Making a living at sea has never been the safest job, and many scholars theorize that legends of sea monsters were invented as ways to explain maritime deaths and injuries in an exciting and heroic way. Some, however, have turned out to be real: in this article, we’ll be showcasing the animals thought to be responsible for myths of ocean monsters…and wondering what else is still out there, waiting to be discovered.
A massive, tentacled monster from Norse myth, scientists had long thought krakens to be biologically impossible. Imagine their shock when, in 1861, French sailors discovered the remains of a 43 foot long squid with eyes the size of dinner plates. Now, this former sea monster has been studied extensively, and though very elusive due to residing in the darkest depths of the sea, we are slowly discovering more about its habits and biology. On particularly exciting moment came in the summer of 2012, when a Japanese research team took the first live video of an adult giant squid in its natural habitat.
The Sea Serpent
The archetypal sea monster, scientists now believe that legends of sea serpents were inspired by the rare, strange, and very mysterious Giant Oarfish. Resembling nothing so much as a herring stretched out to over 50 feet in length, even today oarfish are sometimes mistaken for sea monsters when they wash ashore. Ironically, these massive animals feed only on oceanic krill, leading many biologists to question why they evolved to be so breathtakingly large.
Procopius’ Sea Monster
For hundreds of years, scholars thought that the massive, ship-sinking, man-eating monster described by the Byzantine historian Procopius was a mere fantasy. That is, until recently, when researchers discovered that sperm whales can sometimes become trapped in (comparatively) shallow seas like the Eastern Mediterranean and begin attacking ships and eating the sailors on them. Moby Dick is closer to real life than many imagine: as sperm whales (or cachalots) can grow to 85 feet in length and weigh over 63 tons, they could have easily inspired any number of monster legends.