Join Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions! Subscribe Today!

Serpents in the Waters of Time: Historical Accounts of Sea Serpentry

Even in modern times, stories of sea monsters fascinate us and taunt our minds with incredible possibilities. Could it be that tremendous reptiles–dinosaurs, in essence–could still exist on our planet, and inhabit the darkened waters of our ocean’s depths?

A classic story related by the marine scientist Lionel Walford in 1963 would indicate that something along these lines appears to be the case. In July of the aforementioned year, Walford and his company claimed to have seen a 50-foot-long, undulating serpent-like creature, observed as it swam near the surface only a few miles off the New York shoreline. “It resembled a transparent sea monster. It looked so much like jelly. I could see no bones and no eyes, nose, or mouth. But there it was, undulating along, looking as if it were almost made of fluid glass.”

What was the creature that Walford and his crew had seen? In many ways, the translucent quality the animal possessed is reminiscent of what are known as leptocephalus, the scientific name for eel larvae. However, the larvae form of the eel is never known to grow to such great sizes, let alone the parent animal when fully grown. In other instances, the animals are far more serpentine in both color as well as appearance, the likes of which we often find in historical accounts that leave us wondering whether dinosaurs might not actually exist in our very midst.

Looking all the way back to 1639, in what is believed by many to be the very first sighting of an alleged sea serpent in the New World, a large serpentine beast was said to have been seen gliding through the waters off the coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. If this story is to be believed, it is of particular significance in terms of the snake vs eel argument, since witness accounts of the Beast of Cape Ann record that the animal was not only seen swimming, but soon also approached land, where it was said to have slithered onto the shore and coiled itself, very much like a snake.

This would not be the last appearance of Cape Ann’s great serpent, though the creature apparently kept a low profile for close to two centuries before making a series of widely publicized appearances in the area in August of 1817. The printing operation owned by Henry Bowen of Devonshire Street, Boston, carried the story initially, citing that “A Monstrous Sea Serpent, The largest ever seen in America, has just made its appearance in Gloucester Harbour, Cape Ann, and has been seen by hundreds of Respectable Citizens.” Initial reports chalked the sighting up to merely being sharks or dolphins swimming in formation, but later corroboration from fishermen in the area seemed to confirm that the beast witnessed by so many was indeed some very large variety of serpent, and that the animal carries its head some eight feet out of the water, which is colored partly black and partly white (perhaps the creature’s underbelly, extending up to the lower jaw, had been a lighter color, like many snakes). The crearure was also described as being quite formidable, and able to dart about and move very quickly, in addition to its ability to change directions with incredible ease while swimming about. The closest witnesses to the beast, who managed to attain a frightening fifteen yards or less, said it was approximately the width of a large barre, with an overall length nearing as much as 100 feet.

One interesting description that has often been applied to the so-called “Gloucester Beast” described that it “appeared in joints like wooden buoys on a net rope.” Another remarkably similar description described the animal as, “full of joints and (resembling) a string of buoys on a net rope, as is set in water to catch herring.” This description indeed seems rather odd, and at the outset almost brings to mind the question as to whether such a “string of buoys” might actually have been seen at some point during the height of Cape Ann’s second serpent scare; as is often the case, clever pranksters will assume no finer time to emerge with their trickery than in midst of events that can capture the minds of the gullible. Had there been such hoaxers at work in the summer of 1817, or might there have indeed been a large serpentine creature seen in the area, as so many “hundreds of respectable citizens” had apparently claimed?

Even in the event that the beast was indeed some real snake like creature of tremendous proportion, can we rule out the notion that such animals might indeed be some variety of large eel? The manner in which the creature was said to carry itself above the water while swimming may be inconsistent with typical eel behavior. Nonetheless, in other parts of the world, sightings of giant eels have become quite common over the decades.

One hotspot for alleged giant eel activity is Crescent Lake, along the coast of Newfoundland. It is here that legends of a beast known as “Cressie” have become a mainstay, with a nod toward the more famous stories of it’s similar cousin said to reside at Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. Among the stories of strange occurrences at the lake, one story has it that in the 1980s, a group of scuba divers had entered Crescent Lake’s waters in search of a missing pilot in the area. “Venturing into deeper waters, the divers were reportedly attacked by a school of giant eels,” as reported in an episode of the popular Monster Quest program, “each of which they described as being as thick as a man’s thigh. Though the divers returned to the surface without serious injury, they were shaken by the encounter.”

Perhaps there is some truth to the connection with eels and their (often more elusive) behavior after all. But still, after being observed for centuries, could there remain any likelihood that such serpentine beasts might exist even today, as the reports from more recent decades seem to show? And if so, how may they be capable of remaining unseen even in the modern era, with the varieties of methods science of today is able to employ in their potential discovery?



Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
You can follow Micah on and