Sea Serpents


 

Sea serpents, or sea monsters, have been known for centuries. Ever since the first man sat on a log to venture into the water realm, he was fearful of the unknown lurking below the surface. Mystery and fear with a touch of reverence and wonder infused the sunless depths. Fear was enhanced when he did indeed see creatures unknown to him. Soon, as he went out to sea in ships, there were large unknown creatures, not always clearly seen. Many of these were whales and correct identification of them was obscured by weather, distance and the fact that most of the animal was beneath the surface. Much larger than anything on land, whales were equivalent in size to twenty elephants. Whales were naturally seen as monsters. Also, dead whales, with their appearance monstrously distorted by decay and the ravages of sharks, gave an impression of a huge unknown and repugnant creature in the sea. The long back undulating as the whale swam was mistaken as a serpent. The bunches or series of humps on a whale’s back, for lateral stability when swimming, were seen as coils, because that was something known and seamen could relate to it; a serpent or snake was most often depicted as coiled. Seen at a distance it is understandable that these humps could be mistaken for coils, and therefore seen as the well known coils of a snake. The animal was seen as an enormous serpent in the sea, or a sea serpent. New to man’s mind, these creatures were seen as fearful; the unknown is always feared, especially when it is of an enormous size and resides in the vast unknown dark oceans of unfathomable depths. The crews of ships were usually impressionable young men in their teens or early twenties, many not familiar with the sea. There were most likely encounters or collisions with these creatures as there are today. Of course the terrified seamen thought they were attacked by a monster, and they were. Perhaps some ships were sunk, as they were in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is not difficult to see where the stories of sea serpents and sea monsters originated. Most, if not all encounters were obviously not snakes, so they were called sea monsters.


Sea serpent shown on old chart. Many of the monsters seen over the centuries had many similar features, according to the reports of the sightings. A thread of commonality in the reports indicates that there must have been some fact in these observations; there were too many to dismiss the reports as coincidence. There are prehistoric relics living in the seas today. And they have been seen, and labeled sea serpent or sea monster. Their true identity is no less incredible.


 

 

 

 

"Condemnant quod non intellegunt." [They condemn what they do not understand.]

Of course there were skeptics, especially in days when commerce and industry had no time for the fanciful. Steam ships replaced sailing vessels. Railroads crossed America. Automobiles were introduced, and airplanes. Life was too crowded, too fast to give time and wonder to sea serpents. The romance of imaginations and inquisitive minds freely probing every crevasse and rock of the unknown oceans was smothered by steam whistles and factory smoke stacks. But the nautical mind insists that the great sea serpent has always roamed in all oceans and always will. Skeptics point out all the reasons why they believe there is no such creature. They talk about giant squid, sea weed, floating logs, whales, weather and poor visibility.

The truth is that there are several large mammals in the sea that are known only from a few specimens, some have not been observed alive. The Atlantic Humpback, Sousa Teuszii, is known from only six specimens ever seen. Frazer’s dolphin, Lagenodelphis Hosei, named and described in 1956 is known from only one carcass washed up on a beach in Malaysia in 1895. The spectacled porpoise, Phocoena Dioptrica, has never been seen alive. The pygmy right whale, Caperea Marginata, a large eighteen-foot cetacean weighing five tons, is only known from several stranded specimens, and an occasional victim of whalers. As recently as 1995 Mesoplodon Bahamondi, a beaked whale was first found and named.

There are also pre-historic fish living in the oceans. The frilled shark, Chlamydoselachus anguineus, is a primitive shark species. Thought to be extinct and known only from fossil teeth, it was only recently discovered in Japanese waters. Although known from deep water photographs in 2004, on January 21, 2007 a live female specimen over five-feet long was found off the coast of Japan, apparently in shallow water because it was ill. Distribution is worldwide, but they are very rarely found in shallow water. They have been reported in all oceans but are mainly found near Norway, South Africa, New Zealand, and Chile. The sharks are usually found at depths of between 200 and 5,000 feet. They typically eat squid, other sharks, and deepwater bony fish. The frilled shark is referred to as a living fossil because the species has changed little since pre-historic times.

 

Frilled Shark - NOAA Photograph

The oceans of the world hide the secrets of their inhabitants very well. It has been said that of all the creatures living in the sea only one-quarter of them are known today and most of those live above 500 feet. Michel Raynal wrote Cryptocetology and Mathematics in 1991, discussing the discovery of new species of whales and mathematically predicting unknown species as of the end of the twentieth century. Based on recorded discoveries of unknown cetaceans from 1758 until 2000 Raynal found a consistent rate of discovery. Today there are seventy-nine species of cetaceans known to science; 86 percent are toothed whales. There is one new species discovered every eight years on average. Mathematically extrapolating the data shows that there are fifteen whales as yet unseen and undiscovered. Could many of these be survivors from extinction events? There have been reports from 1615 through 1892 of a “Southern Unicorn” in the southern hemisphere, around Peru and Cape Horn. All reports described the long single ivory tusk, similar to the narwhale of the north. Recently, 1997, 23-million year old fossils of a dolphin-like mammal with a single tooth or tusk similar to the narwhale have been found in New Zealand. Survival of this mammal could well be the “Southern Unicorn.”


Sea serpent.Believers say, “Show us proof that the sea serpent does not exist. Until then the sea serpent lives on.” Or it may well be proven that it does exist, restoring romance and wonder to our crowded world. The great sea serpent would rightfully be restored to its domain. In reality, it has never left. Familiarity with tales of sea serpents was part of every sailor’s make up. To preserve credibility in the dim light of understanding and vague knowledge dredged up in grog shops, many sightings were reported as sea serpents whether or not they were serpents. Often the words "sea serpent"" and sea monster" are used interchangeably. The term “his snakeship” was used frequently when describing sea monsters. The features that seemed snakelike were a long slender body, a head that looked like a snake, and bunches along the back or coils of the body. Therefore many sightings of sea monsters were biased by the conception of what they should be, and features that were not too clear to the observer were filled in with preconceived notions of a snake. There was a sort of comfort and credibility to a description that agreed with other sea serpent observations.


Observers often described the motion of the animal as up and down, shobbing, like a sperm whale. This vertical up and down motion through the water is indicative of a cetacean, not a reptile. Snakes and other reptiles swim with a sideways motion back and forth. Only mammals swim with an undulating up and down vertical motion. Most sightings of sea serpents are not serpents or snakes, but mammals. Another feature described that indicates the creature is a mammal, a cetacean, is the spout of water into the air. The whale does exhale a vapor, explosively, but not sea water as sometimes assumed. Reptiles do not spout. Many sightings describe paws or flippers. Snakes have no such appendage, but whales do have flippers. Sometimes in the confusion of excitement and splashing waves, the flippers were seen as a collar or mane. Therefore sightings that state a serpent as the monster should be taken with the insight that most likely the creature is not a serpent, but a cetacean.


Another source of fantastic sea monster reports was the giant squid, Architeuthis. The existence of the giant squid is well accepted by science though none have ever been seen alive and little is known about their habits. In 1878 a giant squid was found and measured as twenty feet from head to tail, plus tentacles added another thirty-feet, for an overall length of sixty-six feet. Larger specimens have been found since then. This monster was sometimes seen only partially, usually only tentacles on the surface of the water which would certainly be reported as a sea serpent, although they were only remnants of a sperm whales’ dinner. Sailors also knew from dinner plate size scars from the suckers on the squids tentacles scarring sperm whales that these creatures attacked the whales; nothing but an enormous sea monster could do that.

 

 


Earth’s oceans cover 71 percent of her surface. The ocean depths average 12,200 feet, with the deepest being the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, latitude 11°22’ N, longitude 142°36’ E, near Guam in the Pacific Ocean. The point is named after the British Royal Navy survey ship HMS Challenger II, which surveyed the trench in 1951. There the depth is 35,838 feet, or 6.7 miles. The highest point on Earth is Mount Everest at 29,028 feet above sea level. If it were put at the bottom of the Challenger Deep the peak would be over one-and-one-quarter miles below the surface of the sea. The highest undersea mountain is Mauna Kea, Hawaii which is the peak of the 33,474 foot mountain. Mauna Kae’s elevation above sea level is 13,680 feet. There are several other deep areas of the oceans. Tuscarora Deep, also known as the Kurile Trench, is 27,929 feet deep (over five miles) and was discovered by USS Tuscarora in 1874 east of Japan in the western North Pacific. The Aleutian Deep is five miles deep and extends 1,500 miles from Alaska to the South Seas. The Nares Deep, north of Puerto Rico and Haiti, was discovered by Captain Nares on Challenger in December 1872. At a depth of 27,366 feet, the Nares Deep was the deepest known part of the Atlantic Ocean at the time of its discovery. Because it marks the top corner of the notorious "Bermuda Triangle” it has been known as a dangerous area to explore. The Nares Deep region is said to have been involved in the great Mid-Miocene activity which engulfed Atlantis. The Emden Deep was sounded at 34,120 feet in 1927 by the German cruiser Emden conducting a series of soundings of the oceanic trench east of the Philippines. And there are many more abyssal areas of the oceans where huge creatures could lurk and go undetected. It would be difficult to find a monster the size of the Empire State Building in the huge caverns over 30,000 feet deep where the pressure is eight tons on every square inch, especially if the Empire State Building were swimming and constantly changing position.


New creatures are being found in the oceans practically every day. During the years from 2000 to 2003 more than 300 scientists from fifty-three countries have identified three new species of fish each week. These scientists are conducting a biological census of the oceans. They now believe there are 15,304 species of fish in the seas, and as many as 210,000 other varieties of marine life. By the time the census is complete in 2010, the scientists believe they may be cataloguing as many as 25,000 newly discovered species in the ocean. Ron O'Dor, chief scientist for the census, said, "Many parts of the ocean have never been explored. We estimated that no more than one-tenth of 1 per cent of the ocean has been sampled biologically - or even less." In fact, we know more about the planet Mars than we do about our oceans and the species of creatures living there.

Many animals that survived the Eocene extinction 36 million years ago continue to live in the oceans. The ancestor of the great white shark, megalodon, is thought to be extinct for 5.0 to 1.5 million years. This enormous monster was fifty feet long, and ate sperm whales (the now extinct kogiopsis) for lunch. Its teeth were seven inches long. Some scientists say that megalodon may still be swimming in the oceans, but we simply haven’t found them yet. There are some reports of recent megalodon teeth hauled up from the depths. A new species of shark was discovered as recently as 1976. It is the megamouth shark, about seventeen feet long, captured by a research vessel near Hawaii. Scientists named it Megachasma Pelagios (yawning mouth of the open sea). There have been over thirty-five confirmed sightings around the world, but it was never seen or known until 1976. Leighton Taylor, a scientist of the Waikiki Aquarium, said, “The discovery of megamouth does one thing: it reaffirms science’s suspicion that there are still all kinds of things … very large things … living in our oceans that we still don’t know about. And that’s very exciting.”

Whalemen were superstitious and mindful of the sea, and they were also knowledgeable. They were intimately familiar with enormous monsters of the seas, and knew not to doubt anything they saw. They knew there were terrible monsters lurking below their ship’s keel. The nature of such beasts was unknown, but they were more powerful than man, and they were carnivores as evidenced by the food, including giant squid, found in whales’ stomachs. Whalemen both respected and feared the vast and unknown depths covering over seventy percent of the Earth’s surface. They knew that for hundreds of years cartographers pointed out areas of danger from sea monsters with illustrations of gruesome sea creatures on their charts signifying “Here Be Monsters.” These were not cute caricatures; they were serious warnings and the depictions were considered accurate. These were monsters to be feared or they would not be put on the charts. The famous German cartographer Sebastian Münster wrote a book, Cosmography, published in 1598. He described the entire world as it was thought to be before that year. A double page woodcut was included that showed the monsters of the sea known at that time. He included descriptions and observations (translated by Klaus Barthlemess, Cologne, Germany):

 


Some unusual sea monsters and other beasts found in the boreal [midnightly] seas and also on land.

Explanation of this plate, how the animals are called, which one finds in the boreal countries.

 
A) Whale fish as big as mountains are seen around Iceland. If they are not scared away with trumpet calls or jettisoned barrels, with which they gamboll, they turn your ships over. It also happens that seamen assume to approach an island, in fact a whale, cast anchor, and are in a pretty pickle then. Such whales they call troll whales, i.e. devil whales. In Iceland people build their houses with the bones and fishbones of such big whales.

B ) This is a rude ilk of great monster called Pristis or Physeter, mentioned by Solinus and Pliny. It rears up its head, spouts water into the ships and thus sinks and drowns them.

C) In the ocean one finds sea snakes, 200 and 300 feet long. They twist around the ship, harm the sailors, and attempt to sink it, especially when it is calm.

D) These are two gruesome beasts and monsters, one with cruel teeth, the other with cruel horns and a frighteningly fiery face. Its eyes are sixteen or twenty feet in circumference. Its head is square and has a big beard [baleen?]. But the hind part of is body is small.

E) This beast may not be filled. In Swedish it is called Jerf, and in German Vielfraß, in Latin Gulo [wolverine]. When its belly is very full, so that no more goes in, it looks for two trees standing close to each other, pulls its belly through between them, so that it has to defecate, thus emptying its belly, and then can eat more. If hunters catch one, they shoot it on account of its spotted fur, which is nicely patterned like a damascene cloth. The nature of people wearing this fur is often changed into this beast’s nature.

F [On reindeer]

G [On sable, martens, bears & other animals in the woods]

H) This beast is called Ziphius and is a scary sea monster. It devours the black seals.

J) Duckbirds, commonly called tree birds, grow on trees, as described 400 years ago.

K) This sea monster looks like a pig and was observed in 1537.

L) This is a whale fish, too, and is called Orca by many, but the Norwegian call it springhval on account of its swift movements.

M) [Monstrous lobsters]

N) A gruesome beast, partly resembling a rhinoceros. Pointed at the nose and the back, eats large crabs called lobsters, is twelve feet long.


Techniques to ward off the monsters were practiced by seamen, such as throwing barrels overboard to distract them, firing guns and cannons, and blowing horns to frighten them away.

Being a man of the sea, and the sea being his life, Jason Seabury kept his eyes open and ears tuned for anything that he should know of in the great depths of the vast oceans where he plied his trade. Lately there had been many sightings reported of Great Sea Serpents. Seabury and his crew would have known the reports well, and knowing the ocean and its many strange inhabitants they could well believe the reports. The sightings had been made by knowledgeable fellow seamen and creditable captains, with many similarities in their observations. No one living on the sea could doubt the existence of the sea serpent or sea monster.

Known in ancient times sea serpents were featured on jewelry and the prow of Viking ships, but the first written record of a sea serpent was related by Olaus Magnus (1490 – 1550), the exiled Catholic archbishop of Uppsala, Sweden, in his book, Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples, Rome, 1555). Magnus gives the following description of a Norwegian sea serpent which he called “Soe Orm” as follows:

 

 

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 [forty-five inch 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.

 

Another of the earliest recorded sightings of a sea serpent was documented by Hans Egede (1686 – 1758), a Danish missionary to Greenland, in his book, The Natural History of Greenland. The book was first published in Danish in 1741 and then translated into English for the first time in 1745. Egede, known as the “Apostle of Greenland,” founded the first Danish settlement there in 1721 and was Greenland's first missionary. The book describes in detail the inhabitants of Greenland including their customs, dwellings, habitat, environment, animals, sea creatures, hunting methods, occupations, tools, even their pastimes and poetry. Hans Egede was known for his meticulous descriptions of what he saw in nature. His book contains one of the earliest eye-witness accounts of a sea monster, sighted on July 6, 1734, which he described as:

 

Hans Egede sea serpent, 1740....that most dreadful Monster, that shewed itself upon the surface of the Water in the Year 1734, off our New Colony in 64 Degrees. This Monster was of so huge a Size that coming out of the Water, its Head reached as high as the Mast-Head; its Body was as bulky as the Ship, and three or four Times as long. It had a long pointed Snout, and spouted like a Whale-Fish; great broad Paws, and the Body seemed covered with Shell-Work, its Skin very rugged and uneven. The under Part of its Body was shaped like an enormous huge Serpent, and when it dived again under Water, it plunged backwards into the Sea, and so raised its Tail aloft, which seemed a whole Ship's Length distant from the bulkiest Part of the Body.

Another person on the ship, Pastor Bing, sketched the monster at the time. There have been several prints made of the same sea serpent since, based on Egede’s description, but they have been embellished by the artists and do not accurately portray the monster. The description and Pastor Bing’s sketch were the most accurate. Another monster answering to Egede’s description would soon appear in the Pacific Ocean.

Erik Pontoppidan (1698-1764), Bishop of Bergen, was a Danish author, prelate and historian. He wrote Natural History of Norway in 1755 in which he described the sea serpent:

Sea orm, or sea snake or serpens marus.The sea-ormen, the sea snake, Serpens marinus magnus, called by some in this country the Aale Tust, is a wonderful and terrible sea-monster, which extremely deserves to be taken notice of. This creature, particularly in the North Sea, continually keeps himself in the bottom of the water, except in the months of July and August, which is their spawning time, and then they come to the surface in calm weather, but plunge into the water again as soon as the wind raises the least wave.

 

The word orme is an Old Norse word for sea serpent, transliterated to urm or orm.

Sea Monsters Unmasked is a booklet written in 1883 by Henry Lee for the International Fisheries Exhibition in London. In it he writes of a sea serpent seen in Norway on July 28, 1845:

… they saw a long marine animal, which slowly moved itself forward, as it appeared to them, with the help of two fins, on the fore-part of the body nearest the head, which they judged by the boiling of the water on both sides of it. The visible part of the body appeared to be between forty and fifty feet in length, and moved in undulations, like a snake. The body was round and of a dark colour, and seemed to be several ells [an ell is forty-five inches] in thickness. As they discerned a waving motion in the water behind the animal, they concluded that part of the body was concealed under water. That it was one continuous animal they saw plainly from its movement. When the animal was about one hundred yards from the boat, they noticed tolerably correctly its fore parts, which ended in a sharp snout; its colossal head raised itself above the water in the form of a semi-circle; the lower part was not visible. The colour of the head was dark-brown and the skin smooth; they did not notice the eyes, or any mane or bristles on the throat.

The use of fins on the forepart of the body near the head clearly indicates that this was not a snake. It “moved in undulations, like a snake” most likely means vertical motion similar to the sideways motion of a snake. Holding its head above water, dark brown color and size continue the thread of practically all sightings.

Another Norwegian sighting in 1847 was described by Lee:

He described it as being about six fathoms long, the body (which was as round as a serpent’s) two feet across, the head as long as a ten-gallon cask, the eyes large, round, red, sparkling, and about five inches in diameter; close behind the head a mane like a fin commenced along the neck, and spread itself out on both sides, right and left, when swimming. The mane, as well as the head, was of the colour of mahogany. The body was quite smooth, its movements occasionally fast and slow. It was serpent-like, and moved up and down. The few undulations which those parts of the body and tail that were out of water made, were scarcely a fathom in length. These undulations were not so high that he could see between them and the water.

Other witnesses confirmed the description and added, “… its motions were in undulations, and so strong that white foam appeared before it, and at the side, which stretched out several fathoms.” If a wake of white foam appeared before it, the monster must have been of a great size and capable of great swimming speed. The interesting feature is the undulations; only mammals swim with vertical motion, undulations, while reptiles, or serpents, swim with a sideways motion. Also, most reports of sea serpents report that the creature swims with his head and neck sticking up from the water; snakes and eels cannot swim this way. Mammals, who must breathe air, swim with their heads or nostrils above the water.

The description of these sea serpents in Norway in 1845 and 1847 are practically the same as another sighted the following year by HMS Daedalus; the details are strikingly similar. Perhaps the most famous record of a sea serpent is that of HMS Daedalus. As recently as 1848, only two years before Monongahela set sail, the reports of such a monster encountered by HMS Deadalus, Captain M'Quhae, were widely known. One report made by Edgar Drummond, Lieutenant of HMS Daedalus, on October 28, 1848, stated:
Daedalus sea serpent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H.M.S. Daedalus, August 6, 1848, lat.25 SW, long 9 37' E., St. Helena 1015 miles. In the 4 to 6 watch, at about 5 o'clock, we observed a most remarkable fish on our lee quarter, crossing the stem in a S.W. direction: the appearance of its head, which, with the back fin, was the only portion of the animal visible, was long, pointed and flattened at the top, perhaps ten feet in length, the upper jaw projecting considerably; the fin was perhaps twenty feet in the rear of the head, and visible occasionally: the captain also asserted that he saw the tail, or another fin, about the same distance behind it: the upper part of the head and shoulders appeared of a dark brown colour, and beneath the under jaw a brownish white. It pursued a steady, undeviating course, keeping its head horizontal with the surface of the water and in rather a raised position, disappearing occasionally beneath a wave for a very brief interval, and not apparently for purposes of respiration. It was going at a rate of perhaps from twelve to fifteen miles an hour, and when nearest was perhaps one hundred yards distant: in fact it gave one quite the idea of a large snake or eel. No one in the ship has ever seen anything similar, so it is at least extraordinary. It was visible to the naked eye for five minutes, and with a glass for perhaps fifteen more. The weather was dark and squally at the time, with some sea running.


The Times, Britain's newspaper of record, of October 9, 1848 had already reported:

The Great Sea-Serpent. - 'When the Daedalus frigate, Captain M'Quhae, which arrived at Plymouth on the 4th inst., was on her passage home from the East Indies, between the Cape of Good Hope and St. Helena, her captain, and most of her officers and crew, at four o'clock one afternoon, saw a sea-serpent. The creature was twenty minutes in sight of the frigate, and passed under her quarter. Its head appeared to be about four feet out of the water, and there was about 60 feet of its body in a straight line on the surface. It is calculated that there must have been under water a length of 33 or 40 feet more, by which it propelled itself at the rate of 15 miles an hour. The diameter of the exposed part of the body was about 16 inches, and when it extended its jaws, which were full of large jagged teeth, they seemed sufficiently capacious to admit of a tall man standing upright between them.'
The British anatomist Sir Richard Owen commented on the Daedalus Sea Serpent, saying it was not a reptile, but a mammal. He based his confidence on other features in addition to the vertical undulations of a mammal. He explained:
 

The more certain characters of the animal are these: - Head, with a convex, moderately capacious cranium, short obtuse muzzle, gape of the mouth not extending further [sic] than to beneath the eye, which is rather small, round, filling closely the palpebral aperature; colour, dark brown above, yellowish white beneath; surface smooth, without scales, scutes, or other conspicuous modifications of hard and naked cuticle. And the captain says, ‘Had it been a man of my acquaintance I should have easily recognized his features with my naked eye.’ Nostrils not mentioned, but indicated in the drawing by a crescentic mark at the end of the nose or muzzle. All these are characters of the head of a warm-blooded mammal; none of them those of a cold-blooded reptile or fish.

Owen was a skeptic and did not share any enthusiasm for sea serpents. He said, “A larger body of evidence from eye-witnesses might be got together in proof of ghosts than of the sea-serpent.”

Several other reports of sea monsters appeared around the mid-1800s. One was right in Seabury's backyard, Gloucester, Massachusetts. The US Navy became involved in making sea charts as early as 1819, with Cheever Felch's survey of Cape Ann harbor. A creature was sighted between Stage Point and Ten Pound Island as reported by the Reverend Cheever Felch who was participating in a survey of the harbor aboard the schooner Science. Felch reported the encounter in a letter to the Boston Centinel:

 

Others having taken in hand to give some account of the Sea Serpent, I know not why I should not have the same liberty.

We were proceeding this morning down the harbor in the schooner's boat; when abreast of Dallivan's [Dollivers] Neck, William T. Malbone, Esq. Commander of the schooner, seeing some appearance on the water, said ‘there is your Sea-Serpent,' meaning it as a laugh on me, for believing in its existence; but it proved to be no joke.

As he often came near the Point, we thought we could get a better view of him there, than from the boat, of which he seemed suspicious. Mr. Malbone and myself landed; and the boat was sent to order the schooner down, for the purpose of trying what effect a twelve pound carronade would have upon him.

Felch described the monster:
His colour is dark brown with white under his throat. His size we could not accurately ascertain, but his head is about three feet in circumference, flat and much smaller than his body. We did not see his tail; but from the end of the head to the farthest protuberance was not far from one hundred feet. I speak with a degree of certainty, being much accustomed to measure and estimate distances and length. I counted fourteen bunches on his back, the first one say ten or twelve feet from this head, and the others about seven feet apart. They decreased in size towards the tail. These bunches were sometimes counted with and sometimes without a glass. Mr. Malborne counted thirteen, Mr. Blake thirteen and fourteen, and the boatman the same number...His motion was partly vertical and partly horizontal, like that of fresh water snakes. I have been much acquainted with snakes in our interior waters. His motion was the same.
Cape Ann Sea Serpent 1639.

The Gloucester Sea Serpent was considered authentic, according to the famous Dutch biologist, Dr. Antoon Oudemans in his 1892 compilation of 187 sightings, The Great Sea-Serpent. In 1926 Commander Rupert Gould published The Case for Sea-Serpnts in which he devoted forty-three pages to the Gloucester Sea Serpent. And Bernard Heuvelmans dubbed the creature Plurigibbosus Novae-angliae (that-with-many-humps-of-New-England).

The Gloucester sea serpent had been known for years. The first published account of this monster was in the Salem Gazette in 1793:

Portland, Aug 3, 1793.

Capt. Crabtree, who lately arrived at Frenchman’s bay, and now in this town, gives the following extraordinary account of a sea serpent, the authenticity of which may be depended on: -

On the 20th of June last, being on my passage from the West Indies, in the morning, having just made Mount Desert Island, distant nearly ten leagues, I suddenly got sight of a serpent of an enormous size, swimming on the surface of the ocean, its head elevated about six or eight feet out of the water, rather prone forward. That part of the body which was out of the water, I judged to be about the size of a barrel in circumference, but the head larger, having some resemblance of a horse’s. According to the most accurate computation which I made in my mind of his length, I think it could not be less than from 55 to 60 feet, and perhaps longer. That part of the body which was not elevated, but of which I had a distinct view several times, was larger than the part out of the water. The body of a dark brown.

 

Another report of the Gloucester Sea Serpent, viewed many times by credible witnesses, published in 1817 adds more insight to this creature, especially its motion and bunches or coils like a snake or reptile:

 

Another depiction of the Gloucester sea serpent.

On Sunday and Monday very distinct views were had of him [the sea serpent] by various persons. Gentlemen who have been at Gloucester, and attended to the accounts of those who have seen him at different times, and in different situations, think that there can be no doubt that the animal is a serpent in kind; that he is at least eighty, and more probably an hundred feet long, and nearly the size of a flour barrel, at the largest place. As to bunches, or protuberances which have been mentioned, these are thought to be nothing more than the appearances occasioned by his manner of motion. He does not wind laterally along, as serpents commonly do, but his motion is undulatory, or consisting in alternate rising and depression, somewhat like the motion of a caterpillar. Mr. Johnson, a young man, who went in a boat to visit a vessel in the harbour, on Sunday in the dusk of the evening, came very near to him, before he discovered him, so that he might have reached him with his oar. He was quite still, and appeared to be reposing. He was round and smooth, and had nothing like bunches. His head, though in its front it is circular, is not flat, like a common serpent’s, but the top is elevated, prominent, and round: and owing to this latter circumstance a side view of his head a little resembles that of a dog.

All witnesses to the Gloucester Sea Serpent agreed that the creature propelled itself through the water at considerable speed with a vertical undulation. The vertical undulations are a constant observation in these sightings, as are the color, speed and size of the creature. More observations of sea monsters would continue to confirm the creature was the same. And it would terrify the crew of Monongahela.

Sea monster sightings reported as snakes or serpents are not to be taken literally, but considered mammals. The largest-known snake in the world is the Anaconda, or Eunectes Murinus, of South America. It holds the world's record for size with one specimen, found in Columbia in 1944, measuring thirty-seven and one-half feet in length. Most, if not all, reports of sea serpents claim lengths much longer. Also, this snake lives in fresh water, not the sea. Other snakes are smaller and could not be mistaken as sea serpents. Finally, snakes swim with a sideways motion, not vertical.
A. C. Oudemans, author of The Great Sea Serpent (1892), wrote, “I see no reason why dogma and prejudice should blind scientists to the possible existence of the Great Sea Serpent. The great wastes of water which cover the surface of our planet are largely unsounded and unexplored. Who is to say that somewhere in those mysterious deeps there does not lurk the unknown animal which so many witnesses have claimed to see?”

A sea serpent was reported and considered important enough that it was included in a school book in 1832, The First Book of History for Children and Youth, Boston: Richardson, Lord, & Holbrook. The sighting near the Isle of Shoals off New Hampshire was explained as follows:

A sea-serpent was seen by several people near these islands, a short time ago. He came so near to a boat that a man who was in it could have struck him with an oar. His color was nearly black; he was larger round than the body of a man, and he seemed about as long as the mast of a vessel.

Giant eels have also been considered to be what sea serpents are made of. Conger Oceanicus is the largest and most common eel, but it is only two-hundred and fifty pounds and nine-feet long at a maximum, most are six-feet long weighing one-hundred pounds. Again, this is far too small to be a sea serpent.

Another encounter with a sea serpent was reported by Jason’s brother, Humphrey W. Seabury. He sailed as whaling captain again in 1853, on ship Mechanic’s Own, hailing port New York. Mechanic's Own was built for the Mechanics' Mining Association by Bishop & Simonson, New York. Vessels such as this were a crucial link between the United States and the western territories. She was built to carry passengers and merchandise from New York to San Francisco for the boom of the 1849 gold rush. In this capacity, Mechanic’s Own first sailed from New York on August 14th, 1849. On another voyage she carried immigrants from London to New York arriving on September 15, 1851. Her final run from New York arrived at San Francisco on May 20, 1852, 150 days from New York, Captain Burgess, with merchandise and twenty-eight passengers. She was then sold to O. & E. W. Seabury in New Bedford, and outfitted for a whaling voyage. The history parallels that of Monongahela two years previously. Mechanic’s Own sailed in 1853, Captain Humphrey W. Seabury. The following year, newspapers reported the following:

 

The Great Sea Serpent, -- Capt. [Humphrey] Seabury, of the ship Mechanic’s Own, which arrived here on the 17th ult., informs us that, February 1st, in lat. 40 S lon. 39 40 W., he saw something lying upon the water, with its head out, which very much resembled a serpent. When first seen, it was forward of the beam of the ship, about fifteen yards distant. The mouth of the creature was wide open, showing two large tusks, about eight inches in length, and many smaller teeth. The animal was about the size of a barrel, and showed about twelve feet out of water when first seen. It was apparently much greater in the middle, as it tapered toward the tail. Its color was dark brown. Most of the crew had time to get to the side to see it, when he settled his body down, and went off to the windward, with his head out of the water, making a wake similar to an eel, Capt. S. thinks this was a veritable sea-serpent.

 

Humphrey W. Seabury was in the Indian Ocean a little more than 1,000 nautical miles ESE of the Cape of Good Hope at the southernmost tip of Africa when he spotted the monster. The Indian Ocean was an often frequented whaling area. It is the third largest of the world's five oceans after the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean, but larger than the Southern Ocean and Arctic Ocean. Thoughts of his brother, Jason, must have flooded Humphrey’s mind at the time. The world’s newspapers in 1852 carried the story of Jason’s encounter with a sea serpent. Humphrey knew that incident well, very well.

Note once again Humphrey Seabury’s description is much the same as others: dark brown, size of a barrel, swims with its head out of the water, making a wake. Could these all be the same animal? If so, what was it? Reports off the New England coast continued strong through the nineteenth century. Bernard Heuvelmans, “The Father of Cryptozoology,” tells us that he found 117 reports of sea serpents during the 100 years between 1777 and 1877. These were mostly from the area of Maine and Massachusetts.


The term cryptozoology was coined by Bernard Heuvelmans in 1959. Cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals, derives from the Greek, kryptos meaning “hidden” or “unknown.” Therefore, cryptozoology is the study of unknown animals not formally recognized by scientists or formal zoology, but known to exist from eye witness accounts.


The Daedalus monster fits the description of Hans Egede’s monster when the description is stripped of the preconceived snake features. So does the Gloucester sea serpent, and Olaus Magnus’ sea serpent. There is a definite commonality in these sightings; the head held above water, up and down swimming motion, spouting, over fifty-feet long. They were not serpents, but mammals. They were much more terrible than serpents. And there would be more.


Since Olaus Magnus detailed the first account in 1555 there have been estimated at least 1,200 reports of sea monsters.

Copyright © 2007, 2008 Thomas Lytle. All rights reserved.

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