Sea monsters. Not too far off the mark this engraving, from 1621, had the right idea of what was really lurking beneath the world’s oceans. ANMM Collection 00019658.

What is lurking in the water?

Living life as an adult means shedding many childhood ‘truths’. Christmas elves, Easter bunnies and the tooth fairy don’t stand up to hard questioning, so our belief in them falls away. We lose our concept of another world filled with wonder and mystery as every phenomenon is explained by science instead. But, for some reason, this logic does not apply to the things that scare us…

No, horror stories hang around so much longer. The terror of ghosts, creeping creatures of the night and otherworldly happenings can last into adulthood. Even if it’s just a shiver down your spine before logic returns to its guard post.

 

For a generation raised on cinema and television, it was the terrifying creatures that turned up in ‘real life’ scenarios that were the most scarring. For years, far longer than it should have, I secretly believed that Jaws could be real. Absolutely real.

No scientific facts ever presented to me could disprove that such a shark couldn’t exist. The ocean is huge and deep. Really, there was nothing to stop that shark from coming right up to the exact spot we were swimming. Even in a pool.

And if Jaws existed, so too could the Bermuda Triangle, ghost ships and even the Loch Ness monster. Maritime mysteries always have the sneaking potential to be real – the vastness of water and untapped depths mean that these mysteries lend themselves to longevity (with little immediate chance of being easily solved).

Frightful fish

We really don’t know very much about the depths of the oceans on earth. When images do come back from the deep depths they show bizarre creatures with terrifying features that make the shark from Jaws seem like a domesticated pet.

Time has not dispelled all sea mysteries. In fact, they keep adding up, becoming scarier as we glimpse these creatures of the deep. Has a land-based monster ever been more terrifying than the reality of the Sloane’s Viper or The Goblin Shark? Could even the darkest minds ever dream these creatures up?

 

The goblin shark is a rare species of deep-sea shark. So…pretty…? Image: Wikimedia.

 Sea Lamprey survive on the blood and body fluids on their prey (who rarely survive the attack). Image: Creative Commons.

The Sea Lamprey, for example, has been around for about 340 million years, has a mouth larger than its head and features sharp, horn-shaped teeth surrounding a razor-sharp rasping tongue that cuts through flesh. On film this creature may verge on the ridiculous, perhaps audiences would be guffawing rather than screaming, but in nature, it really is quite terrifying.

While Sea Lampreys may not be in our neck of the water, Australia does lay claim to the deadliest marine creature of them all: The Box JellyfishDelicate yet so deadly, what a nightmare combination. Its ghostly beauty is part of the horror. 

“Surgeon’s Photograph – 1934”. Although since proven to be a hoax, this image has continued to inspire maritime monster hunters to go further and further into the depths of Loch Ness. Image: Wikimedia.

Believe…if you dare.

Halloween has become a time of laughing at the vampires or werewolves that scared us in our youth but actual sea creatures are more terrifying than we ever could have imagined (just look at what this deep-sea fisherman catches!).

They exist in real life, not just in the movies, unexplained and unseen are still very much alive and slithering in our oceans and waterways. This, of course, suggests that there is still no reason to say that the Loch Ness monster is not real. I mean, just look at the photos…

Myffanwy Bryant

Myffanwy is a Curatorial Assistant at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Posted in: ANMM Collections