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The Monsters of a Bygone Era

The Monsters of a Bygone Era



There is nothing quite so frightening as the idea of a sea monster. Unlike T. Rex and other giant dinosaurs, which went extinct, might sea monsters live on? Might they lurk beneath the leaden cloak of the oceans, breaching occasionally into view?

Through the ages, serious mariners have returned to port with accounts of huge, snaky beasts baring teeth and trailing feathery manes, undulating through the waves or rearing like a horse. Stories about water serpents have slithered into many cultures. But what about the science of sea monsters? In fact, there was a time when they did exist. About 250 million years ago Earth’s continents were gathered into one landmass, Pangaea. Shallow seas and the lack of significant marine predators created new niches for many reptiles that had developed on land. They wriggled into the water, swam, reproduced, and died becoming fossils.

DragonsIn many cultures of the world there are different stories of these ancient giant reptiles and their interactions with human beings, stories from Scotland, to North America, India and to China is rich with stories of encounter with big reptiles. One such theory is of importance of dragon in Chinese culture. No one knows when the Chinese belief in dragons began, but it extends back to thousands of year. With serpent like scaly bodies, horses heads, and blazing rabbit eyes, the dragons inhabited ponds and rivers and could fly on bat wings to the heavens in spirally water-spouts.

If times were hard and drought stalked the land, peoples gave them offerings, asking them to breathe out mists and clouds and their heavenly rain.

Some Chinese dragons are considered evil, such as the Chien Tang River monster and the seagoing, red-maned Shan, but overall they are benevolent, embodying fecundity and fortune. In the distant past some dragons were transformed into Sea Dragon Kings, Hai Long Wang, who lived in the oceans and protected seafarers.

The dragon is probably the best-known mythical creature. Steeped in symbolic meaning,it appears in all culture in the form of fairy tales and legends, including stories in the Bible, and is especially prominent in Chinese mythology. Dragons breathe fire and are close to invincible. In some cultures they are bane to humanity, but in others are bringers of good luck.

Well into the sixteenth century, most people believed that dragons really existed. Swiss natural scientists and humanist Konard Gesner (1516-1565) differentiated between three types of dragons in his six-volume work on the animal world. One was like a gigantic snake without wings, another resembled a winged snake, and third creature had a snake’s body, membranous wings, a horned head, and armored claws.

SheshnagIn Hindu religious stories many such descriptions of large serpent like animals has been mentioned several times. Lord Sheshnag is depicted is the divine serpent with a thousand heads. According to Hinduism, the world rests on the hoods of Lord Sheshnag, and when he shakes his head, there are earthquakes. He is also known as Ananta (eternal) since he is immortal and is not affected by death even during the destruction of the Universe. The most common representation of Lord Vishnu shows him floating on the infinite space of the cosmic ocean reclined on the coils of the hydra-headed serpent-deity Sheshnag.

Kaliya in Hinduism, was the name of a poisonous Nāga (cobra snake) living in the Yamuna River, in Vrindavan in India. The water of the Yamuna for four leagues all around him boiled and bubbled with poison. No bird or beast could go near, and only one solitary Kadamba tree grew on the river bank.

The proper home of Kāliyā was Ramanaka Dwipa, but he had been driven away from there by fear of Garuda (a type of hunting bird), the foe of all serpents.

Once Krishna and the herd boys were playing ball, and while playing Krishna climbed up the Kadamba tree and hung over the river bank, the ball fell into the river and Krishna jumped after it. Kāliyā rose up with his hundred and ten hoods vomiting poison and wrapped himself around Krishna’s body. Krishna became so huge that Kāliyā had to release him. So Krishna saved himself from every attack, and when he saw the Brij folk were so much afraid he suddenly sprang into Kāliyā’s head, assumed the weight of the whole universe, and danced on the naga’s heads, beating time with his feet. Then Kāliyā began to die. But then the naga’s wives came and prayed to Krishna with joined palms, worshiping Krishna and praying for their husband.

Kāliyā, recognizing the greatness of Krishna, surrendered, promising he would not harass anybody. So Krishna pardoned him and then let him go free to leave the river and go to Ramanaka Dwipa. Some identify it as Fiji Island.

Kaliya is depicted as a large black cobra, and was said to have one hundred and ten heads; it may be that the Infada tribe had a cult within itself that worshiped this Great Snake.




KrakenKraken are legendary sea monsters of gargantuan size, said to have dwelt off the coasts of  Norway and Iceland. The sheer size and fearsome appearance attributed to the beasts have made them common ocean-dwelling monsters in various fictional works. The legend may actually have originated from sightings of real giant squid that are variously estimated to grow to 13–15 m (40–50 ft) in length, including the tentacles. These creatures normally live at great depths, but have been sighted at the surface and reportedly have “attacked” ships.

Kraken is the definite article form of krake, a Scandinavian word designating an unhealthy animal, or something twisted. In modern German, Krake (plural and declined singular: Kraken) means octopus, but can also refer to the legendary Kraken.

Remains of a bus-sized prehistoric “monster” reptile were found on a remote Arctic island in year 2007. Initial excavation of a site on the Svalbard islands in August yielded the remains, teeth, skull fragments and vertebrae of a reptile estimated to measure nearly 40 feet long.

Argentine scientists have discovered the remains of a fierce sea monster in the year 2005 that terrorized Pacific waters in the age of the dinosaurs. The researchers are calling it Godzilla after the legendary movie monster, but it really was an ancestor of modern crocodiles. Millions of years ago when dinosaurs ruled the land, these early crocodiles dominated the oceans, but they never seem to have caught the public’s imagination as dinosaurs have.

Around Lake Manitoba in the Canadian province of the same name, people believe in the existence of Manipogo, a snake-like, humped, dark brownish black sea monster. Its estimated length ranges between 12 and 50 feet. In 1962, two fisher man managed to photograph it, but the quality of the image was terrible – it could just as easily show as a drifting branch-and thus not accepted as proof.

BessieNorth of Toronto, Canada, many people believe that Igopogo, also known as Kempenfelt Kelly, lives in the Lake Simcoe. It is said to have a long neck and dog like head. All descriptions of the beast are in agreement, supporting the theory that an unidentified creature really does inhabit the lake. In 1970, John Kirk, president of the British Columbia Scientific Crypto-zoology Club, organized a search for it, which was unsuccessful. Amateur video recordings show a dark shadow, after a which a head surfaces, looks around for a few seconds, and then goes under again. Kirk categorizes the creature as a seal or sea lion.

About 460 million years ago, the biggest animal on Earth was a jet-propelled cone with tentacles, the type was Cephalopod mollusk. and size was up to 11m long. The giant orthocone’s living tissue was at one end of a very long conical shell. It had no fins and no tail. Along the underside of the cone ran a flexible, fleshy tube. The orthocone moved along by forcing water out in the opposite direction to where it wanted to go. It controlled its vertical position by adjusting the amount of seawater in the chambers of its shell. Its mouth and metre-long tentacles emerged from one end of the shell.

It ate fish as well as arthropods, e.g. sea scorpions. It seized its prey using its tentacles and beak-like mouth to rip apart.

Sea scorpions were the first animal ever to have moved from water to land also knew how to get out of its shell. Size was 1-2m long. Lived during Ordovician, 460-445 million years ago. Sea scorpions had strong defences – spines, claws and armour plating. They walked on six legs, the back two of which were flattened into paddles. Out of the water they were cumbersome but could swim a little underwater.

They were normally sea-floor dwellers but they could also live in freshwater and on land. Megalograptus browsed the seafloor looking for fish, trilobites and other animals in the sand and mud. It also ate its own kind.

Megalograptus could only grow in size by shedding its hard shell and growing a new one.While it was naked, it gathered with others in shallow water for safety in numbers. During moulting, it took advantage of its briefly soft body and abundant nearby neighbours to mate.

It is amazing to think that ancient sea monsters swam over the most of the present landmass. Fortunately It was some million years ago when the present land mass was submerged by ancient oceans. Fossils found in central America and many parts of the world prove that they really lived.

~ Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi, Geologist and Environmentalist

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