RED-FACED Loch Ness cruise operators and their spin doctors have owned up to making a monster blunder.
Jacobite Cruises, via their public relations company Weber Shandwick, issued a press release this week along with a sonar printout purporting to show some mysterious object in the depths of Loch Ness.
Unfortunately the image, which was reproduced by the Highland News in good faith, was in fact, five years old.
The blunder was spotted by eagle-eyed Nessie fans from around the world who feared it could cast doubts over future sightings of Loch Ness’s most famous inhabitant, and drew it to our attention.
Weber Shandwick found itself in deep water when they realised the image they had released was the wrong one and had previously been featured in other publications.
This afternoon the prestigious Edinburgh-based PR company, which has an office in Inverness, admitted it had made a major boob and issued what it claimed was the "correct" sonar screen grab.
It is claimed the new image was captured east of Urquhart Castle last Sunday, although this has not yet been verified.
Weber Shandwick said the screenshot, recorded by sonar equipment aboard their vessel Jacobite Queen, will "cause fresh excitement among frustrated Nessie hunters" following more than a year without a sighting of the monster.
Coincidentally, the Jacobite Queen’s "sighting" was revealed just days after satellite images showing a mysterious object in the loch attracted worldwide attention, and which cynics say is indicative of the start of the tourist season.
A spokeswoman for Weber Shandwick apologised to the Highland News saying: "We are really sorry but there has clearly been a mix-up somewhere along the lines as the team were supplied with the image we passed on to you. However, it transpires that this was the incorrect image and the correct image is now attached."
Every year Jacobite Cruises fleet of three vessels carries more than 100,000 passengers on Loch Ness, with the possibility of spotting Nessie adding extra excitement to their enjoyment of the world’s most famous stretch of water.
Freda Newton, managing director of Jacobite Cruises, said: “Over the years our sonar has picked up a number of images of large shapes in the Loch and they are often quite similar.
"When we saw these over the weekend we were really excited and in our haste to tell the public are sorry that an old picture was reproduced. It was a genuine mix up. We have now corrected this and distributed the actual sonar image from Sunday afternoon.
“Unfortunately mistakes do happen – even when dealing with legendary mythical beasts.”