Robert Rines: The Death of a Monster Hunter

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

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.