A still from a video that claims to show footage of Alaska's version of a Loch Ness monster.
We all enjoy a tall tale. Cultures with seafaring traditions are especially ripe in what seem like the tallest sea monster tales of all: hydra, kraken, sirens, scylla, leviathans, assorted serpents and mermaids. Usually the stories are never confirmed and usually baseless.
Then again, some of the tales are based on something, or so we are learning as marine scientists plumb the depths and discover some pretty weird creatures. The bottom line: There really are bizarre, unexpected, totally startling monsters found in the seas. And the very worst of these is the most unexpected.
Sea monsters are truly global. This one from Japan serves as the villain for the classic maiden in distress, who awaits rescue by her hero. The poor monsters are almost always cast as the bad guys. And so they usually end hacked to pieces; fish food.
But is there any truth behind these sea serpent tales?
Credit: NOAA/ Bloodydecks.com
Improbable, But True
Maybe it's the oarfish. It looks too monstrous to be true. It can grow many meters long, has strikingly bright silver scales, scarlet fins and some ornate headgear that more than explains why some call it a roosterfish. If only it were a reptile, it'd be a true sea serpent.
Alas. It is a fish. A very weird and beautiful fish, but still a fish.
Largest Serpent of All
There are also other, newfound "sea serpents" our sea-going ancestors never imagined. This one was spotted by a satellite coiling off the south coast of Japan's Hokkaido island.
What do we know about it? 1) It's arguably one of the largest organisms on Earth, 2) It swallows ships, engulfs islands and generally does what it wants, and 3) We're darned lucky it's made of plankton.
Research into such massive blooms and the individual plankton cells that comprise them has revealed surprising cooperation among the microorganisms. They appear to operate like more than just floating individual cells. They live and die for the greater good, it seems. So they may be, in fact, a gigantic watery superorganism.
Now that's a cool monster for you: You can swim in it and never know you've been in the belly of a beast.
The Hokey Hybrids
Mermaids and mermen have always been the stuff of fantasy. Where did the fantasies come from? There are some standard answers to this question, which have always seemed rather inadequate. For instance ... (next slide, if you please) ...
Credit: Getty Images
The manatee has often been called the source of mermaid myths. It's a mammal, so it breathes air. But who would ever mistake a manatee for a sleek and beautiful mermaid?
Could it be love-starved sailors with poor eyesight? There was no shortage of these fellows in the days before optometrists.
Credit: beats me
Another possibility is that merfolk were inspired by fish with roughly human-looking faces, like this fellow. Some fish can look humanoid. That would be enough to get superstitious sailors started.
The Kraken Strikes
How about giant, ship-destroying squid and octopi? These monsters were old hat even to the easily freaked-out. Most folks figured they were historical exaggerations.
That's until some very large and unusual squids started washing up or being hauled in by marine biologists in recent years. Colossal squid are meters long, pretty amazing beasts. Still, they have never been known to lift ships out of the water.
And since were on the topic of squids ...
Spider + Bat + Squid = Sea Monster
Do you remember when this one hit the headlines? It's not so gigantic, at four meters long, but it was observed 3,380 meters down in the Pacific Ocean near Oahu. It's pretty big to have gone unseen before its May 2001 discovery.
So what else is out there? It's pretty clear marine biologists have only just begun discovering what lives in the deep sea. The more time they spend searching, the more they will find. But none would dispute that the nastiest sea monster to ever rise out of the sea is ... (drum roll please) ...
Deadliest Sea Monster Ever
You might have guessed it: Human garbage. Yep. It's the ugliest, most alien-looking, fatal and pervasive monster in the seas. Garbage patches have been getting a lot of attention lately. These are areas on the seas where currents and winds tend to concentrate floating garbage.
- Video footage shot shows a mysterious Loch Ness monster-like creature.
- People who study undescribed creatures believe it is a sea serpent with a long neck.
- Sightings of the creature have been reported for years, though none have been captured.
A video from 2009 shows something mysterious moving across the surface of the sea that resembles an Alaskan version of the Loch Ness monster.
Some are claiming that the animal is a "Cadborosaurus," a type of reptile or lizard that got its name from Cadboro Bay, in British Columbia. They say that what's in the video is a sea serpent that dwells in the North Pacific and possibly other regions.
Accounts generally describe it as having a long neck, a horse-like head, large eyes, and back bumps that stick out of the water.
The footage, shot by Alaskan fishermen in 2009, will make its public debut on "Hillstranded," a new Discovery Channel special that will air Tuesday evening at 10 p.m. E/P.
"I am quite impressed with the video," Paul LeBlond, former head of the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of British Columbia, told Discovery News. "Although it was shot under rainy circumstances in a bouncy ship, it's very genuine."
LeBlond, co-author of the book "Cadborosaurus: Survivor from the Deep," said the animal is "the least unlike a plesiosaur," referring to carnivorous marine reptiles thought to have gone extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period.
Sightings of "Cadborosaurus" have been reported for ages. In 1937, a supposed body of the animal was found in the stomach of a whale captured by the Naden Harbour whaling station in the Queen Charlotte Islands, a British Columbia archipelago. Samples of the animal were brought to the Provincial Museum in Victoria, where curator Francis Kermode concluded they belonged to a fetal baleen whale.
The animal's remains, however, later disappeared. James Wakelun, a worker at the whaling station, last year said that he had seen the creature's body and "it wasn't an unborn whale."
Still, some throw caution to the sighting.
A still from a video that claims to show footage of Alaska's version of a Loch Ness monster. DCL
"People are working off of sketchy lay observations," said Jim Covel, senior manager of guest experience at California's Monterey Bay Aquarium. "We do, however, still find new species in the oceans, perhaps allowing some to entertain ideas like this, filling in the gaps with their imaginations. But it really underscores how more scientific exploration is needed."
Like other cryptids -- animals who some think exist, but which have not yet been recognized by scientific consensus -- "Cadborosaurus" has existed only in grainy photographs and eyewitness accounts.
The 2009 video, therefore, "adds to its authentication," LeBlond said.
While many have speculated that "Cadborosaurus" is actually a frill shark, a large eel, or some kind of fish, LeBlond countered that it cannot be a fish due to the way it moves.
"It must be a mammal or a reptile, since it oscillates up and down in a vertical plain, which eliminates sideways-oscillating fish," he said.
A possible new believer in "Cadborosaurus" is Andy Hillstrand of "Deadliest Catch" television show fame. He told Discovery News that he might have seen another one of the enigmatic animals while filming "Hillstranded," a new Discovery Channel special debuting tonight that features the 2009 footage.
Hillstrand and his brother Johnathan traveled to sites in Alaska where Cadborosaurus has been spotted. Referring to one location, he said, "We saw a big, long white thing moving in the water. We chased it for about 20 minutes."
"Spray came out of its head," he continued. "It was definitely not a shark. A giant eel may be possible, but eels don't have humps that all move in unison. I've never seen anything like it before."
Hillstrand speculates that whales, following salmon, might be pushing the animals closer to shore and into the view of humans.
While he understands the controversy and skepticism over such sightings and claims, Hillstrand believes the many fishermen who have reported seeing the animal "are not a bunch of fruitcakes. These are people who are familiar with the local marine life."
In order for a cryptid to gain scientific credibility, more physical evidence must be obtained. LeBlond said, "We cannot go out in the ocean poking everywhere, but we are always on the lookout for new accounts."
Hillstrand, on the other hand, isn't ruling out another "Cadborosaurus"-related trip.
"We live in Alaska, so we might investigate 'Cadborosaurus' again in future," he said. "We are always up for an adventure."