Chris Taylor, regional leadership director at VisitScotland (L), Adrian Shine of the Loch Ness Project (C) and professor Neil Gemmell view a water sample from Loch Ness. Photo courtesy of VisitScotland
Sept. 5 (UPI) -- Sightings of Scotland's famed Loch Ness Monster could be chalked up to a giant eel lurking in the depths of the Highland lake, a New Zealand scientist said Thursday.
Neil Gemmell, a professor of genetics at University of Otago, announced the results of his team's analysis of 250 water samples taken from the lake. They found 500 million DNA sequences in the samples, none of which pointed to the existence of a large Jurassic-age-like reptile or even a catfish or shark others theorized could be mistaken for a monster.
The team did find a large amount of eel DNA, though, which Gemmell described as "a surprise" during a news conference Thursday in Drumnadrochit, Scotland. He said it's possible an eel could have grown to an "extreme size" in the lake and be mistaken for an unknown creature.
"Most species are so small you can barely see them but there are a few that are larger and of course the question we're all asking is -- is there anything big enough to explain the sorts of observations people have made over the years that have led to this myth or this legend of a monster or creature in Loch Ness?" he asked.
He said a giant eel can't be ruled out and further investigation needs to be conducted to confirm or refute the theory.
"Well, our data doesn't reveal their size, but the sheer quantity of the material says that we can't discount the possibility that there may be giant eels in Loch Ness," Gemmell said.
Scotland's tourism agency, VisitScotland, welcomed the results of the study, saying it has drawn attention to Loch Ness and the Highlands.
"Loch Ness and the mystery surrounding the elusive monster has fascinated visitors for years," said Chris Taylor, VisitScotland regional leadership director.
Gemmell's "findings will provide further insight into what lies beneath but questions still remain, and visitors will, no doubt, continue to be drawn to the loch to seek the answers for themselves," he added.