Sea monsters have been seen by man since man has taken to sailing the seas or fishing it. Sea monsters are believed to be mythical or legendary beasts, usually of immense size. Marine monsters can take many forms, including sea dragons, sea serpents, or multi-armed beasts. Definition of a "monster" can mean many things, something that is frightening to humans, especially they never seen the animals before. Some sea monsters may have been based on scientifically accepted creatures such as whales and types of giant and colossal squid and octopus. Sometimes they can be slimy or scaly, often pictured threatening ships or spouting jets of water.
Historically, decorative drawings of heraldic dolphins and sea monsters were used to illustrate maps, such as the Carta marina. This practice died away with the advent of modern cartography.
There is a Tlingit legend about a sea monster named Gunakadeit/ This monster was thought to bring prosperity and good luck to a village in crisis, people starving in the home they made for themselves on the southeastern coast of Alaska.
Some sea monsters seen have been recorded from those in the past. Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed to have encountered a lion-like monster with "glaring eyes" on his return voyage after formally claiming St. John's, Newfoundland (1583) for England. Another account of an encounter with a sea monster comes from July 1734. Hans Egede, a Dano-Norwegian missionary, reported that on a voyage to Gothaab/Nuuk on the western coast of Greenland he observed. Here is partial of what Hans noted: “a most terrible creature, resembling nothing they saw before. The monster lifted its head so high that it seemed to be higher than the crow's nest on the mainmast. The head was small and the body short and wrinkled. The unknown creature was using giant fins which propelled it through the water. Later the sailors saw its tail as well. The monster was longer than our whole ship.” Some cryptologist was say this sounds like a plesiosaurus. Interestingly, since this was 1734 and dinosaurs and prehistoric reptiles hadn’t been discovered and catalogued yet by experts. About plesiosaurus, it is often mistakenly referred to as a dinosaur, when in fact it is a prehistoric marine reptile which lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. It had a long neck, four paddle-like flippers and a tail. The long neck of Plesiosaurus is supported by approximately 40 individual vertebrae. For comparison, a human has only seven neck vertebrae.
Can a plesiosaurus have existed in 1734? Or had Hans mistaken some common whale or large fish or even a seal, for a sea monster? After all, when we think of sea-going ships back then, many were not as big as we see in the movies. And I doubted a missionary would use a galleon.
Many marine animals and fish have been mistaken for sea monsters. One that is rarest among whales and that is the spade-toothed beaked whale. Scientists rarely seen it alive and until recently, only had limited skeletal evidence that they even existed. So rare is the species that when a pair of dead whales washed up on a New Zealand beach in late 2010, scientists didn't even know what they had. Testing, such as DNA, proved what it was. Scientists were ecstatic. That’s because only three partial specimens of the species were known to exist -- two collected in New Zealand in 1872 and in the 1950s and a third found on Robinson Crusoe Island off the coast of Chile in 1986. The spade-toothed beaked whale looks similar to a large black, white and gray dolphin with its long pointed snout. Scientists believe they grow to be about 17 feet long. Adult males have large exposed teeth as the name suggests. There is only guess work about other beaked whales, which are often boat-shy, spend little time at the surface and dive to depths of 6,600 feet. They probably dine on squid. So imagine one coming to the surface in the past and what a fisherman in a small fishing boat thought it was.
Oarfish can grow big and they mostly live in the deep ocean. One found in Catalina Island's Toyon Bay October 15, 2013 was so big -- 18 feet long -- that it required 15 people to hold it chest-high in a trophy photo taken by the Catalina Island Marine Institute. Being so long, it can be mistaken for a sea serpent.
I wrote about Chessie, a sea monster seen off the coast of Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay and in the Appomattox River by Hopewell.
From a chapter in my nonfiction ghost book, Haunted Richmond II:
Most times when someone goes fishing, you expect to catch fish. There may even be frogs in the water, but a sea serpent? That’s what did swim the waters of the Appomattox River in Hopewell in the 80s.
Chessie was seen mostly in Chesapeake Bay. For years, people reported sightings of a serpent-like creature with flippers—not unlike Nessie of Loch Ness in that respect. It even made the news in the late 60s.
Witnesses say that the creature might be about twenty-five to forty feet in length, dark, with no limbs, fins, or distinguishable details on its oval head. It was also no more than a foot across in width.
It appeared at one time that Chessie decided to leave the bay and swim upriver to Hopewell. A woman caught sight of the creature one day. The witness had gone out to dinner with her husband at the Harbor Light Restaurant. When she got out of the car, she noticed something strange with a long, undulating body that swam closer and closer. It matched descriptions of the beast seen in Chesapeake Bay.
Of course, since then, it has not been seen, neither in the river nor in Chesapeake Bay. At least that I know of. So next time you go boating on the river or plan to go fishing, take care. Chessie might still be living beneath the water
Sea Monsters in Myths (I won’t talk abouteach one now—maybe one day on each one, but you can google and look each one up):
The Aspidochelone, a giant turtle or whale that appeared to be an island, and lured sailors to their doom
Capricorn, Babylonian Water-Goat, in the Zodiac
Charybdis of Homer, a monstrous whirlpool that sucked any ship nearby beneath the ocean
Coinchenn, from whose bone the Gae Bulg is made in Celtic mythology
The Devil Whale, Extremely large demonic whale, the size of an island.
Iku-Turso, reputedly a type of colossal octopus or walrus
Jörmungandr, the Norse Midgard Serpent.
Kraken, a gigantic octopus, squid or crab-like creature
Scylla of Homer, a six-headed, twelve-legged serpentine that devoured six men from each ship that passed by
Sirens of Homer
The Rainbow Fish
Yacumama, South America
Sea Monsters in Fiction in Writing and Onscreen:
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
Monster From the Ocean Floor
Bacoon in Star Fox 64.
Creatures of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, including Cthulhu itself.
Creatures of The X-Files episodes Agua Mala.
Creatures in such sci-fi/horror films as Deepstar Six, The Rift, Deep Rising and Deep Shock.
Carcharodon Megalodon in Steve Alten's Meg series.
Fictional portrayals of the Giant Squid.
Giant octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (giant octopus attacks the Nautilus)
Behemoth, the Sea Monster
Kraken as depicted in Clash of the Titans (both the 1981 and 2010 versions).
Kraken as depicted in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.—this was more Lovecraftian in nature.
Leviathan in the Gears of War series.
Nabooian sea monsters in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Ichthyosaur and plesiosaur in A Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The Terrible Dogfish
Title creature of Peter Benchley's White Shark.
The War God Goura
Mega Shark Versus Giant OctopusMega Shark Versus Crocosaurus
The Two-Headed Shark
Next time you decide to take a boat ride on the ocean or head to the beach, keep a eye on the sea, as you never know what you might see. Wait a minute…see that…do you think it might be….