Sea Monsters from Mythology and Legends: The Kraken, Sea Serpents, and Mermaids
Mythical sea monsters
Sea Monsters from Mythology and Legends | The Kraken, Sea Serpents and Mermaids
Seafarers of old were respectful and wary of the strange creatures that lurked below the surface. The reflection of sunlight upon water, overwhelming homesickness, or too much drink caused many sailors to see monsters.
The Kraken was one of the most horrifying creatures a sailor could encounter. It was believed to be a many-armed monster, described by one 14th Century writer as resembling an uprooted tree, that would wrap itself around a ship, pull down its masts, and drag it to the bottom of the ocean. The creature was so large that it could be mistaken for a small island. Early whalers often saw tentacle and suction marks on the bodies of sperm whales, which served to cement the Krakens’ terrifying reputation. Modern sailors recognize the Kraken as a giant squid, which is an enormous octopus-like mollusk. The giant squid has a long, torpedo-shaped body, even longer tentacles, and eyes that are more than 18 inches in diameter. They grow to lengths of 60 feet, sometimes more, and weigh nearly a ton. Although not often seen by humans, these deep sea dwellers have been known to attack whales and tanker ships.
Some of the most famous sea monsters, such as Loch Nes’ss “Nessie” and Chesapeake Bay’s “Chessie” are of the serpent persuasion. Whether in saltwater or freshwater, a sea serpent looks similar to a snake or dragon and usually has several humps. Although cryptozoologists hold out hope that these creatures are some sort of surviving dinosaur, that’s not likely the case. It is theorized that freshwater sea serpents, such as Lake Champlain”s “Champ” are actually snakes, perhaps giant anacondas, that escaped from a passing boat. Naysayers point out that tropical anacondas don’t do well in upstate New York winters. Ocean-dwelling sea serpents are easier to explain. Witnesses have mistaken basking sharks, rows of diving Dolphins, clumps of sargassum seaweed, seals, and even undulating waves for the head and humps of a sea serpent. Perhaps the most common explanation, however, is the oarfish, which resembles an eel and grows to 26 feet in length, and has been reported at three times that size.
Mermaids, aquatic creatures with a woman’s torso and the tail of a fish, have been spotted in oceans and lakes around the world since 1000 BC. In the past few centuries, several supposedly authentic mermaid specimens have been displayed, but all of them have proved to be hoaxes. These include PT Barnum’s famous “Feejee” Mermaid, taxidermy creations consisting of sewn parts of monkeys and fish, and “Jenny Hannivers” which are carcasses of rays, skates, or cuttlefish carved and varnished to resemble a winged sea monster with a hideous human head. The name is likely an Anglicization of “jeune de Anvers” or “girl of Antwerp” in reference to the Belgian Port where 16th and 17th-century sailors made and sold these popular souvenirs. Seals and sea otters, both known for their playful interaction with humans, have likely been mistaken for mermaids. The legendary selkie, a mythical seal that sheds its skin on land and resumes it while in the sea, derives from mermaid folklore. The dugong and manatee are both cow-like, sea-dwelling mammals that nurse their young above water. In fact the word Manatee comes from the Carib word for breasts, which could explain why mermaids are said to be naked from the waist up. Of course, it’s also possible that mermaid stories were made up by hapless Sailors or fishermen who needed an excuse for spying on skinny dipping women.
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