AUSTRALIA PREHISTORIC ANIMALS: MARINE REPTILES: An artist's impression of the recently discovered ancient marine reptile named Umoonasaurus. Australian scientists identified two new species of ancient marine reptiles, similar to the mythical Loch Ness monster, that swam in an Australian outback sea 115 million years ago. EDITORIAL USE ONLY NO ARCHIVES NO RESALES REUTERS/HO/South Australian Museum-Josh Lee

London - He gave up his job, his girlfriend and his Dorset home to devote the past 24 years to finding the first definitive proof of the Loch Ness monster.

However, Steve Feltham admitted he now thinks the fabled creature is likely to be a type of giant catfish introduced by Victorian gentlemen for their angling pleasure.

And not a prehistoric marine animal such as a plesiosaurus, as apparently seen in the famous “surgeon’s photograph” of 1934 showing a long-necked beastie in the water – later revealed to be a hoax involving a toy dinosaur.

Speaking of the catfish theory at his caravan on the shore of the loch at Dores, 52-year-old Mr Feltham said: “To me it’s the front runner as the explanation.

:I sit here and talk to every Nessie hunter that turns up here. We all have theories – some think a plesiosaurus, some giant eels, some catfish, there are even a couple who think there’s a spaceship on the bottom of the loch.

“I think the most likely is a giant wels catfish. They were released in lakes in the Victorian period for sport. There is no record of them being released in Loch Ness, but if some were put in here it would they would have reached maturity in the 1930s which is when Nessie first hit the national headlines.

“They can live up to 100 years, so the population would be dwindling now. That tallies with the fact that 20 years ago we were getting ten sightings a year which were worth debating, and now we get about one a year.”

Wels catfish can grow up to 13ft, weigh up to 62 stone and have a smooth back “like an upturned boat”, which could explain the apparently humped appearance of Nessie. Mr Feltham, a trained potter who left his job fitting security cameras and now sells his hand-made Nessie models to tourists, said: “The catfish theory fits the most aspects of evidence, that’s all I’m saying.

“I’m not saying it’s the mystery finally solved. A long neck could suddenly be spotted arching out of the water at any moment. And I’m not giving up trying to find out the truth about Nessie.”

Wels catfish were introduced to Britain by the Duke of Bedford in Woburn in 1880. They are scaleless and have hundreds of razor sharp teeth. They eat other fish, frogs, insects, mice and rats and have even been known to devour ducks and pigeons.

Daily Mail