History

'Sea Monster' Figurehead Emerges From Baltic Sea

Representing a ferocious creature with lion ears and crocodile-like mouth, the 660-pound figurehead stood at the prow of 15th-century ship.

A wooden sea monster emerged on Tuesday from the Baltic sea after lying on the seabed off the southern Swedish town of Ronneby for more than 500 years.

Representing a ferocious looking creature with lion ears and crocodile-like mouth, the 660-pound figurehead stood at the prow of a ship. It was carved from the top of an 11-foot-long beam.

According to experts at Blekinge museum, which was involved in the salvage effort, the "monster" was part of the Gribshunden, a 15th-century warship belonging to the Danish King Hans.

Photos: Gold-Filled Wreck Found in Finland

The ship was anchored in Ronneby when it sunk in 1495 after a fire. A contemporary of Christopher Columbus' flagship Santa Maria, the wreck is considered to be the best-preserved example of a 15th-century ship.

Very few wrecks from that period have escaped the ravages of sea worms.

Ancient Sea Monsters Were Black

According to Marcus Sandekjer, head of the Blekinge Museum, the figurehead is unique.

"No similar item from the 15th century has ever been found anywhere in the world," he said.

The intricately carved monster was meant to frighten the enemy.

Video: Cool Jobs: Shipwreck Explorer

"There seems to be something in his mouth. There seems to be a person in its mouth and he's eating somebody," Johan Rönnby, professor of maritime archaeology at Södertörn University, told the BBC.

Sandekjer believes it looks like a monstrous dog.

"It may depict the very ‘Grip Dog' that the name of the ship - Gribshunden - reflects," he said in a statement.

Photos: Sea Monsters Real and Imagined

The archaeologists are hoping to bring more of the wreck to the surface.

"The ship comes from a time just when Columbus was sailing across the ocean and Vasco da Gama also went to India," Sandekjer said.

"The wreck may give clues to the building methods used for those journeys," he added.

The "monster" is now resting in a waterbath at the Blekinge Museum storehouse, waiting for the preservation procedure.

"Last time it looked at the world, Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus were still living," Rönnby said.

The wooden monster is removed from the water.

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. A

Nessie-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 read

Ben 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 least

some 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