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Sea Serpents

Two zoologists reported sighting a sea serpent off the coast of Brazil in 1905. One of them later said: "A great head and neck rose out of the water. The neck appeared about the thickness of a slight man's body." In 1917, the captain of a British warship, the H. M. S. Hilary, sighted one off Iceland. He described it as "a sea monster with a cowlike head on a neck about twenty-eight feet long."

Monsters were sighted in the Atlantic by passengers and crews of the Dunbar Castle in 1930 and the Santa Clara in 1947. According to the captain of the Santa Clara: "The creature's head appeared to be about two and one-half feet across, two feet thick, and five feet long. The ... body was about three feet thick and the neck about one and one-half feet in diameter." This creature was seen only about 118 miles east of Cape Lookout, North Carolina.

Captain John Ridgway and Sergeant Chay Blyth, while rowing across the Atlantic in their boat English Rose III in 1966, were almost rammed by a sea serpent. Blyth was asleep when Ridgway, who was rowing, heard a swishing sound on the starboard side of the boat. He wrote:

I looked out into the water and suddenly saw the writhing, twisting shape of a great creature. It was outlined by the phosphorescence in the sea as if a string of neon lights were hanging from it.

It was an enormous size, some thirty-five or more feet long, and it came toward me quite fast. I must have watched it for some ten seconds. It headed straight at me and disappeared right beneath me. I stopped rowing. I was frozen with terror ... I forced myself to turn my head to look over the port side.

I saw nothing, but after a brief pause, I heard a tremendous splash. I thought this might be the head of the monster crashing into the sea after coming up for a brief look at us. I did not see the surfacing - just heard it. I am not an imaginative man, and I searched for a rational explanation for this incredible occurrence in the night as I picked up the oars and started rowing again ... I reluctantly had to believe that there was only one thing it could have been - a sea serpent.

A sea serpent named Caddy was supposedly sighted off Vancouver Island, Canada. The most authentic-sounding report of Caddy was made by judge James Thomas Brown of Saskatchewan. He, his wife, and his daughter sighted the monster about 150 yards from shore. He reported:

His head [was] like a snake's [and] came out of the water four or five feet straight up. Six or seven feet from the head, one of his big coils showed clearly.

The coil itself was six or seven feet long, fully a foot thick, perfectly round and dark in color ... It seemed to look at us for a moment and then dived. It must have been swinuning very fast, for when it came up again, it was about 300 yards away ... I got three good looks at him. On one occasion he came up right in front of us.

There was no question about the serpent - it was quite a sight. I'd think the creature was thirty-five to forty feet long. It was like a monstrous snake. It certainly wasn't any of those sea animals we know, like a porpoise, sea lion, and so on. I've seen them and know what they look like.

Over the years, there have been almost as many explanations of what sea monsters might be as there have been sightings of the creatures themselves. It wouldn't be right to ignore all the stories by saying that these monsters were the products of imaginative minds. Too many clear-eyed, cold-blooded scientists, sea captains, and newspaper reporters have recorded sightings of strange creatures.

Interest in sea serpents seems to have waned among the scientific community, however. From 1872-1885, Nature, a prominent British scientific journal, published nineteen articles on the beasts. Almost a century later, it no longer deals with such creatures.

Some scientists of the nineteenth century believed in sea serpents, among them Sir Joseph Banks, the English naturalist; Sir William J. Hooker, the botanist and director of Kew Gardens in Britain; and the naturalist Henry Lee who was mentioned earlier. It was Lee who thought that the Daedalus sighting and the sighting of a Kraken could have been merely partially hidden giant squids with their heads and tentacles beneath the surface of the water and only their tails visible, standing erect.

Professor Ron Westrum of Eastern Michigan University is an expert on sea serpents. He defines them as: "Any large, elongated marine creature of an apparently unknown species." He also points out that sea serpent sightings occur, on the average, at a rate of about three per year, and this number has remained constant since 1800.

A giant pink squid was captured off the coast of Peru not long ago. It had thirty-five-foot-long tentacles and its eyes were a foot in diameter. Pieces of squid taken from the stomachs of whales may have come from animals that were more than one hundred feet in length. Some oceanographers believe that there may be other giant squids lagoon in the oceans that might be even larger. Could they be our sea monsters?

Dr. L. D. Brongersma of The Netherlands suggested that sea serpents were really giant turtles. He wondered why these monsters were never reported to have washed upon shore. He also pointed out that the bumps on the water seen by so many observers may just be several turtles swimming along in a line. On the other hand, they could be porpoises. A line of those sea mammals seen at a distance resembles an undulating, serpentine creature.

Some scientists think that the monsters may be sharks. In recent years, sharks have been found whose heads measure from four feet between the eyes. Even bigger fish may someday be found in the lower depths of the oceans. Others blame the sightings on snakes. For example, the African python, which at times has been known to swallow a goat, has been known to swim from island to island looking for food. There have been occasions when these snakes have attempted to board ships in search of a resting place.

Then there is the walrus theory. Ancient Norwegian seafarers said that when a sea monster was sighted, a storm would follow. Professor Waldemar H. Lehn and Irmgard Schroeder of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg agree. The descriptions of the monsters by the Norse sailors sound like the distorted, optical illusions of walruses or killer whales surfacing, nose up, under rare atmospheric conditions.

Suppose that these sailors were standing in a Norse longship. They would be about six feet above sea level and looking at something about a mile away. If there were an atmospheric inversion (a warm air layer under a cold air layer), the conditions would be perfect for such an optical illusion. A walrus would become a pillarlike monster with long, cruel fangs. And these conditions could have occurred only in the last stages of a warw front in a calm just before a storm. The old Norsemen were right.

One of the most experienced believers in sea monsters is Dr. Anton Bruun. This Danish marine biologist, so respected that an oceanographic vessel bears his name, outlined a theory about these creatures of the lagoon. In 1962, he described one of his own experiences. While on a voyage in 1930, he hauled up some sampling nets and found a huge eel larva. He knew that the largest eels grow to about ten feet in length and weigh one hundred pounds or more. Normally, when an eel is in the larval stage, it is about five inches long. The giant eel larva that Bruun found measured about six feet in length.

Bruun estimated that if it became full-grown, it might measure fifty feet in length. Perhaps this kind of giant eel is our sea monster. The larva was found about two miles below the surface of the water, and this may be why we seldom see them. Bruun made no definite statement, but left the door open for further searches into the frigid depths of the oceans.

What do we really know about life beneath the surface of the seas? Not much. We have been exploring those areas for only a bit over one hundred years. In 1865, a Frenchman descended to a depth of 245 feet. On January 23, 1960, Dr. Jacques Piccard and Lieutenant D. Walsh of the United States Navy went down in the bathyscaph Trieste into the Marianas Trench on the Pacific Ocean floor. This is the world's lagoonest trench; from top to bottom it is higher than Mount Everest. At a depth of 35,802 feet, they described the bottom as "waste of snuff-colored ooze." But Piccard, and later Jacques Cousteau, have seen types of fish that had been previously unknown.

It had long been thought that fish could not survive at great depths, but a research vessel found one and brought it up from 26,000 feet. At that depth, the ocean is totally black, but this fish had two primitive eyes, and it probably once lived closer to the surface.

In 1938, a South African trawler picked up a coelacanth in its net. It had been thought that this fish had lived about 300 million years ago and had been extinct for more than 70 million years. And, since trawlers generally sink their nets only about sixty feet down, where had the coelacanth come from?

Scientists want to find out. The world's largest research submarine, the Ben Franklin, designed by Piccard, descended to a depth of 600 feet in the Gulf Stream in 1969. The United States Navy is developing a lagoon Submergence Search Vehicle with underwater television, sonar sensing equipment, and electronic flashlamps and floodlights. Information on sightings of sea monsters taken by the United States Coast Guard were relayed to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Most of them turned out to be dead giant squids floating in the water.

Dr. C. E. LaFond of the Scripps Oceanographic Institute once reported "several large, sharklike fish" swimming at a depth of 4,000 feet in the San Diego Trough. He later said: "I hesitated to tell anyone about them because they had eyes as big as dinner plates."

The point is that about 200 million years ago, the oceans were probably full of monsters-huge sharks, crabs, sea serpents, lungfish, skates, and rays. Many of them had body armor and stingers. Who are we, who know very little about the depths of the seas, to say that all of them became extinct? Could they still be living down there, coming to the surface only at irregular intervals to frighten the unwary sailor?

The water monster with the longest pedigree in the United States is probably the monster of Lake Champlain, who is called "Champ" by the chamber of commerce in Port Henry, New York. Lake Champlain forms part of the border between New York State and Vermont. It is 100 miles long and reaches depths of 700 feet. And like Loch Ness, it was once an arm of the sea.

In 1609, Samuel de Champlain, the French discoverer of the lake, wrote of seeing a swimming monster. He told of a creature twenty feet long, as thick as a barrel, with a horseshaped head: "A great long monster, lying in the lake, allowing birds to land on its back, then snapping them in whole." Since that time, the creature has been seen more than a hundred times - five times in 1980 alone.

Perhaps more sightings have occurred than that. Mrs. Robert A. G°en claimed that she had seen a "super-long thing with thee humps" in the lake, but when she told her friends aboui it all they did was laugh. She also implied that many other people had seen the thing but were afraid to admit it for fear of ridicule. One person who wasn't afraid was Walter F. Wojewodzic, a reired mine worker. In 1980, he said:

Dick Gilbo from over at Gilbo's Hardware and I were coming in from duck hunting five or six years ago when we spotted bout 300 yards out in Bulwagga Bay three gray humps abut three feet high moving along making quite a wake. Th whole thing was about forty feet long and we couldn't even see a head. We watched it for about a minute and half as it traveled a few hundred feet. Then it dived.

The lake was as smooth as glass that day. I've fished this lake for firty-five years and I can tell you it wasn't any kind of wave, fish, or animal I ever saw. There's something big in that lake - awful big.

Bess Sherlok lives on the shore of the lake. She saw the monster, too, and said: "I saw it right out there. Like everybody els, I kept my mouth shut because I thought people wouldthink I was crazy. In a year or two, I guess I could get ten)r fifteen dollars for that view from the tourists. Maybe I could rent binoculars."

A photo of the creature was taken in 1977 by Mrs. Sandra Mansi of New Haven, Connecticut. The photograph was taken while she and her husband Anthony and their children were on a picnic on the shore of the lake. Mansi said he had gone to the car to get the camera and returned to the shore to find his children wading happily in the water and his wife in a panic. The creature had surfaced about 150 feet from shore. IIe related: "I threw her the camera and said, `Take a picture and let's get out of here.' "

The picture showed a tiny image of a creature with a long neck, a humped back, and a flipper. It was run through the computer-imaging equipment at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. The results showed that the picture had not been faked, and that the object was surfacing rather than just bobbing or floating along in the lake.

A few explanations were offered. Some scientists said that the monster was really an unusual wave or a sturgeon, which can grow very large. Others blamed otters. Dr. Roy Mackal said that it might be a zeuglodon-a long, serpentine, whalelike creature thought to have been extinct for 20 million years. He also said that our old friend Nessie might be such a beast. At any rate, in 1980, officials of Port Henry declared the waters of Lake Champlain off-limits to anyone who would try to harm or even tease the Lake Champlain Monster.

On August 29, 1981, both scientists and monster lovers convened in Shelburne, Vermont to debate the existence of the Lake Champlain Monster. The conference was sponsored by an organization called the Lake Champlain Committee, and was billed as a seminar on the subject, "Does Champ Exist?"

Roy Mackal held out for his theory of an ancient mammal. Richard Greenwell of the University of Arizona, who had analyzed the Mansi photo, said that if such a creature existed, it was probably a plesiosaurus. Dr. George Zug, chairman of the department of vertebrate zoology at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, noted that evidence was mounting that some creature inhabited the cold lakes of the Northern Hemisphere.

In 1765, the Gentleman's Magazine of London printed a story that read: "The people of Stockholm report that a great dragon, named Necker, infests the neighboring lake, and seizes and devours such boys as go into the water to wash." The lake was Lake Malaren. The article also told that the bishop of Avranches decided to test this story by going for a swim in the lake one sunny day. The onlookers, it was said, "were greatly surprised when they saw him return from imminent danger."

There seems to have been another lake monster in Sweden in Lake Storsjon near Ostersund. On the island of Forso, there is an ancient stone in the lake with a sketch of a beast with a long neck and flippers. It seems the creature was most active from 1820 to 1898, and an expedition tried to capture it with traps in 1894.

Lake Storsjo in Sweden is also a haunt of a monster. It is said that it has a white mane and is reddish in color, looking like a large sea horse. It was first seen by some farmers in 1839 and has been sighted several times over the years. The swimming speed of the creature was estimated to be at least forty-five miles per hour.

In 1946, three people claimed to have seen the monster, saying that the lake's surface "was broken by a giant, snakelike object with three prickly, dark humps. It swam at a good parallel to the shore, on which the waves caused by the object were breaking." There were more sightings in 1965.

Thomas G. Aylesworth. Creatures in the Sea. Other Creatures in the Water. Science Looks at Mysterious Monsters Julian Messner, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, U.S.A., 1982.


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