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What’s That Lurking in the Thames? UK Water Monsters, Past and Present

Sea monsters have been all the rage lately in the British Isles, with the recent sonar discovery of a long-lost monster in one of the world’s most famous Fortean locales: the famous land-locked lake known as Loch Ness.

The Guardian reports that the “creature”, which had actually been a large prop used in the film, The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes, was discovered with the help of a robotic underwater drone, producing sonar renderings which resembled a sunken viking ship overturned at the base of the Loch.


Sonar imagery from the base of Loch Ness shows what is believed to be the long lost “monster” from Billy Wilder’s Sherlock Holmes film.

However, famous movie prop isn’t the only news that involves a “monster” seen in the region; further south near London, boaters were recently given a peek at an unusual spectacle in the River Thames, as cameras captured an odd looking creature as it appeared to surface for a few moments nearby.

A still image from footage taken by an onlooker nearby appears to show a hump or fin protruding from the water, as the observer recalled that those nearby were all paying attention to a rainbow in the sky, rather than the object in the water below.

The "monster" of Thames leaves a bit to the imagination...

The “monster” of Thames leaves a bit to the imagination…

Only days earlier, a similar object appeared in the Thames on April 1st, prompting speculation that the entire affair had merely been an April Fool’s Day gag. However, with the more recent appearance of an object seen swimming along the Thames, some believe that a lost whale may have decided to swim upstream, as has occurred at least once before in the last decade with what became known as theThames whale of 2006.

Writing for the Guardian, Phillip Hoare further noted that there have been many similar instances where whales have traveled upriver over the last few centuries:

“In 1788, 17 sperm whales stranded on its estuary, an echo of the recent strandings on North Sea coasts. A “wonderful large fish” was captured off Gravesend itself in 1809: a 76-foot fin whale, a true leviathan. And in 1658, John Evelyn recorded a right whale slaughtered on the shores of his estate at Deptford; its appearance was taken as an omen of the death of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, shortly afterwards.”

An even earlier history of strange happenings in the oceans near the British Isles can be found in the Konungs skuggsjá, which translates from the Old Norse to mean “King’s mirror”, a document from the Middle Ages that dates to around 1250. As discussed previously here at MU, the ancient treatise on natural wonders of the Isles recounts that most famous water monster of myth and fable, the kraken:

“There is a fish not yet mentioned which it is scarcely advisable to speak about on account of its size, which to most men will seem incredible. There are, moreover, but very few who can tell anything definite about it, inasmuch as it is rarely seen by men; for it almost never approaches the shore or appears where fishermen can see it, and I doubt that this sort of fish is very plentiful in the sea. In our language it is usually called the “kraken.” I can say nothing definite as to its length in ells, for on those occasions when men have seen it, it has appeared more like an island than a fish. Nor have I heard that one has ever been caught or found dead. It seems likely that there are but two in all the ocean and that these beget no offspring, for I believe it is always the same ones that appear. Nor would it be well for other fishes if they were as numerous as the other whales, seeing that they are so immense and need so much food. It is said, that when these fishes want something to eat, they are in the habit of giving forth a violent belch, which brings up so much food that all sorts of fish in the neighborhood, both large and small, will rush up in the hope of getting nourishment and good fare. Meanwhile the monster keeps it mouth open, and inasmuch as its opening is about as wide as a sound or fjord, the fishes cannot help crowding in in great numbers. But as soon as its mouth and belly are full, the monster closes its mouth and thus catches and shuts in all the fishes that just previously had rushed in eagerly to seek food.”

The humorous rendition provided above is no doubt of fantastical nature; however, the source of the legend may well have drawn from early observations of large whales by sailors, who turned their simple stories into “whale tales” of even greater magnitude.

Which, in a way, just goes to show that whales may still inspire stories of monsters even today… especially those seen swimming in the Thames.


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.
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