The Loch Ness Sea Lion

Updated: Sep 23, 2019

In the early hours of January 5th, 1934, veterinary student Arthur Grant nearly collided with an amphibious monster at Loch Ness as he rode his motorcycle home. His subsequent account of this episode, taken at face value and with the unverified rumours of hoax put to one side, is perplexing but perhaps also rather revealing.

He was motor cycling to his home in the glen at 1.30 yesterday morning, when he observed a huge object on the roadway near Abriachan. As he almost struck it, the creature leaped across the road and dashed into the loch. Curiously enough, the place where this incident occurred is on the north side of the loch, almost opposite to the place on the south side where Mr Spicer, of London, and Mrs Reid, the wife, of the postmaster at Inverfarigaig, saw the monster on the land. "It was“ said Mr Grant, “a bright moonlight night after rain had fallen."

When almost forty yards away under the shadow of the hills, a short distance from the part of the reconstructed Glasgow-Inverness road near Abriachan, I observed what appeared to be a large black object on the opposite side of the road. I was almost on it when it turned what I thought was a small head on a long neck , and the creature, apparently taking fright , made two great bounds across the road and plunged into the loch. "I had a splendid view of the object; in fact, I almost struck it with my motor cycle. It had a long neck with an eel-like head and large oval shaped-eyes just on the top of the small head. The body was very hefty, and I distinctly saw two front flippers. There were other two flippers which seemed to be webbed behind and there was a tail, which I estimate would be from five to six feet long."

The curious thing about the tail was that it did not so far as I could see, come to a point but was rounded off. The total length of the animal would be from 15 to 20 feet. Knowing something about natural history, I can say that I have never seen anything in my life like the animal I saw. It looked like a hybrid." 

"I jumped off my cycle, " said Mr Grant but the animal with great speed had rushed into the loch , splashing the surface violently and making away. The weather on the loch has been very stormy , with the result that the River Ness in particular is in high flood."

                                                                           The Scotsman - Saturday 6th January 1934

Aberdeen Press and Journal - Saturday 6th January 1934


Grant would go on to descibe the animal as a cross between a seal and plesiosaur.

"The monster first turned its head to the right and then to the left.The head was on the end of a tapering neck. It gave a leap into the middle of the road appearing to propel itself by a lurch of its two rear flippers which were very strong looking and webbed. It landed on its two front flippers, which also strong looking, but not webbed. The back feet were seal like, and the forefeet were in the shape of a penguin’s. The body was thicker towards its tail than at its forefeet. It was black or dark brown in colour, and had a skin like that of a whale. Its head would be about six feet from the ground, and its neck would be three and a half to four feet long, and the tail about six feet long. The height from its belly to its back would be about four and a half feet. Its length over all would be from eighteen to twenty feet."

The Scotsman - Tuesday 9th January 1934

Dundee Courier and Advertiser, May 17 1934 (Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd).


Nearly 90 years after Loch Ness hit the headlines it seems obvious that no large, unknown animal; reptile, mammal or amphibian is present in the loch and probably never has been so unless we dismiss Grants encounter as an outright hoax then there must be some explanation for what he saw and the other land sightings. The only extant animal species that are amphibious and approach the size of the animal are the pinnipeds; seals, sea lion, fur seals and walrus.

Another animal which certainly moves the way Grant describes and might look like a cross between a seal and a plesisosaur is a sea lion. Although no extant species of sea lion is indigenous to Europe and as far as we know never has been there are numerous documented, verified historical records of these animals escaping captivity; zoos, menageries and circuses as well as being deliberately released into the wild, most notably at the start of both World Wars.

The most common animal was the California sea lion which can reach a length of 8ft and a head height of 5ft. Less common, but still historically resident in the UK, have been Steller sea lions which can reach a length of around 10ft. Both animals being otariids can use their hind-flippers for movement on land like the walrus and can move quickly on land. 

A wandering, foraging sea lion which found its way into the loch during spate or flood, (or had been exploiting the environment for some time), able to travel fairly easily on land, would at least offer a believable solution. In fact this scenario is likely to have happended many times around the world over the last hundred years or so and might explain many reports of lake monsters in Europe. After June 1934 there were no other land sightings for 20 years..perhaps whatever was behind the sighting had moved on... And funnily enough if we remove the tail from the illustrations of Grants animal we have, what appears to be a sea lion....

Lucy the California sea lion, Denver Zoo, Colorado / 2013 (Greg Goebel) Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0

A performing sea lion has been picked by a trawler on the north coast of the Outer Hebrides. It is thought it must have escaped from a ship while travelling with a menagerie.

Diss Express - Friday 2nd June, 1939

Adapted from The Seal Serpent and The Loch Ness Sea Lion.

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