READING about people from around the world joining in the recent mass Nessie hunt I was reminded of a passage in Nathaniel Philbrick’s fascinating book In the Heart of the Sea (2000). It tells the true story of the sinking in 1820 of the Nantucket whaler Essex by an enraged sperm whale and the 90-day ordeal in the Pacific in small boats of the escaped crew, with only eight of the 20 surviving – and that with resort to cannibalism. The whale attack part inspiration for Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.

WATCH: Possible video footage of Nessie following major search of Loch Ness

Philbrick writes of the speculation in Nantucket wharves and shipping offices the previous year about the appearance of a comet – which generally presaged an unusual happening. And not just about the comet. All spring and summer, he adds, there had been sightings up and down the New England coast of what was described as “an extraordinary sea animal” – a serpent with black, horselike eyes and a 50-foot body resembling a string of barrels floating on the water. “Any sailor ... must have wondered, if only fleetingly, if this was, in fact, the best time to be heading out on a voyage around Cape Horn.”

CS Lincoln