Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 81st anniversary of the Surgeon’s Photograph, the famed falsified image that catapulted the Loch Ness Monster into the collective consciousness. Now, eight decades after one of the world’s greatest hoaxes arrived on the scene, the tech company is on the hunt for the real thing. Google recently announced that it’s enlisting the help of its Street View cameras – the same technology it has been using to map the world’s oceans – to search the Scottish freshwater lake for evidence of beloved aquatic cryptid Nessie.
As reported by The Atlantic, Google mounted its Street View equipment to a boat and coupled the resulting images with additional photos taken underwater to create a “portrait” of Loch Ness. Believers and skeptics alike can navigate the images on Google Maps and while away countless hours as laptop explorers. “Loch Ness is a lost world. But it is accessible through technology,” says Adrian Shine, a marine biologist and researcher with the Loch Ness Exhibition, in a short film about his own search for the Loch Ness Monster and the Google project.
The use of technology to harvest data and glean a deeper understanding of elusive animals is a growing trend. Camera trapping on wildlife preserves is being used by the Wildlife Conservation Society for its Wild View photo blog, as well as by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). For the past five years BBC Wildlife has been holding an annual competition for the best camera trap photographs in an effort to recognize “the role that new technology plays in our understanding of the natural world.”
Amid growing concerns about the inhabitants of the earth’s oceans, which the author of a recent study on the subject says are at risk for a “major extinction event” (journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, who wrote the remarkable Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, can attest to this), this kind of non-invasive surveillance becomes more critical than ever. Another recent study found that there are roughly 8.75 million species on earth, but that at the current rate of discovery it will take “hundreds of years” to know them all. We don’t have that kind of time. Biologists estimate that within the next century 75 percent of those species will be extinct.
There may be an unidentified creature in Loch Ness. There may not. The point is simply this: if a company as industrious as Google is willing to look, we’re on the right track toward implementing a desperately needed tech-driven strategy for animal discovery and conservation.