Friday 19 June 2009

Historical accounts of sea serpent ( or should that be hysterical?)

Historical accounts of sightings of strange creatures are always interesting.

Bishop Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidan who wrote Natural History of Norway in 1755
(I believe this can be found in Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis) ,believed in sea serpents. In his book he described ,a creature seen in 1746, a type of sea serpent resembling a horse with big black eyes, a long white mane and a body coiled like that of a snake. However he also believed in the "kraken" which he said was 1.5 miles in circumference and as large as a floating island. Although we know the Kraken as the giant squid these days, I feel the size the Bishop states must be an exaggeration.

This one from 1817 is interesting. (also appears in: Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis)
"There was seen on Monday and Tuesday morning playing around the harbor between Eastern Point and Ten Pound Island, a SNAKE with his head and body about eight feet out of water, his head is in perfect shape as large as the head of a horse, his body is judged to be about FORTY-FIVE or FIFTY FEET IN LENGTH." So read a broadside published in Boston about a sea monster sighting in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1817.. Multiple eye witnesses came forward.

I then found this account: On August 22, 1817, a publication in Boston entitled "A Monsterous Sea Serpent: The largest ever seen in America" was published. It reported that a sea serpent appeared in the harbour and was thought to be about forty-five to fifty-five feet in length with the head of a horse. Other sightings of the creature said it was about one hundred feet long. In Massachusetts, lots of people witnessed the creature in the water. The result of so many sightings meant the government was forced to investigate. The Linnaean Society of New England created a special investigation Commitee. The members of this illustrious group included Judge John Davis, Doctor Jacob Bigelow, and the naturalist Francis Gray. No other evidence was forthcoming but the creature was said to be between forty-five and one-hundred feet in length and the width of a barrel with a horse’s head .A group of boys found what was initially assumed to be the creature's offspring dead .The naturalist who specialized in reptiles, however, pronounced the baby sea serpent to just be a deformed blacksnake

So what was the sea monster seen in Massachusetts? It could not have been a ribbon fish because they cannot hold their heads out of the water. The long arm of a giant squid perhaps, hunting for food? The problem is distance and length are hard to judge especially if you are not trained to do so. It could be that the size of the creature was smaller than stated . Was it the result of mass hysteria? We may never know ,but it is interesting never the less.

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