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Sea monsters: where did the legends about Leviathan, Kraken come from
Sea monsters: where did the legends about Leviathan, Kraken come from

Where do all these world legends about the Leviathan, the Kraken and the Jormungand snake come from, if there is nothing like it in the sea? The Norwegian oceanologist explains what could have prompted our ancestors to create such a mythology, and adds that in the depths of the world's oceans there is still a lot of unknown.

For thousands of years sailors have feared dangerous sea monsters. But who are they anyway?

“Giant cuttlefish and octopuses, washed ashore, will awaken the imagination of anyone. The carcass of a dead, decaying whale floating in the water can also look crazy and grotesque. Imagine these writhing muscle fibers without skin. It can be really scary."

So says Gro I. van der Meeren. She is a general oceanographer with an interest in sea monsters for many years.


“But from a biologist's point of view, monsters don't exist. There are only very interesting animals and phenomena,”she adds.

Hundreds of years of playing a broken phone

Leviathan, Jormungand and Kraken - like many other sea monsters in world culture - are the result of a process that resembles a game with a broken phone, which lasted hundreds of years, says van der Meeren.

“In the course of history, many marine phenomena were described by people who knew about the sea only what they saw from the shore or from the ship,” she says. - Well, then all this was invented by the land rats who received a religious education during the Enlightenment. Later, their interpretations were developed by writers and historians."

Man needs an explanation

According to van der Meeren, the images of sea monsters arose out of the human need to explain why so many sailors die and why so many ships disappear in the abyss.

“Especially in the North Sea and North Atlantic, where the waters are very harsh. Now, for example, we know that sometimes giant waves arise there, the existence of which oceanographers did not even suspect just 20 years ago. If the wind and currents are combined in a special way, they can quite suddenly create so-called killer waves - so huge that they knock out windows on oil platforms.

So the sea itself can provide food for strange sightings. And then the game starts with the damaged phone. A person comes home and talks about what he has experienced, lovers of interesting facts in the Age of Enlightenment listen to him with pleasure, and then it’s the turn of writers and poets to go crazy with this material”.

Interpretations of interpretations can become endlessly fantastic.

Notable sea monsters

The Kraken is a mythical creature from Norse folklore that looks like a sea monster or a huge fish. Fishermen allegedly saw him off the coast of Norway, Iceland and Ireland.

In Judeo-Christian mythology, Leviathan is a sea monster depicted as a cross between a serpent and a dragon. This word has become synonymous with any large sea monster or dragon-like creature.

The Jormungand snake is a huge and very terrible snake, which, according to Scandinavian mythology, is spread out at the outer edge of the ocean.

The kraken was "good"

The Kraken is perhaps the most classic sea monster of them all. But he was a little different from the rest - at least in Norway.

“The Kraken was a good sign. The fishermen rejoiced when they saw signs that the Kraken was nearby. It meant a good catch. The kraken was a huge and cruel sea monster, but it brought good luck to the fishermen,”says van der Meeren.

In the 18th century, the Kraken was described in detail by Eric Pontoppidan, Bishop of Bergenhus.The fishermen realized that near the Kraken, when they went out into the fishing grounds, and the water suddenly became only a few fathoms deep, it turned brown and began to smell bad.

“Then the Kraken came up from the bottom to the surface, and there were a lot of fish with it,” says van der Meeren.

The result of spring flowering and spawning

This phenomenon could have had a more natural explanation. The water seemed shallow because it was full of fish walking close to the surface.

“We know that this happens: fishermen do not throw their gear into the sea, because the fish goes under the boat itself. This is often a shallow pollock. And the color of the water could change due to spring flowering. This is often the case when large schools of fish gather just before spawning,”says Meeren.

During the spring flowering, a lot of plankton is born in a short time, and therefore huge schools of fish gather in spawning grounds to be properly satiated.

“I suspect that Pontoppidan, in accordance with his beliefs, always used words like 'monster' when talking about unexplained phenomena, even if they were not considered dangerous. In the Middle Ages and during the Enlightenment, people probably had a slightly different idea of monsters than we are today,”says the oceanologist.

Transformed into a giant squid and got a bad reputation

After a while, however, the Kraken began to be treated differently - they began to be afraid of him.

"The dangerous monster Kraken is an English invention invented by Sir Walter Scott and taken up further by Lord Alfred Tennyson, who wrote sonnets about the Kraken," says van der Meeren.

Around the same time, the image of the Kraken mixed with the giant cephalopods and Leviathan from biblical myths.

“At the same time, a lot of strange things happened. Almost 200 years later, the Kraken has turned into a giant squid or octopus. Remember the giant squid in the book "Moby Dick". And in German the word krake has become synonymous with octopus, "says the oceanologist.

The ocean still has many secrets

Although there are no monsters in the ocean, large animals still unknown to us may well live there.

“We know very little about the sea, especially what happens at great depths. So far, we have barely looked there, as if through a keyhole. We are learning to use acoustic devices and underwater cameras, but there is still a lot we don’t know,”says van der Meeren.

The ocean is still full of secrets, and according to the oceanologist, that's a good thing.

“We researchers are very curious, we yearn for answers. But this also requires questions. Therefore, I am glad that the secrets of the sea are inexhaustible."

The secret of octopus caviar

An example of such a mystery is the North Atlantic Archer Squid (Todarodes sagittatus), which has been hunted for over a century.

“No one has ever seen his eggs or cubs anywhere. We suspect that he creates a jelly-like cocoon around his eggs, like many related species, but we have never found them,”says the oceanologist.

The giant jelly balls, which divers have often found along the Norwegian coast in recent years, belong to a close relative of todarodes sagittatus, the southern short-feathered squid Ilex coindetii.

“Until recently, we didn't know that this was a common occurrence along our coast,” says van der Meeren.

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