Sea Serpents

An old print depicting a sea serpent attack.

On August 6th, 1848, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Daedalus was cruising near the Cape of Good Hope when the Officer of Watch spotted an object in the sea. He drew the attention of the Captain and several crew members on deck to it. It was a large sea snake, or sea serpent, that they estimated to be sixty feet long, 15 inches in diameter, and moved through the sea with it's head some four feet out of the water.

Strangely enough it seemed to be able to move quickly through the water with neither vertical or horizontal undulation. The creature was dark brown, shading to yellow-white under the throat. On the back there seemed to be a seaweed-like mane. The Daedalus observed it for about twenty minutes.

In 1937 Alfred Peterson, a nurse aboard a British troopship in the China Sea, spotted what at first he thought was a big tree floating in the sea. A few minutes later he noticed it was still there, keeping pace with the ship. This peaked his interest and he took a closer look. What he saw was a 25 foot long, grey-black, body with a head shaped like a giraffe.

Tales about sea serpents have been told and retold by sailors down through the ages. Skeptics have pointed out that many of these incidents could be the result of misidentifications. A floating log, or in the case of the Daedalus, an abandoned native canoe painted like a snake. Some encounters are so close, though, that it is hard to believe someone could be mistaken:

Clyde Taylor and his daughter, Carol, were walking along the beach near the mouth of the Chester River in the Chesapeake Bay. Out in the bay they spotted a ripple moving across what was otherwise smooth, calm water. Following the ripple they spotted a creature in the water. It was black or amber in color, thirty feet long and as thick as a telephone pole. It traveled through the water with a up and down undulating motion.

"The eye looked like a serpent's eye, like a large snake eye," said Clyde. "I could see no marking on the body - it was just a long tube, like an anaconda or python. It didn't look like a fish, but like a giant serpent."

Carol Taylor got within 30 feet of the creature before it spotted her and disappeared into the water. "There was no way that it could have been someone faking something," she said, "there was no one in sight, there were no boats around, the water was only about knee-deep."

The Taylors' encounter was only one of many sightings of a sea serpent that supposedly lives in the Chesapeake Bay. Appropriately the creature has been nicknamed "Chessie."

Chessie, or the Chessies, since they have been seen in groups and differ in size, is a creature usually 30 to 40 feet in length, with a snake-like body, dark in color, having an elliptical, football-sized head. Enough reports have been filed about Chessie that Mike Frizzell, Director of Project Enigma, a study of the Chessie phenomena, was able to correlate it's appearances with motion of Bluefin fish in the area, suggesting that the serpent uses the fish as a food source.

Large groups of people have spotted Chessie. In 1980 four charter boats carrying 25 people observed a version of the creature. Chessie has also been captured on video and film, though none of these has been clear enough to be accepted as proof of the monster.

What's most remarkable about the large number of Chessie sightings is that they have been so consistent in the creatures description. One theory that has been advanced to explain Chessie is that a vessel from South America had a giant anaconda, a snake capable of living in freshwater, on board. The snake escaped and adapted to the brackish water. It would take several snakes, or a pregnant female to explain the multiple sightings, though, and an anaconda would not fair well in the cold northern winters. Other explanations, like the oarfish, have been proposed, but the color and shape of the creature seems wrong for these.

In the 1800's animals very similar to Chessie were reported to be living off the coast of New England, and particularly the port of Gloucester. The description of the creatures are so similar that some have speculated that the New England creatures migrated south to the Chesapeake Bay at the beginning of the century.

Sea Serpents have also been reported off the North American West Coast too. There have been many reports from along the Pacific coast near Vancouver of several different shaped creatures including a snake-like sea serpent. Further south more reports center around the city of San Fransico.

On November 1st, 1983, a construction crew was working on Route 1 just north of the Golden Gate Bridge near Stinson Beach. Suddenly they spotted a creature, underwater, approaching the land. They estimated the creature's length at 100 feet and it's diameter at five. Using binoculars they watched it making coils, throwing it's head about and whipping it's body around.

Two years later, in San Fransico bay, twins Robert and William Clark were sitting in a car near the sea wall. They watched two seals swimming extremely fast across the bay. Then they noticed a "large black snake-like" animal" chasing the seals. They saw that the creature moved by forming it's body into coils and wiggling up and down. The animal apparently also had small, translucent fan-like fins that acted as stabilizers.

Was this a real sea serpent? Or a more common creature, like a seal, misidentified? The descriptions do bear a resemblance to "Chessie."

One final sea serpent story. The SS Tresco was cruising 90 miles south of Cape Hatteras when Joseph Ostens Grey, the ship's Second Officer, spotted what he first thought was a derelict hulk in the water. On closer examination they realized it was no wreaked ship:

"With a conviction that grew deeper, and ever more disquieting, we came to know that this thing could be no derelict, no object that hand of man had fashioned..." reported Grey. He described a head that emerged out of water on a tall and powerful neck. It was "dragon-like" and accompanied a body some 100 feet in length and eight feet across at the widest. The head was five feet long and eighteen inches in diameter.

There was concern that the ship, running light without cargo, might be tipped and overturned if the creature attempted to clamber aboard.

"Presently I noticed something dripping from the ugly lower jaw," continued Grey, "Watching, I saw that it was saliva, of a dirty drab color, which dripped from the corners of the mouth." Eventually the creature turned away and the danger was averted.

As the years went by skeptics labeled the story, which appeared under Grey's name in The Wide World Magazine, "total fiction." That is until someone looked up the Tresco's log for Saturday 30 May 1903. It reads:

10AM Passed school of sharks followed by a huge sea monster.

The Daedalus and the Sea Serpent.

Copyright Lee Krystek, 1996. All Rights Reserved.