Tuesday 23 March 2010

Here be sea serpents and big cats

Everyone who reads this blog knows about my love of sea serpent and lake monster stories so I was pleased to see an excellent article on sea serpents in the Fortean Times:

The Golden Age of Sea Serpents

Sailors, scientists and 19th-century monsters of the deep

By Mark Greener March 2010

An extract:

The 19th century was the golden age for sea serpents. Many of the most vivid and credible reports of “sea monsters” come from 19th-century sailors – sometimes in such detail, with such eloquence, with such verisimilitude, that only the most cyn­ical sceptic can dismiss them as the products of overactive imaginations or hoaxes. Victorian scientific journals and magazines regularly carr­ied reports of sea serpents being shot at, captured and even – from a certain point of view – being turned into knife handles. Yet around the turn of the 20th century, the number of reports began to decline.

The 19th-century scientific literat­ure offers ‘rational’ explanations for sea monsters. Most sightings remain unexplained zoologically, even with the benefit of hindsight. However, many explanations smack of desperat­ion, as field observations threatened academic Victorian biologists’ ordered worldview. As Robert Paddle notes in his excellent book on the thylacine, “prevailing constructions, as outlined by the ‘great men’ of science, are powerful [..] and not easily overturned by persons of supposedly less scientific consequence, no matter how accurate their observations in the field may be”. [1]
If all else failed, scientists could dismiss each sighting as misidentification augmented by a “credulous” mariner’s fear and imagination: a view that is not only patronising – partly a product of 19th-century class prejudice – but zoologically counterproductive.
Nevertheless, and in spite of such scientific hubris, some Victorian explan­ations stand the test of time, showing that monsters sometimes yield to cryptozoological scrutiny. In particular, mariners recognised some leviathans many years before zoologists.
The 19th-century sea serpent stories have all the hallmarks of classic fortean phen­omena: numerous reports indicating that reliable witness saw something, but little hard evidence to prove a physical existence. Even the generally sceptical Scientific American admitted to “much respectable testimony” that seemed to sugg­est that something lurked in the seas. However, the journal added, “[I]t is singular enough that no one connected with the department of Zoological science has ever seen one, nor is there any bones or fragments among any of the collections, in Europe or America.” [2]
Nevertheless, the scientific literature from the 18th and 19th centuries contains numerous examples of contemporary and historical sea serpent sightings, often from impeccable witnesses. For example, on 6 July 1734, Poul Egede, the son of a famous Danish-Norwegian missionary, saw a “most dreadful monster” off the coast of Greenland. The sighting became one of the most famous in cryptozoology. In his diaries, recollections and his father’s reports, Egede states that the head of the “enormously big creature” reached to – or was, in some accounts, higher than – the yardarm. The body was as thick as, and three to four times longer than, the ship. The beast had a long pointed nose, blew like a whale and swam using big broad flippers. “Shell work” or “scales” covered the rough, wrinkled skin. The rear resembled a serpent. When it submerged, it lifted itself backwards and then raised its tail from the water a ship’s length from the body. [3]

Read the rest here:


And to finish off another excellent article:

Legends and sightings of big cats in the Appalachians


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