Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
Niuhi HQ

Niuhi carving by Juan Tepano (1934) at the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels.

Proposed scientific names
Other names Nuihi
Sea reported Pacific Ocean
First reported 1926
Prominent investigators • John Macmillan Brown
Willy Ley

The niuhi was a sea serpent-like cryptid reported from the Pacific Ocean around Easter Island, the Marquesas Islands, and Isla Salas y Gómez, in Polynesia. The term is used throughout Polynesia to refer to various marine animals, usually sharks, but the cryptozoological niuhi is described as a large, predatory marine mammal or reptile with long arms bearing clawed "hands".[1]


Accounts of the niuhi were collected by academic John Macmillan Brown during his time on Easter Island. He acknowledged that the animal had never been mentioned in any previous sources, and was initially "extremely sceptical" for that reason, but he confirmed the description through aggressive cross-questioning of informants. Although none of the European inhabitants of the island had previously heard of the animal, subsequent questioning of islanders by them further confirmed the description.[1]


Niuhi is a generic term used throughout Polynesia to refer to large and usually dangerous marine animals, typically sharks, including great white sharks, tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, giant sharks, whale sharks, whales, porpoises, and seals.


Orongo animal

An unknown animal depicted in rock art from Orongo, identified by Brown as a possible niuhi.

According to Brown's informants, the niuhi is approximately 30 ft (9 m) long and very broadly-built, with smooth dark blue skin. Its head is wide, with a long upper jaw projecting beyond the lower, full of sharp teeth. Its most distinguishing characteristic is its arms, which are at least 4 ft (1 m 20 cm) in length, and bear "claws or hands". The niuhi's arms are allegedly kept drawn up behind its neck during swimming, but during hunting, niuhis reach out towards their prey, using their arms to enfold them and draw them into their jaws.[1]

Niuhis are said to hunt in pairs, and prey mainly on fish. Like sharks, sea turtles, and rays, niuhis are reportedly followed by small shoals of pilot fish (Naucrates ductor).[1]


Brown collected several sightings, although many appeared to be tall tales, and he received a number of stories concerning people who were supposedly swallowed and regurgitated by niuhis. Other reports were more prosaic, and the islanders claimed that they had captured and killed young niuhis in the past. An islander named Noe, who died while Brown was on the island, was said to have been attacked by two niuhis while crabbing at Apina. In a bay near Mataveri, another man named Uriheheu had been grabbed by the leg and dragged into the sea by a niuhi, but was rescued by people on the shore when a second niuhi squabbled with the first.[1]

Brown's original informant claimed that he had seen a niuhi while fishing with friends near Motu Nui. He had hooked a yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), which he discovered was being pursued by a niuhi with its arms outstretched; the niuhi swallowed the fish as he was reeling it, but held its course, eventually surfacing near the boat. The fishermen drove it off by beating its head with their oars. The same man told Brown that he had seen another niuhi off Easter Island itself, while standing on the shore with a small group. The setting sun cast their shadows on the sea, prompting a niuhi to approach and snap at the shadows.[1]


Brown described the niuhi as a marine mammal, although he also believed it could possibly be a marine reptile. He maintained that it was not a shark or a whale.[1] Annick Poussart identifies a 1934 niuhi carving at the at the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire in Brussels as a leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx),[2] which are known to wander north to Easter Island. Leopard seals which enter river systems in New Zealand are sometimes described as reptilian water monsters.[3][4] Willy Ley connected the niuhi with the moka-moka, a turtle-like sea monster reported on one occassion from Australia's Great Barrier Reef.[5] However, due to anatomical impossibilites and internal inconsistencies pointed out by Bernard Heuvelmans, the moka-moka is widely regarded as a hoax.[6][7]

See also[]

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Brown, John Macmillan (1926) The Riddle of the Pacific
  2. Poussart, Annick (2010) Easter Island: An Epic Voyage
  3. Hector, James "Notes on the Southern Seals," Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Vol. 25 (1893)
  4. Colenso, William "Memorabilia of Certain Animal Prodigies, Native and Foreign, Ancient and Modern," Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. 25 (1895)
  5. Ley, Willy (1948) The Lungfish, the Dodo, and the Unicorn: An Excursion into Romantic Zoology, Viking Press
  6. Heuvelmans, Bernard (1968) In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents, Hart-Davis, ISBN 9780246643124
  7. Smith, Malcolm (2021) Bunyips and Bigfoots: Up-Dated Second Edition, ASIN B08VYDC728