Arthur C. Clarke once said "How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when it is quite clearly Ocean." How true this is. Our world is mostly comprised of vast, largely unexplored water plunging into an even vaster, even more unexplored perpetual twilight. Just what lies hidden down in this darkness that makes up most of our planet? We have scarcely managed to uncover even a fraction of the myriad organisms that call these abyssal places home. There in this zone of black and amidst the flickering constellations of bioluminescent lights lie ancient mysteries that remain and perhaps always will. The deep, dark seas of our world are a realm of extreme pressure and eternal darkness, abyssal chasms soaring down into a domain that is so inhospitable and unreachable that it may as well be the surface of some alien world, and if some reports are to be believed there are massive alien things lurking about down there that defy understanding.
A curious finding was dredged up from abyssal depths off of South Africa in 1930. The Marine Investigation Expedition was an extensive round the world research expedition led by a Professor Johannes Schmidt aboard the vessel Dana. During the last year of the expedition, the ship fished up a colossal eel larva, or leptocephalus, in water over a thousand feet deep off the Cape of Good Hope. Due to the extreme depths, the animal was dead upon reaching the ship, but nevertheless shocked all those who examined it. The larva was measured as being 184cm long (just over 6 feet), which is large, but all the more so when considering that the larvae of a common eel typically measures only 2 to 4 inches in length, which in turn grows into an eel around 4 feet long. When extrapolating from the typical growth rate of eels, the 6 foot leptocephalus was theorized to become an adult that would measure around 80 to 100 feet in length, although a more conservative estimate would be more like 70 to 80 feet, gigantic no matter which way you cut it. In the freshwater eels of North America and Europe, adults can be a dozen times the size of their larval forms. According to an article in The Evening Post, Volume CXVII, Issue 47, 24 February 1934, Page 24, the South Africa specimen was subsequently preserved and sent to Marine Biological Laboratory in Copenhagen, Denmark where it was put on exhibit.
A similar find would later be made in New Zealand when another large leptocephalus, this time around 3 feet long, was pulled up out of the depths in 1959. In this case the larva was assigned the name Leptocephalus giganteus, and the South African specimen was later also classified under the same name even though it was not clear whether the two were actually of the same species. Since no other specimens of Leptocephalus giganteus have ever been collected, there is little data to go on. However, judging from known growth rates of similar creatures, it would appear that the deep seas could be home to some truly monstrous eels indeed. The giant eel larva fits neatly into the theory postulated by the cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans of giant eels of this sort, what he referred to as "super eels," accounting for many reported sea serpent sightings.
While dredging up something mysterious from the depths is exciting enough, with the advent of new diving technology people were actually able to see such monsters up close. American naturalist, ornithologist, marine biologist, entomologist, explorer, and author Charles William Beebe was one of the driving forces of penetrating into the new frontier of the deep, dark sea. In 1928 he was given permission by the British government to establish a research station on Nonsuch Island, in Bermuda, from which he planned to launch an in-depth study of the animals inhabiting an eight-square-mile (21 km2) area of ocean, from a depth of two miles (3.2 km) to the surface. In order to see the lifeforms down there in their natural habitat, he soon realized that the usual method of using helmet diving and dredging wasn’t going to cut it, as the deepest humans could safely descend in diving helmets in those days was several hundred feet, and normal submarines could only descend to a maximum of 383 feet (117 m) and had no windows. He wanted an up close look at what was down there, and so with the help of American engineer Otis Barton he invented a spherical diving submersible known as the Bathysphere, which could be lowered down into the abyss by cable. Beebe would break several consecutive world records for the deepest dive ever performed by a human in his contraption, the deepest being 3,028 feet (923 m), in the process of these pioneering dives being the first human to ever lay eyes on this dark alien realm. He would find many new species down there, and some of these were stranger, and much larger, than others.
On September 22, 1932 Beebe and Barton were down in their Bathysphere some three miles out from Nonsuch Island at a depth of 2,100 feet (640 m). During the dive, Barton heard Beebe shout out in surprise, and although he didn’t see what all the fuss was about due to being busy maintaining the bathysphere at the time, Beebe would claim that he had seen a pair of mysterious fish measuring at least 6 feet in length, which was far larger than anything they had seen before, and indeed larger than anything that was thought to be able to live at such depths. Beebe would write of the account in his book Half Mile Down:
Several minutes later, at 2100 feet, I had the most exciting experience of the whole dive. Two fish went very slowly by, not more than six or eight feet away, each of which was at least six feet in length. They were of the general shape of large barracudas, but with shorter jaws which were kept wide open all the time I watched them. A single line of strong lights, pale bluish, was strung down the body. The usual second line was quite absent. The eyes were very large, even for the great length of the fish. The undershot jaw was armed with numerous fangs which were illumined either by mucus or indirect internal lights. Vertical fins well back were one of the characters which placed it among the sea-dragons, Melanostomiatids, and were clearly seen when the fish passed through the beam. There were two long tentacles, hanging down from the body, each tipped with a pair of separate, luminous bodies, the upper reddish, the lower one blue. These twitched and jerked along beneath the fish, one undoubtedly arising from the chin, and the other far back near the tail. I could see neither the stem of the tentacles nor any paired fins, although both were certainly present. This is the fish I subsequently named Bathysphaera intacta, the Untouchable Bathysphere Fish.
If his observations were correct, then this would make it not only the largest fish to live at such a depth, but also five times as large as the biggest recorded dragonfish. What did he see down there? Considering that neither man was able to take photographs of the fishes because the Bathysphere's low light was inadequate for photography, we may never know. Another strange account comes to us from 1953, when Australian diver Christopher Loeb was in the South Pacific testing a new deep-sea diving suit when out of the murky darkness came floating up a creature like something out of an HP lovecraft story. He would say of it:
All the way down I was followed by a fifteen-foot shark which circled around full of curiosity but made no attempt to attack. I kept wondering how far down he would go. He was still hanging around some thirty feet from me, and about twenty feet higher, when I reached a ledge below which was a great, black chasm of enormous depth. It being dangerous to venture farther, I stood looking into the chasm while the shark waited for my next move. Suddenly the water became distinctly colder. While the temperature continued to drop with surprising rapidity, I saw a black mass rising from the darkness of the chasm. It floated upwards very slowly. As at last light reached it I could see that it was of dull brown colour and tremendous size, a flat ragged edged thing about one acre in extent. It pulsated sluggishly and I knew that it was alive despite its lack of visible limbs or eyes. Still pulsating, this frightful vision floated past my level, by which time the coldness had become most intense. The shark now hung completely motionless, paralyzed either by cold or fear. While I watched fascinated, the enormous brown thing reached the shark, contacted him with its upper surface. The shark gave a convulsive shiver and was drawn unresisting into the substance of the monster. I stood perfectly still, not daring to move, while the brown thing sank back into the chasm as slowly as it had emerged. Darkness swallowed it and the water started to regain some warmth. God knows what this thing was, but I had no doubt that it had been born of the primeval slime countless fathoms below.
What was going on here and what was this thing? In 1965 there was a bizarre encounter reported by the crew of the deep-ocean research submersible Alvin, owned by the United States Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In this year engineers Marvin McCamis and Bill Rainnie were engaged in test diving the new submersible off the Bahamas, doing test runs through the “Tongue of the Ocean,” a very deep stretch of water separating the Bahamian islands of Andros and New Providence, when they came across something they could barely fathom. McCamis would later report on the encounter:
We were down about 5000 feet and then I went down into a crevasse about 300 feet deeper under a slight outcrop. We went deeper because the cable we were following spanned the crevasse. It was right there that I spotted it. The first thing I noticed was the movement. I thought we were moving along the cable and checked for drift but found that the sub was stationary and that it was the object that was moving. It then occurred to me that perhaps it was a utility pole, especially because of its thick shape. I swung the sub in an arc to get a better view along the cable or pole or whatever it was, when I was astonished to see a thick body with flippers, a long neck, a snakelike head with two eyes looking right at us. It looked like a big lizard with flippers - it had two sets of them. Then it swam upwards with its back turned before we could get the cameras angled. They were set to photograph 15 to 25 feet in front of the submarine and the thing had already swum out of the camera angle but was still around. I didn't like the way things were happening, so I came up. I couldn't believe what I was seeing but I didn't want to hang around.
McCamis would later explain that the creature looked just like an extinct long-necked ocean going dinosaur known as a plesiosaur. Rather oddly, the log book page with this sighting mysteriously went missing, and without any further evidence or sightings we are left to wonder what they saw down there. The following year there were several large, anomalous deep sea monsters allegedly witnessed by the U.S. Navy/civilian deep-submergence vehicle Deepstar 4000, which was designed by none other than Jacques Cousteau and was able to take a crew of up to three to a staggering depth of 4,000 feet (1,200 m). During a June 1966 research dive in the San Diego Trough, pilot Joe Thompson, marine biologist Gene LaFond, and instrumentation engineer Dale Good were oprating at a depth of around 4,000 ft (1,219 m) in order to lay hydrographical instruments on the seafloor, when they saw something that shocked them.
As they went about their work on the sea floor, something enormous disturbed the silt on the bottom, and when they looked to see what it was, a massive fish bloomed out of the darkness into their submersible’s lights. The fish was described as being 25–40 feet (8–12 m) in length, with enormous eyes, gill plates, huge pectoral fins 2 ft (60 cm) in length, a rounded grouper-like tail fin, dark and mottled gray-black in color, and somewhat resembling a sea bass in body form. Unfortunately, the Deepstar 4000 was not able to photograph the giant fish. The following year the submersible would have another strange sighting when Thompson was on another mission when he spotted what he called a “giant grenadier fish” measuring 10 feet (3 m) in length, far larger than any known grenadier species.
In 1969, Fortean researcher Richard Winer was on a deep dive doing oceanographic work for General Electric off the coast of the Bahamas along with a diver named Pat Boatwright. At some point during their dive, they were startled when what seems to have been a very massive jelly-fish like creature came up through the gloom beneath them. Winer would say of the encounter:
Pat Boatwright, grabbed me by the shoulder and pointed downward. It was late in the afternoon, and the rough seas were distorting the light that penetrated into the depths. What I saw was phenomenal. How deep it was or its size I couldn't tell. It might have been 100 feet beneath us–maybe 150 feet. Its size I could only guess at–maybe a hundred feet across, possibly seventy-five, but no less than fifty feet in diameter. It was perfectly round. Its color was a deep purple. It was moving slowly up toward us. At its outer perimeter there was a form of pulsation, but there was no movement of water. As we started for the surface, it stopped its ascent. Then slowly it began to descend into the blackening depths. Awestricken, we watched until it was no more.
He was unable to take any photos because he had allegedly used up all of his camera film, so there is sadly no way to really know what is going on here. Was this a giant jellyfish, a giant squid, or what? Who knows? In the 1970s there was a similarly hard to classify report given to cryptozoologist Chad Arment, from a person who claimed his friend had encountered a mysterious predator in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. The witness had been a deep sea welder and reportedly often saw “giant headless glowing living firehoses” that were fed upon by a very bizarre and monstrous creature, indeed. The report reads:
My friend George Hale was unable to describe the predator in detail. It was too big and too close to him. It was as big to him as you are to an ant. As a matter of fact, he had to ascend PDQ because he was in fear of being crushed like a bug. But the predator had a pallor and skin texture like a sea anemone and it might have been built along the lines of a starfish or a freshwater pond hydra. And it was eating the firehose entity by swallowing it. It's method of propulsion is a mystery.
It’s hard to say what this could have possibly been, and it is a pretty damn strange account. In more recent years we have a report from 1992, off southeastern Japan in the Pacific Ocean. During a deep sea surveying expedition in a diving bell by British diver Mike Cleary, at a depth of 1,700 feet (518 m), he was allegedly confronted by an immense “unknown creature.” The bizarre creature was described as being 25 feet (7 m) long, with a single elongated dorsal fin, no neck, and a head “like a seahorse's, with cow-like eyes and barracuda-like teeth.” Strangest of all it was said to possess two webbed limbs protruding from its torso. The outlandish monstrosity circled the diving bell before fading off into the darkness from whence it came. It has been suggested that this might have been an unknown giant species of lobe-finned fish, like the coelacanth, but there is no way to know for sure.
An even more recent oddity also comes from Japan, at the Mariana Trench, a massive undersea canyon stretching around 2,550 km (1,580 mi) along the western Pacific Ocean. Dropping down up to 7 miles into darkness at its deepest point, the yawning chasm of the Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the world’s oceans, and remains mostly unexplored. Along the outer edge of the Mariana Trench lies the extremely deep Suruga Bay, Japan. It was here that in 2008 researchers caught footage of a truly monstrous shark while studying the marine life of the area. Japanese marine biologists studying sea life at the bottom of a deep and little explored part of the bay set up a container filled with potently smelly bait designed to lure in a wide variety of sea life even from great distances away. The container was placed at a depth of 1.5 km (nearly 1 mile), and a camera was attached nearby to capture footage of any sea life in the vicinity. The plan was to take video of and catalog the different types of creatures that showed up.
At first, the bait attracted numerous small fish and some crustaceans, nothing particularly unusual. Things got more exciting when a shoal of rare, deep water sharks measuring around 2 meters (6.5 feet) long moved in and enthusiastically fed on the bait. Researchers were surprised when the shoal of sharks suddenly and inexplicably darted off in all directions as if they were afraid of something. At first, it was unknown what could have caused such large sharks to scatter like that away from such irresistible bait. The reason soon became apparent when a humongous shark dwarfing the others loomed into view from the surrounding murk. The incredibly large shark proceeds to slowly soar in front of the camera and show interest in the bait before gliding off again. The scientists who viewed the mysterious shark were puzzled by its sheer size, and nobody was sure just what exactly they had seen.
It is apparent upon viewing the footage that whatever the shark is, it is gigantic, although it is difficult to say for certain just how gigantic. When trying to ascertain its size, researchers took into account the dimensions of the bait container, as well as the length of other sharks that can be seen in the footage before the monster shows up, which were judged to be around 2 meters (6.5 feet) long. Using these as size comparisons, the mystery shark was estimated as being at least 30 feet long, with more exaggerated estimations putting it at more like 50 or 60 feet long. The footage taken by the underwater camera near the bait station became quite popular in Japan, and it has gained some notoriety in cryptozoological abroad as well. It is unclear just what is seen in the video, and some have jumped on the explanation that the mega shark is a surviving megalodon. The researchers who originally took the video are inclined to believe it to be a very large specimen of the rare Pacific sleeper shark, and other scientists have concurred. Sleeper sharks can get quite large, and are believed to be capable of reaching lengths of up to 7 meters (23 feet) long, yet if the shark in the video is of this species then it would represent by far the largest specimen ever recorded. What was this thing?
Adding to all of these reports are various accounts over the years of exceptionally enormous squid lurking in the depths. We know the seas have big squid. The once legendary Kraken, now known as the giant squid, of the genus Architeuthis, and the even more massive colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) are famous for their enormous sizes. Giant squid, for instance, are estimated to reach total lengths (including tentacles) of up to 13 meters (43 feet) and perhaps even larger, with colossal squid being even more massive. However, is there an even more monstrously huge type of squid lurking in the unexplored depths of our oceans?
The famed cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, often referred to as the father of modern cryptozoology, certainly thought so. Inspired by reports from outsized specimens of giant squid washed up in Newfoundland, some of the more outrageous reports mentioning squid 80 or 90 feet long, Heuvelmans wondered if there were specimens of giant squid out there, or even a new species that were far larger than the proposed size limits. Another report from 1924 further added fuel to his theory. On October 25, 1924, a Mr. White and Mr. Strachan found what they described as a "record octopus" washed up on near Baven-on-Sea, Natal, South Africa. Pieces of the carcass had been missing, including the mantle and long portions of the tentacles, making size estimations difficult, but judging by illustrations of the animal Heuvelmans estimated that the total length of the animal would have been a monstrous 115 feet long.
A fair amount of sightings reports also fascinated Heuvelmans. One such sighting occurred at night during WWII by an A. G. Starkey off the Maldives. He was allegedly alone on deck and saw a squid laying alongside the 175 foot (53 m) boat that was nearly the same length. He said the arms were 2 feet wide (0.6 m) and that the beak was visible. A canadian by the name of Charles Dudoward also reported spotting a squid washed up on shore in 1922 that had arms 50 feet (15.2 m) long and one tentacle 100 feet (30 m) long. The tentacle apparently ended in a hook 10" (25 cm) wide and 12 in (31 cm) long. Dudoward's own grandfather had also made a sighting in British Columbia of a squid which had arms over 100 feet (30 m) with suckers ranging from the size of saucers to basin plates.
Heuvelmen's also considered as evidence of giant squid the existence of sucker marks on sperm whales far larger than normal which he took to imply truly humongous squid lurking in the depths. Upon hearing of sucker marks 4 inches in diameter, Heuvelman's extrapolated that into a squid with a body length (excluding tentacles) measuring at least 30 feet long. Even larger sucker marks had also been recorded, with the famed cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson writing of sucker marks measuring 18 inches long. Sanderson had also made mention of sucker marks measuring all the way up to 2 feet in diameter, all of which would imply gigantic squid far, far larger than any known thus far. It was pointed out by skeptics that these extra-large sucker marks may have been marks made by lampreys rather than those of squid, or that they could have been wounds inflicted on young whales that grew to appear larger as the animals matured, but Heuvelmans was not convinced by these arguments. Heuvelmans also took reports of tentacles measuring 45 feet long and speculated that they were short arms rather than the long tentacles, from which he calculated that the creature itself would reach the truly mind boggling total length of 140 to 240 feet if male and up to 300 feet if female.
Based on all of these observations, plus various sightings reports of super-sized squid from around the world, Heuvelmans proposed that there were squid that measured well over 100 feet and in some case up to 300 feet lurking in the world's oceans. This seems perhaps a little farfetched, yet even if they are not hundreds of feet long it is entirely feasible that squid at least larger than any currently known are out there prowling the depths. It is a sobering thought, and makes one wonder just what is lurking out there in those depths that we do not understand. In the end, all such cases as we have looked at here serve to make us wonder just what might be down there in the deep, dark places of the world. It is a realm we have only scratched the surface of, and there is no way of knowing just what our light into that darkness might catch in its beam.