THE SEA SERPENT
THE SEA SERPENT
On the dark bottom of the great salt lake
Imprisoned lay the giant snake,
With naught his sullen sleep to break.
Poets of the North, 'Oelenschlaeger.' Translated by Longfellow.
Possibly the best known of all mythical sea monsters, The Sea Serpent, has been around for as long as man has ventured into the oceans of the world. Indeed Cryptozoologist Bruce Champagne has documented over 1,200 purported sightings of the beast. However there remains no physical evidence of the creatures existence, with the majority of the sightings being explained away as mistaken identity, tricks of the light, whales or other sea creatures glimpsed in poor or unusual light.
Despite the widespread scepticism the Sea Serpent remains at large and nobody has yet managed to disprove it completely unlike the Kraken, which is now thought to have been the giant squid. What gives the legend of the Sea Serpent so much weight is the fact that many of the reports are from level headed, highly respected professional seamen. Norwegian Navy captain Lawrance de Ferry, a commander in Bergen in Pontoppidan's time, claims to have actually wounded one and made two of his men, who were with him in the boat at the time, testify upon oath in court to the truth of the following statement:
'The latter end of August, in the year 1746, as I was on a voyage, in my return from Trundheim, in a very calm and hot day, having a mind to put in at Molde, it happened that when we were arrived with my vessel within six English miles of the aforesaid Molde, being at a place called Jule-Næfs, as I was reading in a book, I heard a kind of murmuring voice from amongst the men at the oars, who were eight in number, and observed that the man at the helm kept off from the land. Upon this I inquired what was the matter; and was informed that there was a sea-snake before us. I then ordered the man at the helm to keep to the land again, and to come up with this creature, of which I had heard so many stories. Though the fellows were under some apprehensions, they were obliged to obey my orders. In the meantime this sea-snake passed by us, and we were obliged to tack the vessel about, in order to get nearer to it. As the snake swam faster than we could row, I took my gun, that was ready charged, and fired at it; on this he immediately plunged under the water. We rowed to the place where it sank down (which in the calm might be easily observed) and lay upon our oars, thinking it would come up again to the surface; however, it did not. When the snake plunged down, the water appeared thick and red; perhaps some of the shot might wound it, the distance being very little. The head of this snake, which it held more than two feet above the surface of the water, resembled that of a horse. It was of a greyish colour, and the mouth was quite black and very large. It had black eyes and a long white mane, * that hung down from the neck to the surface of the water. Besides the head and neck, we saw seven or eight folds or coils of this snake, which were very thick, and, as far as we could guess, there was about a fathom distance between each fold” Bergen, 1751.'
Nor does Scandinavia have an exclusive on the creature. Sightings off the coast of New England are well documented from 1638 right up to 2003. Others include the famous incident when a Sea Serpent was spotted by the men and officers of HMS Daedalus in August 1848 during a voyage to Saint Helena, when the creature was claimed to have raised a peculiar ‘maned’ head above the water. In 1905 two naturalists Michael J Nicoll and E.G.B Meade-Waldo reported seeing a long-necked, turtle headed creature with a large dorsal fin. Twin brothers Bill and Bob Clarke claim to have filmed some of the creatures in San Francisco Bay during the seventies.
But it was Norse folk who first found true fascination with the Sea Serpent and inevitably it has become a mainstay of their mythology and literature. Olaus Magnus, a Swedish ecclesiastic and writer kept records of many marine monsters and in his work History of the Northern Peoples (1555) he wrote:
“Those who sail up along the coast of Norway to trade or to fish, all tell the remarkable story of how a serpent of fearsome size, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, resides in rifts and caves outside Bergen. On bright summer nights this serpent leaves the caves to eat calves, lambs and pigs, or it fares out to the sea and feeds on sea nettles, crabs and similar marine animals. It has ell-long hair hanging from its neck, sharp black scales and flaming red eyes. It attacks vessels, grabs and swallows people, as it lifts itself up like a column from the water.”
Another highly respected documenter of Sea serpent sightings was the patron saint of Greenland, Hans Egede who wrote that on 6 July 1734 whilst his ship sailed past the coast of Greenland the crewmembers on board suddenly 'saw a most terrible creature, resembling nothing they saw before. The monster lifted its head so high that it seemed to be higher than the crow’s nest on the mainmast. The head was small and the body short and wrinkled. The unknown creature was using giant fins, which propelled it through the water. Later the sailors saw its tail as well. The monster was longer than our whole ship'.
Truth or myth the Sea Serpent isn’t going away anytime soon. Sightings continue and will continue to occur. And to be honest the world would be that little bit poorer if they didn’t.