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The Flipper Pictures Re-examined
by  Dick Raynor

The 1972 Academy of Applied Science - Loch Ness Investigation Flipper Pictures examined, old assertions questioned and new explanations proposed.

Note - the first version of this page was published in 2002, with updates following in 2009 and 2012. The contents overlap with my new page about the sonar trace obtained during the same evenings work which can be seen here.


Thirty years have now passed by since the famous "Flipper Pictures" were taken during a joint Academy of Applied Science (AAS) and Loch Ness Investigation Bureau (LNI) project at Loch Ness, and they are still frequently presented in the media as evidence for the existence of monsters. I was a crew member on the L.N.I. boat on the night of 7th-8th August 1972 when the pictures are believed to have been taken, and I was  directly involved with their original publication in U.K. My analysis, published for the first time here, questions their validity as evidence of "monsters".


 First Image -"Enhanced"
Copyright 1972 Academy of Applied Science / Loch Ness Investigation Bureau

First Image (left) and Second Image taken 45 seconds later
(as published (2) in MIT Technology Review, March/April 1976 but rotated 180 degrees to correct position)

 First Image -"Unenhanced".
Copyright 1972 Academy of Applied Science / Loch Ness Investigation Bureau
The dark specks and single hair are artefacts on my copy of the image.

The 35mm Kodachrome transparency of the unenhanced  first image and the "computer enhanced" black and white image were sent to me personally by Dr. Rines prior to publication in October 1972, and can be regarded as the work of his Academy of Applied Science team. The "camera original" film used is stated to be 16 mm Kodachrome 11, with an ASA speed rating of 25.

The time-lapse camera could take photographs at a range of time intervals, and is stated to have been set at 45 seconds for this work. Individual frames are not time-stamped, so there is no way of knowing when any particular photograph was taken. I am not aware of any time-specific photographs from the '72 Expedition.


The '72 Camera and strobe rig after assembly at Achnahannet...

...and one showing the tubes reversed.

As  will be seen in the supporting pictures, the separate camera and strobe light tubes were mounted side-by-side on a steel frame, sometimes with the camera on the left and sometimes with it on the right. The camera had a built in feature, possibly related to its origin as a WW2 gun camera, which produced a small dark triangle in the bottom left-hand corner of  every picture. This is clearly visible in some of the other images taken by the same camera for calibration purposes that year and also in June 1975 when it recorded the Gargoyle Head sequence. When this small dark mark appears in uncropped published photographs it is always in the bottom left-hand corner - except, that is, in the published versions of the flipper picture!  They appear to be usually presented upside down or rotated 90 degrees clockwise. In the interests of consistency I show the pictures the right way round.



from MIT Technology Review March / April 1976

From the diagram above one would deduce that both the camera - strobe unit and the sonar transducer were installed on the bottom of the loch. This certainly was not the case on the night of August 7th - 8th 1972.


Actual arrangement on night of Flipper Picture
The black circles show the boats were free to rotate around their moorings

The sonar transducer was attached to a piece of wood suspended in a horizontal mode about 12 feet beneath the LNI boat "Narwhal", which was moored to a buoy  near the edge of the deeper water (possibly the the remnants of an old river channel).  The camera - strobe unit was suspended beneath a cabin cruiser called "Nan", which was moored to a large can buoy usually occupied by an converted motor fishing vessel called "Golden Harvest" . This mooring was about 120 feet away and the other side of the deeper channel. This large buoy was held in position by a heavy chain descending to an anchor on the loch bottom. The camera and strobe were suspended about 45 feet beneath the surface in their waterproof housings. The sonar beam is not sharply defined, but "weakens" by  50% (3dB) outside of the 12 degree nominal coverage, so strongly reflective targets will be recorded at the appropriate range even if they are outside the narrow nominal beam width.

Both boats were free to swing on their moorings. Narwhal, with its relatively low profile and deep keel was more likely to orient itself with the current which circulates in Urquhart Bay in calm and light breeze conditions. Nan, with a higher superstructure and less draught tended to respond more to any breeze that might be around. On the night in question, the weather varied between calm and a light breeze from a variable direction. The distance between the boats and their orientation therefore varied all night and without record.

A lapse time video of a yacht moored in the general vicinity - within approximately 150 metres - is shown at the bottom of the page. It shows how a keeled vessel can move around over a period of 2 1/2 hours in calm conditions.

The sonar used was a Raytheon DC 725 which used chart paper and an unusual triple stylus system, with the three styli separated by 120 degrees. The chart paper used showed  a total of five possible distances for any given echo appearing on the chart, generally with no sure way of distinguishing between them.

There are a number of objects which might appear on the sonar trace from time to time. These should include random gas bubbles rising from the loch bottom, fish, the loch bottom, Nan's hull, Nan's mooring chain and buoy,  and the twin targets of the strobe and camera tubes mounted on a tubular steel framework (actually a set of caravan steps from Achnahannet). These are numbered in the diagram above.

Contemporary Diagram showing proposed interpretation.


In his own publications Dr Rines  states that objects less than four feet from the camera will not be in focus,  and we see this effect in the left hand parts of the unenhanced picture.

I should add that when transparencies are duplicated the colour balance is frequently distorted, and the green colouration is of no significance. The 1975 "Gargoyle Head" pictures were taken using a different film stock and they have a blue background - again not a true representation of the situation in Loch Ness!

As a technical photographer, I see incongruous features in the pictures and their presentation.
In the original "unenhanced" picture, the general impressions is that the lighting is from the left of the camera (it can only be from the immediate left or from the immediate right) and yet the black and white "computer enhanced" prints both show drop-shadows beneath the edges of the "flipper" which are hard to explain other than in terms of "artistic interpretation" - more usually described as retouching. The artist or artists responsible have never been identified by the Academy of Applied Sciences, but the work was clearly carried out prior to publication in early October 72, as it was contained in the print sent to me by Dr Rines at that time.

As stated above, all indications are that the small dark patch occurs in the bottom left hand corner of the picture, which means that the flipper is attached at the bottom left end. If, as suggested by proponents of the photographs, the picture shows the rear right hand flipper of an aquatic quadruped, then it would seem to be belly up, and furthermore, static relative to the camera for at least the 45 second interval between the two consecutive frames. This, I suggest, is unlikely  behaviour for an aquatic predator.

At the time of their publication in 1972 much was made of the use of "computer enhancement" to extract otherwise invisible detail from these photographs. Manipulation of images by computer back then was real rocket science - as evidenced by the fact the these images were said to have been enhanced at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena!    However, I have two observations to make.

Firstly, there is no evidence of pixelation in the flipper pictures circulated at the time. Microscopic examination shows film grain and a few suspiciously straight lines, but no signs of the blocks which are the data in a digital image. This is odd, because Academy of Applied Science enhancements of the Dinsdale Film, done later, did show such evidence.

Secondly, even using modern professional computer software 30 years newer than that at JPL, no-one has managed to reproduce anything resembling the published Flipper Pictures.

AAS Calibration shot of loch bottom with lighting from the left.  The obscured corner is at the bottom left, and the sediment at the bottom of the picture is out of focus  - it is probably less that 4 feet from the lens. The small crater with a shadow at the top of the picture is sharp.

Copyright 1972 Academy of Applied Science / Loch Ness Investigation Bureau
First Image unenhanced, but colour corrected.

Note that there is not too much difference between these two pictures. In the calibration shot, the foreground does resemble a "rough textured hide", and the white specks at the left ( which are out of focus) in the First Image could be explained as particles of  sediment disturbed when the unit struck the bottom and remained there for over 45 seconds. Note also that both the "flipper" and the "body" to which it would be attached appear to change shape between the first and second images, but do not move relative to the camera.


Given the unrestricted ability of both boats to rotate on their moorings, it seems at least possible that Nan could have swung round towards the shore allowing the camera rig to touch the bottom and remain there for at least 45 seconds. The out of focus area at the top left of the First Image, noticeably absent in the Second Image, could be interpreted as a cloud of sediment stirred up as the rig touched the bottom. 45 seconds later, of course, it would have partially settled again. The shape of a gouge mark caused by the camera rig being pulled across a ridge of soft sediment would be narrow at each end and wider in the middle part - exactly as seen in the unenhanced photo.

The "simultaneous" sonar record used as supporting evidence at the time of publication of the photographs shows a variety of targets at slowly changing ranges. This is entirely consistent with a boat carrying the sonar transducer swinging on its mooring, and "shining" its sonar beam in a variety of directions. The sonar chart, when the transducer was pointing towards Nan,  should show the boat itself, the anchor chain, and the strobe camera unit, all slowly getting closer to or further from the transducer as the boats moved, together with a variety of echoes from the loch bottom which will vary in distance at a different rate from the "Nan-associated objects". The sonar chart does show large multiple targets in the beam at 0144 hrs, and between 0153 and 0202. A version published  elsewhere (1) show similar targets at the same range at 0110, and between 0115 and 0120, but no other photographs were obtained.

If the photographs did indeed show a part of a large aquatic creature a few feet in front of the camera, and if the sonar record were simultaneous as claimed then the camera tubes, mooring system and hull of Nan should also be visible on the sonar record*. It would seem desirable to identify all of the expected features of the sonar chart first, (so that they can be eliminated) before attributing any of them to a large aquatic creature. None of the five (perfectly reputable) authorities studying the sonar chart for AAS are mentioned as identifying ANY of them.
* If anyone were to argue that the sonar record shows a monster swimming in front of the camera, so large as to obscure the boat, mooring and camera rig behind it, I would have to ask why only two photographs were obtained of it, and where on the chart are the equipment echoes once it has swum away.


There is no evidence presented which ties the time of the sonar event with the time of the photographic event, and so no correlation can be assumed.

The original "flipper" photographs do not differ significantly from test shots of the loch bottom, except for the rhomboidal mark which is consistent with a scrape or trough caused by the camera rig being dragged across a shallow ridge.

The enhanced "flipper" photographs show incongruous shadow features which I cannot explain other than as deliberate artistic improvement, i.e. "retouching".

The published sonar record and expert interpretations ignore the required presence of the suspended camera equipment, the boat "Nan" and its mooring system on the paper record, and the mobile, rotating nature of both sonar and camera.

These considerations lead me to conclude that the photographs previously described as showing the flipper of an unknown animal actually show the scrape mark and disturbed sediment created as the camera unit came into contact with the bottom of the loch.


A yacht anchored on a calm evening.

1. Campbell S. The Loch Ness Monster - The Evidence (1996) ISBN 1 874744 61
2. Rines / Egerton / Wyckoff / Klein - Search for the Loch Ness Monster. MIT Technology Review March-April 1976 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

All photographs are Copyright 1972 Academy of Applied Science, Concord. NH USA unless labelled otherwise .

Intellectual Property Rights Assertion. All text Copyright Dick Raynor August 6th 2002.Minor revisions May 2009, Video added June 2012 .

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