Sea monster

Missing image
Picture taken from a Hetzel copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Sea monsters are mythical and legendary gigantic sea-dwelling creatures (but see also lake monsters). Marine monsters can take myriad forms: sea dragons, serpents, or multi-armed beasts, slimy or scaly, often spouting jets of water. Often they are pictured threatening ships and boats.

The decorative drawings of heraldic dolphins and sea monsters that were frequently used throughout history to illustrate maps died away with modern cartography. Nonetheless even today there are witnesses who report sea monsters. Such sightings are studied by folklorists and cryptozoologists.

Sea monster accounts are found in virtually all cultures that have contact with the sea. Eyewitness accounts come from all over the world. For example Sir Humphrey Gilbert of Newfoundland (1583) claimed to have encountered a lion-like monster with "glaring eyes". Another account of an encounter with a sea monster comes from July 1734. Hans Egede, a Danish/Norwegian missionary reported that on a voyage to Gothaab/Nuuk on the western coast of Greenland:

[There] appeared a very terrible sea-animal, which raised itself so high above the water, that its head reached above our maintop. It had a long, sharp snout, and blew like a whale, had broad, large flippers, and the body was, as it were, covered with hard skin, and it was very wrinkled and uneven on its skin; moreover on the lower part it was formed like a snake, and when it went under water again, it cast itself backwards, and in doing so it raised it tail above the water, a whole ship length from its body. The evening we had very bad weather.

Other reports are known from the Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans (e.g. see Heuvelmans 1968).

A more recent development has been the mysterious "Bloop" picked up by hydrophonic equipment since 1997. While matching the audio characteristics of an animal, it is too large to be a whale. Investigations thus far have been inconclusive.

It is debatable what these modern "monsters" might be: possibilities include frilled shark, basking shark, oarfish, giant squid, seiches, and whales. For example Ellis (1999) suggested the Egede monster might have been a giant squid. Other connections are made with possible survivors among the giant marine reptiles of the Jurassic and Cretaceous (see under ichthyosaur and plesiosaur) as well as extinct whales like Basilosaurus. In 1892, Anthonid Cornelis Oudemans, then director of the Royal Zoological Gardens at The Hague saw the publication of his The Great Sea Serpent which suggested that many sea serpent reports were best accounted for as a previously unknown giant, long-necked pinniped.

It is likely that many other reports of sea monsters are misinterpreted sightings of shark and whale carcasses (see below), floating kelp, logs or other flotsam such as abandoned rafts, canoes and fishing nets.


Sea Monster Carcasses

Sea monster corpses have been reported since antiquity (Heuvelmans 1968). The alleged plesiosaur netted by a Japanese trawler off New Zealand caused a sensation in 1977 and was immortalized on a Japanese postage stamp, before it turned out to be the decomposing carcass of a basking shark. Likewise DNA testing confirmed that a sea monster washed up on Fortune Bay, Newfoundland in August 2001 was a sperm whale. Another modern example of a "sea monster" was the strange creature washed up on the Chilean sea shore in July 2003. It was first described as a "mammoth jellyfish as long as a bus" but was later determined to be the corpse of a sperm whale.

Legendary sea monsters

Modern sea monsters of popular culture

Fictional sea monsters

Sea monsters that aren't

The Caspian Sea Monster is a plane.


  • Ellis, R. (1999) In Search of the Giant Squid. Penguin. London.
  • Heuvelmans, B. (1968) In the Wake of the Sea Serpents. Hill & Wang. New York.



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