Real sea monsters

Reconstruction of the jaws of giant fossil shark Megalodon

Mermaids, kraken, sea serpents… they’re the kind of animals you WISH existed. That’s why I was so excited this week to read about new film footage of the ‘real kraken’ – the giant squid. It’s hardly ever seen alive because it lives at such great depths, and animals found near the surface are usually dead or dying. So we don’t know much about how they live. But now we know they really do look frighteningly like a kraken on film!

Japanese scientists filmed the squid deep in the Pacific, around 1000km south of Tokyo. As well as the video footage, there are also some amazing stills – it appears to have a silvery sheen, and was charmingly described by scientists Tsunemi Kubodera (clearly a squid super-fan) as ‘shining and so beautiful’ – aww!

Giant squid are the real deal – you can’t get much closer to a true sea ‘monster’ than an enormous, mysterious giant squid that has hardly ever been seen alive. But there are others that aren’t so well-known – including some that are hilariously unlike their mythical counterparts.

Some of the animals thought to be behind legends of sea monsters are not what you’d expect – for example, there’s a ‘theory’ that manatees and dugongs could have inspired stories of mermaids. Their Latin name, Sirenia, even means mermaid. But anyone who’s seen their adorably ugly faces has to wonder who could possibly mistake them for beautiful women. Maybe this was a side effect of the extremely long sea voyages of the past…

But another ‘real sea monster’ that’s much more convincing caught my eye recently. I came across a picture of an oarfish – it really is almost exactly what I had imagined a sea serpent might look like. And as it often turns out, the reality is even cooler than the myth because oarfish have an amazing red crest (it’s actually a dorsal fin) and are sometimes known as the ‘King of herrings’. Once again they are mysterious deep-sea dwellers that are rarely seen alive.

There are also some extinct sea monsters that almost defy belief – if only we could see them alive. The most famous are the plesiosaurs and the giant shark Megalodon, but this week the discovery of a new giant ichthyosaur fossil in Nevada was announced – a 30-foot predatory reptile with teeth the size of Swiss army knives (have a look at the pictures!)

As usual I think the real animals are much cooler than the mythical ones (if not quite as big). There must be hundreds if not thousands more amazing species lurking at the bottom of the sea – the deep sea creatures we already know about are some of weirdest animals I’ve ever seen. I’m hoping 2013 will bring even more strange sea monster news from the depths to remind us how little we know about what’s down there…


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