See Monsters 3
One thing often overlooked in the debunking of sea-monster myths is the familiarity with the sea that many of the old time mariners must have had. While the decomposing and half eaten carcass of a plankton-eating shark may look like a dragon to us, is it fair to think that an ancient whaler, sailor, or fisherman could make a similar judgement? I have read that a large dead animal out at sea will attract many sharks. These sharks feeding on a dead whale could easily look like a many-finned, huge serpentine monster. Would people who spent a lot of time watching the ocean be likely to make that mistake though? Sharks (called dogfish), dolphins, and many types of large sea mammals were well known to ancient mariners. It seems plausible, even probable, that a green sailor at the watch would see terrifying monsters at sea. A boat full of more experienced sailors would likely honor the tradition of letting these stories grow, rather than tell the young sailors that they had seen some known and less terrifying creature. A Leviathon is much cooler than a pod of whales in a kelp bed. Why ruin a good thing?
In the spirit of advancing plausible speculation as scientific hypothesis, I’d like to bring up a few creatures sometimes seen by humans, that could easily be called scary monsters.
Humpback whales: If you grew up after the 1960’s you may regard whales as sweet majical creatures who play under rainbows, but seeing them unexpectedly in the wild may shake this perception. Humpbacks will swim right up to small boats and look at them with their all-too-human eyes. Their skin is usually barnacled, stone-like, and lumpy. Their heads are difficult to understand, especially since only parts of them are visible at a time. People unfamiliar with the concept of baileen could easily imagine fangs, hair, or feathers.
This ancient whale depiction actually makes sense when compared to a long-dead whale. The skull has a beak-like shape and two holes easy to mistake for blowholes. Whale carcasses can also look like they would have long whiskers or manes, as in this picture.
Humpback whales can be very scary when you’re not sure what you’re seeing.
Oarfish: These are long, primitive, serpentine fish with red manes and creepy faces. They wouldn’t be well known in ancient times because they usually spend their time in deep water. The ones that come to the surface or get beached are sick, dying, or dead. Fish that look weird and creepy in life can become far more strange looking when they decompose, bloat, and small scavengers eat their fins, eyes, and jaws.
No danger to humans you say? You stay in the water then, I’m leaving.
Grazing sharks: There are many types of sharks that have filled the same evolutionary niche as baileen whales. They run enourmous amounts of water through their mouths and strain out the tiny creatures therein. They are enormous and scary looking creatures. Since their prey is nearly microscopic, they pose no threat to humans but that fact wouldn’t be obvious to anyone who came across one in the wild. Whale sharks and basking sharks belong to this mysterious group of giant sea creatures. Some marine biologists have said that phosphourescent sea life will live inside the basking sharks gaping mouth. A mouth full of glowing specks…really. When a huge animal like this dies, decomposes, and gets picked on by smaller scavengers, their carcasses can take on truly strange appearances.
another real animal that looks made up: The basking shark.
Beaked Whales: These animals are rarely seen by people. From a distance they might resemble giant dolphins, but they really aren’t. The males have all different kinds of weird tusks that look like horns on the skulls. Horns on sea monsters don’t seem like such an ignorant fabrication when you see how many dead sea mammals would appear as if they had horns.
I’ve also found a lot of actual photographs of these things from the wild where they appear to have even stranger things coming out of their heads. It could be a sea cucumber sticking out on two sides of their oger-esque underbite, or some kind of coral growing on the face, but it bears an uncanny resemblance to many classical sea monster depictions.
I’d like to add to this chapter on sea monsters by stating that strange and magnificent beasts have always been seen in the ocean because the ocean is full of strange and magnificent beasts. No scientific explanation of diet and feeding habits could convince me that huge whales, oarfish, and whalesharks aren’t scary and mysterious. Even more mundane creatures like sealions can seem truly outlandish when they pop upnext to a small boat and stare at you questioningly. The world really is majic, and it really is full of mythical beasts. This fact has been scientifically verified.