sea monster with many arms.
from 12th century Norwegian myths.
legends hold the the creature was the size of an island
(over a mile across).
it that the creature was able to pull a large sailing
ship underwater with its arms.
a real creature in the book Systema Naturae written
a kraken attacked a ship off the coast of Angola in the
17th century (pictured above).
be based on a real creature, the giant
Probably no legendary
sea monster was as horrifying as the Kraken. According to stories
this huge, many armed, creature could reach as high as the top
of a sailing ship's main mast. A kraken would attack a ship
by wrapping their arms around the hull and capsizing it. The
crew would drown or be eaten by the monster. What's amazing
about the kraken stories is that, of all the sea monster tales
we have, we have the best evidence that this creature was based
on something real.
Tales of a huge,
many armed, headed or horned sea creatures exist from ancient
times. The Greek legend of the Scylla, a monster with six heads
that Odysseus must sail past during his travels, is an example
of this tradition. In 1555 Olaus Magnus wrote of a sea creature
with "sharp and long Horns round about, like a Tree root up
by the Roots: They are ten or twelve cubits long, very black,
and with huge eyes..."
Although the term
kraken is first found in print in Systema Naturae (Carolus Linnaeus
- 1735), stories about this monster seem to date back to twelfth
century Norway. These tales often refer to a creature so big
that it is mistaken for an island or series of islands. Even
as late as 1752, when the Bishop of Bergen, Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidan,
wrote his The Natural History of Norway he described the kraken
as "incontestably the largest Sea monster in the world" with
a width of one and a half miles. The Bishop also noted that
the animal had starfish type protuberances: "It seems these
are the creature's arms, and, it is said, if they were to lay
hold of the largest man-of-war, they would pull it down to the
bottom." Despite this Pontoppidan says that the most danger
the kraken represented to ships came from the disturbance it
made as it came to the surface or whirlpool as created as it
descended below. Because fish were attracted to the vicinity
of the kraken, he also notes, Norwegian fishermen would often
fish over the creature, despise the risk to their ship and their
Kraken stories bring the creature down to a smaller, but still
monstrous, size. Though early descriptions of the animal give
a more crab-like appearance, by the 18th century it started
showing up in drawings as a giant, many armed cephalopod (like
an octopus or squid). In 1802 the French scientist Pierre Denys
de Montfort stated in his book on the natural history of mollusks
that the creature encountered by Norwegian sailors was the kracken
octopus. Montfort even suggested that there was even a larger
type of octopus than this, the colossal octopus that had been
known to attack sailing vessels.
The Kraken of legend
is probably what we know today as the giant
squid. While a colossal octopus might also fit the description,
the squid is thought to be much more aggressive and more likely
to come to the surface where it might be seen by man. Though
giant squids are considerably less then a mile and a half across,
some are thought to be large enough to wrestle with a whale.
On at least three
occasions in the 1930's they reportedly attacked a ship. While
the squids got the worst of these encounters when they slid
into the ship's propellers, the fact that they attacked at all
shows that it is possible for these creatures to mistake a vessel
for a whale.
Could a large squid,
say a hundred feet long and weighing two or three tons, attack
a small ship by accident and capsize it? Given that some ocean
crossing vessels at the time were very small (for example, Columbus's
Pinta was only 60 feet in length), it certainly seems a possibility.
Allegedly this is what occurred to sailing ship of the coast
of Angola in the 17th century and the incident inspired the
drawing at the top of the page.
Copyright Lee Krystek 1996-2006.