YouTube screen capture
Students capture footage of a large creature in Lough Foyle, Ireland.
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.
For lovers of the paranormal who've grown weary of waiting for the Loch Ness monster to reappear, here's a new "monster" to feast your eyes upon.
Three college students were filming a short movie as a class project at Lough Foyle, a large tidal estuary in County Donegal, Ireland, when something very odd moved through the water in front of them, UPI reports.
"Looks like we have our own Loch Ness monster!" Conall Melarkey, a student at North West Regional College in Derry, Ireland, wrote in his posting of the video clip to YouTube. [Loch Ness, Chupacabra & More: Our 10 Favorite Monsters]
"I have absolutely no idea what it is, but it looked amazing!" Melarkey wrote.
The shaky, 59-second video shows a dark object of indeterminate size moving slowly along the surface of Lough Foyle before diving or sinking slowly beneath the waves.
Some observers have speculated that the object could be a large fish, a whale, a dolphin or some other marine animal (Lough Foyle is open to the North Atlantic).
Besides the infamous Loch Ness monster of Scotland, reports of large, lake-dwelling creatures have come from other parts of the world, including the mysterious "Devil of Lake Labynkyr" in Siberia.
Nessie achieved international fame when, in 1934, a now-famous photograph was published showing a large animal with a serpentine head and neck. The photo, taken by a London surgeon named Kenneth Wilson, was exposed decades later as a hoax.
And despite countless searches for the Loch Ness monster using everything from submarines to sonar, no evidence has ever appeared of the mythical beast except a handful of dubious photos and videos. Nonetheless, the legend of Loch Ness — now one of Scotland's biggest tourist draws -- refuses to die.
Not everyone, however, believes in lake monsters, and critics wonder if this latest sighting is just a college stunt.
"There are several inconsistencies with the video that point to it being a set-up," the Belfast Telegraph reports.
"The uploader claims the video was taken in Lough Foyle, but the landmass in the background is clearly that of Howth … about 130 miles [209 kilometers] away from Lough Foyle," according to the Telegraph.
"When viewed at higher definitions, there are several tethering cables seen off the second boat, which raises further questions," the Telegraph reports.
And several observers have cast doubt on the video simply due to the college student's name: "Conall Melarkey."
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