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Mythological Sea Serpents
Sea serpents are a kind of sea monster either wholly or partly serpentine. Sightings have been reported for hundreds of years, and recent work by Bruce Champagne indicates that there have been 1,200 or more all told. Sea serpents have been seen from both ship and shore, and by multiple people at once, groups that sometimes count scientists among their number. Despite the numerous sightings, though, no credible physical evidence has been recorded and it is currently believed that the serpents do not actually exist.
Sea Serpent: Ancient history
In Norse mythology, Jörmungandr, or "Midgårdsormen" was a sea serpent so long that it encircled the entire world, Midgard. Some stories report of sailors mistaking its back for a chain of islands. The Midgardsorm was also child of the Norse god Loke (Loki) and his mistress the jotun woman Angerboda. Sea serpents also appear frequently in later Scandinavian folklore, particularly in that of Norway.
In Swedish writer Olaus Magnus's Carta marina, many marine monsters of varied form appear, including an immense sea serpent. Moreover, in his 1555 work History of the Northern Peoples, Magnus gives the following description of a Norwegian sea serpent:
Those who sail up along the coast of Norway to trade or to fish, all tell the remarkable story of how a serpent of fearsome size, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, resides in rifts and caves outside Bergen. On bright summer nights this serpent leaves the caves to eat calves, lambs and pigs, or it fares out to the sea and feeds on sea nettles, crabs and similar marine animals. It has ell-long hair hanging from its neck, sharp black scales and flaming red eyes. It attacks vessels, grabs and swallows people, as it lifts itself up like a column from the water.
A curiously hairy sea serpent.
Sea Serpents are also specifically referenced in the Bible. These creatures are named Leviathan and Rahab, and Jehovah God himself speaks of them. In Isaiah 27:1, it says: In that day Jehovah, with his hard and great and strong sword, will turn his attention to le-vi'a-than, the gliding serpent, even to le-vi'a-than, the crooked serpent, and he will certainly kill the sea monster that is in the sea.
Job 26:11-13 reads as follows:The very pillars of heaven shake, And they are amazed because of his rebuke. By his power he has stirred up the sea, And by his understanding he has broken up the stormer to pieces. By his wind he has polished up heaven itself, His hand has pierced the gliding serpent.
Recent history and notable casesIn the 19th century there were several major sea serpent sightings on the Gloucester and Maine coasts of New England, which spawned a rather silly mix-up. On August 18, 1817, a meeting of the New England Linnaean Society went so far as to give a deformed terrestrial snake the name Scoliophis atlanticus (thinking it was the juvenile form of a sea serpent that had recently been seen nearby). After the Linnaean Society's misidentification was discovered, it was frequently cited by debunkers as evidence that the creature did not exist; when in fact, the only thing proven by the incident was that the Society had made an embarrassing public error.
A particularly famous sea serpent sighting was made by the men and officers of HMS Daedalus in August, 1848 during a voyage to Saint Helena in the South Atlantic; the creature they saw, some 60 feet long, held a peculiar maned head above the water. The sighting caused quite a stir in the London papers, and Sir Richard Owen, the famous English biologist, proclaimed the beast an elephant seal. The Daedalus' serpent has since been classified as a Super Eel or Type 2C animal. Another skeptical suggestion for the sighting proposed that it was actually an upside down canoe, or a posing giant squid.
The sea serpent spotted by the crew of HMS Daedalus in 1848.
Another sighting took place in 1905 off the coast of Brazil. The crew of the Valhalla and two naturalists, Michael J. Nicoll and E. G. B. Meade-Waldo, saw a long-necked, turtle headed creature, with a large dorsal fin. Based on its dorsal fin and the shape of its head, some experts (such as Heuvelmans) have suggested that the animal was some sort of marine mammal. It has since been classified as a Super Eel (without good justification) or Type 4B. A skeptical suggestion is that the sighting was of a posing giant squid, but this is hard to accept given that squids do not swim with their fins or arms protruding from the water.
More serious sightings from the same place and time have since been classified as Many-Humped Serpents, Classic Sea Serpents, monsters of the deep, or Type 3 animals (see classification, below). Skeptical suggestions for the sightings include giant squid, misidentified snakes, or a wave phenomenon.
On April 25, 1977, the Japanese trawler Zuiyo Maru, sailing east of Christchurch, New Zealand, caught a strange, unknown creature in the trawl. Photographs and tissue specimens were taken. While initially identified as a prehistoric plesiosaur, analysis later indicated that the body was most likely the carcass of a basking shark.
What makes sea serpent sightings different from sightings of other unconfirmed creatures is not only the sheer number of sightings, but the fact that many of these sightings have been made by multiple people at once for sustained periods of time. Instead of just one to a few witnesses purporting to have witnessed the creature for just a few moments, some sightings involve dozens, or even hundreds, of people claiming to have seen the creature over the course of a few hours. In many cases, these sightings are well documented in the newspapers of the day, although most occurred before any kind of photographic technology existed.
Sea serpent sightings continue today, with reports coming in from the Pacific Northwest and California; the most notable of recent occurrences is the alleged filming of sea serpents by the brothers Bill and Bob Clark in San Francisco bay. In October 2004, the giant squid, long associated with sea monsters and perhaps the source of many mistaken sightings, was for the first time caught on video off the Bonin Islands, revealing for the first time the appearance in life of this "cousin" of sea serpents.
Sea Serpent Misidentifications?Skeptics and debunkers have questioned the interpretation of sightings, stating that they could be a vast array of known creatures, such as wales, sea snakes, eels, or oarfish.
While most cryptozoologists recognize that at least some reports are simple misidentifications, they point out that many of the creatures described by those who have seen them look nothing like the known species put forward by skeptics and claim that certain reports stick out. For their part, the skeptics remain unconvinced, pointing out that even in the absence of out-right hoaxes (such as the infamous "Surgeon's Photo" of the Loch Ness Monster), imagination has a way of twisting and inflating the slightly out-of-the-ordinary until it becomes extraordinary.
Oarfish, which washed ashore at City Beach, off Perth. These fish are extremely rare.
Sea Serpent ClassificationCryptozoologists may further argue for the existence of sea serpents by pointing out that people see similar things, and it is possible for them to classify the different "types". While there have been different classification attempts with different results, they all share several common characteristics.
1A Long Necked: A 30 foot sea lion with a long neck and long tail. The neck is the same thickness or smaller than the head. Hair reported. It is capable of travel on land. Cosmopolitan.
- 1B Long Necked: Similar to the above type but over 55 feet long and far more robust. The neck is of lesser thickness than the head. Only inhabits water near Great Britain and Denmark.
- 2A Eel-Like: A 20-30 foot long heavily scaled or armored reptile. It is distinguished by a small square head with prominent tusks. "Motorboating" behavior on surface. Inhabits only the North Atlantic.
The Type 2A sea serpent according to Cameron McCormick. Drawn July, 2005.
beaked whale. It is distinguished by a tapering head and a dorsal crest. "Motorboating" behavior engaged in. Inhabits the Atlantic and Pacific. Possibly extinct.
- 2B Eel-Like: A 25-30 foot
2C Eel-Like: A 60-70 foot, elongated reptile with no appendages. The head is very large and cow-like or reptilian with teeth similar to a crabeater seal's. Also shares the "motorboating" behavior. Inhabits the Atlantic, Pacific, and South China Sea. Possibly extinct. 3 Multi-Humped: 30-60 feet long. A possible reptile with a dorsal crest and the ability to move in several undulations. The head has a distinctive "cameloid" appearance. Identical with Cadborosaurus willsi and is behind the Naden Harbor carcass. 4A Sailfin: A 30 to 70 foot beaked whale. It is distinguished by a very small head and a very large dorsal fin. Only found in the North West Atlantic. Possibly extinct. 4B Sailfin: An elongated animal of possible mammalian or reptilian identity reported from 12 to 85 feet long. It has a long neck with a turtle-like head and a long continuous dorsal fin. Cosmopolitan. 5 Carapaced: A large turtle or turtle-like creature (mammal?) reported from 10 to 45 feet long. Carapace is described as jointed, segmented, and plated. May exhibit a dorsal crest of "quills" and a type of oily hair. Cosmopolitan. 6 Saurian: A large and occasionally spotted crocodile or crocodile-like creature up to 65 feet long. Found in the Northern Atlantic and Mediterranean. 7 Segmented/Multi limbed: An elongated mammalian creature up to 65 feet long with the appearance of segmentation and many fins. Found in the Western Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.
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