The sea is a vast, little understood expanse that at times feels so remote, hostile and unexplored that it may as well be another alien planet, and it has given rise to myths and mysteries that have perplexed mankind since we first took to the oceans. A persistent phenomenon among the many mysteries that shroud the world’s oceans is that of various sea serpents and sea monsters. These enigmatic beasts have been seen prowling the sea since time unremembered, and come in all shapes and sizes, from all corners of the globe. These strange creatures are typically quite shy, elusive, and indeed seem to avoid or even shun humans. Indeed, if they exist then this wariness likely contributes in no small part to their ability to remain hidden from science. Yet, although exceedingly rare, there are occasional reports of sea monsters that have defied this trend to come up out of the depths of the sea and our nightmares to attack or even kill humans, adding another layer of sinister mystique to the mystery.
Occasional purported attacks by mysterious water monsters have been reported for a long time. One curious account comes from the coast of New England, an area in which fishing was once a bustling, booming industry from the days of the colonies all the way up to the 20th century, and already long steeped in sea serpent sightings and lore brought back from the numerous fishermen and sailors on its waters. One particular account stands out as particularly spectacular and harrowing among the various sea serpent yarns told by the mariners of the region.
The story goes that in 1889 a mining engineer and prospector by the name of G.H. Hight was on a trip to Madagascar in order to inspect plantation property and found himself staying in the village of Majanga, located on Bambataska Bay. One day during their stay, some villagers came to Hight in a state of intense excitement, chattering away and furiously gesturing towards the bay. Hight was unable to understand the local language, but could tell that something unusual and remarkable had happened. In addition to fervently pointing towards the bay, the frantic villagers were also making gestures with their hands and bodies of a serpentine shape. Some other villagers nearby heard the account and reportedly flew into a dire panic, with some falling to the ground and pulling out their hair in apparent anguish and grief.
One of Hight’s companions, a Frenchman named Labelle, understood enough of the language to make out what the villagers were saying, and after listening for a moment told an intrigued Hight that they were claiming they had seen a monstrous sea serpent in the bay. According to the villagers relating the tale, they had been out fishing in a long canoe when the monster had come roiling up from below to rear its fierce, serpentine head out of the water. The creature was estimated as being massive, around 100 feet long, as thick as a barrel, and had apparently been a dark green in color, with a snake-like head and large scales the “size of a silver dollar.”
When the terrified fishermen had tried to desperately row to shore, the strange creature was claimed to have aggressively pursued them, its long body undulating thrashing and churning the water violently as it went. The beast then was said to have easily overtaken them and proceed to grab the stern of the canoe in its jaws, sending the four fishermen tumbling into the water. As the panicked occupants began swimming away in a mad dash, they claimed that they had been able to hear the distinctive sound of wood being snapped and splintered by the attacking creature. The leader of the fishing crew then claimed that as he had reached water shallow enough to stand in, he had heard a bloodcurdling scream, and had turned around to see a long, serpentine neck rearing around 10 feet out of the water, topped by a terrible reptilian head that had in its formidable jaws the kicking form of one of the unfortunate fishermen. As the horrified surviving fishermen looked on, the beast allegedly then proceeded to gnaw on the struggling man before swallowing him whole, “drawn inward by some powerful suction in the serpent’s mouth.”
As soon as the man’s screams were extinguished by being sucked into the depths of the beast’s maw, the thing was said to take a moment to rest before coming for the remaining three fishermen. Luckily, they were near enough to the beach that they were able to scurry onto land before the rampaging sea monster could claim them. So intent on capturing them was it, that the creature was said to have rushed right up onto the sand bar to the point that it had seemed in danger of beaching itself, after which it reportedly let out a chilling bellowing sound and turned around to head back out into the bay. It was the family members of the victim who were the ones that had had such a reportedly hysterical reaction to the story the remaining fishermen were telling.
After relaying the amazing story to Hight and company, a search party was organized to scour the shore and bay for any sign of the missing fisherman or the strange monster that had attacked them, led by Hight and two companions heavily armed with enormous elephant bore rifles. After a time of searching the waters and horizon in vain, Hight reported that one of the villagers began pointing out into the bay excitedly, and it was then that they could make out a spot on the otherwise calm water that was frothing and roiling, after which an enormous snake-like head menacingly emerged from below. The sight of the beast sent many of the search party into a profound panic, and the commotion they made seemed to draw its attention. The serpent is said to have started to approach them in an unmistakably threatening manner, again clearly demonstrating looping coils that Hight would later claim made it look “for all the world like some fabled dragon of antiquity.”
Although all of the men were safely on shore, the creature purportedly came towards them at full speed, only stopping when it hit the shallows, after which it thrashed about and roared and bellowed in frustration. At this point, they were able to get a good look at the lashing, raging thing. Just as the natives had described, it was estimated as being no less than 100 feet long, with a reptilian head “as large as a hogshead” and a huge, gaping maw adorned with four large, prong-like fangs surrounded by numerous smaller teeth. Further back on the head was a mane of thick bristles that was surmised to be used somehow for locomotion.
The three armed men stood watching in horrified fascination for a while as the villagers cowered behind them in fear, after which they decided to fire upon it when they realized it was trying to feel its way up through the shallows to reach them, to perhaps try to lurch onto shore to pull one of them in. All three of them unloaded their weapons onto the creature in unison, but rather than die or retreat, it only roared and seemed to become more agitated and determined to get at them. Several more volleys of bullets that would have dropped a rhinoceros were fired at it to no apparent effect, bringing them to the conclusion that its thick hide was essentially bulletproof. The men spent a further hour watching the struggling beast and taking occasional futile pot shots at it, after which it apparently decided it had had enough and rapidly turned around to dash out into the bay, where they watched it “dive and circle” until it disappeared into the distance. Although Hight would leave the village a few days later, he claimed that the monster would be seen two more times after he left, before going away for good.
This is a fairly well-known account, but its sensational, dramatic nature has stirred up quite a bit of debate as to how much veracity it actually holds. The era in which this event supposedly happened was one of expanding exploration of the wild places of the world, of shining a light on its unexplored mysteries, and explorers often brought back astounding tales of their travels that in most cases were almost certainly embellished to varying degrees. It was also the era of pulp fiction, comprised of a wide array of mystery and adventure stories that were churned out on inexpensive paper, hence the name “pulp.” These fanciful tales, mixed with the exaggerated stories brought back from the far corners of the globe, as well as the sensationalized sea serpent accounts often popping up in the news of the day, may have all had an influence on this particular story, making it difficult to discern which elements really happened, if any. It cannot even reliably be demonstrated that a G.H. Hight ever even existed at all, and there is no corroborating evidence to back up any of the dramatic events depicted. Indeed, the whole spooky tale is known only from an article that appeared in The Washington Herald for Sunday, March 7, 1909, and was authored by an unnamed correspondent rather than Hight himself.
Considering the questionable veracity of the source and the fact that the whole story reads very much in the vein of a pulp adventure, it seems likely that at the very least this account is a mix of both reality and fantasy. However, there has been speculation that this could be a perhaps somewhat exaggerated report involving a Madagascar sea serpent known from natives of the area that is called the Tompondrano, or some other type of sea-going cryptid. Unfortunately, it is unlikely we will ever know the truth behind the Hight account, and must file it away as an intriguing unknown, which it is most certainly the way it will forever remain unless some evidence to support any part of the story or its alleged witness is uncovered.
Another rather sensational and well-known account of an apparently man-eating sea serpent was first published in 1965 in an article for Fate Magazine. The article describes the first-hand account of a man named Edward Brian McCleary, who claimed to have come face to face with a decidedly aggressive sea serpent in a terrifying, ultimately deadly encounter. McCleary claims that on March 24, 1962, he had been off the coast of Pensacola, Florida diving with four of his friends from a raft at the site of the shipwreck of the U.S.S. Massachusetts, which sits in around 26 feet of water. As they were diving, a sudden storm allegedly moved in and pushed them father out to sea into deeper water.
It is then reported that as the men were sitting in their raft wondering what to do about their predicament, a thick fog suddenly moved in to envelope the area. It was from this fog that they then heard a curious noise like something very large moving through the water. As the unsettled group peered into the fog trying to see what was making the sound, McLeary claims that they caught a fleeting glimpse of what looked like “a telephone pole about ten feet high with a bulb on top” through the murk. When they saw the circling animal again McCleary claimed that they could see it was some sort of large, hulking sea creature that was brownish green in color, with smooth skin, a 12-foot long neck, and a head reminiscent of that of a sea turtle with pronounced teeth, from which stared two large green eyes.
Whatever the creature was, it unfortunately was not circling out of mere curiosity. According to McCleary, the beast began making a concentrated attack on them, moving in from the fog to snatch a man before darting off into the fog, only to repeat this until only McCleary remained. During the attack, McCleary claims the raft was destroyed and that he had managed to drift to the wreck to cling to one of the masts that protruded from the water. A follow-up search by authorities looking for the missing men was carried out, and one body was recovered, but the cause of death was ruled as drowning. Nevertheless, McCleary stood by his fantastic story, despite pleas by doubtful police to keep that out of his report, and he even produced a sketch of the alleged monster, which portrays it as looking very much like something akin to a plesiosaur.
With the McCleary report we are again left with very little to go on in terms of resolving whether the account has any veracity. In addition to the dramatic, evocative imagery of a mystery monster stalking victims one by one through the fog like something out of a cheesy horror movie, there is also the fact that we only know of the account from the Fate article and McCleary allegedly refused to talk of the incident since. There is also the fact that the only body recovered was found not to have been mauled by a sea monster, or any other creature for that matter, but rather more mundanely drowned, although it is unknown what happened to the others and a drowning could have feasibly been caused by being knocked out of the raft by the alleged creature. In the end, all we have to go on is McCleary’s version of events, and there is no way of knowing just how much of it is based in reality. There is no supporting evidence, and it really all depends on how much you take his amazing tale at face value. As with the Hight case, we will probably never really know what really happened here, but it is a rather chilling story nevertheless.
A perhaps lesser known account of a sea serpent attack supposedly occurred off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts, during the heyday of a spate of regular sightings of a mysterious sea monster in the area in 1818 and 1819. In an article published in the Essex Patriot on May 16, 1818, there is the harrowing account of a Joseph Woodward, aboard the fishing schooner the Armament of Hingham. According to the report, Woodward and crew spied in the distance a curious object in the water that looked about the size of a ship’s longboat, which they at first thought was perhaps floating wreckage from another vessel.
As the schooner approached to investigate, they came to realize that rather than a wrecked ship, the object was in fact an enormous sea serpent, which coiled itself and launched with incredible speed towards their vessel as they approached. The monster passed close by and the boat turned to approach it once again, after which the creature coiled itself again and darted forward with startling velocity. It became apparent as the sea serpent shot by barely missing them that it was being unmistakably aggressive, and Woodward fetched a ball and shot gun in order to defend his ship.
As the creature turned and made another close pass at the ship, Woodward allegedly fired at it for a direct hit. The shot was reported as striking the monster squarely in the head, only to bounce off and make a sound “as though fired against a rock.” Upon being hit by the shot, the sea monster shook its body violently and turned to lurch forward again, this time with its formidable mouth open and teeth bared. Woodward, who had since reloaded his musket, had planned to shoot it in its mouth, but claimed that it came so frighteningly close that he backed up in fear and held off.
The creature dove directly under the schooner, and some estimate of its great size could be gained. The creature was described in the account as being around 130 feet long and 6 feet in diameter, with a disproportionately large head judged to be about twice the size of a longboat. The body itself was described as darkly colored and possessing armored joints like “a shark’s backbone,” and with a tail like that of a squid. Gills were visible, which were said to be situated around 12 feet from the end of its head. Yet for all of its massive size the creature was claimed to capable of great bursts of surprising speed, and able to maneuver with “the greatest ease and most astonishing celerity.”
The terrifying sea monster reportedly continued to circle and make passes at the schooner for nearly 5 hours, with the crew occasionally firing at it to keep it at bay, although the shots themselves seemed to have little if any actual physical effect on it. During this time the creature would swipe at the ship and dive directly under it with its teeth bared, and later an unsettled Woodward would claim of the aggressive passes:
She came close under the bows of the [schooner] and had she not been kept away must have come on board of us.
Again, this story seems very much like a report exaggerated in a way very common among news publications of the day, so it is hard to decide how much weight to assign to it. Is this a genuine report of a frightening encounter with a sea monster, or is it just a sensationalist piece looking to capitalize on the popularity and numerous sightings of the Gloucester Sea Serpent at the time, and perhaps put an ominous spin on the creature? As with the other accounts written of here so far, it is doubtful we will ever have any concrete answer.
What are we dealing with in accounts such as these? Are these the result of exaggerations, sensationalism, traveler’s tales, or downright fabrication? Are they real events with rational explanations perhaps colored with elements of fiction? Or are they exactly what they claim to be; instances of uncategorized sea creatures reaching out past being mere myth and mystery to become a menace? If sea serpents do exist, do they on occasion step out of the shadows to lash out to attack for whatever reasons, just as a normally passive animal might under the right conditions? The answers to these questions remain as murky as the churning seas from which such stories spring, but reports like this give a unique take on the phenomenon of sea serpents, and show that perhaps they are not always the elusive, wary, and fleetingly glimpsed phantoms they are usually portrayed as. Perhaps these creatures, if they do indeed exist, are not only shy gentle giants, but also creatures that are capable at times of viciously lashing out, and which are to be feared and respected.