Here There Be Water Cryptids?

An Exploration into the Myths and Reality of Dracontology
By: Shelley Spaulding

I. Abstract

The study of hidden aquatic creatures or Dracontology has its roots in history, mythology and religion. Although the field itself is recent, its roots can be traced back to early Greek civilizations and Christianity. Ancients used stories of sea monsters to explain why things were as they were. Dracontology is prevalent in mythology of all cultures and many of the stories are still told today. In modern times, interest in unknown creatures is more academic as explorers try to uncover new species. New mythical creatures have arisen in modern times, such as the Loch Ness Monster, which leads some people to create hoaxes. As long as new species continue to be discovered, man will continue to believe in sea creatures.

Keywords: Cryptozoology, Mythology, Marine Cryptids

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Carta Marina By Olaus Magnus, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


II. Introduction

Throughout time, there has been a belief in monsters. Societies created myths about them, religions honored yet feared them, and today communities boast of being the homes of them. In ancient times, these creatures were feared because they were unknown, in modern times these creatures are sought out to prove that there are still mysteries in the world. This new view of monsters has led to the creation of a new field known as Cryptozoology. Cryptozoology is the study of hidden animals (Coleman & Clark, 1999). “The word Cryptozoology was coined by Bernard Heuvelmans in the late 1950’s” (Eberhart, 2002). However, it first appeared in print in 1959 in Géographie Cynégétique du Monde, written by Lucien Blancou, the Chief Game Inspector of French Overseas Territories (Eberhart, 2002). There are two different types of animals studied in Cryptozoology, land animals and aquatic animals. The study of Marine Cryptids (hidden aquatic animals) is affectionately referred to as Dracontology. This chapter explores the hidden world under the water, and aims to understand the history, mythology, modern beliefs of Marine Cryptids. It will also examine the skeptical side of Dracontology.

III. History

Though the field of Cryptozoology is a recent development, most timelines start around 1812, the belief that mysterious creatures live has existed since ancient times. In every culture and every religion, there is reference to unknown animals, from unicorns to the Biblical story of the Leviathan who swallowed Jonah whole. In ancient times, Cryptozoology was not as it is today. Instead of looking for hidden creatures, explorers would document new species never even imagined. The focus was on foreign beasts. Aristotle, a noted Greek philosopher, created a classification system to categorize all the new species discovered in other lands. Among the new creatures found in other lands there were still those creatures never documented such as the chimera, unicorn, and dragon, among others. Though never documented there was a wide spread belief that these beasts existed. However, even in Aristotle’s time there were skeptics who claimed that these creatures were figments of imagination, misidentification, or exaggerations of encounters with known animals. For example, ‘in the first century BC, Lucretius explained centaurs and other hybrid creatures as optical illusions and tricks of the mind” (Dendle, 2006).


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Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle,By Michel Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In the fourth and fifth centuries AD, the Christian religion documented stories of saints who fought monsters in Ireland and Scotland. The most famous of these saints is Saint Patrick. Legend says that St. Patrick banished a monster known as Caoránach into the waters of Lough Derg (Monaghan, 2004). Around the seventh or eighth century AD, Liber Monstrorum was written. This was a medieval bestiary or catalog of mystical beasts. The author(s) admit at the beginning of the manuscript that many of the creatures catalogued are more than likely fictional stating,
"Only some things in the marvels themselves are believed to be true, and there are countless things which if anyone could take winged flight to explore, they would prove that, although they should be concocted in speech and rumour, where there is said to lie a golden city and gem-strewn shores, one would see there rocks and a stony city, if at all" (Orchard, 2003). Another manuscript from around this time was Beowulf, which had such an impact that cryptozoologists still list Grendel as a Cryptid.






Modern Cryptozoology starts around the early 1800’s. Around this time, it was thought that there were no unexplored lands and therefore all animals had been discovered. In 1812, Baron Georges Cuvier boldly claimed, “there is little hope of discovering new species of large quadrupeds” (Heuvelsmans, 1995). Six years later the Indian Tapir was discovered.
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Tapirus indicus, Zoological Garden, Stuttgart, Germany, By Fritz Geller-Grimm, own work, via Wikimedia Commons
Since that time over 200 species of animals have been discovered, mostly in unpopulated areas that are difficult to traverse. In fact, in 2009, a team of scientists traveled to Papua New Guinea. During their research, they discovered over 200 animals, mostly insects, however, there were several mammals and birds that were also discovered (Bergen, 2010).
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Preserved specimen of chalumnae (coelacanth), by Alberto Fernandez Fernandez, own work, via Wikimedia Commons
It needs to be noted that not only are new species being discovered, but also species that were considered extinct. In 1938, the first modern Coelacanth was discovered in a fishing net off the coast of South Africa. This species of fish was thought to have died out around the time of the dinosaurs (Coleman & Clark, 1999).





IV. Mythology

One of the most important aspects of Dracontology is cultural mythologies. As mentioned earlier, every culture has stories about mysterious creatures, however, only a few have had such a huge impact on modern cultural beliefs. The largest impact came from the Ancient Greek Civilization. This is followed by the Norsemen and the Celtic mythologies. Ancient China and Japan have also had a large impact on modern cultural beliefs.

A. Ancient Greek Mythology

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The Athenian Empire at it's Height, By Unknown Artist, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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Heracles fighting the Lernaean Hydra. Caeretan black-figure hydria, ca. 525 BC, By Wolfgang Sauber (photographer), own work, via Wikimedia Commons
The ancient Greek civilization can be traced back to the Neolithic period, c. 6000 BC and ended c. 146 BC, after being conquered by the ancient Romans. During this time, the Greeks followed the pagan religion, which is now known as Greek mythology. Within this mythology, many monsters were created by the gods, either through breeding with humans or through cursing humans. One of the most famous monsters from this religion is the Lernaean Hydra. The Hydra was a serpent-like monster with nine heads. The child of two monsters, Echidna (mother of all monsters) and Typhon, the Hydra was raised by Hera to destroy Heracles (Hercules). Heracles was set the task of destroying the Hydra, in order to make amends for the slaying of his family during a madness imposed on him by Hera. The task itself was difficult in that every time Heracles removed one of the heads two more replaced it. The only way to kill the Hydra was to prevent it from sprouting more heads. This was done by burning the neck stump after one head was removed, eventually killing the monster. (March, 2008).




Another creature that has permeated modern culture from this time is the Nerieds and Oceanids, water nymphs. According to the legends, Oceanids were the children of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys. The most well known Oceanid was Doris, who was mated with Nereus and gave him fifty daughters known as the Nereids. Of the Nereids, the most famous is Amphitrite who was married to Poseidon, god of the Sea (March, 2008). Though little is told about the Oceanids and Nerieds, they have still survived and are still mentioned as possible Cryptids.

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Sea thiasos for the wedding of Poseidon and Amphitrite, 2nd half of the 2nd century BC, By Bibi Saint-Pol (photographer), own work, via Wikimedia Commons


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The Siren Vase, By Goren Lord (photographer), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
There is another type of mythological creature that has remained, the Sirens. These creatures are commonly thought of as mermaids in today’s society, yet during the time of Alexander the Great they were described as half-female half-bird (Eberhart, 2002). The most well-known reference to the Sirens comes from Homer’s The Odyssey, a tale about the travels of Odysseus who is trying to return home after the Trojan War. During his 10 year journey, he encounters many strange creatures including the Sirens. Though no physical description of the Sirens is given, Homer describes the Sirens as temptresses who lure men to deaths with the Sirens’ Song. Homer writes of the warning Odysseus is given about the Sirens, "whoso draws near unwarned and hears the Sirens’ voice, by him no wife nor little child shall ever stand, glad at his coming home; for the Sirens cast a spell of penetrating song, sitting within a meadow. Nearby is a great heap of rotting human bones; fragments of skin are shriveling upon them" (Homer, trans. 1999). Odysseus’ encounter with the Sirens was short, but their goal was clear: send men to their doom by using their Siren Song to drive them to the cliffs of the island.


Scylla. Detail from side A from a Boeotian red-figure bell-crater, 450–425 BC, By Jastrow (photographer), via Wikimedia Commons
Scylla. Detail from side A from a Boeotian red-figure bell-crater, 450–425 BC, By Jastrow (photographer), via Wikimedia Commons
This was not the last water monster Odysseus would encounter during his travels. After the Sirens’ island, Odysseus and his crew came to a water channel. Here he had to decide which side to travel on. The difficulty with this decision was that on either side of the channel was a monster. According to some scholars, the two monsters were daughters of Poseidon. The monster known as Scylla was described by Homer as “twelve feet she has, and all misshapen; six necks, exceedingly long; on each a frightful head; in these three rows of teeth, stout and close-set, fraught with dark death” (Homer, trans. 1999). On the other side of the channel lived Charybdis, who was described as a “giant whirlpool that three times a day swallowed the black water, and three times a day spit it back out” (Rosenberg, 1994). Many believe that the term stuck between a rock and a hard place originated from trapped between Scylla and Charybdis.





B. Norse Mythology

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Septentrionalivm regionvm descriptio, By Abraham Ortelius, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

North of Greece there lived a culture whose religion was also full of mythical beasts. The Norsemen, or Vikings, settled in the area of Scandinavia around 1000 BC (“Timeline of Scandinavian History”, 2010). Around this time, they began developing a belief system that was completely different from their neighbors’ to the south. Due to the harsh living conditions the Norse religion centered on warrior gods and the imminent destruction of those gods. As such, many of the monsters were more horrible than could be imagined since they were able to contribute to the annihilation of the Norse gods.

Jörmungandr was one of these monsters. Jörmungandr was also known as the Midgard Serpent. He was the offspring of Loki, the trickster god, and Angrboda, an ogress, and brother to Fenrir, the wolf, and Hel, goddess of death. Though Loki tried to hide his offspring from the other gods, they soon became too large and Odin noticed them. Odin feared the siblings and set out get rid of them. Fenrir he chained to a large rock, Hel he cast into the depths of Niflheim, or the land of the dead. Jörmungandr was cast “into the sea where he attained such immense proportions that at last he encircled the earth and could bite his own tail” (Guerber, 1992). This was not the end of Jörmungandr, for his destiny was intertwined with the gods. The Norse myths talk about Ragnarokk, or the Twilight of the Gods. This was the time of their destruction, and Jörmungandr played a part. At this time all the monsters, giants, and Loki joined together to fight the Aesir, the main gods who dwelled in Asgard. During the battle Jörmungandr was fighting Thor, the god of thunder, and Odin’s son. Jörmungandr was defeated by Thor, but not before poisoning his enemy, thus ending the life of Thor (Ingri & D’aulaire. 1967).
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Uppland Rune Inscription 1161, Altuna stone, By Olof Ekström (photographer), own work, via Wikimedia Commons

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Uppland Rune Inscription 1161, Altuna stone (photoshopped), By Achird (photographer), own work, via Wikimedia Commons



Another creature of Norse mythology was known as Fafnir, or the Linworm. Fafnir was the son a dwarf magician. He was
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Upplands Runinskrift 871, By Mceder (photographer), own work, via Wikimedia Commons
a dwarf, but out of greed changed into a dragon. Fafnir had two brothers, Otter and Regin. One day Odin and Loki paid a visit to Fafnir’s father, Hreidmar. Outside the home, Loki spotted an otter basking in the sun and killed him for dinner. The otter was Hreidmar’s second son, Otter who had the ability to change form. As compensation, and ransom, the gods were forced to pay Hreidmar in enough gold and gems as to cover the skin of Otter inside and out. However, the continued to grow until a vast amount of treasure had been accumulated, including a ring that was cursed and that would bring pain, misery, and death to the possessor. Fafnir and Regin began to covet the gold, which their father would not share. Fafnir killed his father and banished Regin. To protect his hoard, Fafnir changed into a dragon. Regin, still coveting the gold sought dragon slayer, Sigurd, to kill his brother. Fafnir was slain, but reports of a Linworm still surface in modern day culture.






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An illustration of the ogre Grendel from Beowulf, By J. R. Skelton, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Around 1000 AD an epic poem was written lauding the conquests of a great hero. That hero was Beowulf. Though this poem was written around the time Christianity was becoming the chosen religion, Beowulf still had its ties to the Norse religion. Beowulf’s first battle was with the monster Grendel. In Norse mythology, Grendel was a sea giant (Guerber, 1992). In Beowulf Grendel was a man-eating monster that terrorized the Danes until he was killed by Beowulf (Beowulf, trans.1999). In Christian tradition, Grendel was tied to a character from the Bible. He was descended from Cain, the son of Adam, and slayer of his brother Able. Grendel lived with his mother under a lake in southern Sweden. Grendel is still reported to be seen today in that area.







C. Celtic Mythology

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Map of the British Isles including Ireland, By Abraham Ortelius, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

To the west of Norsemen lived another warrior culture that emerged around 1200 -1100 BC (“Prehistoric Timeline”, 2000). This culture came to be known as the Celts. Like the Norsemen, their living conditions were difficult and their religious beliefs revolved around this. Though little is known about the early development of this religion, there has been documentation from other societies about the core of the Celtic beliefs. Many believe that the Celts worshipped the forces of nature. The beliefs of the Celts varied from location to location, such that some Celts in the North had different names for the gods than those in the South. What is known is that due to the location of the culture, and its topography, many of the Celtic myths had aquatic creatures featured in them.

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Clonfert Mermaid, By Trounce (photographer), own work, via Wikimedia Commons
Probably the most notable creature in Celtic myths is the Merrow, or Merfolk. Merfolk are described as half-human, half-fish, and live in the sea. Interestingly, many cultures tied sightings of merfolk to the coming of storms, and therefore believed that they controlled the weather at sea (Greer, 2006). However, in the British Isles merfolk were revered rather than feared. Some scholars state that the Irish sea-god Manannán mac Lir was a merman, or could shift into one. The merrow gained more popularity in the Middle Ages, especially in Ireland. Legend states that in 558 AD a mermaid was caught in a fisherman’s net, baptized, and then died. After her death a shrine was built at Teo-da-Beoc, and miracles were said to have occurred there (Greer, 2006). To this day merfolk are reported as being sighted all over the world.




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The Selkie, by Unknown Artist, via monstropedia.com
Another legend is the Scottish Selkie. According to legend, a Selkie is a mysterious creature who looks like a seal, but can shed its skin and become human. The most well-known tale is the Scottish ballad The Great Selkie o’ Suleskerry. This ballad tells of a maiden who falls in love with a selkie, unbeknownst to her, and bears his child. The selkie disappears for seven years and then returns in seal-form to tell the woman what he is then disappears again. Seven years later, he returns, and their son joins him in the sea. The lady soon marries a hunter, who one day kills two seals, and brings them home. The wife realizes that the seals were her lover and her son, due to a gold necklace found on the younger seal, that was a gift to the son from his father (“The Great Selkie”, n.d.).


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Dobhar-chú, by Unknown Artist, via monstropedia.com
Another, less well-known legend is that of Dobhar-chú. Dobhar-chú is described as an otter like animal of Ireland (Eberhart, 2002). This creature is feared and the very sight of him can cost a person his or her life (Coleman & Clark, 1999). The legend was immortalized when a ballad was sung about a woman who was killed by the Dobhar-chú. This event took place in 1722, and the woman who was killed was named Grace, her last name may be Connolly. Giving credence to the legend is the image on Grace’s tombstone that of an otter, run through with a spear (Coleman & Clark, 1999).




V. Ancient China

The Da Ming Hun Yi Tu (Great Ming Dynasty Amalagamated Map), By Unknown, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Da Ming Hun Yi Tu (Great Ming Dynasty Amalagamated Map), By Unknown, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
To the east, there existed a culture that has influenced the field of Dracontology; Ancient China, which is stated to have dated back to 12,000 BC. Though we usually associate China with the introduction of many different inventions that are still in use today, gunpowder, paper, and mathematics (“Timeline of Chinese Inventions,” n.d.); the Ancient Chinese gave us one creature that still exists today, even if it is only in our imaginations, the dragon. Unlike European dragons, Chinese dragons are water-dwellers. This creature is so important to the study of hidden aquatic animals that the field was named after it; Dracontology, or the study of Dragons.

The Nine Dragons (partial), By Chen Rong, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Nine Dragons (partial), By Chen Rong, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Dragons were so important in Ancient China that five of their dynasties were that of the Five Dragons (MacKenzie, 2010). The leaders of the dynasties were known as the Five Dragon Kings and the each represented one of the five natural elements, earth, wood, water, fire, and metal (MacKenzie, 2010). Other sources claim there were only four Dragon Kings, and that they represented each of the four seas, those of the east, south, west, and north (“Dragon Kings,” 2009). The Dragon Kings not only reigned over the seas but also controlled the weather.


Another aspect of the Asian dragon that differs from the European dragon is that the Asian dragon is revered not feared. Dragons of Ancient China were thought of as auspicious. This belief remains today, so much so that when the sportswear company Nike created a commercial that had LeBron James, a popular basketball player, slaying a Chinese dragon the Chinese government banned it from being shown in their country (Robertson, 2004).

VI. Marine Cryptids in Modern Times

In modern times, Cryptozoology and Dracontology are very popular studies. When searching for the term “Cryptozoology” in Google around 3,130,000 results are shown. There are over one hundred books that have Cryptids as the subject. In 2002, George M. Eberhart wrote a two-volume encyclopedia of Cryptids called Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. There are over 1,050 entries in this guide. Of those, over 800 are marine Cryptids. Some of the most famous are the Bunyip, the Kraken, Lagarfljotsormurinn, Nessie, Mokele-Mbembe, and Storsjöodjuret.

A. The Bunyip

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Aboriginal Myths - The Bunyip, By Macfarlane, J, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons








The Bunyip is a marine Cryptids from Australia. This creature is said to haunt water-holes. According to Eberhart, there are two main descriptions of the animal: a seal-like dog and a long-necked creature with a small head (Eberhart, 2002). The Bunyip is said to be aggressive and Aborigines claim to be so frightened when they hear its call that they refuse to go near the water source (Carroll, 2009). Although the Bunyip has not been reported in recent years, it is still considered a Cryptids. According to Eberhart, the last significant sighting was in 1965 (Eberhart, 2002). Curiously, while the term originated from the Aboriginal vocabulary, the most recent sightings were reported by White settlers. The reason for this may be that in the Aboriginal belief system, the Bunyip was not a living creature, but rather an evil spirit and the term was adopted by the White settlers to describe creatures they were unfamiliar with. Some possible explanations include Australian Fur Seals, The Musk Duck, and the Saltwater Crocodile (Eberhart, 2002).

B. The Kraken

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The Legend of The Kraken, By Pierre Denys de Montfort, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Kraken re-emerged as a famous contender for most famous Cryptid when Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest hit theaters in 2006. In the movie, a monster was summoned by Davy Jones to sink ships. The Kraken, however, has been around for much longer than that. It is a mythological creature native to Iceland and the Scandinavian Peninsula. The Kraken is described as a giant Cephalopod that dwells in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Eberhart, 2002). It measures around 33 feet and weighs about 440 pounds (“Giant Squid”, 2010).


Today the Kraken is not just legend, but a real animal. Scientists have listed many different known cephalopods as the potential Kraken, but the most likely candidate is the Giant Squid. However, the Giant Squid is just as elusive as the Kraken. The only documented sightings of the Giant Squid are of corpses that wash ashore. The first photographic evidence of a living Giant Squid in its natural habitat was taken in 2005 (Owen, 2005). Since then the Giant has also been captured on video.

C. Lagarfljotsormurinn


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Sea Serpent, By Olaus Magnus, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Another creature that comes from the Icelandic region is Lagarfljotsormurinn, or the Lagarfljót Worm. This creature is a sea serpent that lives in the Lagarfljót Lake in Iceland. It has been spotted since 1345 (Eberhart, 2002) and was recently featured on Destination Truth, a show that researches Cryptids. Lagarfljotsormurinn is said to be 46 feet long and have one large hump. Possible explanations for the many sightings of this creature include large bubbles of methane gas welling up from the bottom of the lake, eels, and mats of leaves and other plant matter brought together by strong river currents (Eberhart, 2002).

D. The Loch Ness Monster/Nessie

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Loch Ness Monster, By Heikenwaelder Hugo (artist), own work, via Wikimedia Commons
Possibly the most famous Cryptids aside from Big Foot is Nessie, the sea serpent that resides in Loch Ness in Scotland. Numerous reported sightings have been documented, describing the creature as 10-45 feet long, having a 4-8 foot long neck, 5-6 foot long tail, and 1-3 humps. It is said to be gray or sandy colored, and have flippers instead of legs and feet (Eberhart, 2002). Proponents of the Loch Ness Monster claim that it could be a Plesiosaur, a marine reptile that is said to have died out with the dinosaurs.

The first mention of the Loch Ness Monster is in 565 AD. At that time a Christian missionary “drove away a certain water monster" in the River Ness (Shine, 2000). The missionary was the future Saint Columba. The next significant sighting was not until 1871 when “D. MacKenzie of Balhain spotted an object like an overturned boat churning water and moving across the Loch from Aldourie” (Eberhart, 2002). There were a few more sightings in the next 60 years, and then in 1933 a rash of sightings was being reported.

In 1933, a road was being expanded near the Loch. During the expansion, trees and other objects such as rocks were removed leaving the Loch visible from the road (Coleman & Clark, 1999). Around this time, more and more reports came in about a “monster” in or around the lake. The first sighting took place in March of 1933, and was reported by Hohn Mackay and his wife. They described seeing a commotion in the water and then a large, black body with two humps that seemed to be swimming with a forward rolling motion (Eberhart, 2002). There were two other significant sightings that year: November 12, which produced the first photograph of the creature, and December 12, which produced the first supposed film.

In 1934, two major events occurred. The first occurred on April 12, when Lt. Col. R. Kenneth Wilson produced the notorious “Surgeon’s photo” of the Loch Ness Monster. This was considered to be one of the best pieces of evidence proving the creature’s existence, but in the 1990’s it was claimed that the picture was a fake. It was supposedly a picture of a toy being propelled by a tin submarine. The hoax was allegedly perpetrated by Christian Spurling and Marmaduke A. Wetherell (Eberhart, 2002). The second major event was the naming of the monster. In 1934, the Loch Ness Monster became known as Nessie, and has been affectionately called that since.

The reports continued to flood in and in 1936 “as many as fifty people watched an animal with a small head, long neck, and two black humps for thirteen minutes” (Eberhart, 2002). Sightings of the creatures have died down in the last decade, with only two sightings being reported in 2009 (“Loch Ness Sightings", 2000). Many state that this may be due to people becoming more skeptical (Carroll, 2009).

In 2003, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) stated that they had proven that Nessie did not exist. Their reasoning behind this was that they had surveyed the Loch “using 600 separate sonar beams and satellite navigation technology to ensure that none of the loch was missed and found no proof that Nessie exists” (“BBC ‘Proves’ Nessie", 2003). The only problem with the BBC’s claim is that it is impossible to prove something does not exist, they can only claim that they found no evidence to support the existence of Nessie.

E. The Oklahoma Octopus




F. Mokele-Mbembe

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Mokele-Mbembe Attack, by Unknown Artist, via Monstropedia.com




Another creature that is said to be a throwback to the dinosaurs is Mokele-Mbembe, which means “one that stops the rivers” (Norman, 2007). This creature is said to resemble a Sauropod dinosaur. It is described as the size of an elephant or larger, has a long, flexible neck, serpentine head, and long, muscular tail (Eberhart, 2002). Mokele-Mbembe lives in the jungles of central Africa, and is aquatic. According to legend, it is said to kill hippopotamuses and elephants.

There have been numerous sightings of the Mokele-Mbembe. The earliest mention of the creature was in the mid-eighteenth century, when French missionaries discovered claw tracks about 3 feet in circumference and 7-8 feet apart (Eberhart, 2002). Sightings continue today, leading to many television show expeditions including Destination Truth, MonsterQuest, and National Geographic. No findings were made during the filming of these shows.

G. Storsjöodjuret


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Sea Orm, by Olaus Magnus, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Storsjöodjuret is a lake serpent that resides in the Storsjön lake in Sweden. She is described as 10-45 foot long serpent with shiny green or gray skin, a horse like head with a long, white mane, large, dark eyes, an 8-10 foot neck, multiple humps, and two pairs of stumpy legs or fins (Eberhart, 2002). The earliest mention of the creature is from 1635, and is a mythological tale. According the tale, “two trolls were boiling water in a kettle at the shores of the lake. When the kettle had been boiling for many years, noises of moan and squeak came from the kettle followed by a big bang. A peculiar animal with black snakelike body and a cat shaped head jumped out of the kettle and disappeared into the depths of The Great Lake. The beast felt content in the lake and grew to an enormous proportion and put fear into humans as it showed itself. Finally it had grown so long it reached around the island Frösön and was able to bite its own tail” (“Storsjoodjuret,” n.d.).

This tale is similar to the tale of Jörmungandr, and may possible be a retelling of that myth. It is clear that during this time the residents near the lake feared Storsjöodjuret, until as legend has it “a man known as Ketil Runske bound the beast with a spell into a rune stone which was raised at Frösön” (“Storsjoodjuret,” n.d.). The stone is still in the town and is considered an archeological remain. After the binding of Storsjöodjuret, sightings stopped until the mid 1800’s. Today there is a website that allows viewers to watch webcam footage of the lake and report any sighting of the creature. According to the website, there have been over 200 sightings and over 500 witnesses since the mid 1800’s, though most occurred between 1890 and 1910. (“Storsjoodjuret,” n.d.).


VII. Possible Explanations for the Sightings

There are only three possibilities for the numerous sightings of water cryptids throughout the world. The most unlikely explanation is that people are seeing animals unknown to science. However, if we use Ockham’s Razor, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one (Carroll, 2009), then this would not be the best explanation. There are too many variables involved with the idea that these creatures exist that it does not explain the sightings simply. We must first conclude that there are animals living in the water that we do not know about, this is not difficult to do given the vastness of unexplored bodies of water. Secondly, we must define what is being seen. Very rarely is there one description of a particular cryptid given. For example the Loch Ness Monster has been “variously described as 6-125 feet long, with shapes ranging from that of a great eel to a creature with a hump or humps (up to nine), and in colors including silver, gray, blue-black, black and brown” (Radford & Nickell, 2006). Third we must examine the likelihood that, in the cases of lake creatures, that the habitat is suitable for such large creatures. Lastly, assuming that the theory that many of these creatures are survivors of the prehistoric age, we must examine the likelihood that so many creatures survived, which can be proven with existence of the Coelacanth. Given the complexity of this explanation, this leaves only two other possibilities, man-made hoaxes, and misidentification of known animals or natural events.

A. Hoaxes

It is common knowledge that when people believe in something there will always be those who prey on their beliefs. A few times, it can be harmful, such as professing to be a messiah, claiming the ability to remove cancer through psychic surgery, or even claiming to predict the date that the world will end. Most of the time, however, the actions are harmless, and in jest. There are numerous cases of hoaxes revolving around mysterious creatures. Like the “Surgeon Photo” of Nessie, these hoaxes do little more than spread the belief that something does exist, until it is proven to be a hoax. By that time, the true believers refuse to stop believing in the creature, and those that were skeptical have more evidence backing up the claim that the creature might not exist.

One famous hoax that occurred was centered on the alleged corpse of a mermaid. In the mid-1800’s a man produced, the body of what he claimed was a mermaid that was caught off the coast of Fejee (Fiji). Curiously, a well-known showman by the name of P.T. Barnum came to see the specimen and requested that the man display it in his museum. Barnum was confident the man would agree and had already created the advertisements for the event, however the man refused so Barnum gave the newspapers his engraving of a mermaid since he would not be able to showcase it himself. This built up publicity for the mermaid and the man agreed to display it at Barnum’s museum. The hoax was that the man was an accomplice of Barnum’s and the mermaid was a fake. It was constructed from the head and torso an ape and the tail of fish. To this day, this type of art is known as Fejee Mermaids.
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An advert for P.T. Barnum's "Fejee Mermaid", by P. T. Barnum, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Drawing of Actual Fejee mermaid, by Chris 73, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Another hoax occurred in Canada 1972. During that summer, a police report was made claiming that two teenage boys were attacked by a creature that emerged from Thetis Lake. From the very beginning, the story sounded suspicious. There were two accounts of the attack printed one stating that monster was “roughly triangular in shape, about five feet high, and five feet across the base”, and the other account stated that the creature was 5 feet long, three inches high” (Loxtin, 2009). The creature was also said to have scratched one of the boys, however, it was a minor scratch. The police checked into the claims made by the teens, but could not find anything due to the vagueness of the report. However, after the newspaper printed the story two more claims were made by younger teenage boys. They claimed that a creature came out of the water and it was “shaped like an ordinary body, like a human being body but it had a monster face and it was all scaly with a point sticking out of its head and great big ears” (Loxtin, 2009).

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The Creature from the Black Lagoon at the Witch's Dungeon Wax Museum in Bristol, CT, by Matthew Lupoli (photographer), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
According to Loren Coleman, the creature resembled the 1954 sci-fi horror film Creature from the Black Lagoon (Loxtin, 2009). This account was posted on Coleman blog Cryptomundo. The only differences were the ears. Already this seems like a hoax, yet the mysterious creature was dubbed a Cryptids. Interestingly, there were no other reports ever, and no one who wrote about this event ever talked to the eyewitnesses. While investigating the case, author and skeptic Daniel Loxtin researched the newspaper archives and discovered that the reason why the monster resembled a Hollywood creation may be due to the fact that a movie called Monster from the Surf aired two times within a week of the first report. Not only that but the monster in the movie looked exactly like the description made by the two younger eyewitnesses. (Loxtin, 2009). Finally, Loxtin decided to interview the eyewitnesses, and after one call discovered that, it was in fact a hoax. Not only that, but the lead perpetrator was a notorious liar in the town. (Loxtin, 2009).


B. Natural Explanations

Not every sighting can be a man-made hoax; therefore, the other explanation of sightings is just as likely. People are misidentifying what they are seeing. Research has shown numerous times that eyewitness accounts are unreliable. People are accused and convicted of crimes they could not have committed, based solely on eyewitness testimony. Why, then, is it so hard to imagine that witnesses are claiming to see things that are really something else. In Lake Monster Lookalikes, Dr. Joe Nickell examines the likelihood of lake monster sightings in Northern America. His theory is that the “sightings” are most likely Northern River Otters. To prove this theory, he compared the 1998 list of sightings and the distribution of Northern River Otters, according to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals. His conclusions were that the more sightings of lake monsters, the larger the distribution of river otters.
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Raft of River Otters, by D. Gordon E. Robertson, own work, via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Nickell’s results do not explain every sighting, however. There are many other possibilities including schools of fish, numerous other swimming animals, debris, large mammals such as cows or deer, and even natural gas and earthquakes. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), there have been an estimated 17,659 reported earthquakes over 4.5 magnitude between January and November of 2010 (USGS, 2010). During the week of November 16, 2010 and November 23, 2010, there was an estimated 75 earthquakes with epicenters underwater (USGS, 2010). If an earthquake occurs underwater, gases are usually released and the bubble up to the surface. If a person were looking at the water during a small, unnoticeable earthquake, he or she may attribute the water disturbance to an unknown animal.

Another common misidentification occurs when reports have been publicized about a creature. When a report goes out about a possible sighting, people are more apt to “see” the creature, especially if the sighting occurred near them. One account tells of a report of a small panda escaping from a zoo in the Netherlands. After the report went out, about 100 calls were made reporting the panda being spotted. These calls came from all over the Netherlands, yet the panda never left the area around the zoo, having been hit by a train that passed the zoo. (Nickell, 2007). As Nickell explains it, the witnesses were primed to the description of the panda, and in anticipation to see the animal, misidentified other animals as being the panda. He also stated that many of the reports may have been hoaxes. Nickell used this example as a way to explain how people can mistakenly think they see one thing when in fact it was something else. If we go back to the case of the Loch Ness monster, the majority of the reports occurred after 1934, after two articles were published about one sighting.

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St. Augustine Globster, by Unknown Photographer, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Many sightings of Marine Cryptids that are reported each year are of live creatures. However, there are numerous reports of remains being found of those same creatures. These remains can be bones, teeth, or even flesh. When bones and teeth are found, a hoax is usually the logical conclusion, but when flesh is found the sighting is categorized as finding a “Globster.” Globster is the term “
mysterious carcasses that originate in a watery environment” (Hall, 2006). The term was coined in 1960, by Ivan T. Sanderson when a mysterious carcass was sighted on the shore of Tasmania. It was described as “20 feet long and 18 feet wide” (Moore, n.d.), and had no discernable features. In short, it was a “glob” of flesh. For some reason this “globster” was thought to be a carcass of some unknown animal, and as such became the term for any carcass found in the water that was not instantly identifiable. The Tasmanian Globster was later identified as the partial corpse of a whale, but there have been other globsters that have been later identified as basking sharks, octopi, other whales, and even giant squid.

C. Reasons People Believe in Marine Cryptids

Given that there is little evidence to support mysterious aquatic animals, why is it that people still believe in them? There are many possibilities that need to be explored in order to answer that question. One of the major reasons is that species are still being discovered. For instance, on October 6, 2010, it was reported that over 200 species were discovered in Papua New Guinea, within a one month period, as mentioned earlier. Not only that but a ten-year research project of Marine Life was recently completed and its findings indicated that during the project over 6,000 potential new species were discovered (“Summary of First Census,” 2010). Most of the species are micro-organisms, but that is still 6,000 species we did not know existed ten years ago. Due to the vastness of Earth’s oceans and lakes it is impossible to explore every inch, therefore it is possible for creature to exist that we cannot find.

Another reason people may still believe in marine Cryptids is that personal anecdotes override scientific data. People want to hear stories not statistics. Stories leave people entertained, and allow the use of imaginations, which is discouraged by many. Statistics do not usually entertain, and as the old saying goes, 99% of all statistics are made up on the spot, though those figures vary from source to source. For instance, a person who is detailing an encounter with an animal is not likely to say the animal was 3 foot tall, stood on all fours, had gray fur, and ignored him or her; he or she will describe the animal a huge, smelly, matted fur, and ferocious looking.

Another reason is people need for the unknown. If everything we know is all there is to know then what is the point to science and exploration. The unknown gives purpose to life. For this field in particular people have a need to believe in hidden, undiscovered animals so as to assuage their guilt. This proposal is examined in the article, In Cryptozoology in the Medieval and Modern Worlds by Peter Dendle. In modern times, the idea of Cryptids represents a sense of guilt that humans are destroying the earth. If there are animals that have yet to be discovered, then the human race is not destroying the environment, especially if these animals turn out to have been classified as extinct. (Dendle, 2006). It is interesting to note that Dendle suggest that cultures in medieval times viewed Cryptids as a way to emphasize moral attitudes of the time, religious beliefs, and even tensions among social groups, to name a few (Dendle, 2006).

Lastly, people see what they want to see. Due to the way our brains process information, not all the data is analyze immediately. This cause the brain to complete the data using data that was previously obtained in similar situation. In the paranormal field, this is called matrixing. In a way, the brain is playing a trick on the person. When the brain has incomplete information, it creates images from the person’s memory, and in that instance a person can see a sea-serpent instead of a log.

VIII. Conclusion

There are many aspects involved in the Dracontology field. It is always important to know the history of the field in order to understand where the field is heading. Mythology allows researchers to understand the origins of the creature they are studying, and allows them to determine whether the creature is based purely on legend, or has a presence in the real world. It is also important to know the facts about each creature. If descriptions of the creature vary too much, or are too vague then it helps the researcher to determine the validity of the claims. It is always important to understand why people believe in these legends, and why they believe they have witnessed the creatures. However, the most important necessity to have as a researcher is a skeptical mind. If one begins researching with a mind that is too wide open, he or she will fall victim to every hoax and every trick of the mind. By being skeptical, one is distancing him or herself emotionally from the research, and avoiding bias findings. It’s good to take these accounts with a grain of salt, yet we should not be so close-minded that we fail to forget the vast amount of unexplored regions on earth. One of these “sea monsters” may exist somewhere other than on the pages of folklore.

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