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.
Visitors to Jennette's Pier in Nags Head, North Carolina, were shocked last week when an evil-looking fanged fish washed up alive on the shore.
The monstrous fish has been identified as a long-snouted lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox), a nocturnal predator that's rarely seen near shore. The fish are known not only by their large fangs and tall dorsal fin, but also by their habit of eating their own species.
Because it's a relatively uncommon fish that inhabits the open ocean, little is known about its life cycle. In adolescence, lancetfish are hermaphrodites (having both male and female sex organs), though there's no evidence of adult hermaphrodites. [See Photos of Lancetfish and other Freaky-Looking Fish]
Lancetfish are also known as handsaw fish, because of their prominent, jagged dorsal fin, which runs almost the entire length of their back. The fish have no scales — their scientific name, Alepisaurus, translates as "scaleless lizard" — and their skin is instead covered with pores.
They can grow to be as long as 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length. Lancetfish generally feed at night, and in addition to dining on other lancetfish, they also eat crustaceans, squid and smaller species of fish.
Lancetfish are in turn preyed upon by seals, sharks and other large fish, including tuna. They're not considered a good fish for human consumption, because their muscles contain large amounts of water, making their flesh somewhat mushy. Fishermen, in fact, consider the lancetfish a "trash" fish that sometimes takes bait intended for more profitable catches such as tuna.
The fact that their muscles have a high water content makes it unlikely that the lancetfish can move quickly or pursue other prey, so scientists speculate the lancetfish is an ambush predator — it probably uses its big dorsal fin to accelerate in short bursts to overcome prey.
The fish are found in open waters throughout tropical and subtropical oceans, though they've been known to travel as far north as Greenland and Iceland.
The lancetfish found in North Carolina was alive when it washed up on shore, but when it was carried back out into deeper water it washed ashore again, indicating it may have been sick, according to Nature World News.
Original article on Live Science.
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