Friday, 15 July 2016

Identifying the Sea Monsters of Legend

The world is full of stories of magnificent beasts and deadly monsters roaming our oceans in search of prey. Some of them are straight up outlandish, others are misinterpretations of sailors’ tales, and others have a solid basis in fact. Real-life equivalents to many of the exotic creatures can still be found alive and well today, while others are attributed to misidentified fossils. Here we will shine a light on some of the more prevalent tales.

Take for example, the infamous Loch Ness Monster. Debate still rages today as to whether it exists (by the way, it definitely doesn’t), but its description does line up with another, very real family of aquatic reptiles. I am speaking, of course, about dinosaurs; specifically the Plesiosaur genus. 

In this case, the people behind the photograph that kicked it all off have confirmed their role in an elaborate hoax, but that hasn’t stopped theorists flocking to the site every year, desperate to find ol’ Nessie and earn their share of the beast’s fame. The similarities to Plesiosaur fossils simply provide enough fuel to keep the speculation alive, but most agree there is really no likelihood of one individual or small group surviving for this long in the relatively small body of water that is Loch Ness.

One mythical monster with a more obvious origin is the Kraken. Said to be large enough to sink even the largest ships of the era, and a prominent feature in countless stories and even films of today, rumours of the Kraken must have terrified weary sailors. The most worrying thing about it? The Kraken is not based on some long-since-dead fossilised bones; the creature from which we derived tales of this beast is very much real.

That creature is the Colossal Squid, the largest invertebrate on the planet. They can grow up to a staggering 14 metres in length, and have one deadly advantage over their famous relative, the Giant Squid, other than sheer size of course. Whereas the tentacles of the Giant Squid are covered in suckers equipped with small teeth, the Colossal Squid carries an array of sharp hooks, with multiple points and even capable of movement independent of the tentacles on which they are located. While sightings are incredibly rare, and attacks on humans unheard of, it’s easy to see how tales of this animal evolved into the deadly wonder that is the Kraken.

A few other commonplace legends can be attributed to sightings of real creatures. Sirens and Mermaids, for example, are thought to be inspired by dugongs living along rocky coastlines. This would explain Columbus’ disappointment when he wrote of encountering one, as he stated it was “nowhere near as beautiful as described”.

Finally we have the most widely reported sea monster of all time, even appearing on countless official maps. I refer to the Sea Serpent, which also has a direct inspiration in the real world. While the Giant Oarfish is perfectly peaceful, it is all but confirmed as the source of this particular legend, being found in just about every region where Sea Serpents apparently roam.

So, if you’re desperate for a dose of the mythical, don’t make any plans to go after Nessie. Instead, look towards the sleek beauty of the Giant Oarfish, or the terrifying image of the Colossal Squid. These are the beasts of legend.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.

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