The earliest recorded sighting of a Sea Serpent in North American waters was at Cape Ann in 1639:
“They told me of a sea serpent or snake, that lay coiled up like a cable upon a rock at Cape Ann; a boat passed by with two English on board and two Indians. They would have shot the serpent, but the Indians dissuaded them, saying that if he were not killed outright, they would be in danger of their lives.” —John Jossellyn, 1638
In 1817, reports spread throughout New England of a sea serpent sighted in Gloucester Harbor. The Linnaean Society of New England collected evidence and published a pamphlet in which it announced the discovery of an entirely new genus, the Scoliophis Atlanticus. There were mass sightings of a serpent off the coast of Nahant in 1819.
A similar creature attacked a British sailing ship, the British Banner in 1859. General David Humphreys traveled to Gloucester to interview witnesses. Witnesses said that the creature was 60 to 70 ft long and that it’s head, which it held above the water, had a spear about twelve inches in height, and six inches in circumference at the base. It moved rapidly in a serpentine fashion, was very agile and no one had been able to kill it.
After the age of motorized ocean travel reports of a sea serpent subsided, and it has been speculated that if such creatures existed they may have been warned off by the sounds of ship engines. Reported sightings have continued to this day in Nova Scotia. On Sunday, November 15, 1970, a “sea monster” washed ashore at Scituate south of Boston. In the next three days over 10,000 people saw the creature. Discoverers of the carcass claimed it was at least 50 feet long, but souvenir seekers hacked off many pieces before authorities from the New England Aquarium arrived to investigate.
The giant Plum Island Squid
It could be that some of the sightings were of a giant squid similar to the one that washed up on Plum Island in 1980.
Sightings of the giant squid or “Kraken” have been reported for centuries but the creature was long considered to be mythological. In the 18th Century, Erik Pontoppidan, bishop of Bergen in his book “The Natural History of Norway” claimed that the kraken was sometimes mistaken for an island and that ships could be sunk by the whirlpool left in its wake.
The massive giant squid has eight arms and two long tentacles, but was rarely seen and never taken seriously by the scientific community until it was categorized by Danish zoologist Johan Steenstrup in the 1840’s. A squid estimated at 30 ft. long was captured near St. John’s Newfoundland in 1873, and three years later a 65 ft. long specimen was found in New Zealand. Perhaps the giant squid accounts for some of the reports of “sea monsters” off the coast of Massachusetts in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
In 1980 a giant squid was discovered on the Plum Island beach about 3.5 miles south of the entrance to the Parker River Wildlife Refuge in a section that is part of Rowley. This is only about 3 miles from Great Neck (“as the crow flies”).
The giant squid specimen was a female, 9 feet long and weighing 440 lbs. Had the two feeding tentacles not been missing, it would have measured about 30 ft. It was the third body of a giant squid to be found on U.S. shores.
Staff from the New England Aquarium arrived at the scene on Plum Island and transferred the carcass to their facility in Boston where it was put on display. The giant squid was eventually moved to the New England Aquarium, and has recently been on loan to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
The underwater footage below was taken in 2013 by the crew from Japan’s National Science Museum and is the first video ever recorded of a live giant squid.
- Biodiversity Heritage Library
- The great New England sea-serpent, J. P. O’Neill
- The great sea-serpent. An historical and critical treatise. With the reports of 187 appearances…the suppositions and suggestions of scientific and non-scientific persons, and the author’s conclusions. With 82 illustrations
by Oudemans, A. C. (Anthonie Cornelis), 1831-1895