We have to define the term sea monster before we can move on. The simple definition is any creature that comes from the sea, real or mythical, and comes in unusually large and threatening size. Many cultures have had contact with sea creatures. Any culture and civilization that has a water surface in its territory has a story or two about sea monsters.
What inspired the myths, stories and dreams about terrible sea creatures? Well, sailing is one of the oldest professions. And sailors always come back with a story to tell.
Hundreds of years ago, European sailors told of a sea monster called the kraken that could toss ships into the air with its many long arms. Today we know sea monsters aren’t real–but a living sea animal, the giant squid, has 10 arms and can grow longer than a school bus.
“On the 6th of July 1734, off the south coast of Greenland, a sea-monster appeared to us, whose head, when raised, was on level with our main-top. Its snout was long and sharp, and it blew water almost like a whale; it has large broad paws; its body was covered with scales; its skin was rough and uneven; in other respects it was as a serpent; and when it dived, its tail, which was raised in the air, appeared to be a whole ship’s length from its body.”
–Hans Egede, Norwegian missionary, later bishop of Greenland
When European explorers like Christopher Columbus set out on their voyages of discovery in the 1400s and 1500s, they were literally sailing into uncharted waters. Sea monsters were a concern for them, and frightening rumors ran rampant. Sailors’ tales were sometimes the only first-hand information available about ocean animals. These stories ranged from accurate observations to honest mistakes to outright tall tales, with no way for even the most objective naturalist to separate fact from fiction. The meticulous drawings of sea monsters in European natural history books from the 1500s and 1600s reveal the overlap between science and legend at that time.
Don’t Believe Your Eyes
Many sincere sea serpent sightings were later debunked as cases of mistaken identity. For instance, several “sea monster” carcasses turned out to be partially decayed basking sharks, an immense fish that grows to 9 meters (30 feet). Other examples of mistaken identity include a “baby sea serpent” that proved to be a deformed blacksnake, and enormous serpents that turned out to be a mass of floating seaweed.
What is the mythical creature of the sea?
The Kraken Sea Monster and Giant Squids
This mythical sea monster aggressively attacked ships and either crushed them, capsized them, or pulled them down into the depths of the sea. Sailors were plucked from their ships during a voyage and eaten or just left to drown.
Ancient Peoples and the Sea
The oceans are mysterious places. You may have heard that we know more about the solar system than we do about our own oceans, but what does this mean? While we can map with accuracy the world’s oceans to a depth of about 5 kilometers, less than a single percent of Earth’s water-covered surface is mapped to the degree of our above-water landmass. In fact, only about 15% of the ocean floor is even mapped with the same detail as our maps of Mars or Venus.
So, a lot of the oceans still seem mysterious, and it’s really no wonder why scientists are continually discovering new marine species never before seen by humans. Well, the oceans have fascinated humans for millennia, and the mysteries of the deep have played an important role in world mythologies, inspiring fantastical creatures. These creatures suggest a message of caution: be careful when exploring the mysterious seas; you never know what you might unleash.