iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Ben H. Winters


Robert Rines: The Death of a Monster Hunter

Posted: 11/11/09 05:07 PM ET

If there is a Loch Ness monster, she’s feeling pretty good about herself right now. Robert H. Rines, the man who came closer than anyone to proving the existence of the fabled serpent, died last week at the age of 87.

Over three and a half decades, and many, many trips to the famous Scottish lake, Rines produced numerous theories, several tantalizing photographs, and—alas—no evidence sufficient to convince the scientific community. Mainstream biology today holds the same position it did in June, 1972, when Rines first saw “a large, darkish hump, covered... with rough, mottled skin, like the back of an elephant”: there is no plesiosaurus, nor any other aquatic dinosaur, nor slithering monstrosity of any kind, in the murky depths of Loch Ness.

If you’re picturing Rines as a ranting buffoon squatting in an old fishing trawler, chewing on a pipe and tugging at his long, damp beard, think again. Aside from his work in cryptozoology (that being the pseudoscientific word for the pseudoscience of monster hunting), Rines was an accomplished inventor who held more than 800 patents, including one for missile-guiding technology; he was also a renowned intellectual property lawyer and founder of the Franklin Pierce Law Center. And Rines brought his scientific acumen to his quest, developing custom sonar technologies and underwater photography techniques to enhance his search for Nessie.

At first, there is something slightly preposterous about the idea that someone of such intellectual heft would spend half a lifetime on something that is, to many of us, nonsensical on the face of it. It’s as if Albert Einstein had divided his precious time between theoretical physics and unicorn hunting.

But whenever I start to roll my eyes at the monster hunters of the world (or the alien spotters, or the ghost whisperers, or the fortune tellers) I think about our habit, as a society, of mocking fringe thinkers until the instant they’re proven right—at which point we begin celebrating the tenacious genius who never gave up hope, despite all the obstacles…obstacles such as the scorn we were just heaping upon them a moment ago.

Isn’t there always the part, in the biography of the great inventor or discoverer or creator, where the whole world is laughing at their terrible idea—about how washing hands prevents disease, or how the Earth revolves around the sun—until they are proven right, and are revealed as not crackpots, but geniuses! Geniuses who stuck with it, no matter what the world thought!

If anybody had a good shot at turning out to be a non-crackpot, to prove that Nessie was real, it was Robert H. Rines, with his sonar devices and 800 patents and refusal to give in.

Sure, the mainstream scientific community felt (and feels) there’s no plesiosaur in Loch Ness; but Rines had seen the damn thing with his own eyes, he trusted his own mind, and by God he was going to get to the bottom of it.

So, yeah, maybe there’s no Loch Ness monster.

Okay, probably there’s no Loch Ness monster.

But it's worth pausing for a moment to celebrate Robert H. Rines, and the one in a million chance that there is.


Follow Ben H. Winters on Twitter: