Monday, July 09, 2007

the Monsters of the Fjords

"...a terrible sea monster.... was seen in 1734 outside the colony. It was an enormously big creature: Its head reached the yard arm when it rose out of the water. The body was as thick as the ship and was 3 - 4 times as long. It had a pointed nose, and blew like a whale. It had big broad limbs, and the body seemed to be covered with barnacles, and the skin was very rough. The general shape was that of a serpent. When it dived, it lunged backwards and then raised the tail above the surface a ship's length away." - Hans Egede, 'Det gamle Groenlands nye Perlustration eller Natural Historie' (1746)

Thank you everyone who came out to our Swedish and Norwegian shows. The highlight for me was the epic last 80 miles into Egersund where we drove winding, u-bending roads through spectacular granite cliffs, and forests so altitudinous they were filled with cloud (though all this did provoke a small amount of car-sickness). As I stared down the immense chasms, into the sullen fjords below, I remembered Bishop Egede's account of the sea serpent he had witnessed in the coal-black waters of Greenland in 1734, and I scanned the surface for any movement I might consider suspicious or sinister. The same creature, (an 80 foot long black sea snake, with a camel-like head) was spotted by over a thousand people off the coasts of Gloucester and Maine in 1817, as well as by crew members of the HMS Dedalus in the late 19th century, and is still officially unknown to, and unexplained by, science. (the usual submerged giant squid theory not really explaining the 1000s of eye witness reports of a head with teeth, given by terrified New Englanders) .

I would even have been happy with a washed-ashore giant squid carcass, of which there were a mysteriously large number on the Norwegian west coast during the late 19th century (evidence of a larger, infinitely more predatory beast lurking in the waters perhaps?)

Or a giant octopus (Pacific wartime reports exist of monsters more than 200 feet long, 4 times the size of the largest giant squid); or a Megalodon, a type of enormous pre-historic shark, which may or may not be quite extinct, if certain recent accounts from the South Sea Islands be taken seriously. The megalodon could/can(?) grow to 100 feet, 3 of them together could have eaten our ferry for breakfast.

But the Norwegian waters refused to render up their secrets, much as the Norwegian audiences had refused to render up their merch-money (heh heh, just kidding). I did see a jellyfish from the jetty as we waited for our ferry. Only it turned out to be a bit of seaweed.

Keep watching the waves.


ashley said...

Look what I saw in today's news! Not quite as big as Egersund's serpent, but still pretty large! Maybe you'll be lucky enough to see one of these suckers on your Australian tour...

CANBERRA (Reuters) - One of the largest giant squid ever found has washed up on a remote Australian beach, sparking a race against time by scientists to examine the rarely seen deep-ocean creature.

The squid, the mantle or main body of which measured two-meters (6.5 feet) long, was found by a walker late on Tuesday on Ocean Beach, near Strahan, on the western coast of island state Tasmania.

"It's a whopper," Tasmanian Museum senior curator Genefor Walker-Smith told local media on Wednesday. "The main mantle is about one meter across and its total length is about eight meters."

Scientists would take samples from the creature, identified by state parks officials as an Architeuthis, which can grow to more than 10 meters (33 feet) in length and weigh more than 275 kilograms (606 pounds). The Tasmanian animal was 250 kg, Pemberton said.

The tentacles had been badly damaged, so the overall length of the animal could not be determined, a Tasmania Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman said. Park rangers had moved the remains from the water.

Giant squid, once believed to be mythical despite occasional sightings by mariners, feed on fish and other squid. Last year, fishermen off the Falkland Islands caught a complete animal measuring 8.62 meters.

Scientists believe giant squid usually live at ocean depths of between 200-700 meters (660-2,300 ft), relying in part on volleyball-sized eyes, the largest in the animal kingdom.

Scientists said giant squid gathered along Australia's continental shelf in cold mid-winter waters to feed on Grenadier fish. The squid were in turn hunted by sperm whales migrating north from the Southern Ocean.

Japanese ocean researchers captured the first ever pictures of a live giant squid in September 2004 off Japan's Ogasawara Islands at a depth of 900 meters.

Allison said...

My old flatmate, who works at the V&A, told me that they have a "pickled" squid at the Natural History Museum that's more than 8 1/2 meters long. You have to take a tour to see it, but she says it's well worth it.

Anonymous said...

I had a pickled squid in a Greek restaurant in Adelaide earlier this year. Very nice indeed. MMMmmm...