The map of Europe 500 years ago looks better than it is now: not only the sea, land, mountains and rivers are marked on the map, but there are also many pictures. People and beasts are painted on the land, and ships and fish in the sea-this is not ordinary fish, but Water monster. This kind of water monster was a “fashion” at the time, and it often appeared on classical sculptures in European tourist attractions.

Various water monsters appearing on a famous map of Northern Europe in the mid-16th century

Water monster trivia: Are there really water monsters in the deep sea?
Water monster trivia: Are there really water monsters in the deep sea?

The water monsters in Chinese myths and legends are different from those in Europe. From the dragon king to the shrimp soldiers and crabs, most of them are the personification of freshwater animals in rivers and lakes. Most European water monsters come from the rumors of sailors. The most exciting is the deep sea monster: some have lion-like heads and glowing eyes, and some look like the overseas version of the Chinese “dragon”. If you want to compare which legend is the most, it is probably the super giant octopus and the so-called “sea snake”.

Since the 13th century, it has been said that there is a huge monster called “Kraken” in the deep waters of the Norwegian Sea. It rises to the surface occasionally. When it is not moving, it resembles an island. The huge waves caused by moving will overturn the boat, and sometimes it will catch the whole boat. “Kraken” refers to the giant octopus, which appears in various legends and sci-fi works, and Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Miles Under the Sea” is no exception. There are indeed huge cephalopods in the deep sea, including octopus and squid, but so far, the largest squid that has been discovered is 14 meters long, and the largest octopus is only 7 meters long, which is far from the legend of “Kraken”. Myths and legends, of course, are mostly wind-driven and far-fetched. For example, the rapids and bubbles caused by the sudden volcanic activity on the seabed in Iceland are also said to be “sea monsters” appearing; some “seen” giant sea monsters are actually whale corpses. Or floating piles of seaweed.

There is also a type of “sea monsters” which refers to giant “sea snakes”. In the 18th century, it is said that a “sea snake” that was taller than the mast and longer than the hull appeared in the Greenland Sea. In ancient Nordic legends, the “sea snake” was so big that it was mistaken for a series of islands. In fact, it is often the emperor hairtail that is mistaken for “sea snake”-a deep-water bony fish that lives in warm seas at a depth of more than one thousand meters. The longest record is 17 meters. However, it cannot be said that the legendary “sea snakes” are all king hairtails, because we know too little about deep-sea creatures to rule out that there are longer and larger animals in the deep sea. The monitoring device set up by the United States in the Pacific Ocean once found powerful and strange sound waves. It is not known whether it came from marine animals larger than whales or from natural phenomena such as sea ice collapse.

European sea monster legends come from navigation. Due to the mystery of the deep sea, sometimes the boundary between science and myth is not clear. For example, when Lin Nai established the biological nomenclature in the 18th century, he took the scientific name for “Kraken” and classified it as a cephalopod, but it was later cancelled. At the end of the 19th century, dozens of tons of “sea monster” bodies were found on the coast of Florida. Later analysis proved nothing more than a pile of whale fat.

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