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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Bernard Heuvelmans vs. Henry Lee

In the latter part of the 1800s, Naturalist Henry Lee wrote two books trying to explain reports of sea serpents, mermaids, and the like. How did he explain the many various descriptions of sea serpents reported by respectable sailors all over the world? With one thing, actually. The giant squid.

At one time the giant squid, Architeuthis, was considered a sea serpent itself. Reports of the kraken attacking ships are thought to be based on this creature, which was unknown to science for quite a long time, until dead squids began being found on beaches.
Kraken attacking a ship -
though this one is a giant octopus,
not a squid

Lee tried to explain all sea serpent sightings with the squid, but two that stand out - because the idea is so ridiculous! - above all the others. Namely, the serpent seen by Hans Egede in 1734, and the one seen by the crew of the H.M.S. Daedalus in 1848.
Hans Egede serpent

Daedalus serpent

Lee though that the crew of the Daedalus has seen a squid swimming on top of the water, and its tentacles and arms looked like the back of the creature, with the mantle being the "head," and that Hans Egede has seen a squid with its mantle and one tentacle raised out of the water! (To be the head/body and tail, respectively. Also keep in mind that Egede said the monster he saw was "longer than our whole ship"). He also said that when Egede's monster "spouted like a whale-fish" it was the locomotor siphon on the squid. Below is the picture Lee used to try to explain his theory.

A. Hans Egede
B. Daedalus
The whole idea of every sea serpent being explained by a giant squid is ludicrous. I think Bernard Heuvelmans explains it best in his book In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents:

"Lee says nothing of the 'periscope position' in which the long-necked sea-serpent is sometimes seen. But knowing his methods we can interpret it for him. It occurs when an Architeuthis swims on the surface lifting one of its tentacles out of the water. It may make this odd gesture for one of the following reasons: (1) to see which way the wind is blowing; (2) to wave at one of its fellows; (3) to see if it is raining; (4) to give a traffic signal when about to turn; (5) to make innocent sailors think that it is a different kind of serpentine sea-monster, and incidentally a much less terrifying one.
"But, to cap everything, when we come to one of those rare sea-serpents that might possibly be a giant squid, to wit the one seen by the crew of the Pauline at grips with a whale, Lee suddenly finds his explanation unsatisfactory, and one is amazed to find him saying, 'They may have seen a veritable sea-serpent.'"


Bernard Heuvelmans 


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