-- Hans Egede, Norwegian missionary, later bishop of Greenland [source: AMNH]
In 1817 and 1819, more than 200 residents of Glouster Harbor, Massachusetts, recounted seeing a giant creature that resembled a serpent. "The Great Sea Serpent," an 1892 book by professor A. C. Oudemans, describes more than 200 reports of unknown sea creatures. But then thousands of people over the years have reported sighting the Loch Ness Monster, aka Nessie, yet no scientific evidence for its existence has yet been found -- and not for lack of trying.
What are scientists to make of such creatures? On the one hand, we still discover strange new sea fauna over time, and by some estimates as much as 95 percent of the ocean's lowest depths remain unexplored. We know, too, that some creatures that resemble sea monsters, such a giant squid and oarfish, spend most of their lives in deep or deep-ish waters, entering the shallows or washing ashore only when sick or dying. So it seems reasonable that remarkable creatures could yet exist, whether encountered by sailors or completely undiscovered.
But admitting the possibility that we have not seen all that nature has up her watery sleeve is not the same as conceding the existence of creatures that defy the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. Scientists may not be able to comment on the fanciful, and might find it difficult to disprove the existence of a thing, but they certainly can apply known principles to establish boundaries on what might lurk undiscovered beneath the waves. After all, the first coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) was discovered as recently as 1938, and the Megamouth shark, caught in 1976, was even more recent, but both conformed to the basics of oceanographic physiology [sources: Smithsonian; Western Australian Museum].
Such answers are the best we can expect for now, until we drain the seas or until some rough beast emerges from them to announce its presence in no uncertain terms.
Author's Note: How Sea Monsters Work
It's worth noting that descriptions of legendary creatures change as our views about real creatures evolve. The Loch Ness Monster, which Scots probably once imagined as a sea serpent or kelpie, took on a much more plesiosaur-like form after scientists began studying and publicizing dinosaur discoveries.
Moreover, it can hardly be coincidental that, the more we know about the ocean and its inhabitants, the less common sea monster sightings become. Still, I'm pulling for the sea monsters -- or anything else that can remind us that mysteries still exist.
- American Museum of Natural History. "Sea Monsters." (Nov. 5, 2014) http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/mythic-creatures/water-creatures-of-the-deep/sea-monsters
- Barré, Michael. "'Fear of God' and the World View of Wisdom." Biblical Theology Bulletin: Journal of Bible and Culture. Vol. 11, no. 2. Page 41. May 1981. (Nov. 4, 2014) http://btb.sagepub.com/content/11/2/41.extract
- Carr, J. Revell. "All Brave Sailors: The Sinking of the Anglo-Saxon, August 21, 1940." Simon and Schuster. 2010.
- Carr, S. M. et al. "How to Tell a Sea Monster: Molecular Discrimination of Large Marine Animals of the North Atlantic." The Biological Bulletin. Vol. 202, no. 1. Page 1. Feb. 1, 2002. (Nov. 4, 2014) http://www.biolbull.org/content/202/1/1.full.pdf+html
- Chevalier, Jean and Alain Gheerbrant. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. 1996.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Cetus." (Nov. 4, 2014) http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/article-9310632/Cetus
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Laomedon." (Nov. 4, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/330210/Laomedon
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Leviathan." (Nov. 4, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/337936/Leviathan
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Mesopotamian Religion." (Nov. 4, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/376937/Mesopotamian-religion/68267/Myths
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Perseus." (Nov. 4, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/452705/Perseus
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Scylla and Charybdis." (Nov. 6, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/530331/Scylla-and-Charybdis
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Sea Serpent." (Nov. 4, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/530718/sea-serpent
- Haven, Kendall F. Wonders of the Sea: Merging Ocean Myth and Ocean Science. Libraries Unlimited. 2005.
- Melville, Marty. "770-Pound Colossal Squid a 'Perfect' Specimen." Discovery News. Sep. 16, 2014. (Nov. 5, 2014) http://news.discovery.com/animals/770-pound-colossal-squid-a-perfect-specimen-140916.htm
- Morrell, Virginia. "Sea Monsters." National Geographic. December 2005. (Nov. 6, 2014) http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/prehistoric-world/sea-monsters.html
- Ocean Navigator. "Sailing Hallucinations." Nov. 1, 2007. (Nov. 13, 2014) http://www.oceannavigator.com/November-December-2007/Sailing-Hallucinations/
- Philbrick, Nathaniel. "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex." Penguin. 2001.
- Rosen, Brenda. "The Mythical Creatures Bible: The Definitive Guide to Legendary Beings." Sterling Publishing. 2009.
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. "The Coelacanth: More Living than Fossil." (Nov. 4, 2014) http://vertebrates.si.edu/fishes/coelacanth/coelacanth_wider.html
- Western Australian Museum. "What is Megamouth?" (Nov. 4, 2014) http://www.museum.wa.gov.au/megamouth/what-is-megamouth