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Kraken Monster

The Kraken is the fabled sea monster said to have been sighted frequently off the coast of Norway; it was apparently quite capable of dragging the largest ships to the bottom and simply by submerging itself it could suck a vessel to its doom by means of the whirlpool it thereby created. Brewer says that the Kraken was first described by Erik Pontoppidan in his Natural History of Norway (1752; Pontoppidan, 1698–1764, was bishop of Bergen at the time). “Kraken” is probably from the Old Swedish kraken and the Danish krage, stump or stem of a tree, from a claimed resemblance to the infamous and decidedly uncouth monster. Pontopiddan described this creature as “a mile and a half wide.” Clearly, even allowing for regional variations in what constituted a proper Christian mile, this was a beast of no mean proportions.

Pontoppidan’s assertion that the creature’s “discharges turn the sea murky” point to the likelihood that the dreaded Kraken was nothing but a giant cuttlefish. The sea monsters of Scandinavia were of a peculiarly clerical bent: they seemed regularly to manifest themselves to seagoing clergy. Hans Egede, a Norwegian missionary (1686–1758) and later bishop of Greenland, described in 1741 a monster seen in those waters: The Monster was of so huge a Size, that coming out of the Water its Head reached as high, as the Mast-Head; its Body was as bulky as the Ship, and three or four times as long. It had a long pointed snout, and spouted like a Whale-Fish; great broad Paws, and the body seemed covered with shell-work, its skin very rugged and uneven. The under Part of its Body was shaped like an enormous huge serpent, and when it dived again under Water, it plunged backwards into the Sea and so raised its Tail aloft, which seemed a whole Ship’s Length distant from the bulkiest part of its body.

According to one of the stories, the Kraken spends its time sleeping on the seabed and feeding on huge seaworms now and then, and when the fires of hell warm the ocean beyond the point of comfort (as determined by Krakens), the beast will rise to the surface and die. Other accounts have it lounging around on the surface like an island. In 1555 Olaus Magnus (1490–1557), the Catholic archbishop of Sweden, said this monster had skin that looked so much like beach shingle that seamen were often beguiled into landing on it and cooking their food (a curious action, one would have thought, since all voyaging vessels were equipped with their own galleys for just such a purpose).

There is an illustration in Encyclopedia of World Mythology showing a section of the North Sea in a sixteenth-century marine chart where a large sailing vessel has set its anchor into one of these monsters, two seamen meanwhile busily cooking a meal over a fire on the creature’s back—clearly, an indication that the Kraken is regarded as being so huge that its particularities cannot be distinguished. Woodcuts of this nature, embellished with many dire warnings, were common on early sea charts for hundreds of years. Archbishop Magnus was something of an historian, and because of the reports and descriptions that he appended on his maps he also became the authority of his time on fabulous sea monsters, his drawings of which were copied and passed on by other writers and mapmakers. He described a local monster, the Soe Orm, in the following terms: A very large Sea-Serpent of a length upwards of 200 feet and 20 feet in diameter which lives in rocks and in holes near the shore of Bergen; it comes out of its cavern only on summer nights and in fine weather to destroy calves, lambs, or hogs, or goes into the sea to eat cuttles, lobster, and all kinds of sea crabs. It has a growth of hairs of two feet in length hanging from the neck, sharp scales of a dark brown color, and brilliant flaming eyes.

Clearly, this is a sea monster with a difference: it has developed the characteristics of an amphibian in order to satisfy a very comprehensive diet. Mercatante tells us of a bishop (a Danish priest, according to Kemp) who, returning by sea to his own country, spies what he thinks is an island; he goes ashore and celebrates Mass, and it is only when he boards his ship again that he realizes that the island is in fact a Kraken, idly floating on the surface of the sea (see Voyages of Saint Brendan, chapter 3, for an account of a similar incident). Rogers makes the sensible suggestion that the Kraken was in fact a gigantic squid or octopus; he mentions the fact that Frank Bullen (an English whaling captain; his book The Cruise of the “Cachalot” is an interesting account of nineteenthcentury whaling) once saw a large sperm whale attacking an octopus—it may have been a squid; both were the natural prey of these whales, which they almost equaled in size.

Kemp shows a late-eighteenth-century engraving of a large vessel being overwhelmed by a Kraken, which the artist has depicted as a giant octopus (although its eyes are curiously situated at the roots of two of its tentacles). Rogers also records that in 1873 two fishermen were attacked by an octopus in Newfoundland waters; they managed to drive it away by chopping off two tentacles. Later measurements indicated that the creature would have been some 80 feet across its spread-out diameter, a compelling bulk.

Interestingly, Rogers insisted that the sperm whale, the famous cachalot, is capable of swallowing a man, and he included an authenticated account, one of a number of such, in his book Ships and Sailors (see, for example, Jonah and the Whale, below, for just such an account). The sperm whale will actually devour a giant squid, and sections of the tentacles of those creatures are at least as thick as a man—all of which makes the story of Jonah’s three-day sojourn in the belly of “a great fish” not at all difficult to swallow.

The English writer John Wyndham (1903–1969) created a Kraken that was very much alive in his science-fiction novel The Kraken Wakes (1953), in which the beast bursts into life and wreaks destruction on everything it encounters. It is likely that the Kraken and the sea serpent are in fact the giant squid known as Architeuthis, examples of which have been discovered in the past century afloat and washed up on beaches, especially in cold climates. The sea serpent sighted from HMS Daedalus (see Captain M’Quhae’s Monster, above) may well have been Architeuthis swimming on the surface with its flattened broad-arrow tail that actually precedes the animal as it moves through the water, looking for all the world like a huge snake—the quintessential description of the sea serpent of myth.

In 1861, while approaching Tenerife in the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, the French steamer Alecton came across a giant squid on the surface of the sea. The commander, Lieutenant Bouyer, reported that it was up to 18 feet long with a head shaped much like a parrot’s beak (characteristic of the giant squid), arms 5 to 6 feet long, and colored brick red; it looked like a “colossal and slimy embryo [that] has a repulsive and terrible appearance.” This was in fact Architeuthis, the giant squid, specimens of which were found on beaches in Newfoundland in the period 1870–80, some of the bodies being over forty feet long. Then, for reasons unknown, the creatures disappeared from the waters of Newfoundland and relocated themselves to New Zealand, whence they wandered to sites as disparate as Iceland, Norway, South Africa, and Cape Cod.

Examination of carcasses shows that Architeuthis has the largest eyes in the animal kingdom (as large as the hubcap of a car, as Richard Ellis colorfully puts it), indicating that they live at great depths in the ocean. The suckers on each of their ten arms are each equipped with a ring of teeth that can immovably grip prey; where the arms meet at the head there is an enormous beak used for ripping flesh from creatures as large as sperm whales, though the whales are believed to dive to prodigious depths to seek, in return, their favorite food, the giant squid. But one thing is certain: no amount of scientific explanation, nor even the production of suitably gigantic carcasses as tangible proof, will convince those who prefer shivery myth and mystery to the plain austerity of everyday fact.

(Source : Seafaring, Lore, and Legends)

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  1. Numerous ships lost without a trace have been credited to the predations of the kraken, although much less in recent times. The North sea is one of the most heavily polluted stretches of water in the world, and it is possible that the pollution has driven the kraken deep into the open ocean or possibly even killed it. If it is still living, it may simply be dormant -- a hibernation of sorts if you will -- which will not last forever.

    Some fear that continued oil and gas extraction in the North Sea might attract the kraken's wrath, and that retribution will follow. Although in certain legends they say there are only two Kraken in existence, and that these were born in the first creation and are destined to die only when the world itself finally perishes.

  2. Thanx for ur comment, really helpful :)


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