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List of sea serpent sightings in the Atlantic Ocean (1770-1816) >>

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The following is a list of alleged and circumstantial sea serpent sightings reported from the Atlantic Ocean and most of its marginal seas before 1770, including the span of time identified by Bernard Heuvelmans as the Scandinavian Period (1522 - 1769).[1]

Golden Hind (Newfoundland, 1583)

During the final North Atlantic voyage of Sir Humphrey Gilbert (~1539 – 1583), a tusked, lion-like sea monster was reportedly seen by the crews of the Golden Hind and Squirrel, including Gilbert himself, on 31 August 1583, when the fleet, then off Newfoundland, changed course and returned to England. Gilbert perished during the return voyage, and it was left to Edward Hayes, owner of the Golden Hind and chronicler of the journey, to describe the encounter.

At which very instant, even in winding about, there passed along between us and towards the land which we now forsook a very lion to our seeming, in shape, hair, and colour, not swimming after the manner of a beast by moving of his feet, but rather sliding upon the water with his whole body, excepting the legs, in sight, neither yet diving under, and again rising above the water, as the manner is of whales, dolphins, tunnies, porpoises, and all other fish: but confidently showing himself above water without hiding: notwithstanding, we presented ourselves in open view and gesture to amaze him, as all creatures will be commonly at a sudden gaze and sight of men. Thus he passed along turning his head to and fro, yawing and gaping wide, with ugly demonstration of long teeth, and glaring eyes; and to bid us a farewell, coming right against the Hind, he sent forth a horrible voice, roaring or bellowing as doth a lion, which spectacle we all beheld so far as we were able to discern the same, as men prone to wonder at every strange thing, as this doubtless was, to see a lion in the ocean sea, or fish in shape of a lion. What opinion others had thereof, and chiefly the General himself, I forbear to deliver: but he took it for bonum omen, rejoicing that he was to war against such an enemy, if it were the devil.

Gilbert's "sea lion" is usually identified as a walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), which was once common on the coasts of Newfoundland.[2][3] However, Gilbert, who regarded the sea monster as an omen, was familiar with walruses, having penned one of the earliest English descriptions of this pinniped as a "beast as bigge as [the bison], which hath 2 teethe like an elyfante and liveth most in the Sea".[4] Richard Perry argues that the "lion" may have been a juvenile walrus, which could have been distinct enough in appearance to prevent Gilbert from recognising it.[5]

Donmouth Estuary (1635)

The Aberdeen historian John Spalding, who wrote the Scottish annal History of the Troubles and Memorable Transactions in Scotland, recorded that a dog-headed monster with four limbs, a tail, and a mane of hair entered the River Don in June 1635, remaining around the bridge at Aberdeen, less than half a mile upriver from the Donmouth Estuary, for two days before it disappeared.[6] When sightings of the Loch Ness monster began to be reported in 1933, Spalding's account was published in the Scottish press, with the suggestion of some connection between the two animals.[7][8]

In the month of June there was seen in the river of Don a monster having a head like a great mastiff dog, and hand, arms, and paps like a man, and the paps seemed to be white: it had hair on the head, and its hinder parts was seen sometimes above the water, which seemed clubbish, short-legged, and short-footed, with a tail.
This monster was seen body-like swimming above and beneath the bridge, without any fear. The town's people of both Aberdeens, came out in great multitudes to see this monster: some threw stones, some shot guns and pistols, and the salmon fishers rowed cables with nets to catch it, but all in vain. It never sinked nor feared, but would duck under water, snorting and bullering, terrible to the hearers.
It remained two days and was seen no more; but it appears this monster came for no good token to noble Aberdeen, for sore was the same oppressed with great troubles that fell in the land.

Cape Ann (Before 1639)

During his travels through 17th Century British America during 1739, the writer John Josselyn heard from a party of New Englanders that a "Sea-Serpent or Snake" had been seen at Cape Ann, near the city of Gloucester, at the northern limit of Massachusetts Bay in what was then Massachusetts Bay Colony. This is the first known reference to a sea serpent being observed in New England.[1] Josselyn published two separate version of the account, in his works New England's Rarities (1671) and An Account of the Voyages to New England (1674), which differ mainly in spelling and syntax.

At this time we had some neighboring Gentlemen in our house who came to welcome me into the Countrey; where amongst variety of discourse they told me ... of a Sea-Serpent or Snake, that lay quoiled up like a Cable upon a Rock at Cape-Ann; a Boat passing by with English aboard, and two Indians, they would have shot the Serpent, but the Indians dissuaded them, saying, that if he were not kill'd outright, they would be all in danger of their lives.

The accuracy of Josselyn's hearsay account has been questioned, because the description of the sea serpent as being "quoiled up like a Cable" is regarded as being unrealistically serpentine. Despite their name, sea serpents are not often described as moving like snakes, and reports of sea serpents seen coiled up are very rare. Later, more reliable sightings indicate that the snake-shaped sea serpents of Massachusetts Bay undulated with vertical flexures of the spine, like mammals, in which case it would be impossible for an individual to coil itself up horizontally like a true snake.[9]

Lynn (Before 1641)

This section is about a suspected hoax
A significant portion of researchers who have investigated this sighting have supported the notion that it may be a hoax, but this may not be proven or universally accepted.

Another early sighting of a sea serpent in New England was recorded by Obadiah Turner, whose diaries were published posthumously. According to Turner, writing on 5 September 1641, an enormous "serpent" had been seen by beachcombers off the coast of Lynn, bordering Massachusetts Bay, which has its own shoreline divided between Lynn Harbour and Nahant Bay.[10] However, the authenticity of the Turner diaries has been questioned, with some antiquarians regarding them as late-19th Century forgeries.[11]

Some being on ye great beache gathering of clams and seaweed wch had been cast thereon by ye mightie storm did spy a most wonderful serpent a shorte way off from ye shore. He was as big round in ye thickest part as a wine pipe; and they do affirm that he was fifteen fathoms or more in length. A most wonderful tale. But ye witnesses be credible, and it would be of no account to them to tell an untrue tale. Wee have likewise heard yt Cape Ann ye people have seene a monster like unto this, which did there come out of ye sea and code himself upon ye land mch to ye terror of them yt did see him.

Norway (Before 1666)

German scholar Adam Ölschläger (1599 – 1671), when at Gottorp in northern Germany, heard an early hearsay account of a Scandinavian sea serpent. A Swedish nobleman told Ölschläger that he had received a sighting report from the Burgomaster of Malmö, also in Sweden, who claimed to have seen a serpent with a great number of loops while on the Norwegian coast, overlooking the North Sea. Ölschläger described the sighting in his 1666 catalogue of the Holstein-Gottorp cabinet.[12] Heuvelmans cautiously classified this sea serpent as a super-otter.[1]

A person of distinction [nobleman] from Sweden, related here at Gottorf, that he had heard the burgomaster of Malmoe, a very worthy man, say, that as he was once standing on the top of a high hill towards the North sea, he saw in the water, which was very calm, a Snake, which appeared at that distance to be as thick as a pipe of wine, and had 25 folds. Those kind of Snakes only appear at certain times, and in calm weather.

Dramsfjord (1687)

Norwegian cleric and historian Jonas Danilssønn Ramus (1649 – 1718) recorded in his Nori Regnum (1689) that a sea serpent had been seen in the Dramsfjorden by a number of people in 1687. This many-looped sea serpent, classified by Heuvelmans as a possible super-otter, was supposedly observed stretching and straightening itself out.[1]

Anno 1687, a large Sea-snake was seen by many people in Dramsfiorden; and at one time by eleven persons together. It was in very calm weather; and so soon as the sun appeared, and the wind blew a little, it shot away just like a coiled cable, that is suddenly thrown out by the sailors; and they observed that it was some time in stretching out its many folds.

Lofoten Archipelago (1697)

According to the 18th Century European polymath and traveller Johann Georg Keyssler (1693 – 1743), an unnamed Norwegian reverend who in 1697 visited the Lofoten Archipelago, in Arctic latitudes off northern Norway, was told of an enormous sea serpent which was seen near Lødingen and the Vestfjorden three years previously, during the long polar summer.[13]

In the year 1700 a reverend ecclesiastic being upon his stated visitation, the people of Lofot acquainted him, that, in the year 1697, a like sea monster passed along their coasts towards Westforden, Lodingen, Senien and other parts, and that they had several times sight of it. Some have looked upon this as a fiction, but above twenty, I may say a hundred, good witnesses are living, who all agree, that they actually saw this vast monster for three weeks together, near Altvigen and Senien, in the middle of summer, when there's a continual light, the sun never setting; and the same credible inhabitants affirm of its length, that it reached from the river Erwig to Bagnaas church, near Altwige.

Kobbervig (1720)

One of Pontoppidan's informants, Thorlack Thorlacksen of Kobbervig, one of the few informants whose sighting was given a date, claimed that a sea serpent had appeared in a shallow inlet for a week in 1720, leaving behind a shed skin after returning to the sea.[12]

Thorlack Thorlacksen has told me that in 1720 a sea-serpent had been shut up a whole week in a little inlet, into which it came by high tide through a narrow entrance of seven or eight fathoms deep, and that eight days afterwards, when it had left the inlet, a skin of a snake or serpent was found. One end of the skin had enturely sunk into the water of the inlet, and no one could guess how long it was, the inlet in which the skin partly lay, being several fathoms deep. The other end of this skin was washed ashore by the current, where everybody could see it; apparently it could not be used, for it consisted of a soft, slimy mass. Thorlacksen was a native of the harbour of Kobbervueg.

Heuvelmans, who did not attempt to classify this sea serpent, argued that the supposed skin probably had nothing to do with the sea serpent which appeared at the same time, suggesting that it could actually have been the skin of a giant squid.[1]

Dagfind Korsbeck (Sundmöre, 1744)

According to a miscellaneous story related by Pontoppidan, sometimes thought to be relevant to the sea serpent mystery, a Dagfind Korsbeck caught and released a "monstrous Fish," compared by Pontoppidan to an armadillo, at Sundmoer in 1744.[12] According to Professor E. Sivertsen of Trondheim, this locality is the modern Sundmöre on the Sunnylvsfjorden, one of the inner branches of the larger Storfjorden.[14]

Anno 1744 one Dagfind Korsbeck catched, in the parish of Sundelvems on Sundmoer, a monstrous Fish, which many people saw at his house. It's head was almost like the head of a cat; it had four paws, no tail, and about the body was a hard shell, like a Lobster's: it purred like a cat, and when they put a stick to it, it would snap at it. The peasants look'd upon it as a Trold, or ominous Fish, and were afraid to keep it; and, consequently, a few hours after they threw it into the sea again. According to the description, this might be called a Sea-Armadilla, by which name an American Land-animal is known, nearly of the same shape, excepting that it has a long tail.

Heuvelmans, who was the first to comment on this overlooked anecdote, regarded the animal as "mysterious and difficult to place zoologically," lamenting the fact that its size was unstated, but classified it as a possible super-otter.[1] Dutch zoologist L. D. Brongersma, who believed that many sea serpents could be leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), argues that Korsbeck's animal may have been of this species, explaining the cat-like purring as the audible breath of the turtle, and suggesting that the absence of a tail is not a problem if the turtle was female.[14]

Lorenz von Ferry (Julnæsset, 1746)

An imagined depiction of the Lorenz von Ferry sighting by James Hope Stewart (Public Domain).

During his investigations, Pontoppidan met the Royal Commander and Pilot-General of Bergen, Captain Lorenz von Ferry, who told him that he had always doubted the existence of the sea serpent, until encountering, and firing on, a specimen in 1746, near Julnæsset in the Romsdalsfjord. Pontoppidan wished that his account should be validated by a court, and as Ferry could not be present, he sent a written statement describing the sighting, alongside two of his sailors, Nicholas Pedersen Kopper, and Nicholas Nicholsen Anglewigen, to the public court of justice at Bergen, under Procurator Johann Reutz.[12]

The latter end of August, in the year 1746, as I was on a voyage, on my return from Trundhiem, on a very calm and hot day, having a mind to put in at Molde, it happened that when we were arrived with my vessel within six English miles of the aforesaid Molde, being at a place called Jule-Næss, as I was reading in a book, I heard a kind of a murmuring voice from amongst the men at the oars, who were eight in number, and observed that the man at the helm kept off from the land. Upon this I inquired what was the matter, and was informed that there was a sea-snake before us. I then ordered the man at the helm to keep to the land again, and to come up with this creature of which I had heard so many stories.
Though the fellows were under some apprehension, they were obliged to obey my orders. In the meantime the sea-snake passed by us, and we were obliged to tack the vessel about in order to get nearer to it. As the snake swam faster than we could row, I took my gun, that was ready charged, and fired at it; on this he immediately plunged under the water. We rowed to the place where it sunk down (which in the calm might be easily observed) and lay upon our oars, thinking it would come up again to the surface; however it did not. Where the snake plunged down, the water appeared thick and red; perhaps some of the shot might wound it, the distance being very little.
The head of this snake, which it held more than two feet above the surface of the water, resembled that of a horse. It was of a greyish colour, and the mouth was quite black, and very large. It had black eyes, and a long white mane, that hung down from the neck to the surface of the water. Besides the head and neck, we saw seven or eight folds, or coils, of this snake, which were very thick, and as far as we could guess there was about a fathom distance between each fold. I related this affair in a certain company, where there was a person of distinction present who desired that I would communicate to him an authentic detail of all that happened; and for this reason two of my sailors, who were present at the same time and place where I saw this monster, namely, Nicholas Pedersen Kopper, and Nicholas Nicholsen Anglewigen, shall appear in court, to declare on oath the truth of every particular herein set forth; and I desire the favour of an attested copy of the said descriptions.

Kopper and Anglewigen then swore that the story was true before Procurator Reutz, and Ferry's statement was signed as witnessed by Chief Advocate A. C. Dass and Recorder H. C. Gartner.[15] This is the classic Norwegian sea serpent sighting, and Ferry's description of the animal soon passed into tradition.[1]

The Ferry account was regarded as the most reliable sea serpent sighting of the Scandinavian Period by Heuvelmans, who classified it as either a super-otter, due to the many bends in its body, or a merhorse, due to its mane; this was not the only Norwegian account to see an overlap between the two types. However, Heuvelmans erred towards the super-otter identity, arguing that the odd, white mane described by Ferry was really sea-foam clinging to the animal's neck.[1]

Intrepid (Broad Bay, 1751)

In a letter written to politician Alden Bradford (1765 – 1843) which was later published in the American Journal of Science and Arts in 1820, sea serpent witness Captain George Little (1754 – 1809) recalled that Joseph Kent of the Intrepid[1] had also seen a sea serpent in Broad Bay, Maine, in 1751.[16]

A monster of the above description [a gigantic black snake] was seen in the same place, by Joseph Kent, of Marshfield, 1751. Kent said he was longer and larger than the main boom of his sloop, which was 85 tons. He had a fair opportunity of viewing him, as he saw it within ten or twelve yards of his sloop.

Sundsland (Before 1753)

In an account which he relegated to a footnote, one of Pontoppidan's informants, a fisherman from Sundsland, reported seeing a seal-like sea monster which, as Heuvelmans notes, was similar to Egede's sea serpent (1734); enormous in size, with seal-like forequarters and a long, tapering tail.[12]

A fisherman at Sundsland, two miles from Bergen, told me he had once seen a much more surprising Sea-monster close to his boat; having just taken a view of the fishing-boat, it dived under the water immediately. This was not unlike a Sea-calf [seal] as to the fore-part, and had furred skin. The body was as broad and big as a vessel of 50 lasts burthen; and the tail, which seemed to be about six fathoms long, was quite small [slender], and pointed at the end.

Pontoppidan did not consider this animal to be a sea serpent, but Heuvelmans regarded the account as an important super-otter sighting, to be examined in tandem with Egede's very similar "sea dragon". In view of its furred coat, the fisherman's sea serpent must have been a mammal, and, not being a whale, was more like a giant seal or otter. However, no known seal has a long, tapering tail, and though otters do possess such tails, no known otter approaches the size reported by the fisherman. However, seal and otter identities are still supported, by Philippe Coudray and Michael Woodley, respectively.[17][18] Heuvelmans, on the other hand, argued that the super-otter was likely a form of "primitive" cetacean, more like its amphibious ancestors than any modern whale: a descendent of the ambulocetids, remingtonocetids, or protocetids, which has retained a coat of fur and a tapering tail.[1]

Benstrup (Norway, Before 1753)

A Governor Benstrup claimed to have seen a sea serpent identical to that reported by Lorenz von Ferry, "a few years" before Pontoppidan's investigation. He made a sketch of the animal which Pontoppidan was unable to acquire, but fellow clergyman and zoologist Hans Strøm (1726 – 1797) was able to make a copy of the sketch for him.[12] Strøm's drawing was subsequently copied and redrawn by several later authors.[15] Based on the original copy, Heuvelmans estimated that Benstrup's sea serpent was around fifty feet long, and classified it as a super-otter.[1]

Hans Strøm's copy of Benstrup's sketch (Public Domain).

Reutz and Tuchsen (Herøy, Before 1753)

Two others among Pontoppidan's informants, Messrs Reutz and Tuchsen of Herøy in Sunnmøre, who claimed to have seen sea serpents during their boat journeys to the local church, recognised the Benstrup-Strøm sketch as resembling the sea serpent they were familiar with. Tuchsen also provided a rare description of the sea serpent's tail to Pontoppidan,[12] on which basis Heuvelmans classified this as a super-otter account.[1]

Mr. Tuchsen of Herroe ... is the only person, of the many correspondents I have, that informs me he has observed the difference between the body and the tail of this creature as to thickness.
It appears that this creature does not, like the Eel of Land-snake, taper gradually to a point, but the body, which looks to be as big as two hogsheads, grows remarkably small at once just where the tail begins.

Sunnmøre (Before 1753)

Pontoppidan, writing in 1753, related a rumour that a large marine "serpent" or "snake," with four legs, had been caught recently by the peasants of Sunnmøre, but had been able to return to the sea when the peasants fled. Pontoppidan did not find the rumour entirely reliable, nor did he think the animal involved was a sea serpent – presumably on account of its limbs – as he relegated it to a footnote.[12]

There is a report, but not altogether to be depended upon, that some peasants at Sundmoer have catched a Snake lately in a net, which was three fathoms long, and had four legs: this must somewhat resemble a Crocodile. The peasants ran away frightened, and left the Snake to do the same.

Heuvelmans believed that the animal described was a young super-otter, a type distinguished by its serpentine body, four limbs, and tail. This was one of the few types of sea serpent in the Heuvelmans system which would be perfectly capable of moving on land, and therefore of returning to the sea like the peasants' "snake".[1]

Bergen (Before 1769)

Naval officer Sir Charles Douglas (1727 – 1789), making investigations regarding hydrography off Lapland in 1769, interviewed local people on the kraken and the sea serpent, finding that, while none believed in the former, several people believed in, or claimed sightings of, the latter. In particular, a Norwegian captain summoned by a local Danish missionary told Douglas that he had twice seen sea serpents off Bergen.[19]

He said, that about six years before, he had seen three of them at once off Bergen, floating upon the surface of the sea, twelve parts of the back of the largest appearing above water; each part being in length about six feet, with the intervals of the same length, so that upon the whole he judged the animal could not be less than twenty-five fathoms long, and about one in thickness. He did not pretend to ascertain the dimensions of the other two, further than their being smaller than the one thus imperfectly described, and added, that four years before he saw those last, he had (near the same coast) seen a large one, but could say nothing particular as to its size. What degree of credit is due to this man’s account, I submit to the judgement of the learned Society.

Notes and references

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Heuvelmans, Bernard (1968) In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents, Hart-Davis, ISBN 9780246643124
  2. Gosling, William Gilbert (1911) The Life of Sir Humphrey Gilbert: England's First Empire Builder
  3. Bolster, W. Jeffrey (2012) The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail
  4. Probasco, Nathan "Researching North America: Sir Humphrey Gilbert's 1583 Expedition and a Reexamination of Early Modern English Colonization in the North Atlantic World," Dissertations, Theses, & Student Research, Department of History, No. 56 (2013)
  5. Perry, Richard (1968) The World of the Walrus
  6. Spalding, John (1792) History of the Troubles and Memorable Transactions in Scotland, Vol. 2
  7. Leatham, James "Fearsome Monster Seen Swimming in the Don," Aberdeen Press and Journal (20 December 1933)
  8. Watson, Roland (27 November 2017) A Scottish Sea Serpent From 1635 lochnessmystery.blogspot.com [Accessed 30 November 2021]
  9. Soini, Wayne (2010) Gloucester's Sea Serpent, Arcadia Publishing, ISBN 9781614232339
  10. O'Neill, J. P. (1999) The Great New England Sea Serpent: An Account of Unknown Creatures Sighted by Many Respectable Persons Between 1638 and the Present Day, Down East Books, ISBN 9780892724611
  11. Whiting, John Roger Scott, "The Rev. Samuel Whiting, 1597-1679," The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 123, No. 161 (July 1969)
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 Pontoppidan, Erik (1753) Det Første Forsøg paa Norges Naturlige Historie
  13. Keyssler, Johann Georg (1740) Neueste Reisen durch Deutschland, Böhmen, Ungarn, die Schweiz, Italien und Lothringen
  14. 14.0 14.1 Brongersma, L. D. "European Atlantic Turtles," Zoölogische Verhandelingen, Vol. 121 (1972)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Oudemans, A. C. (1892) The Great Sea-Serpent: An Historical and Critical Treatise
  16. Bigelow, Jacob "Documents and Remarks Respecting the Sea Serpent," American Journal of Science and Arts, Vol. 2 (1820)
  17. Coudray, Philippe (2009) Guide des Animaux Cachés, Editions du Mont, ISBN 978-2915652383
  18. 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
  19. Douglas, Charles "An Account of the Result of Some Attempts Made to Ascertain the Temperature of the Sea in Great Depths, Near the Coasts of Lapland and Norway, as Also Some Anecdotes, Collected in the Former," Philosophical Transactions, Vol. 60 (1771)