Sea Monster Attacks!

…there monsters of the deep, and beasts swim amid the slow and sluggishly crawling ships.

-Avienus, 1488

1544 illustration of sea monsters by Sebastian Münster
1544 illustration of sea monsters by Sebastian Münster

Sea monsters are seen in stories from every sea-faring culture. In Jules Verne’s novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the submarine known as the Nautilus is attacked by a giant squid. In 1734, Dano-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede described an encounter with a sea monster saying, “The monster was longer than our whole ship.” Today, the stories of sea monsters have not gone away.

Arm-hooks seen on the tentacle of a squid. Photo © Museum of New Zealand
Arm-hooks seen on the tentacle of a squid.
Photo © Museum of New Zealand

1978, the US destroyer escort USS Stein had to return to port in San Diego. Their SONAR had failed with no explanation. Once in drydock, an inspection revealed deep gashes covering 8% of the SONAR dome. Within most of the cuts they discovered hooks from an unknown species of squid. Due to the sheer size of the hooks found, the largest found at that point, it was estimated the squid was at least 150 feet long. Though the men aboard did not know until they were back in port, the same cannot be said for some French sailors in 2003.

AN/SQS-26 sonar dome (used by the USS Stein) seen on the USS Willis A. Lee in 1961
AN/SQS-26 sonar dome (used by the USS Stein) seen on the USS Willis A. Lee in 1961

Olivier De Kersauson successfully broke the record for the Jules Verne Trophy (a prize for the fastest circumnavigation of the world by any type of yacht), but several hours into his 63 day journey his ship was attacked. A giant squid had latched onto his ship; its tentacles wrapping around the ship and blocking the rudder. De Kersauson looked out a porthole to find a tentacle, “It was thicker than my leg and it was really pulling the boat hard.”

ship during the 2004 run Photo © Vincent Curutchet
De Kersauson’s ship during the 2004 run.
Photo © Vincent Curutchet

De Kersauson had no options to scare off the beast. He commented later, “We weren’t going to attack it with our penknives.” So with no options, he simply turned off the engine, hoping the squid would eventually leave. Sure enough, when the yacht stopped the squid left. “We didn’t have anything to scare off this beast, so I don’t know what we would have done if it hadn’t let go.”

I’ve never seen anything like it in 40 years of sailing.

-Olivier De Kersauson

Stories of giant squids in recent years have led to new speculation on the classic tales of sea monsters. Hans Egede described the creature he encountered as having a small head and short wrinkled body “The unknown creature was using giant fins which propelled it through the water.” Descriptions like this have led scientists and historians to claim many sea monsters were in fact giant and colossal squids. Perhaps tales of sea monsters are not so far from reality after all.

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