Monday, October 21, 2013

Sea Serpents Abound....

In two separate instances within the last month, giant sea creatures have washed ashore in California. See for a description of the latest occurrence. Scientists are puzzled with the spate of strandings of giant oarfish, a species that usually spends its time in the water at depths of hundreds of meters.

The picture seen above was obtained from Wikimedia Commons and was originally taken near San Diego in 1996 and shows a 23-foot long specimen of an oarfish being held aloft by a group of U.S Navy sailors.

This drawing of "Banks's Oarfish" appeared in an 1877 book entitled "History of Fishes of the British Isles" and appears online courtesy of the University of Washington Libraries' Digital Collections. Notice the hair-like frill that runs along the back of the fish.

When Captain Peter M'Quhae of HMS DAEDALUS first spotted a sea serpent to starboard in August of 1848, he was very analytical in his description of the creature. It passed close enough to the ship that M'Quhae stated that if it was a human acquaintance, "I should have easily recognized his features with the naked eye." He continued in his report that, "The diameter of the serpent was about fifteen or sixteen inches in diameter behind the head....It had no fins, but something like the mane of a horse, or rather a bunch of seaweed, washed about its back." The painting below is one of two in the collection at Mystic Seaport of Captain M'Quhae's sea serpent. An engraving almost exactly representing this image appeared in the Illustrated London News in October of that year. Whether the newspaper image came first or the painting (which was purchased for the Museum in Scotland in 1960), is unknown, but M'Quhae's description of the size of the creature and the "mane" that appeared on its back is oddly similar to that of the oarfish. 

Mystic Seaport Museum. Accession number 1960.207

The current events in California have caused quite a stir as evidenced by the national media coverage. No less a commotion was in evidence in the autumn of 1848 in London. Was the good Captain's sea serpent an unknown, undiscovered relic of ages past or was it a lost visitor from the deep in the guise of an oarfish, which have been reported to grow as long as fifty feet? Unfortunately, we can only speculate.

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