The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

47. A sufficient residuum of sea-serpents

Readers contemplating a sea voyage may be reassured by the accompanying figures from the article SEA-SERPENT by W. E. Holmes, M.A., of the "Challenger" Expedition Office. Figure 2 is (Admiral?) Bing's drawing of the sea-serpent reported by the "well-known missionary to Greenland" Hans Egede ; figure 3 shows how a squid rearing out of the water and spouting a jet of water could easiy be mistaken for the same.

Mr Holmes' article, complete with numerous footnotes referencing a wide selection noted journals and publications, offers nine explanations for the sea-serpent phenomena. Seven of these rely upon the observer mistaking some other creature for a giant aquatic worm (porpoises, basking sharks, a flight of sea-fowl skimming the surface, ribbon fish, sea-lions, sea weed, our friend the giant squid), options eight and nine are more intriguing.
"(8) A pleiosaurus, or some other of the huge marine reptiles usually believed to be extinct, might certainly have produced the phenomena described, granting the possibility of one having survived to the present time. Newman and Gosse have both supported this theory, the former citing as evidence in its favour the report of a creature with the body of an alligator, a long neck, and four paddles having been seen by Captain Hope of H.M.S. "Fly" in the Gulf of California. (9) No satisfactory explanation has yet been given of certain descriptions of the sea-serpent ; among others of this class may be mentioned the huge snake seen by certain of the crew of the "Pauline" in the South Atlantic Ocean, which was coiled twice round a large sperm whale, and then towered up many feet into the air, and finally dragged the whale to the bottom. Perhaps the most remarkable, however, is Lieutenant Hayne's account of a creature seen from H.M. yacht "Osborne." Two different aspects were recorded,-the first being a ridge, 30 feet in length, of triangular fins, each rising 5 to 6 feet above the water, while the second view showed a large round head 6 feet in diameter, with huge flappers, which moved like those of a turtle. It would thus appear that, while, with very few exceptions, all the so-called "sea-serpents" can be explained by reference to some well-known animal or other natural object, there is still a residuum sufficient to prevent modern zoologists from denying the possibility that some such creature may after all exist."

1 comment:

Adam James Nall said...

Very interesting stuff. It's amazing the mythical creatures man can create out at sea.