Folklores of sea navigation and voyages have been agog with tales of sea monsters stalking vessels and ships. For centuries, the unexplored depths of the oceans have been referred as places where horrifying monsters calmly waiting for their next prey. The stories of marine monsters, including giant squids, sea dragons, reptilian monsters, multi-armed beasts and sea serpents have thus become terrifying legends and mysteries of the ocean. And, most of the maps in the early times cautioned seafarers about such possible dangers at the sea and the unexplored areas in the waters were always marked with a message, i.e. “here there be dragons.”
Among all these so-called monsters, the serpent at the sea, intriguing and fearsome, forms a part of many marine cultures across the world. The reference to the sea serpent can be found in various mythologies, including Greek, Mesopotamian and Hebrew, among others. Scandinavian myths and tales are known to be the source of European sea serpent legends. As our medieval pioneers mentioned this marine monster numerous times, the sea serpents have been depicted as the ones undulating in the deep water and also as coiled around ships and boats, putting an end to the life of seafarers abroad.
The Sea Serpent Sightings
Sightings of these sea monsters have been reported for hundreds of years, and a number of such reports have also emerged in the recent times. Various accounts have appeared about the reptilian sea monsters being seen by seamen in the high seas and also by people near the coasts. While the descriptions of the sea serpent seen by people vary to a certain extent, these descriptions are not without similarities.
A list of some of the more prominent tales of existence and sightings of sea serpents can be mentioned as follows:
• Scandinavian folklore has quite a few documentation of sea monsters swirling in the high seas. One of the many is Carta Marina, a publication of Olaus Magnus, a Swedish priest of the 1500s which detailed the existence of many such sea monsters in the oceans.
• It was in 1639 the first American sea serpent, which later known as “Gloucester’s Sea Serpent,” sighted off the coast of New England near Cape Ann, Massachusetts. According to John Josselyn, who reported this incident in An Account of Two Voyages to New England in 1641, the seafarers encountered a snake that “lay quailed up like a cable upon the rock at Cape Ann.” Three years later, another sighting of a serpent that measures around 27 meters in length was reported near Lynn, Massachusetts.
• An 18th-century description of a sea serpent was given by the national saint of Greenland, Hans Egede. According to him, the crew abroad the ship that was passing the coast of Greenland on July 6, 1734, saw a terrible creature that they have never seen before. The monster was longer than their vessel and had giant fins and small head.
• Another popular sea serpent sighting happened in August 1848, when the crew of the Royal Navy’s HMS Daedalus saw some 18-metre long creature during a voyage to Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. The creature, as the army officers described, held a snakelike head above the water, was later labelled as an elephant seal and giant squid by some others.
• Cadborosaurus Willsi or Caddy is a very popular sea serpent which frequently made headlines in newspaper and reports in the early 20th century. It is said that the creature was anointed with the name for being regularly sighted in the Cadboro Bay in British Columbia.
• A carcass was caught in the fishing mesh of the Kuiyo Maru, a fishing boat native to Japan near the New Zealand coast in the year 1997. This carcass was said to remain belonging to an extinct marine creature known as plesiosaurus.
• Andrew Hebda, a zoologist for the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, suggests there has been more than 31 sightings of such sea monsters in the region over the last 140 years. According to Hebda, the latest incident was reported in 2007.
One of the most common threads of similarity between all these sightings is about the length of the serpent at the sea. This commonality has made even sceptics perceive that there could be an underlying element of truth in the widespread speculation of sea monsters existing.
Although there has been by-and-large unanimity in terms of acceptance of the mythical creature, the theory is not without its sceptics. The people who have disregarded the sea serpent sightings and the existence of the creatures believe that these sightings could be instances of mistaken identity.
Many efforts have been made to understand the realities behind these stories of sea serpent sightings. Some have come to a conclusion that those “monster” creatures were migrating whales or seals, often appeared in areas out of their habitat. Whales, sharks, squids and even large-sized eels have been said to be confused with the mysterious sea monsters thus negating the credibility of their existence. This is because all the sightings of the serpent at the sea have been depicted as the creature having fins as propellants. Since whales and sharks have a huge fin-span, mistaking these mammals and creatures as sea monsters seem to be credible indeed.
Most of the time, the stories from the ocean about the sea serpents were coloured observations due to the difficulty of seeing the creature clearly in ocean waves from a distance. And, those stories, also the news reports and paintings of those creatures, must have influenced other sightings, creating similar observations.
However, in recent time, many have come forward suggesting that it could be an oarfish that have been mistakenly mentioned in ancient tales as sea serpents that are capable of sinking ships. According to biologists, the oarfish can grow up 11 meters long and also capable of swimming like a snake on the surface of the water. And the lack of information about oarfish, which are harmless and can be found in shallow waters very rarely, must have portrayed it as a monster that attacks ships and eats sailors.
Whether sea monsters exist or are just a figment of overactive minds, it cannot be negated that the oceans’ depths hide many secrets still unknown to us. Like the legend of Sinbad voyaging through the seven seas becoming famous, the theory of the sea serpent also has gained popularity, providing the world with an interesting topic to think about.
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