Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
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The following is a list of alleged sea serpent sightings reported from the Arctic Ocean, the waters at the North Pole, and its marginal seas.

Poul Egede (Greenland, 1734)

Main article: Egede's sea serpent

Pastor Bing's original drawing of the "most dreadful monster" of Greenland (Public Domain).

A classic sea serpent sighting, accompanied by an eyewitness drawing which has been redrawn several times,[1] was made by pioneer missionaries in western Greenland in 1734. However, the correct description and identity of this animal is highly controversial, due in part to uncertainties regarding translation, and the accuracy of the drawing. The sighting was made by young missionaries Poul Egede (1708 – 1789) and Andreas Bing around the rim of the Arctic Circle, during a voyage to Disko Bay, but, although Poul Egede penned two descriptions, the best-known account was published by his father, Hans Egede (1686 – 1758).[2] The elder Egede did not indicate who the witness was, and it was long believed, incorrectly, that he himself had seen the animal.[3] All accounts agree that the "sea dragon" raised itself out of the water to the height of the ship's yardarm and spouted vapour, displaying a long and pointed snout, broad flippers, rough or wrinkled skin, and a long tail, which Bing's drawing depicted as pointed. According to one of Poul Egede's accounts, it was afterwards seen to surface several times while swimming away from the ship.[2]

Charles Paxton has famously argued that Egede's sea monster was a known species of whale, possibly a grey whale, in a state of arousal, with the pointed tail being the whale's usually-unseen penis.[2] This theory is widely, but not universally, accepted,[4] and alternative known animals proposed to explain the sighting include include a giant squid (Architeuthus dux)[5] and an entangled basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus).[6] The Egede sighting was an important, foundational report of Bernard Heuvelmans' super-otter type,[7] which he believed to be a cetacean close to the early ambulocetids, remingtonocetids, or protocetids, explaining the apparent tapering tail, distinct neck, and paw-like flippers.[8] However, Lars Thomas argues that Egede's description does not fit the type's profile, suggesting instead that this sea serpent could have been a somewhat more "advanced" whale related to Basilosaurus,[9] a theory also supported by Karl Shuker regarding the super-otter type itself.[3]

North Cape (Before 1820)

During his travels through Scandinavia in 1820, Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke (1791 – 1858) collected accounts of sea serpents or sjøorms at every settlement he visited on the Norwegian coast; the men he hired to pilot his boat at the island of Leka, experienced fishermen, told him of a sighting they had made off the North Cape, in northern Magerøya. The fishermen's account was written down by Brooke "as they related it, without the least variation."[10] Heuvelmans classified the serpent as a super-otter.[8]

During the time they remained there they saw the serpent twice, once at no very great distance from them. It was of a grey colour; the head blackish, with teeth. What they discerned of it they judged to be at least five times the length of their boat, which is about thirty feet. It moved in large folds on the water; and when they saw it, they rowed away from it as fast as they could. The weather was very calm at the time.

Ersvika (1894)

According to the Oslo press, a sea serpent allegedly appeared off the fishing village of Erviken, on Seiland Island opposite Hammerfest, during an exceptionally hot July in 1894, "blockading" the settlement for a whole day. Seven fishermen observed it, too afraid to put out to sea and sail to Hammerfest to seek help from the whalers. They later described it as 180' long, with a rounded body showing multiple coils, no visible fins, and a pointed barrel-sized head. Its skin was dark yellow, and seemed to be smooth. After the animal left, swimming very rapidly, it was seen again later in the same day by three boats from Hammerfest. Heuvelmans classified this short-necked animal as a possible super-otter.[8][11]

E. R. Eliassen (Ingøy, 1910)

The Ingøy sea serpent, by Monique Watteau after eyewitness E. R. Eliassen.

E. R. Eliassen, a schoolteacher from Ingøy, a sparsely populated fishing village on the north coast of Ingøya Island, wrote to the Oslo press in 1934 to recall a sighting of a long-necked sea serpent he had made decades before. His publicisation of the sighting, complete with a sketch of what he saw, so many years later was inspired by recent press accounts of the Loch Ness monster in Scotland.[8]

According to Eliassen, he had seen the animal while fishing off Ingøy with his father, during the summer of around 1910. Both men noticed an animal with a long neck and hump rise out of the water around fifty yards away.[12][8]

A long neck, with a small head on it, rose 5–or possibly even 6–feet above the water. Behind the neck was a long hump, of about the same length. Astern of this the body was submgered for a short distance, but then rose again in the form of a larger hump–suggesting that those portions of it which remained hidden under the surface must be of great size.

Eliassen's father hauled in the fishing lines and quickly rowed away for around a hundred yards; in the meantime, the animal submerged, then resurfaced just a few yards away from their boat.[8]

Meanwhile, the creature had calmly submerged, and the sea was again as smooth as before. I should add that we had not observed it to have any forward motion–nor did we see it make any movement, except a slight deflection of its head ... It moved its head in much the same way as a duck does when swimming, and then turned it towards us, as if it had just noticed our presence. Immediately afterwards, it submerged again–without, however, showing any sign of alarm.

According to Heuvelmans, the comparison of the animal's head movement to that of a duck indicates that it was a vertical undulator, and therefore a mammal. He classified it as a longneck, which he believed to be a giant giraffe-necked seal or sea lion.[8]

Johan Hjort (Barents Sea, Before 1961)

In 1961, marine biologist Finn Devold (1902 – 1977) appeared on a BBC Radio debate regarding sea serpents, in which he recounted a sighting he had once made onboard the Johan Hjort, which was exploring the Barents Sea under Captain Sume. The ship had just returned to the North Cape and was travelling east, when Devold noticed an object, which he felt sure had been a living animal, standing above the sea. Heuvelmans classified it as an "ambiguous periscope," which could be a longneck or a super-eel.[8]

It looked like something standing up from the sea about a yard above the surface. I pointed at it and told Mr. Sune; 'What is that?' And when he discovered it he told the wheelman to turn the ship against it, and we moved against this obstacle about 200 metres and it sank down in the sea again, and when we arrived at the place we could see nothing.
We were discussing what this was and it had a thickness of about 20 centimetres I believe, and the height above the sea was about one yard. And it couldn't be a seal because I have seen so many seals before that time, and a seal has a shape like a bottle of champagne or something like that, and this was an even thickness from the head down to the sea board. I have never been sure of what we saw but it looks like a living creature ... it might be a piece of wood, but if it was we should have discovered it later.

German Burkov (Northern Sea Route, 1965)

Soviet polar explorer German Burkov (1928 – 2014) recalled a sea serpent sighting he had made in his memoirs, Listaya Staryye Al'bomy (2008). In 1965, he travelled to Canada from European Russia to take up a foreign post for the Murmansk Shipping Company, sailing along the Northern Sea Route. During the voyage, on a clear day some two hundred miles from the coast, he and others allegedly saw a giraffe-shaped animal rise out of the sea while they stood on the bridge.[13]

Suddenly, in front of the ship, a little to the left, about a cable line's distance, a huge head on a long neck appears out of the water, resembling the silhouette of a giraffe; it turns to us and stares intently. Everyone on the bridge, too, is holding their breath and looking at the head floating alongside. When it is astern, it quietly disappears under the water.

Notes and references

  1. Oudemans, A. C. (1892) The Great Sea-Serpent: An Historical and Critical Treatise
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Paxton, Charles et. al. "Cetaceans, Sex and Sea Serpents: An Analysis of the Egede Accounts of a 'Most Dreadful Monster' Seen off the Coast of Greenland in 1734," Archives of Natural History, Vol. 32, No. 1 (2005)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Shuker, Karl P. N. (2016) Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot?, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616463908
  4. Woodley, Michael (2008) In the Wake of Bernard Heuvelmans: An Introduction to the History and Future of Sea Serpent Classification, CFZ Press, ISBN 978-1905723201
  5. Lee, Henry (1884) Sea Monsters Unmasked
  6. France, Robert L. (2021) Ethnozoology of Egede's 'Most Dreadful Monster,' the Foundational Sea Serpent, Contributions in Ethnobiology
  7. Coleman, Loren & Huyghe, Patrick (2003) The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep, TarcherPerigree, ISBN 978-1585422524
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Heuvelmans, Bernard (1968) In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents, Hart-Davis, ISBN 9780246643124
  9. Thomas, Lars "No Super-Otter After All?," Fortean Studies, Vol. 3 (1996)
  10. Brooke, Arthur de Capell (1823) Travels through Sweden, Norway, and Finmark to the North Cape
  11. "Söorm Nordpaa," Aftenposten (16 September 1894)
  12. Eliassen, E. R. "Letter," Tidens Tegn (21 January 1934)
  13. Burkov, German (2008) Listaya Staryye Al'bomy
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