The term Sea Serpent is used to describe a wide verity of wholly or partly serpentine like creatures which have been reported in the worlds oceans for hundreds if not thousands of years. Despite numerous sightings, from both ship and shore, and by groups which sometimes count scientists among their numbers, no credible physical evidence of these beasts has ever been proven to exist. Today creatures like Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster and Mokele-Mbembe have surpassed the Sea Serpent in popularity, however as late as the nineteenth century Sea Serpent sightings were reported and argued about in mainstream scientific journals.
The Sea Serpent has a long history in the mythology of the world and heavily influenced Scandinavian mythology where one can find tales of Jormungandr, a Sea Serpent so long that it encircled the entire world. Included in the tales of the Jormungandr were stores of sailors who would mistake the creatures back for a chain of islands. Norwegian folklore also contains several stories of terrifying sea creatures; these include the Sea Serpent and the much feared Kraken.
It was not until 1555 that an attempt was made to address the Sea Serpent scientifically, this occurred when Olaus Magnun, the exiled Catholic archbishop of Uppsala, Sweden, wrote a survey of Scandinavian zoology. In this survey, entitled History of the Northern Peoples, published in 1955, Magnun gives the following description on 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.
Other sources of early Sea Serpent information include Natural History of Norway, 1752 – 1753, by the great zoologist and cataloguer Bishop Erik Pontopiddan.
Beginning in the seventeenth century the coastal waters of the northern United States, primarily the waters off of Massachusetts and Maine, became the location of many Sea Serpent sightings. The first printed reference can be found in John Josselyn’s, An Account of Two Voyages to England, published in 1674, which recalls the author’s conversations in 1639 with locals who spoke of a Sea Serpent or snake that lay coiled upon a rock at Cape Ann. In 1779, during the Revolutionary War, the crew of the American gunship Protector spotted and fired upon a Sea Serpent which escaped unharmed.
In May 1780, Captain George Little of the frigate Boston, in Broad Bay off the Maine coast, had an experience that was recounted as follows in Bernard Heuvelmans’ book In the Wake of Sea Serpents:
At sunrise, I discovered a huge Serpent, or monster, coming down the Bay, on the surface of the water. The cutter was manned and armed. I went myself to the boat, and proceeded after the Serpent. When within a hundred feet, the mariners were ordered to fire on him, but before they could make ready the Serpent dove. He was not less than from forty five to fifty feet in length; the largest diameter of his body, I should judge, fifteen inches, his head nearly the size of that of a man, which he carried four or five feet above the water. He wore every appearance of a common black snake.
One of the more famous string of sightings to take place along the coast New England occurred in the nineteenth century along the Gloucester and Maine coasts. Sightings of the Sea Serpent, later dubbed the Gloucester Serpent, spawned an investigation by the Linnean Society of New England. On August 18, 1817, this society, after studying many eyewitness accounts, judged a three foot snake like reptile, found in Cape Ann, to be a baby Sea Serpent. They went as far as to give this reptile the scientific name Scoliophis atlanticus; however upon killing the creature they discovered it to be nothing more than a slightly deformed common black snake. This embarrassing blunder was frequently cited by debunkers and skeptics as evidence that the Gloucester Serpent did not exist.
Another, particularly famous, Sea Serpent sighting was made in August, 1848 by the crew and officers of the HMS Daedalus during a voyage to Saint Helena in the South Atlantic off the coast of Africa. The crew described the creature that they saw as being some 60 feet in length with a head it held above water. 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, including Bernard Heuvelmans, have suggested that the animal was some sort of marine mammal.
During the twentieth century the world turned its collective cryptozoological attention on another variety of monster, namely those said to dwell in freshwater settings such as Scotland’s Loch Ness. Still, Sea Serpent sightings continued, including those off the coast of British Columbia, were a creature give the name Cadborosaurus, later shortened to Caddy, caused a number of reports. One such report came from Major W.H. Langley who observed a serpent like beast near Chatham Island on October 8, 1933. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, University of British Columbia oceanographer Paul LeBlond and Royal British Columbian Museum marine biologist Edward Bousfield conducted a comprehensive investigation that convinced them of the reality of an unidentified sea creature.
On May 31, 1982, a video was taken of an apparent Sea Serpent, estimated to be thirty to thirty five feet long but only a foot in diameter, in Chesapeake Bay. In August of that year, seven scientists from various disciplines convened at the Smithsonian Institution to analyze the video. George Zug of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, in a report which summarized their conclusions, declared that they could not identify the object in the video, though it did appear to be animate.
Bernard Heuvelmans, considered by some to be the father of modern cryptozoology, believed that Sea Serpents were most likely at least nine different types of unidentified marine animals. In his book In the Wake of the Sea Serpent, published in 1968, Heuvelmans examines 587 reports of Sea Serpents, 358 of which, in his opinion, represent sightings of genuine unknown creatures.
Like Heuvelmans most cryptozoologists recognize that at least some reports of Sea Serpents can be attributed to simple misidentification, however they also point out that many descriptions look nothing like the known species that skeptics use to explain these sightings. But, skeptics remain unconvinced, time and time again pointing out that the imagination has a way of twisting the slightly out of the ordinary until it becomes extraordinary. In the end the burden of proof falls not on the shoulders of these skeptics, as modern science already believes these Sea Serpents do not exists, instead it is the job of the believer to discover enough proof of their beliefs as to convince the scientific community to change theirs.
There is currently no known physical evidence that would support the existence of a Sea Serpent, or any of the unknown creatures thought to possibly account for sightings of Sea Serpents.
In the 19th century there were several major sea serpent sightings on the Gloucester and Maine coasts of New England.
In 1734, Hans Egede, Bishop of Greenland, reported seeing a Sea Serpent which Henry Lee later suggested may have been a Giant Squid.
In 1848 the crew of the HMS Plumper sighted a long black creature off the Portuguese coast.
In 1848 the crew of the HMS Daedalus, during a voyage to Saint Helena in the South Atlantic; witnessed a creature they described as being some 60 feet in length.
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.
The Stats – (Where applicable)
• Classification: Sea Monster
• Size: 10 to 200 plus feet in length
• Weight: Unknown
• Diet: Unknown
• Location: World Wide
• Movement: Swimming
• Environment: The oceans of the world