Real Sea Monsters and Mythical Creatures of the Deep
Real Sea Monsters
Myths of sea monsters lurking beneath the waves have persisted since the first moment early humans laid their eyes on the ocean. No doubt their imaginations began to manufacture all sorts of amazing and terrifying sea creatures that might dwell beyond the rolling surf.
Once mankind built ships and ventured into deeper water it's easy to see how legends grew, until mysterious creatures like mermaids, sea serpents, and the dreaded Kraken were widely feared.
When Europeans began traveling regularly to the New World, sailors who crossed the massive oceans braved dangerous seas, huge storms, enemy navies, and maybe even a few pirates.
But just as they feared the dangers above the waves, they were still wary of what may await them beneath. In fact, they so worried about the beasts of the deep that some maps of the day marked the locations where these animals were said to haunt.
Tales of sea monsters and leviathans of the deep are apt to draw a snicker in today's world. Thanks to modern science and marine biology we think we know what’s down there and what isn’t, and there are some good explanations for cryptids. Any mentions of squids large enough to sink a boat or sea serpents fifty feet long aren’t taken very seriously.
But what if there was some truth to the myths and legends of ancient sailors? Here are a few mythical sea monsters that may have been imagined based on sightings of real animals.
The Kraken is a monstrous, multi-tentacled sea creature capable of emerging from the depths and dragging a ship to the bottom. It sounds insane, but could there really be an animal like that somewhere out there?
We now know of giant squids capable of reaching over 30 feet in length, a true sea monster. And, there is another species called the colossal squid, just as long but with a more massive body.
Squid usually dwell in deeper water by day and come closer to the surface at night. There are even a few tales of a giant squid attacking boats.
Could sightings of these massive creatures have led to stories of the Kraken? The giant and colossal squid are two animals that are only recently coming into the scientific light. In the past, surely they would have been considered monsters.
Giant Squid: The Real Kraken
Top like a woman, bottom like a fish. It might sound interesting, but mermaids were bad luck for sailors who believed they would enchant them into losing their loot, or even their lives. One explanation for these sightings could be the manatee.
Manatees are large, aquatic mammals with flippers they can use as arms, and paddle-like tails. They look vaguely human, and it’s possible that lonely sailors long at sea may have seen something familiar in the mammalian way the manatee moves in the water.
Though one would have to imagine these sailors to be awfully lonely indeed, some experts say the isolation and stress brought on by long sea voyages could very well cause such a misidentification.
With a snake-like body, a head like a dragon, and spikes along its back, no wonder stories of the sea serpent struck fear into sailors. This description might sound fantastic, but it fits a very real animal which may have accounted for these sightings.
The giant oarfish is a deep-ocean species that can reach over 50 feet in length. They remain in the depths in the light of day and may migrate into the upper water column at night. Biologists say it would be rare for the oarfish to come all the way to the surface, but if one did come within sight of a ship it would surely be mistaken for a massive serpent.
Despite its fearsome appearance, the oarfish is harmless to humans. Though rare, they are occasionally encountered by divers.
As feared as the Kraken is the giant octopus, lurking beneath the sea and ready to reach up and snatch sailors off the deck. In fact, in Jules Verne’s classic novel 20,000 League Under the Sea the submarine Nautilus is grabbed by a giant octopus (sometimes translated as giant squid).
But these fears of a giant octopus may in reality be driven by sightings of, well, a giant octopus. The Giant Pacific Octopus can reach a length of over 20 feet across, certainly large enough to worry a diver or even a small boat. If that’s not big enough, there is a hypothetical species of colossal octopus that may get even bigger!
Octopuses are intelligent creatures, with excellent problem-solving abilities. It isn't hard to imagine there could be record-setting specimens that remain out of sight in the depths of the ocean.
Learn More About the Pacific Giant Octopus
Real Sea Monsters
The sailors of days gone by believed in many terrifying creatures. Some sound funny today, and we can chalk it all up to superstition and nerves, but on the other hand, these sailors had to be seeing something.
Did they imagine it all? Dip a little too deep into the rum cask, maybe?
Or, perhaps they were actually seeing real sea monsters. Many creatures we know today weren't yet known to science back in those days, and if they were they might not have been common knowledge to the average sailor.
New Ocean Species Still to be Discovered
If all of that’s not enough to shiver your timbers, rest assured that for every sea monster known to science there are likely more out there yet to be discovered. But the best thing about it is this: No matter how wild our imaginations get, the reality of these creatures is even more incredible.
The recent discoveries surrounding the giant squid reveal it to be more interesting than any mythical sea creature. This is a real sea monster, a flesh-and-blood animal that shares our world. Or take the giant octopus, which is revealed to possess amazing intelligence and problem-solving abilities.
Think it isn't possible that there are still large fish and marine mammals to be discovered? Consider the case of the coelacanth, and bizarre prehistoric fish thought to have gone extinct at the time of the dinosaurs, only to re-emerge in recent years.
Perhaps we'll discover that some of the animals that are thought of as myth today will turn out to be real. But even if they don't, we live on a fascinating little blue planet, packed with wondrous creatures.
Unlike ancient sailors, we have better resources available for understanding our world and bringing mythical sea creatures to light.
Are there still large sea creatures yet to be discovered somewhere in the oceans of the world?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.