1.86m) with a circumference
of 22 ins (.55m) and weighed 20.8kg.
Clearly, the eels had arrived by
human agency in two possible ways. They could have
been thrown overboard from a passing fishing vessel.
A number of trawlers had passed through the Caledonian
Canal on the previous day. However, congers are seldom
caught in trawls since they tend to hide in rocky
ground or in wrecks. Also, one of the eels was found
clear of the surf. A more likely explanation is that
they had been placed by a sea angler, inspired perhaps
by the publicity surrounding Mr. Sundberg's ideas
about large eels. The location, directly beneath a
busy lay-by suggests this.
The incident is reminiscent of the
skinned dolphin reported by the Inverness Courier
to have been cast overboard by "the waggish crew"
of a passing fishing vessel in October 1868 to fool
"the credulous natives of Abriachan". Perhaps
today, the natives of Abriachan are less credulous!