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Updated: April 02, 2022

Why do people see Sea Monsters?

The open ocean can be a terrifying place. Miles from shore on storm-tossed seas, with nothing but water in all directions including straight down a sailor or fisherman cannot help but wonder what lurks in the depths. When the oceans were still unexplored, these fears often took the form of imaginary monsters.

Many sea monsters include features from living animals. A large tentacle becomes part of a monstrous sea serpent or many-armed kraken: The eye sees a fragment, the mind fills in the rest. A blend of tall tales, mistaken identity, and resonant cultural symbols, stories of sea monsters often reveal more about the minds of the imaginers than they do about the natural world.

"It was a giant squid twenty-five feet long. It was heading toward the Nautilus, swimming backward very fast.... We could clearly make out the 250 suckers lining the inside of its tentacles, some of which fastened onto the glass panel of the lounge. The monster's mouth a horny beak like that of a parakeet opened and closed vertically.... What a whim of nature! A bird's beak in a mollusk!"

Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870

The mythical kraken may be the largest sea monster ever imagined. Some stories described it as more than 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) around with arms as large as ship's masts. Perhaps based on sightings of giant squid tentacles, this multi-armed monster rarely attacked humans, preferring to stay in deep water where it feasted on fish. The chief dangers came from being too close when it surfaced or too close when it sank, as a boat could be sucked down in the whirlpool created when it submerged.

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