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 deemed baseless. Then again, some of the tales are based on something. With our skeptical hats on, let's have a look at sea monsters both real and fanciful. We begin with a story that went viral just this week, about a supposed monster that revealed itself during a swim in the Thames River. ANessie-like
bump in the water, filmed from overhead, started it all. But you'll have to judge for yourself: Real or fake? Watch the video and readBen Radford's take
on the tale.'Thames Monster' Video: Hoax Or Mammal?
In keeping with our subject of monsters of the deep, we also learned this week that at leastsome whales
really can, and will, use their heads for ramming -- just as the fictional Moby Dick did, in the Herman Melville classic of the same name. Did whales perfect the head-butt long before people started banging heads?Real Moby Dick: Some Whales Ram With Their Heads
Sea monsters are truly global, of course. 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?Ancient Sea Monsters Were Black
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.Is the Loch Ness Monster Dead?
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.Monster Goldfish Found in Lake Tahoe
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.VIDEO: Why Squid Are Terror Monsters Of The Sea
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) ...Mermaids Exist! And They Are Seismically Sensitive
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.Make Way For Manatees Month: Photos
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.First Face? Prehistoric Fish Was a Jaw-Dropper
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 ...Giant Squid Photos
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) ...
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.Life On The Ocean Floor Garbage Patch: Photos
The seafaring empire of Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean once spanned more than a thousand miles, serving as the hub through which distant settlements exchanged artifacts and ideas, researchers say.
This finding could help explain the rise of monumental structures throughout the Pacific starting about 700 years ago, scientists added.
Tonga is an archipelago of about 160 Polynesian islands, with the core of the kingdom covering an area of about 195,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers). The islands, located about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand, were first settled about 2,800 years ago by the Lapita people.
Beginning about 800 years ago, a powerful chiefdom arose in Tonga, unique in Oceania — that is, the islands of the South Pacific — in how it successfully united an entire archipelago of islands. However, much remained unknown about how far Tonga's influence actually reached. [Tonga to Madagascar: 8 of the Most Endangered Places]
"How much voyaging and interaction occurred in the prehistoric Pacific has been debated for centuries," said lead study author Geoffrey Clark, an archaeologist at the Australian National University in Canberra.
To learn more about the extent of Tonga's empire, scientists chemically analyzed nearly 200 stone tools excavated from the centers of its leaders, especially artifacts from the royal tombs on Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga. They also chemically analyzed more than 300 stone artifacts and rock samples taken from other Pacific islands, such as Samoa.
"All of the work has been done with a large Tongan workforce from the community who are now being funded to conserve many of the monumental tombs," Clark said.
They found that stone artifacts in Tonga often matched rock samples from Samoa and Fiji — in fact, 66 percent of stone tools analyzed from Tonga were long-distance imports. One tool apparently was made from rock that came from as far away as Tahiti, about 1,550 miles (2,500 km) east of Tongatapu. In contrast, stone tools from a monumental stone mound in Samoa were made from local sources of rock.
Stone structure at Heketa, Tongatapu.Geoffrey Clark
These findings revealed that Tonga was the center of a maritime empire that goods flowed toward as tribute from distant locales. The researchers suggest these exotic artifacts may have served as status symbols among Tongan elites.
"Complex societies like the Tongan maritime chiefdom had extensive contacts with other island groups," Clark told Live Science. "The chiefdom was an important interaction hub through which ideas, goods and people could move over large distances."
In addition, these findings could help explain puzzling discoveries seen elsewhere in Oceania.
"It has been observed that many of the significant chiefdoms in the Pacific began to build monumental architecture around the same time as one another — 1300 to 1500 A.D. — and it's been unclear why this should be, as the societies are often separated by thousands of kilometers of ocean," Clark said. This new work suggests the formation of the Tongan state may have stimulated these widespread changes in the Pacific.
In the future, the researchers want to find and examine stone tools from before the rise of the Tongan state to understand how interactions between Tonga and other islands changed over time.
"At the moment there are few sites and no significant stone assemblages from this important period," Clark said. "We also want to know whether the high proportion of exotic tools found at the central place of the Tongan state exists at other sites in Tonga of the same age. For example, did everyone in Tonga have access to stone tools from Samoa and other places, or did the central place have a higher proportion because exotic stone tools were chiefly valuables?"
The scientists detailed their findings online July 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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