The skrimsl (Old Norse: "monster" or "water monster") was a freshwater monster reported from lakes and rivers of western Iceland, including Skorradalsvatn. Described as a seal-like animal with a humped body, it has been connected with with the lagarfljótsormur, as well as with marine sea serpents.
An account of the skrimsl was published by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (1834 – 1924), who travelled in Iceland during 1862, in his book Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas (1863). The account was based mainly on information received from a party of his friends, who had investigated stories of the monster at Skorradalsvatn.
Baring-Gould wrote that a skrimsl was also believed by local fishermen to frequent the coasts of Grímsey Island, particularly the Thorskafjord. It was often seen "rocking on the surface of the water, like a large boat floating keel uppermost," and was alleged to attack and sink boats. According to Konrad Maurer, these sea creatures were also reputed to decapitate seals. The Grímsey skrimsl allegedly came ashore in 1819, leaving behind tracks. A fjorullali was later reported to have made an appearance on the Grímsey coast during the 1840s.
In his posthumous work Reise Igiennem Island (1772), the Icelandic patriot Eggert Ólafsson described reports of large aquatic animals in western Iceland's River Hvítá, based on old chronicles. The most detailed sighting occurred in 1595, near Skálholt.
"Serpents" or monsters were seen in the Hvítá again in 1636 and 1702, but these were not described in detail. Bernard Heuvelmans, associating this river animal with the Scandinavian sea serpents, particularly Hans Egede's sea serpent (1734), suggested that the "spines" could have been clumps of half-dried hair, while the short rump could have been an attempt to describe a pinniped's characteristic locomotion. However, if the animal had no tail, it could not have been identical to Egede's sea serpent, or to Heuvelmans' super-otter.
In 1862, Baring-Gould's friends interviewed a pair of farmers living by Skorradalsvatn, who claimed to have seen a skrimsl in the lake sometime in the past. One of the men took an on-the-spot sketch of the creature, an adaptation of which was featured in Baring-Gould's book.
When Baring-Gould's friends arrived at Grund, on the shores of Skorradalsvatn, in 1862, they learned that a local farmer had observed a skrimsl in the lake only the previous day. The farmer estimated its length at 46' in total, with a head and neck of 6' a body of 22', and a tail of 18'. They sent an account of the sighting to Baring-Gould, who describes it as follows.
Peter Costello, observing that the animal in the drawing is obviously a mammal similar to the seals or otters, suggests that its neck is too short for a longneck, which he regarded as the usual type of lake monster. Costello instead suggested that the skrimsl could have been a freshwater example of the super-otter (Hyperhydra egedei), which has a seal-like head, a pointed tail, and multiple bends in its body. Heuvelmans believed that the super-otter was a giant "walking whale," of the then-unknown families Ambulocetidae, Remingtonocetidae, or Protocetidae, while Michael Woodley posits that it was a giant sea otter, possibly related to the freshwater dobhar-chú.
Notes and references
- Maurer, Konrad von (1860) Isländische Volkssagen der Gegenwart: Vorwiegend Nach Mündlicher Überlieferung
- Costello, Peter (1974) In Search of Lake Monsters, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 9780698106130
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 1-57607-283-5
- Baring-Gould, Sabine (1863) Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1968) In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents, Hart-Davis, ISBN 9780246643124
- Coleman, Loren & Huyghe, Patrick (2003) The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep, TarcherPerigree, ISBN 978-1585422524
- Ólafsson, Eggert (1772) Reise Igiennem Island
- Woodley, Michael & Naish, Darren & Shanahan, Hugh P. "How Many Extant Pinniped Species Remain to be Described?," Historical Biology, Vol. 20, No. 4 (December 2008)