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IN THIS EPISODE: The dark practice of body snatching was a lucrative business, committed by those with a strong stomach and a willingness to disturb the dead to turn a profit. (Body Snatchers) *** High in the Himalayas is a mysterious lake with a very grisly secret. (What’s At The Bottom of Skeleton Lake?) *** Megalodon died out millennia ago. But our fascination with this mighty shark will never go extinct. We are so obsessed with this ancient leviathan that people still claim to spot Megalodon even today – but that couldn’t be, could it? (The Return of Megalodon) *** Megalodon isn’t the only creature of the deep people report sighting. For centuries a denizen of oceanic monsters have allegedly been seen – but the question is whether or not they are fact or fantasy. (Sea Myths or Sea Monsters)
MENTIONED LINKS AND EPISODES FROM THE CHAMBER OF COMMENTS…
“War of the Worlds” episode: http://weirddarkness.com/archives/4787
STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
“What’s At The Bottom of Skeleton Lake?” by Elisabeth Tilstra for The Line Up: http://bit.ly/2C3aMPA
“Body Snatchers” from The Occult Museum: http://bit.ly/2Nz2QLk
“The Return of Megalodon” by Carolyn Cox for The Portalist: http://bit.ly/2IHdiyZ
“Sea Myths or Sea Monsters?” by Orrin Grey and Xavier Piedra for The Portalist: http://bit.ly/2N83obT
Background music provided by EpidemicSound and AudioBlocks with paid license. Music by Shadows Symphony (http://bit.ly/2W6N1xJ) and Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ) is also sometimes used with permission.
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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46 *** How to escape eternal darkness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IYmodFKDaM
WHAT’S AT THE BOTTOM OF SKELETON LAKE?
Known by many as Skeleton Lake, Roopkund is a high-altitude Himalayan body of water that sits 16,499 feet above sea level in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India. Every time the snow melts and ice thaws, this shallow glacial pool reveals the ghastly origin of its nickname: A pile of human skeletons is at rest at the bottom.
Scattered around the rim of lake are even more bone remnants, as well as iron spearheads, rings, and leather slippers. In total, nearly 300 souls call Roopkund their final resting place. Eerier still: Research suggests that nearly all of these eternal residents died at the exact same time.
A forest ranger named H.K. Madhwal officially stumbled across the locale in 1942, though mentions of the lake and its grisly contents date back to the 19th century. The first person to climb the surrounding mountains and see the bones must have been terrified. Roopkund is awash with corpses, as if it were the site of a mysterious massacre.
Succeeding visitors were baffled by just what could have caused so much death at such a remote location. Local folklore told of a goddess furious at the defilement of her mountain sanctuary by disrespectful strangers. To retaliate, she rained down death upon the trespassers, flinging hailstones “as hard as iron” upon their heads.
For years, this explanation was dismissed as apocryphal. It would be decades before science ultimately proved this local legend was accurate.
DNA tests conducted in 2004 suggest that the bones date back to about 840 AD … an astonishing 1,175 years ago. The testing also suggests that among the almost 300 human remains present at the lake, there are just two groupings of people: A small clan or family, and a group of porters and guides. The family’s DNA leads back to Iran, while members of the servant troupe seem to be local.
It’s hypothesized that perhaps the wealthy family was in search of new land or new opportunity. While historical documentation of this specific expedition is currently nonexistent, that area of the Himalayas is known for its ancient trade routes.
What shocked researchers, however, was the way in which this large group died: All from blows to the head that seemed to come from above. Yet the skull fractures didn’t point to sharpened weapons; instead, some sort of round, blunt object did the deed. This is where legend and science intertwine: Both believe that while traveling through the mountains, the group was caught by a sudden—and deadly—hailstorm. Stranded at the pass with no shelter in sight, the travelers were forced to stand and endure the blows of the flying ice chunks. Ultimately, nature prevailed. One by one, the skulls of the travelers were caved in by falling hail.
The deaths were followed by a long winter burial in the mountains, preserving the bodies in icy graves for nearly 1,200 years. Today, the alpine pool is a popular hiking destination for serious trekkers. Yet the bones at the bottom of Skeleton Lake serve as an ominous reminder to all those who visit: Respect the awesome power of Mother Nature.
Although British anatomists often hunted for fresh cadavers in the 15th century, it was only in the 18th century that demand boomed. In particular, an explosion of new medical schools and rising requirements for students meant that there were not enough bodies to go around. Enlightenment laws also only allowed for medical science to use the bodies of executed criminals. Soon enough, academics turned to illegal body snatching, which required skill in removing the body without taking the clothing or disturbing the ground too much.
A lucrative and ethically questionable industry was born that offered a way out of poverty for many. While some responded with cemetery guards and robber-proofed coffins, resurrectionists worked to turn a profit, often by whatever means necessary.
William Burke and William Hare both emigrated from Northern Ireland to Scotland to work on the Union Canal. While Burke settled in Tanners Close with his second wife, Helen McDougal, Hare worked as an agricultural laborer before moving to Edinburgh in the mid-1820s. The two met in 1827 while working on the harvest at Midlothian, and they and their wives became fast friends. After Hare and his wife moved into Burke’s lodging house, the two soon plunged into the world of body snatching – only to become the world’s most infamous resurrectionist duo.
They first collaborated on selling the body of a deceased lodger to the desperate Dr. Robert Knox of Edinburgh Medical College. To meet Knox’s high standards, the pair turned to murder and killed 17 lodgers, prostitutes, and other unfortunates between 1827 and 1829. The West Port Murders shocked the medical science capital of Edinburgh, though Burke soon grew overconfident. On the night of October 31st, 1828, he used the pair’s trademark method of suffocation, later known as Burking, on a Mrs. Doherty after inviting her to his home. Too drunk to deliver her to Knox, Burke was found out in the morning and later executed by hanging thanks to Hare’s testimony against him. While Hare and Knox both escaped to England, Burke’s body was publicly dissected at the EMC and put on display as a skeleton, death mask, and wallet of his tanned skin.
Around the same time, John Bishop and his compatriots James May and Thomas Williams worked as resurrection men in London. After a dozen years of body-snatching, though, the trio decided to go from stealing corpses to making them. They specifically focused on street urchins and made around nine guineas per body, which would translate to about $1,500 US dollars today. At the same time, the ghouls boosted their profits by knocking out and selling teeth to dentists, too.
In November 1831, though, Bishop slipped up when preparing a subject for the anatomy instructors at King’s College. After he presented them with the corpse, the instructors noticed the boy’s suspicious head wound and called the authorities while claiming that they needed change for a 50-pound note. When caught, Bishop and Williams confessed to the murders of a 10-year-old boy, 14-year-old agricultural worker, and a 35-year-old woman. They admitted modeling their activities on Burke and Hare but threw their victims into a well head-first to die, after having been dosed with rum and laudanum. In his confession, Bishop declared with pride that he had sold as many as one thousand anatomical subjects. Soon enough, though, he was just another anatomical subject, though his crimes inspired Charles Dickens to focus on the plight of beggar boys in his writings, especially The Pickwick Papers (1836).
In the same year of 1831, the body of Catherine Walsh of Whitechapel was sold to surgeons at the London Hospital. However, they quickly realized that the woman in question had been murdered. Walsh, who sold lace and cotton for a living, had been living with Elizabeth Ross and her family. Until that point, Elizabeth had largely been known for her love of gin and thieving. Upon investigation, though, Ross’ 12-year-old son and his father, Edward Cook, reported seeing the young mother with their lodger shortly before her death.
While Elizabeth was then accused of murdering Walsh and selling her body, she herself reported last seeing their lodger going off with Cook and her son. However, the damage was done, and rumors began to fly about neighborhood cats disappearing around the Ross home. In court, she was portrayed as a large, burly Irish woman who could easily kill a man in cold blood. Yet, actual sketches showed a slight woman, and the son’s testimony seemed biased in favour of his father. With little evidence, Ross was convicted and executed by a city held by an intense fear of murderous body-snatchers.
Not all encounters with resurrection men were negative, though. In a broadsheet from shortly before Burke and Hare’s spree, John Macintire describes a harrowing experience of being saved by grave robbers. The April 15, 1824 article starts at his deathbed, with the man mysteriously paralyzed but fully conscious. He watched in silence as his family gathered and then mourned over his coffin at his wake. Then, Macintire details what it was like to be sealed in his coffin, taken to the graveyard, and buried, with clods of dirt falling onto his wooden prison.
Silence fell, and Macintire was left to the ensuing darkness. As he imagined his ensuing death, the man heard the sound of digging. A gang of body-snatchers pulled him from the grave, stripped him of his shroud, and delivered him to a local university. There, he was laid out on a dissection table as students and doctors alike filled the room. Macintire realized he was in a lecture hall shortly before he felt the knife slicing his chest and finally woke. Once the doctors realized their corpse was not dead, they were able to fully revive him, and the man recovered.
Ross, Bishop, Burke, and Hare’s crimes all led to the 1832 Anatomy Act, which combatted body-snatching by increasing the supply for medical research. Yet, decades later in 1885, a similarly gruesome crime was uncovered in San Francisco, California. After complaints of a stench from a building in Chinatown, the city’s coroner uncovered decomposing human remains in the basement.
In one room, workers were busily boiling the bodies down, scraping the flesh off in order to speed the process. Most bodies had been taken from California area cemeteries, likely on behalf of their family members back home in China. They had paid for their late loved ones’ bodies to be boiled down to the bones so that they could be easily shipped back home. By the end of their investigation, authorities had recovered over 300 human bodies from the building’s basement.
Even during its heyday, body-snatching was an especially uncertain business. Not only were bodies not always legally obtained, but they could even be far from dead! This was the case for Robert Morgan, who was captured and tied up in a sack by hackney coachman and resurrection man John Bottomley in 1816. In other cases, the bodies of loved ones could be ransomed for cash. For instance, in 1881, the Earl of Crawford’s body was taken from his mausoleum in Aberdeen and held for ransom. Still, the profits of body-snatching were hard to resist, with an adult corpse in the early 1800s easily earning 4 pounds and 4 shillings or around 450 US dollars today. As a result, even with increased regulation, the practice took quite some time to abate. To this day, people are often willing to steal other peoples’ bodies – so long as they can make a tidy profit in the process.
THE RETURN OF MEGALODON
Humans are fascinated by sharks. And the larger the shark is, the tighter its grip on our collective imagination. So let’s take a look at the biggest shark of them all: the Carcharocles megalodon.
C. megalodon is thought to have grown to approximately 60 feet long, and to have gone extinct around 2.6 million years ago. However, not everyone is convinced that megalodon is dead and gone. Some megalodon truthers think the massive shark is alive and well and living undiscovered in the Earth’s oceans—and they often point to the sightings I’m about to share with you as evidence.
Even if you believe that megalodon is long extinct (in which case, you’re in good hands; scientists everywhere agree with you!), the myth of the modern megalodon is still fascinating. If nothing else, these alleged megalodon sightings prove humans are fascinated by the ocean’s mysterious depths. And in an ideal world, that fascination might lead to increased interest in conservation of actual extant sharks.
This first entry isn’t a sighting, but a fossil find that’s sometimes brought up and frequently misinterpreted in discussions of whether or not megalodon is still with us.
In 1875, the British ship HMS Challenger pulled up a pair of megalodon teeth from a seabed. In 1959, Dr. W. Tschernezky of London’s Queen Mary College attempted to date the teeth by studying the buildup of the manganese dioxide layer on each tooth. Through examining manganese dioxide deposition, Tschernezky determined the teeth were 11,000 and 24,000 years old, respectively. If correct, those findings would indicate that at the very least, megs may have gone extinct far later than previously thought.
However, manganese dioxide dating is often unreliable, particularly in dating shark teeth. As Ben S. Roesch writes in the 1998 Cryptozoology Review article “A Critical Evaluation of the Supposed Contemporary Existence of Carcharodon megalodon,” shark teeth are more durable than typical fossil bones, and are able to withstand considerable erosion. This can make it challenging to determine how old the teeth actually are. Many researchers now think it likely that shark teeth once believed to be post-Pliocene megalodon teeth were instead older specimens that were somehow moved from their original, older sedimentary layer and deposited in a younger layer.
In his book Sharks and Rays of the Australian Seas, Australian naturalist David Stead shared an anecdote, which some believe describes a terrifying encounter with Meg herself.
According to Stead, in 1981 he spoke with several crayfish fishermen who were so terrified of a shark they saw in their fishing grounds off Broughton Island that they refused to return to the ground for days. They claimed to have seen a shark of unbelievable size surface in the deep water of the fishing grounds, taking the pots and mooring with it. Given that the crayfish pots were over three feet in diameter and loaded with heavy catch, that would be no small feat. Stead and the local Fisheries Inspector, a Mr. Paton, questioned the men, who all agreed to the shark’s monstrous size—one claimed that its head alone was “at least as long as the roof on the wharf shed at Nelson’s Bay.” Many said it measured around 115 feet in length. Others said the water seemed to boil where it surfaced. All of them were confident that it was a shark rather than a whale, and that it was pale white in coloring. Given that the men they spoke to were all hardened fishermen accustomed to sharks, whales, and other sea creatures, the conversations they had with these frightened witnesses left quite an impression on Stead and Mr. Paton.
But even if the shark observed by the fishermen were as massive as described, several signs indicate that it couldn’t have been mighty meg. As Roesch writes in his 1998 paper, if megalodon were alive in the modern world and surviving in the deep sea, it’s unlikely he would be the white color described in the 1918 accounts. Most deep-sea sharks are dark, rather than white, although there is a general misconception that dark, deep-sea habitats result in lack of pigmentation. In his 1978 book Let’s Go Fossil Shark Tooth Hunting, author B.C. Cartmell describes an alleged incident that took place off the edge of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in the 1960s.
According to Cartmell, the sailors involved initially refused to speak of the incident because they feared teasing. But after time, they admitted that when their 85-foot ship was forced to weigh anchor for engine repairs, the captain and crew were shocked to see a gargantuan white shark swim slowly past their stuck ship. It rivaled the boat in size. All aboard agreed it was not a whale.
Was it the megster? Probably not—but whatever the sailors saw that day, it’s proof that the ocean is a fascinating place.
The Black Demon of Cortez is believed to be a massive, black shark seen off Mexico’s Baja Coast. Some reports allege that the big boy may even be comparable in size to the ancient megalodon. In one alleged encounter, fisherman Eric Mackreported that the Black Demon rocked his boat, while its towering tail stuck five feet out of the water. Of course, if the ‘Black Demon’ is real, that doesn’t mean it’s a megalodon—it could easily be a plankton-eating whale shark or even a large great white with melanism.
The enormous black shark was the focus of an episode of the History channel cryptozoology TV show Monsterquest. However, the investigators failed to find any evidence of the fabled ‘demon.’
Novelist and deep-sea angler Zane Grey claimed to have had an experience with a massive shark that some believe could have been a megalodon. In the novel Megalodon: Fact or Fiction?, Rick Emmer writes that Grey claimed to have seen “one of the man-eating monsters of the South Pacific,” a shark much longer than his 30-40-foot boat. Apparently, the shark was “yellow and green … (with a) square head, immense pectoral fins and a few white spots.” In other words, not a mere “harmless white shark.”
As fun as it is to imagine these stories are evidence that megalodon is still alive, that’s just not the case. As Meghan Balk, a megalodon researcher at the University of New Mexico, told The Daily Beast: “there is no doubt in the scientific community that Megalodon is extinct.”
Balk explains that megalodons stayed close to the coast, so if they were still alive today, we’d know—it would be hard to miss a 50-plus-foot super predator roaming the shores! According to Balk, “most large sharks occur in the upper 500 meters of the water column, probably due to productivity. The deep is much too nutrient poor to support such a large animal.”
In many ways, Shark Week is responsible for popularizing the myth that megalodon is still around. In 2014, Discovery aired the highly controversial Shark Week ‘mockumentary’ ”Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.” The incredibly misleading program presented ‘evidence’ that megalodon was not only still alive, but also attacking humans and boats. Although a brief disclaimer at the end of “The Monster Shark Lives” explained that it was a work of fiction, many viewers were understandably fooled by the ‘eyewitness accounts’ and interviews with ‘scientists.’ The next year, Discovery aired a follow-up mockumentary called “Megalodon: The New Evidence,” which only compounded the confusion.
Megalodon also garnered increased curiosity in the public eye around the release of the 2018 movie The Meg. Based on the Steve Alten book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, The Meg featured Jason Statham going fist-to-fin with the prehistoric predator after the shark escapes from the Mariana Trench. After entering the open ocean, the shark goes on to eat a whale and terrorize swimmers at a beach in China before Statham saves the day.
Although the action movie was more explicitly fictional than the infamous 2014 Discovery documentary, it’s easy to understand how the different representations of megalodon in pop culture could cause debate. Considering Shark Week 2019 launched with the special Expedition Unknown: Megalodon, and a The Meg sequel is rumored to be in the works, it’s likely confusion over this prehistoric predator will persist.
Sadly, even if megalodon were discovered to be alive today, experts say it’s likely humans would soon put them on the path to extinction again.
Conservationist, shark expert, and Shark Week critic David Shiffman wrote in 2014 that if megalodon were alive today, it would probably be hunted to extinction for its fins. He estimates that if hypothetical modern-day megalodon has 1.5 metric tons of fins, it could be sold for around $600,000, and make approximately 70,456 bowls of megalodon shark fin soup.
And, as Shiffman points out, “if the hypothetical overfishing of a species that has been extinct for millions of years has you as upset as it has me, you should learn more about the real overfishing of shark species that are still around … at least for now.”
SEA MYTHS OR SEA MONSTERS?
Humans have always been fascinated by the ocean. After all, even today we’re not entirely certain what lies beneath the waters that cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. So it’s no wonder that storytellers throughout history—from the most ancient mythologies to modern monster movies—have populated those dark waters with all sorts of giant ocean monsters, ready to wreak havoc on the surface world at a moment’s provocation. Some of these mythic sea monster are so large they can lay waste to entire cities with ease while others are no bigger than the creatures that actually inhabit the oceans of the world, but all of them have captured human imagination throughout the years. Let’s look at just a few of our favorite sea monsters, from the mists of prehistory to the silver screen of the last few decades.
Cthulhu. It wouldn’t be a proper sea monster list without touching on at least a few of the squamous entities that dwell beneath the waves in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu is probably the Old Gent’s most famous creation, described by Lovecraft himself as resembling “an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature.” According to Lovecraft’s work, Cthulhu “waits dreaming” in his house in the sunken city of R’lyeh, but when he wakes up, there’ll be trouble.
Dagon. While Cthulhu may be Lovecraft’s best-known sea monster, he is by no means the only one. An actual deity from ancient times, Dagon is not only mentioned in some of Lovecraft’s most famous stories—the “Esoteric Order of Dagon” plays a major role in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”—but also has a story of his own named after him and lent his name to Stuart Gordon’s 2001 Lovecraftian film, despite that movie sharing more in common with “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” than it does with Lovecraft’s story “Dagon.”
Ebirah. Beginning in 1954, Toho created a sort of cottage industry releasing films starring their home-grown giant radioactive monster, Godzilla. Over the years, Godzilla went up against many threats, several of which came out of the ocean. Heck, Godzilla himself is technically a sea monster. But for a sea monster list, why not go with the creature that lent its name to the 1966 film Godzilla Vs. the Sea Monster.
In the movie, Ebirah is a giant crustacean controlled by an evil organization known as Red Bamboo. Ebirah later reappears (thanks to the magic of stock footage) in All Monsters Attack and then later in Godzilla: Final Wars. Ebirah is superficially similar to the monster Ganimes, a mutated stone crab that appears in the 1970 film Yog: Monster from Space (aka Space Amoeba).
Giganto. In the 50s and 60s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby populated the pages of comic books with a lot more than just some of their greatest superheroes—they also filled them with lots of big, lumpy monsters, many of whom came out of the sea. Few of these sea-faring brutes, however, are as memorable as Giganto, actually the name of a whole race of giant whales with arms and legs who helped the Atlanteans attack the surface world, beginning in Fantastic Four #4, published in May of 1962.
Kraken. Sea monster names can be confusing, and the Kraken is a prime example. The word comes to us from Norwegian, where it means an “unhealthy or twisted animal,” but it entered the popular lexicon when it was borrowed for one of the main antagonist monsters in Ray Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans. While Harryhausen’s Kraken was a humanoid sea monster with tentacle-like arms and a fishy tail, the mythological Kraken more closely resembles a giant squid. The second Pirates of the Caribbean movie featured a more mythologically-accurate depiction of the Kraken, while the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans boasted a critter that was something of a mixture of the two, also incorporating some crab-like elements.
The version of the Kraken that shows up in Clash of the Titans may have been inspired by the mythological Cetus, taken from the Greek word kētos, meaning a large fish or sea monster. When Queen Cassiopeia pissed off Poseidon by claiming that she and her daughter Andromeda were more beautiful than the Nereids, sea nymphs who accompanied Poseidon, he punished them by sending the sea monster Cetus to attack Aethiopia.
The King and Queen consulted an oracle and were told to sacrifice Andromeda to the monster in order to spare their kingdom. They chained her up to a rock, but she was saved when Perseus slew Cetus—in some versions of the story, he did this using Medusa’s head. Certainly sounds a lot like the Kraken of Clash of the Titans. Cetus later lent its name to a constellation and also showed up to menace Sinbad’s crew in the animated film Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.
Ottoia. There are loads of giant (and not-so-giant) sea monsters populating the movies, from the giant octopus of It Came from Beneath the Sea to more recent creatures like those in, say, Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus. But one of my favorites is the thing that attacks the Argonautica in Stephen Sommers’ 1998 Aliens-like, Deep Rising. While one of the characters within the movie hypothesizes that the creature is an evolution of a type of Cambrian worm known as an Ottoia, the end result is something more closely resembling the mythical Kraken, mentioned above.
Scylla & Charybdis. Something of a matched set, Scylla and Charybdis also come to us from Greek mythology, specifically the Odyssey. Two monsters dwelling on either side of the Strait of Messina, Scylla represented the dangers of the rocky shore, and was depicted in a variety of ways, including as a woman with a dragon-like tail and dog heads sprouting from her body, while Charybdis represented a deadly whirlpool. The two monsters have given us an idiom that dates to this very day, with “between Scylla and Charybdis” meaning about the same thing as “between a rock and a hard place.”
Sirens. Famed for luring unwary sailors to smash their ships upon the rocks, the sirens are known for their lovely and enchanting songs, with which their names have become virtually synonymous. In Greek mythology, the sirens plagued both Jason and the Argonauts and Odysseus on their respective voyages. Most depictions of the sirens show them as part-woman, part-bird, though some more recent variants have taken a looser approach, as in the 2003 animated adventure Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, in which the sirens are portrayed as a sort of living water taking on humanoid form.
The Terrible Dogfish. In Disney’s 1940 animated feature film version of Pinocchio, Geppetto and Pinocchio are swallowed by a sea monster named Monstro, who is portrayed as a giant sperm whale. In Carlo Collodi’s original 1883 book The Adventures of Pinocchio, however, that role is filled by the Terrible Dogfish, a giant ocean monster also known as “the Attila of fish and fishermen.”
According to Collodi, the shark-like Dogfish is larger than a five-story building and has three rows of teeth in its enormous mouth, which is plenty big enough to swallow ships and, of course, Pinocchio and Geppetto.
Jormungandr. In Norse mythology, Jörmungandr is also known as the Midgard Serpent because it is so long that it wraps all the way around the world and can hold its own tail in its mouth. The offspring of Loki and a giantess named Angrboda, when the Midgard Serpent releases its tail, it will mark the beginning of Ragnarok.
During that cataclysmic event, Thor will fight a final battle with Jörmungandr during which he will slay the mighty serpent only to then fall dead himself from its venom.
Sea Bishop. According to sea monster myth and legends, the sea bishop or bishop-fish was caught and taken to the King of Poland, who showed it to a group of Catholic bishops. When the bishops released the creature, it made the sign of the cross before disappearing back under the waves.
The bishop-fish is a type of fish that looks like a man—specifically, like a Catholic bishop—while other variations include legends of the sea monk, a fish that looks like a monk. Later experts came to the conclusion that the sea monk was probably actually an angelshark, a type of shark that is also known as a monkfish.
The bishop-fish made an appearance in the fourth volume of Conrad Gesner’s Historiae animalium, an “inventory of renaissance zoology,” as well as Johann Zahn’s Specula physico-mathematico-historica notabilium ac mirabilium sciendorum, and has been associated with the imagery of the half-human, half-fish sages known as Apkallu in ancient Mesopotamian mythology.
Lion Turtle. This mythical sea monster exists in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but unlike other creatures on this list, this gigantic half-chimera/half-turtle animal is pretty benevolent. In the television series, Aang, the main protagonist, accidentally encounters one of these fearsome creatures when he swims towards a floating island just off the coast in a trance. When he snaps out of it, and realizes the island he’s sitting on top of is the back of this large creature, he dives into the ocean to communicate with it.
The backs of Lion Turtles are so large that they host their own entire ecosystem on their shell. In The Legend of Korra, the successor to Avatar: The Last Airbender, a large number of these creatures existed in the past, serving as both shelter and guardians for humans. In the early days of humanity, settlements were built on the backs of these creatures since they were the only safe place for humans to thrive. This was the case because the world outside the Lion Turtle towns and villages was populated by troublesome spirits that had a tendency to attack humans. In addition to this, Lion Turtles also provided humans with the ability to bend fire, water, earth, or air when they traversed outside the colonies to gather resources.
Avatar: The Last Airbender didn’t create these island-sized Lion Turtles whole cloth, either. They’re inspired by the legends of the Aspidochelone, which are described in medieval bestiaries as turtles or fish so large that they are mistaken for islands by sailors.
Rhedosaurus. Before Godzilla, there was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. This 1953 monster movie takes its inspiration from “The Fog Horn,” a Ray Bradbury story about a sea monster that falls in love with a lighthouse’s fog horn. In the film, the monster is a Rhedosaurus, a made-up dinosaur that is awakened from hibernation by atomic testing in the Arctic Circle—sounds like a Godzilla movie already, right?
The Rhedosaurus heads south, destroying a lighthouse along the way in a scene reminiscent of Bradbury’s short story, before finally meeting its end at New York’s Coney Island. Brought to life by special effects legend Ray Harryhausen, the Rhedosaurus was far from the last sea monster that Harryhausen would bring to screens—he also contributed creatures to other parts of this list, including the giant octopus in It Came From Beneath the Sea and the Kraken in Clash of the Titans.
Umibozu. In Japan, these sea monsters were pure nightmare fuel for sailors who believed in the myths surrounding this creature. Umibōzu is a giant, shadowy, humanoid-like monster who terrorizes sailors who are unlucky enough to cross paths with it during a voyage. Upon encountering the creature, what was once a beautiful day with calm waters immediately turns into thunderous chaos with harsh waves and never-ending rain.
According to Japanese mythology, when an Umibōzu appears, they will either immediately attack a ship and drown its crew, or ask for a barrel from the ship’s supply as an offering. If the crew complies with the creature’s demand, sometimes the Umibōzu will spare the ship. But in order to ensure a safe travel away from the sea monster, sailors say that giving the Umibōzu a bottomless barrel will leave the creature confused, giving the ship and its crew an opportunity to flee before the Umibōzu realizes it has been tricked.
A Tropical Horror. The British author William Hope Hodgson produced a vast and varied body of work around the turn of the century, but what he is perhaps best known for are his stories of horror on the high seas. Returning again and again to the weed-choked wastes of the Sargasso Sea, Hodgson’s sea stories had the ring of truth to them, due in part to the fact that Hodgson himself had served several years as a sailor.
The ocean in a William Hope Hodgson story is populated by all sorts of weird monsters, from ghost pirates to giant crabs to sinister fungi to things even more impossible to describe. Yet describe them Hodgson did, and one example is the eponymous “Thing” in his story “A Tropical Horror.”
“Rising above the bulwarks,” Hodgson writes, “seen plainly in the bright moonlight, is a vast slobbering mouth a fathom across. From the huge dripping lips hang great tentacles. As I look the Thing comes further over the rail. It is rising, rising, higher and higher. There are no eyes visible; only that fearful slobbering mouth set on the tremendous trunk-like neck; which, even as I watch, is curling inboard with the stealthy celerity of an enormous eel.”
Capricorn. More often than not, when we hear the word “Capricorn” our mind jumps to birth charts and zodiac signs—but this sea monster actually has its roots in Greek mythology. Capricorns have the face and upper body of a goat, and the tail of a fish, making it capable of swimming and laying out on shores. Despite anatomically making zero sense whatsoever, these creatures were capable of speech, and were often favored by the gods.
The mythology behind Capricorns starts with Pricus, the original Capricorn who fathered the entire race. Pricus was granted immortality and the ability to turn back time by Chronos, the god of time. When his Capricorn children walked on the shore and stayed out of the sea too long, they ended up becoming regular goats who lost their ability to swim, speak, and think. In an effort to revert this, Pricus used his time-reversing ability to turn the regular goats back into Capricorns.
Pricus couldn’t keep up with how many times his children repeatedly stayed on the shore, so he gave up trying to remedy the situation, and led a life of loneliness. Taking pity on Pricus, Cronos turned the creature into the constellation we all know today so he can happily see how all of his goat children are doing from the sky.
Gyarados. This intimidating sea monster has appeared many times throughout the Pokémon series. Gyarados thrives in both fresh and saltwater, and is infamously known for its bad temper and destructive nature. Trainers in the Pokémon universe who are capable of capturing and taming this beast are said to share a powerful bond with Gyarados since the creature will repress its violent instincts to obey its master.
Gyarados’ sea-serpent design was actually inspired by dragons in Chinese mythology. Unlike European dragons, these creatures are very serpent-like in shape, and have distinct whiskers on their faces. Funny enough, Gyarados also evolves from the very useless Magikarp, a fish Pokémon that is incapable of doing anything but splashing about. According to Pokémon lore, it’s this very dramatic shift in brain structure during evolution that causes Gyarados to have violent tendencies.
Vodyanoy. Rooted in Slavic mythology, vodyanoy are water spirits who take on the form of a naked old man with a frog-like face. After spending so much time in fresh and saltwater, these creatures tend to have moss, algae, and other plant-like growth all over their bodies, giving them a distinct green color. Vodyanoy are said to be relatively calm, and can often be seen floating down a river or along the shore on a log or driftwood. In popular culture, these creatures have appeared in The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski where they have formed a society, and share the ocean with other races.
Despite their old appearance and peaceful demeanor, if angered, vodyanoy can be quite destructive. In Slavic lore, if anyone angered these sea creatures, the vodyanoy would destroy man-made structures near the body of water it resided in, or drown humans and animals in the area. Worst case scenario, a really mad vodyanoy would drag its victims down to its underwater home where they would be enslaved for eternity.
Leviathan. Hebrew in origin, this terrifying sea monster is often drawn and described as being a water reptilian of some sort. Immensely large in size, the Leviathan appears in the Old Testament as a sea serpent with multiple heads. In this scene, God kills the creature, and offers its carcass as food for the Hebrews.
As a creature rooted in a religion that comes from ancient Mesopotamia, this creature has been interpreted in a variety of ways in different religions and cultures. As Judaism continued to develop, the Leviathan upgraded from sea serpent, to the water dragon that many associate with the creature today. In Christianity, the Leviathan is presented as a ravenous demon that has an insatiable appetite for all of God’s creations. In some Christian interpretations, the Leviathan might also just be a giant crocodile.
Because of this creature’s massive size and underwater dwelling, the name Leviathan is actually used a general term for describing large sea monsters. More than likely due to its very old origins, the Leviathan is pretty much the root of most sea creature myths. Therefore, the Leviathan easily takes home the title for the oldest and most fearsome of sea creatures.
Sigmund The Sea Monster. Not all sea monsters are scary, of course. In fact, the star of the Sid and Marty Krofft children’s show Sigmund and the Sea Monsters was a sea monster named Sigmund who got in trouble with his sea monster family precisely because he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) scare humans.
Along with Sigmund himself, the show featured the rest of his aquatic clan, including his two brothers named Slurp and Blurp, and their parents Big Daddy Ooze and Sweet Mama Ooze.