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SEA SERPENTS STILL SURFACING - Then and Now No. 8

Extracts from 19th century Australian and U.S. newspapers, with modern links

Reports of sailors having been terrified by the sight of monstrous sea serpents have been published in many countries for centuries. A book, The Great Sea-Serpent, published in London in 1892, reported more than 160 such sightings. Surprisingly, many of the descriptions seem to tally.

THEN!

AUSTRALIA, 1877.

News of the sea-serpent is brought by Captain W.H. Nelson, of the American ship Sacramento, which arrived here from New York on Saturday.

The man at the wheel was the first to observe the monster. He at once called Captain Nelson, telling him what he saw, but the latter, having the same feeling of incredulity with regard to the sea-serpent as most other people, did not hurry from below.

On coming on deck, however, he was rewarded with a distant glimpse of the supposed sea-serpent, which the helmsman declared he saw quite clearly.

Some 40ft. of the monster was alleged to be observable. It appeared to be about the size of a flour barrel in girth, and its colour was yellowish. The head is described as being flat. The eyes were plainly visible.

Captain Nelson is convinced that what he saw was some extraordinary sea monster.
- The Argus, Melbourne, 1877.

UNITED STATES, 1817

The Gloucester Sea Serpent. On August 10, 1817 a strange creature was sighted in the harbor of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Reports of it began to spread throughout New England.

General David Humphreys, a former member of George Washington's staff, travelled down to Gloucester to interview witnesses. According to the testimony he gathered, the creature's head, which it held above the water, was "much like the head of a turtle... and larger than the head on any dog." From its head there rose "a prong or spear about twelve inches in height, and six inches in circumference at the bottom, and running to a small point."

In a compilation of sightings printed in the Boston Weekly Messenger it was further reported that the creature was sixty to seventy feet in length, that it was about as wide as a barrel, that it moved rapidly in a serpentine fashion, that it was able to double back upon itself instantaneously, that it was "full of joints and resemble[d] a string of buoys on a net," and that all attempts to kill or capture it, including shooting a musket at it from close range, failed.
- Museum of Hoaxes

UNITED STATES, 1899

The passengers on the ocean liner New England , which arrived at Boston from Liverpool on Thursday, aver that they saw the sea serpent on the voyage. Capt. McAuley nor any one on board had never seen such a strange monster before.

The Captain said that his attentions was called to an object off the starboard bow, which he first made out to be a ship's boat or part of a derelict... Suddenly a thin stream of water was thrown in the air and the animal - for it proved to be one - moved off at the right angles to the ship, going through the water at an eight-knot clip.

Capt. McAuley described the animal as about 45 feet in length, with a carinated back which projected about six feet out of water. Its head was visible for only a few seconds when it raised it from the water to gaze unconcernedly at the big ship as she approached. The neck was elongated and the head hooded.

The captain did not say it was a sea serpent, but acknowledged it was the strangest animal he had ever seen in his 40 years' experience at sea. One of the saloon passengers said that he believed it was a giant sea lizard.
- Out of Gloucester

NOW!

Novice angler catches monster fish off Cleveland* coast

A novice angler fishing for mackerel has caught a "monster" fish off the Cleveland coast. Val Fletcher landed an 11ft 4in, 140lb oarfish, the ancient mariners' legendary sea serpent with a rod and line. Val, from Skinningrove, Cleveland, who stands only 5ft 4in tall and weighs just eight stone, was fishing with her husband Robert Herrings.

It's believed to be the first oarfish caught on a rod and line off the coast of Britain. The catch has left marine biologists wondering why such a rare fish, which favours the 1,000 metre depths of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, should be found in the shallows of the North Sea.

Oarfish are the longest bony fish in the sea and sport a mane-like crest behind a toothless head. They can grow up to 30 feet and weigh up to a quarter of a ton, hence their status as the original sea monster.
- ANANOVA February 21, 2003.

* That's Cleveland, England - not Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is a tiny English county created in 1974 when it was separated from the North Riding of Yorkshire.

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Copyright 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted April 2003

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