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Sea serpents are a kind of sea monster either wholly or partly serpentine. Despite the numerous sightings, though, no credible physical evidence has been recorded and it is currently believed that the serpents do not actually exist.



  • The Tanakh contains references to Leviathan and Rahab, both Biblical sea serpents.
  • In Norse mythology, Jörmungandr, or "Midgårdsormen" was a sea serpent so long that it encircled the entire world, Midgard. Some stories report of sailors mistaking its back for a chain of islands. Sea serpents also appear frequently in later Scandinavian folklore, particularly in that of Norway.


Olaus Magnus's Sea Orm, 1555
The first American sea serpent, reported from Cape :Ann, Massachusetts, in 1639.
Sea serpent reported by Hans Egede, Bishop of Greenland, in 1734. Henry Lee suggested the giant squid as an explanation.
The "Great Sea Serpent" according to Hans Egede.
Maned sea serpent from Bishop Erik Pontoppidan's 1755 work Natural History of Norway.
The Gloucester sea serpent of 1817.
A curiously hairy sea serpent.
Albert Koch's 114-foot long "Hydrarchos" fossil skeleton from 1845. It was found to be an assembled collection of bones from at least five fossil specimens of Zeuglodon.
The "long black creature" sighted by the crew of HMS Plumper off the Portuguese coast in 1848.
The sea serpent spotted by the crew of HMS Daedalus in 1848.
Oarfish that washed ashore on a Bermuda beach in 1860. The animal was 16 feet long and was originally described as a sea serpent.
  • Sightings have been reported for hundreds of years, and recent work by Bruce Champagne indicates that there have been 1,200 or more all told. Sea serpents have been seen from both ship and shore, and by multiple people at once, groups that sometimes count scientists among their number. In many cases, these sightings are well documented in the newspapers of the day, although most occurred before any kind of photographic technology existed.
  • In Swedish ecclesiastic and writer Olaus Magnus's Carta marina, many marine monsters of varied form, including an immense sea serpent, appear. Moreover, in his 1555 work History of the Northern Peoples, Magnus gives the following description of a Norwegian sea serpent:

Those who sail up along the coast of Norway to trade or to fish, all tell the remarkable story of how a serpent of fearsome size, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, resides in rifts and caves outside Bergen. On bright summer nights this serpent leaves the caves to eat calves, lambs and pigs, or it fares out to the sea and feeds on sea nettles, crabs and similar marine animals. It has ell-long hair hanging from its neck, sharp black scales and flaming red eyes. It attacks vessels, grabs and swallows people, as it lifts itself up like a column from the water.

  • In the 19th century there were several major sea serpent sightings on the Gloucester and Maine coasts of New England, which spawned a rather silly mix-up. On August 18, 1817, a meeting of the New England Linnaean Society went so far as to give a deformed terrestrial snake the name Scoliophis atlanticus (thinking it was the juvenile form of a sea serpent that had recently been seen nearby). After the Linnaean Society's misidentification was discovered, it was frequently cited by debunkers as evidence that the creature did not exist; when in fact, the only thing proven by the incident was that the Society had made an embarrassing public error.
  • A particularly famous sea serpent sighting was made by the men and officers of HMS Daedalus in August, 1848 during a voyage to Saint Helena in the South Atlantic; the creature they saw, some 60 feet long, held a peculiar maned head above the water. The sighting caused quite a stir in the London papers, and Sir Richard Owen, the famous English biologist, proclaimed the beast an elephant seal. The Daedalus' serpent has since been classified as a Super Eel or Type 2C animal. Another skeptical suggestion for the sighting proposed that it was actually an upside down canoe, or a posing giant squid.
  • On Saturday 30 May 1903, the SS Tresco was cruising 90 miles south of Cape Hatteras when Joseph Ostens Grey, the ship's Second Officer, spotted what he first thought was a derelict hulk in the water. On closer examination they realized it was no wreaked ship:
"With a conviction that grew deeper, and ever more disquieting, we came to know that this thing could be no :derelict, no object that hand of man had fashioned..." reported Grey. He described a head that emerged out :of water on a tall and powerful neck. It was "dragon-like" and accompanied a body some 100 feet in length :and eight feet across at the widest. The head was five feet long and eighteen inches in diameter.
There was concern that the ship, running light without cargo, might be tipped and overturned if the :creature attempted to clamber aboard.
"Presently I noticed something dripping from the ugly lower jaw," continued Grey, "Watching, I saw that it :was saliva, of a dirty drab color, which dripped from the corners of the mouth." Eventually the creature :turned away and the danger was averted.|}
  • Another sighting took place in 1905 off the coast of Brazil. The crew of the Valhalla and two naturalists, Michael J. Nicoll and E. G. B. Meade-Waldo, saw a long-necked, turtle headed creature, with a large dorsal fin. Based on its dorsal fin and the shape of its head, some experts (such as Heuvelmans) have suggested that the animal was some sort of marine mammal. It has since been classified as a Super Eel (without good justification) or Type 4B. A skeptical suggestion is that the sighting was of a posing giant squid, but this is hard to accept given that squids do not swim with their fins or arms protruding from the water.
  • On August 30, 1976, while riding his horse, White Cloud, along Agate Beach in Bolinas, California, a Methodist minister and artist Tom D'Onofrio had a sighting of a sea serpent. He had taken a break from work he was doing on a wooden table of a dragon that he was commissioned to make for Grace Slick and Paul Kantner, members of the Jefferson Airplane. Tom rode down to the beach where he ran into a friend, Dick Borgstrom. It was extremely hot with no wind and, as they talked, out of the corner of his eye Tom saw something in the waves. He said "suddenly, 150 feet from shore, gamboling in an incoming wave, was this huge dragon, possibly 60 feet long and 15 feet wide." According to Tom, "the serpent seemed to be playing in the waves, threshing its tail. We were so overpowered by the sight, we were rooted to the spot for about 10 minutes. I literally felt as if I was in the presence of God. My life has been changed since." As the creature played in the water it exposed its underbelly. Then it disappeared. Tom got a good look at the face of the animal and for the next 4 days he carved the image he saw onto the dragon's head of the table.
  • On April 25, 1977, the Japanese trawler Zuiyo Maru, sailing east of Christchurch, New Zealand, caught a strange, unknown creature in the trawl. Photographs and tissue specimens were taken. While initially identified as a prehistoric plesiosaur, analysis later indicated that the body was most likely the carcass of a basking shark.
  • On October 31, 1983, a construction crew was working on Route 1 just north of the Golden Gate Bridge near Stinson Beach. There were 7 members of the work crew as well as many people in their cars who witnessed the animal swimming in the ocean. The sighting began just before 2 pm when a flagman named Gary who was stopping traffic because the work crew was knocking boulders off the road noticed something swimming towards the cliff from Duxbury Point. He called Matt Ratto, another flagman, on his two way radio and told Ratto that something big was swimming in the ocean towards him and the rest of the work crew. Ratto grabbed his binoculars and saw the animal 100 yards offshore and less than a quarter of a mile away. Ratto said "it was black with three humps" and that "the body came out of the water first". He said " there were three bends, like humps and they rose straight up". As he watched, the serpent turned around and after its head went under water it swam back out to sea. Marlene Martin, who was a safety inspector for the Department of Transportation, said she first saw the animal after Gary called saying something "weird" was swimming towards them from Duxbury Point. She saw a "V" shaped wake as it swam up to the beach 250 feet below them. At that point it was completely underwater. Then it made a "U" turn and headed towards the Farallones. As it swam away from the beach she saw three humps followed by part of a fourth. By this time she had taken the binoculars from Ratto and watched the animal swimming away from them. When it was a quarter of a mile away Martin said "it raised its neck 15 feet out of the water and started swishing around". According to Martin, the animal held its head up shaking water all over and opened its mouth exposing many large teeth. She said the eyes appeared to be a "very dark red, not only the pupil, but the whole eye". She described the shade of red as "not a blood red, but more of a ruby red". She described the teeth as "alligator-like teeth all around the mouth". Steve Bjora who was a truck driver said "the sucker was going 45 to 50 miles an hour". He said "it was clipping. It was boogying. It looked like a long eel". The workers estimated the creature's length at 100 feet.
  • Sea serpent sightings continue today, with reports coming in from the Pacific Northwest and California; the most notable of recent occurrences is the sighting of a sea serpent in San Francisco bay on February 5, 1985 by twin brothers Bill and Bob Clark. It was around 7:45 am and the bay was so calm the surface of the water was like a mirror. They were watching a group of 3 or 4 sea lions hanging out about 150 yards in front of where they were sitting in their car at the Marina Green. As they watched the sea lions they saw what appeared to be another sea lion swim from behind Stone Tower Point towards the group of sea lions. When the animal got within a few feet of the sea lions it telescoped its head and neck straight up out of the water approximately 10 feet and lunged forward down into the sea lions. The sea lions immediately scattered in different directions as fast as they could and one of them headed towards shore where the Clarks had parked their car leaping in and out of the water in its attempt to escape from the animal. The animal followed that particular sea lion all the way to the shoreline where the animal beached itself on a submerged rocky ledge that extended about 10 yards out along the shoreline which the sea lion swam over. At this point the animal was only about 20 yards away from the Clarks and directly in front of where they were parked. In order to get off the rocky ledge the animal lifted the upper portion and midsection of its body and exposed a large creamy white padded underbelly composed of at least 9 segmented sections. During the sighting the Clarks saw fan like appendages on both sides of the midsection which appeared to act as stabilizer fins. As the animal twisted its entire body in a corkscrewing manner it rolled off the ledge away from the Clarks and fell back into the deeper water. The Clarks were able to see almost the entire animal except for the tail. The animal then swam back into the middle of the SF Bay. The Clarks had several more sightings in the next two years and were able to take 4 photos during one sighting. During another sighting they saw a juvenile sea serpent coiled around the upper portion of an adult sea serpent. Later during that sighting the juvenile stuck it's head and a foot or two of its neck straight up out of the water only 20-25 yards away from where the Clarks were parked in their car opened its mouth and began growling and hissing at the brothers before it sank straight down below the surface of the water. The Clarks were able to get one photo of the juvenile sea serpent's head before it submerged and also were able to get a photo of the adult sea serpent's head with several feet of its upper portion sticking out of the water next to a 5 foot buoy. After a 17 year period during which they had no sightings, on January 26, 2004 they were able to take a 3 1/2 minute video of several sea serpents swimming in SF Bay between Angel Island and Alcatraz. The Clarks had two independent in-depth analyses done of the video. One by expert image analyst Clifford Paiva who worked for the US Navy as their expert image analyst for 30 years and another done by Bruce Champagne who is a police officer and marine biologist. Both Paiva and Champagne concluded that the video was not a fake and that it contained images of at least 5 sea serpents approximately 75 feet in length swimming in SF Bay. The Clark brothers' most recent sighting occurred on February 8, 2009 during which they were able to take a 7 minute video of one of the animals swimming West to East along the Eastern tip of Angel Island between Angel Island and Alcatraz.
  • In October 2004, the giant squid, long associated with sea monsters and perhaps the source of many mistaken sightings, was for the first time caught on video off the Bonin Islands, revealing for the first time the appearance in life of this "cousin" of sea serpents.

Theories and analysis

  • Skeptics and debunkers have questioned the interpretation of sightings, putting forward in place of serpents cetaceans (whales and dolphins), sea snakes, eels, basking sharks, baleen whales, oarfish, large pinnipeds, seaweed, driftwood, a wave phenomenon, flocks of birds, and giant squid as the creature or creatures seen (see Notable Cases, above, on giant squid and basking sharks).
  • While most cryptozoologists recognize that at least some reports are simple misidentifications, they point out that many of the creatures described by those who have seen them look nothing like the known species put forward by skeptics and claim that certain reports stick out. For their part, the skeptics remain unconvinced, pointing out that even in the absence of out-right hoaxes (such as the infamous "Surgeon's Photo" of the Loch Ness Monster), imagination has a way of twisting and inflating the slightly out-of-the-ordinary until it becomes extraordinary.

Classification systems

Cryptozoologists may further argue for the existence of sea serpents by pointing out that people see similar things, and it is possible for them to classify the different "types". While there have been different classification attempts with different results, they all share several common characteristics.

Anthonid Cornelis Oudemans

  • Megophias megophias : A large (200+ feet) sea lion-like creature with a long neck and long tail. Only the male has a mane. It is cosmopolitan.

Bernard Heuvelmans

  • Long Necked or Megalotaria longicollis: A 60 foot, long necked, short tailed sea lion. Hair and whiskers reported. Cosmopolitan. Interestingly, a long necked seal is now known from the fossil record.
  • Merhorse or Halshippus olai-magni: A 60 foot, medium necked, large eyed, horse-headed pinniped. Often has whiskers. It is also cosmopolitan.
  • Many-Humped or Plurigibbosus novae-angliae: A 60-100 foot, medium necked, long bodied archaeocete. It has a series of humps or a crest on the spine like a sperm whale's or grey whale's. It only lives in the North Atlantic.
  • Super Otter or Hyperhydra egedei: A 65-100 foot, medium necked, long bodied archeocete that resembles an otter. It moves in numerous vertical undulations (6-7). Lived near Norway and Greenland, and presumed to be extinct by Heuvelmans.
  • Many Finned or Cetioscolpenda aelani: A 60-70 foot, short necked archeocete. It has a number of lateral projections that look like dorsal fins, but turned the incorrect way. Compare to the armor on Desmatosuchus, but much more prominent.
  • Super Eels: A group of large and possibly unrelated eels. Partially based on the Leptocephalus giganteus larvae, later shown to be normal sized. [This is a controversial identification of a larval specimen made without benefit of actually examining the specimen. This "identification" was done by the paperwork and the actual specimen was missing by then.] Heuvelmans theorized eel, synbranchid, and elasmobranch identities as being possible. Cosmopolitan.
  • Marine Saurian: A 50-60 foot crocodile, or crocodile-like animal (Mosasaur, Pliosaur, etc)
  • Yellow Belly: A very large (1-200 foot) yellow and black striped tadpole-shaped creature. Dropped.
  • Father-of-all-the-turtles: A giant turtle. Dropped
  • Giant Invertebrates: Giant venus's girlde and salp colonies. Added. It is not clear if Heuvelmans intended them to be known species or extreme forms of known species.

Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe

  • Classic Sea Serpent: A quadrupedal, elongated animal with the appearance of many humps when swimming. Essentially a composite of the many humped, super otter, and super eels types. The authors suggest Basilosaurus as a candidate, or possibly Remingtoncetids.
  • Waterhorse: A large pinniped, similar to the long necked and merhorse. Only the males are maned, but females appear to have snorkels. Both of their eyes are rather small. They are noteworthy for being behind both salt and fresh water sightings.
  • Mystery Cetacean: A category of unknown whale species including double finned whales and dolphins, dorsal finned sperm whales, unknown beaked whales, an unknown orca, and others.
  • Giant Shark: A surviving Megalodon.
  • Mystery Manta: A small manta ray with dorsal markings.
  • Great Sea Centipede: Same as the many finned. The authors suggest the flippers may either be retractile, and the "scaly" appearance could be caused by parasites.
  • Mystery Saurian: Same as the marine saurian.
  • Cryptic Chelonian: A resurrection of the father-of-all-turtles.
  • Mystery Sirenian: Late surviving Steller's Sea Cow.
  • Giant Octopus, Octopus giganteus or Otoctopus giganteus: A large cephalopod living in the tropical Atlantic.

Bruce Champagne

  • 1A Long Necked: A 30 foot sea lion with a long neck and long tail. The neck is the same thickness or smaller than the head. Hair reported. It is capable of travel on land. Cosmopolitan.
  • 1B Long Necked: Similar to the above type but over 55 feet long and far more robust. The neck is of lesser thickness than the head. Only inhabits water near Great Britain and Denmark.
  • 2A Eel-Like: A 20-30 foot long heavily scaled or armored reptile. It is distinguished by a small square head with prominent tusks. "Motorboating" behavior on surface. Inhabits only the North Atlantic.
The Type 2A sea serpent according to Cameron McCormick. Drawn July, 2005.
  • 2B Eel-Like: A 25-30 foot beaked whale. It is distinguished by a tapering head and a dorsal crest. "Motorboating" behavior engaged in. Inhabits the Atlantic and Pacific. Possibly extinct.
  • 2C Eel-Like: A 60-70 foot, elongated reptile with no appendages. The head is very large and cow-like or reptilian with teeth similar to a crabeater seal's. Also shares the "motorboating" behavior. Inhabits the Atlantic, Pacific, and South China Sea. Possibly extinct.
  • 3 Multi-Humped: 30-60 feet long. A possible reptile with a dorsal crest and the ability to move in several undulations. The head has a distinctive "cameloid" appearance. Identical with Cadborosaurus willsi and is behind the Naden Harbor carcass.
  • 4A Sailfin: A 30 to 70 foot beaked whale. It is distinguished by a very small head and a very large dorsal fin. Only found in the North West Atlantic. Possibly extinct.
  • 4B Sailfin: An elongated animal of possible mammalian or reptilian identity reported from 12 to 85 feet long. It has a long neck with a turtle-like head and a long continuous dorsal fin. Cosmopolitan.
  • 5 Carapaced: A large turtle or turtle-like creature (mammal?) reported from 10 to 45 feet long. Carapace is described as jointed, segmented, and plated. May exhibit a dorsal crest of "quills" and a type of oily hair. Cosmopolitan.
  • 6 Saurian: A large and occasionally spotted crocodile or crocodile-like creature up to 65 feet long. Found in the Northern Atlantic and Mediterranean.
  • 7 Segmented/Multi limbed: An elongated mammalian creature up to 65 feet long with the appearance of segmentation and many fins. Found in the Western Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.

External links


  • Bruce Champagne. A Preliminary Evaluation of a Study of the Morphology, Behavior, Autoecology, and Habitat of Large, Unidentified Marine Animals, Based on Recorded Field Observations. Available at strangeark. Pages 99-118
  • Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. Jeremy P. Tarcher 2003.
  • Bernard Heuvelmans. In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents. Hill and Wang 1968
  • A. C. Oudemans. The Great Sea Serpent. Luzac & Co 1892. Available at strangeark

See also