Sailors reported seeing huge multi-tentacled sea monsters since ancient times. Norwegians called them Kraken. They could reach tops of sailing vessels’ main masts. The Kraken attacked ships by wrapping its arms around their hulls and capsizing them.
Authors over the years have postulated that the legend may have originated from sightings of giant squids. The sheer size and fearsome appearance attributed to the kraken have made it a common ocean-dwelling monster in various fictional works.
Medieval Kraken Accounts
This beast appears to have been named Kraken in twelfth century Norway. It was so big that it was mistaken for islands or archipelagos.
After returning from Greenland, the anonymous author of the Old Norwegian natural history work Konungs skuggsjá (circa 1250) described in detail the physical characteristics and feeding behavior of these beasts.
The narrator proposed there must be only two in existence, stemming from the observation that the beasts have always been sighted in the same parts of the Greenland Sea, and that each seemed incapable of reproduction, as there was no increase in their numbers.
There is a fish that is still unmentioned, which it is scarcely advisable to speak about on account of its size, because it will seem to most people incredible. There are only a very few who can speak upon it clearly, because it is seldom near land nor appears where it may be seen by fishermen, and I suppose there are not many of this sort of fish in the sea.
Most often in our tongue we call it hafgufa (“kraken” in e.g. Laurence M. Larson’s translation). Nor can I conclusively speak about its length in ells, because the times he has shown before men, he has appeared more like land than like a fish.
Neither have I heard that one had been caught or found dead; and it seems to me as though there must be no more than two in the oceans, and I deem that each is unable to reproduce itself, for I believe that they are always the same ones.
Then too, neither would it do for other fish if the hafgufa were of such a number as other whales, on account of their vastness, and how much subsistence that they need.
It is said to be the nature of these fish that when one shall desire to eat, then it stretches up its neck with a great belching, and following this belching comes forth much food, so that all kinds of fish that are near to hand will come to present location, then will gather together, both small and large, believing they shall obtain their food and good eating; but this great fish lets its mouth stand open the while, and the gap is no less wide than that of a great sound or bight, And nor the fish avoid running together there in their great numbers.
But as soon as its stomach and mouth is full, then it locks together its jaws and has the fish all caught and enclosed, that before greedily came there looking for food.
Kraken were extensively described by Erik Pontoppidan in 1752. Pontoppidan made several claims regarding kraken, including the notion that the creature was sometimes mistaken for an island and that the real danger to sailors was not the creature itself but rather the whirlpool left in its wake.
However, Pontoppidan also described the destructive potential of the giant beast: “it is said that if [the creature’s arms] were to lay hold of the largest man-of-war, they would pull it down to the bottom”.
By the 1800s, the sea monster became smaller and resembled a cephalopod. In 1802, French scientist Pierre Denys de Montfort wrote the creature was the kracken (sic) octopus.
He proposed there was a larger type of cephalopod, colossal octopus, known to attack ships. Allegedly, this happened to a sailing vessel off of the coast of Angola in the 1600s.
What is the Kraken?
In the early days of the age of science, the concept of the Kraken was ridiculed, put into the same category with mythical sea serpents and ignored by scientists. Many claimed to have seen giant squids, but they were primarily “superstitious” seafarers, thus sightings were unconfirmed because they weren’t scientists.
The only evidence was beached carcasses. When several carcasses of the beast washed ashore, scientists were forced to acknowledge Kraken could be reality. They conducted expeditions, but failed to obtain videos of a live giant squid.
In September 2004, Japanese scientists attracted one with a baited line. Cameras took over five hundred photographs of the cephalopod before it freed itself, leaving behind an eighteen foot tentacle attached to the bait.
Cryptid Kraken or Giant Squid?
There’s controversy about the true size of the giant squid. Witnesses’ sightings and sucker scars on whales seem to evidence there are squids that are much larger than beached carcasses indicate. Skepticism about giant squids’ existence has weakened.
Some scientists theorize the Antarctic species of squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, is much bigger than the giant squid. The basis for this is that complete specimens of babies have been caught, suggesting adult colossal squids, are enormous.
Is it possible that more than one species of giant squids exist, which would bring them out of the realm of cryptozoology into the one of science? Or is Kraken a separate species?