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Ancient Roman mosaic of a man being dragged off a boat by a sea monster

7 strange sea serpent sightings from history

Image: Ancient Roman mosaic of a man being dragged off a boat by a sea monster |

For centuries, sailors believed that out on the high seas lurked mysterious and dangerous monsters. Their fears were echoed on the medieval maps that depict huge, hideous sea serpents coiled around ships and strange two-headed beasts bobbing in the waves.

These superstitions were no doubt fuelled by the rich tradition of sea monsters in myth and legend – from the great Midgard Serpent of Norse mythology to the terrifying Hydra of Greek and Roman myth.

Throughout history, many mariners returned to their home shores claiming that they did encounter such terrible giants on their ocean voyages. Many of these have potentially easy explanations – the Kraken, a favourite of old sea dogs for centuries, could very well have been a giant squid, a verified species.

But it is the giant sea serpent which continues to baffle experts. Are these accounts evidence of species that are yet to be identified by scientists, or are they more to do with superstitious sailors and too much rum?

Here we push the boat out and look at seven strange sea serpent sightings from history.

1. Hans Egede (1734)

In July 1734, a Norwegian priest named Hans Egede saw a gigantic sea monster in the Davis Strait, between Greenland and Canada’s Baffin Island.

He wrote a report of the ship’s terrifying encounter with the marine titan, and another crewmember made a dramatic sketch of it. Egede described how ‘a very terrible sea animal’ extended itself so high out of the water that it towered over the upper sails of the ship.

It had a ‘long snout’ from which it ‘blew like a whale’ and the upper part of the creature was described as very broad with large ‘flappers’. Its lower body ‘was formed like a snake’ and when it lifted its tail out of the water it was ‘a whole ship-length from its body’.

Egede’s account is thought to be one of the earliest reports of a sea serpent.

2. The Gloucester Sea Serpent (1817)

Probably the most famous batch of sightings to occur in North America happened one summer 200 years ago near Gloucester Harbor, Massachusetts. The mysterious creature that stalked the coast that summer has become infamous as the Gloucester Sea Serpent.

After a slew of reported sightings of the aquatic beast in August 1817, a New England zoological society took statements from eyewitnesses in the hope of getting to the bottom of the mystery.

One person who gave evidence was carpenter Matthew Gaffney. He said that he was in a boat in the harbour when he saw a ‘strange marine animal, resembling a serpent’ in the water close by.

Gaffney described the creature’s head as being as large as a ‘four-gallon keg’ and its body the size of a barrel. The carpenter estimated it was 40 feet long and moved through the water at about 20-30 mph.

After firing a shot at it, the worried woodworker was alarmed to watch it head towards his boat before rapidly diving under the water and quickly resurfacing more than 100 yards away.

3. HMS Daedalus (1848)

One summer’s day in the middle of the 19th century the British ship HMS Daedalus spotted a mysterious ocean-going snake.

The sighting was described in an official report to the Admiralty by the ship’s captain, Peter McQuhae. It took place off the coast of southwest Africa on 6th August 1848.

The captain referred to the unknown animal as an ‘enormous serpent’. It passed very close to the ship and was seen clearly by several members of the crew at the same time. It was reported as gliding easily through the water at a speed the captain judged to be 12-15mph.

The captain described the creature as brownish, with a long scaly body and being about 60 feet in length. It was visible from the ship for about 20 minutes before diving under. McQuhae asserted that its body was 15 or 16 inches in diameter and ‘behind the head, which was, without any doubt, that of a snake’.

4. HMS Plumper (1848)

About four months after the Daedalus sighting, in December 1848, the British ship HMS Plumper reported a similar encounter off the Portuguese coast.

One of the ship’s officers logged in his report that while out at sea he saw a ‘long black creature with a sharp head’. He said that its back was at least 20 feet above the water, and its head rose about eight feet out of the surface of the sea. He remarked that along its back ran something ‘like a mane’, which sloshed around as it glided through the water.

Was this the same watery critter that Captain McQuhae and his crew had seen earlier that year further south in the Atlantic?

5. Captain Cringle (1893)

In December 1893, the ship Umfuli had a run-in with a colossal marine monster that had a lasting effect on its captain, R.J. Cringle.

Captain Cringle had recorded in the ship’s log the report of the encounter near the Canary Islands. The ship sighted and passed ‘a monster fish of the serpentine shape, about 80 feet long, with shining skin, and short fins, about 20 feet apart, on the back; in circumference, about the dimensions of a full-sized whale’.

Cringle and others onboard the steamship spent half an hour watching the huge sea creature, which apparently had three humps and moved through the sea ‘at great speed’. Cringle observed that the giant’s head extended 15 feet out of the water and another officer reported that it had rows of enormous teeth.

Cringle later remarked that, ‘I have been so ridiculed about the thing that I have many times wished that anybody else had seen that sea-monster rather than me.’

6. Percy Fawcett (1907)

British explorer Percy Fawcett is famous for his search for the Lost City of Z, and for being a possible inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones.

While exploring the depths of the Amazon in 1907, he claimed to have seen a vast river snake. Fawcett recorded in his memoirs that he and a small crew were meandering in a little boat down the Rio Abuná, a headwater of the Amazon in western Brazil, when they saw a ‘giant anaconda’. Fawcett estimated that the immense serpent was 62 feet long.

Sharing the news when back in London, Fawcett’s learned colleagues laughed and outright called him a liar.

Fawcett could have gotten his estimate wrong of course and the explanation is that he did encounter an anaconda as he said. He was, however, an expert surveyor, and ended up getting very close to the behemoth once on the bank after he’d shot it and put it ‘out of action’, as he wrote.

7. Blyth and Ridgway (1966)

In 1966, Britons Chay Blyth and John Ridgway were rowing across the Atlantic when they happened upon a massive, scary creature they described as a ‘sea serpent’. They were halfway across the ocean when they saw the oversized aquatic animal.

While still dark, they were suddenly alerted to the presence of something swimming about their small boat, making waves and tremendous splashes. Looking overboard they were able to glimpse the enormously long body of the creature snaking through the water. The phosphorescence of the sea was enough to illuminate the beast for them to see. They watched the animal for some time before it dived beneath the surface, only to loudly resurface some distance away before finally disappearing beneath the waves. They estimated it was at least 35 feet long.