For centuries people have told stories about giant serpents that live in the sea or fly across the sky, the latter of which they typically call dragons. The first written stories of dragons appeared in medieval times. Some of these are clearly fictional tales, but others sound like they were intended to be true reports of dragon sightings. In one such account, from April 1388, several people supposedly saw a great serpent flying across the skies of England. Similar reports were made in England in December 1762, in Nebraska from 1857 through 1858, and in Texas and Kansas in 1873. These creatures supposedly looked like snakes rather than like the firebreathing dragons of myth.
Sea serpents have also appeared in myths and legends since ancient times, but they are mentioned just as frequently, if not more, in natural histories and supposedly factual accounts of sailors’ encounters with these creatures. Among the first such accounts was a 1555 report, in the zoological writings of cleric Olaus Magnus of Sweden, of Norwegian sailors seeing a sea serpent that was approximately 200 feet (61.m) long and 20 feet (6.1m) around the belly at the widest point. This creature was said to live in caves near the sea and to venture out to attack both humans and animals venturing nearby. A similar account, from 1734, involved a 100-foot-long (30.5m) sea serpent sighted off the coast of Greenland. Zoologist Bishop Erik Pontopiddan, in his Natural History of Norway (1752–1753), subsequently wrote that there were also many large serpents in the North Sea.
Sea serpents have also been reported in the waters off the eastern United States, beginning with the first sailors who travelled to America from England. During the Revolutionary War, sailors from the American gunship Protector claimed that they shot at a sea serpent in 1779, and the following year Captain George Little of the frigate Boston claimed to have sighted a similar creature off the coast of Maine. From 1817 to 1819, a rash of sea serpent sightings were reported in the waters off of Boston, Massachusetts. Though many of the people reporting these sightings were respected citizens, they became the butt of jokes when a scientific society declared that all stories of giant serpents were actually exaggerated tales about an ordinary variety of water snake. In 1892, in a book called The Great Sea Serpent, Antoon Cornelis Oudemans declared that these creatures were actually giant seals.
Witnesses, however, continued to insist that they had seen giant snakes, and such sightings continued to be reported. In the 1930s several people said they had seen a sea serpent off the Pacific coast of North America in various locations from Alaska down to Oregon, with most of the sightings occurring in Cadboro Bay of Vancouver Island. A reporter in Victoria, British Columbia, Archie Willis, named this creature the Cadborosaurus, but it is more commonly known as Caddy. Variously described as being anywhere from 15 to 45 or even 80 feet (4.6 to 13.7 or 24.4m) long, with a snakelike body, a head like a horse or camel, and humps that rise above the water when it swims, this creature is still occasionally reported today. Moreover, the credibility of some of the witnesses has led many cryptozoologists to believe that it is a real, yet-to-be-classified creature. Some have also noted that its description is similar to that of certain lake monsters, most notably Ogopogo of Lake Okanagan, British Columbia.
How Caddy and similar creatures should be classified is a matter of debate. Some cryptozoologists, including Bernard Heuvelmans, have suggested that sea serpents are not actually serpents. In his 1968 book In the Wake of the SeaSerpents Heuvelmans identifies nine different types of “sea serpents,” including prehistoric crocodiles, eels, and what he calls “super-otters,” based on his analysis of 358 reports of sea serpent sightings that he believed could not have involved a known animal.
Today most cryptozoologists believe that a sea serpent is some type of prehistoric whale, though some suggest it might instead be a squid given the way its movements in the water have been described. Also supporting the idea that a sea serpent is not a giant snake is a videotape of an unknown creature, supposedly a sea serpent nicknamed “Chessie,” seen moving across the waters of Chesapeake Bay on May 31, 1982. The head of this creature was shaped like a rounded football, and its back appeared to have humps; neither the head nor the body, which was about 35 feet (10.7m) long, appeared at all snakelike, nor did the creature resemble any known sea mammal.
- Bernard Heuvelmans
- Lake Monsters
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning