Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
I am going to say that I was probably six years old, defiantly no older than eight. My father took me to the Port Hueneme beach for a day of fun in the surf and sun. Before we got there he bought me this white Styrofoam board, so I could use it to ride to shore on the waves. I am guessing he spent less than three bucks on it, but at that time it felt like he had just spent a fortune on me. It was just the two of us, well that and a whole passel of other beach goers but it felt like it was just the two of us to my young perceptions.
I am sure the water never got any higher than my waist, but as a child I felt as free as if I were a deep sea diver. I would climb on my trusty white board and ride the rushing white wash as it crashed into the shore. As I was about to get up from a ride to the shore a larger wave broke over me, I lost my grip of the Styrofoam board, and the wave pushed me under. I spun parallel with the shore at first being pulled towards the shore then I began to be pushed back into the blue pacific.
My childish imagination took over and in my minds eye I saw my fate. I was being drawn out to sea by the king of the ‘fish-men.’ I saw him in his palace on the ocean floor. It looked like giant multi-story conch standing strait up on its bottom. His skin was green and slimy, his arms legs and body looked like sea cucumbers, as he sat upon a throne made of seashells, he wore a golden crown on its head. (Remember this is before I had ever read anything by Lovecraft, so this entire scenario came solely from of my juvenile imagination) Before him stood a guard holding a mother-of-pearl trident, and a messenger, announcing that the tide had brought in a lost surface boy. The fish king would be mildly perturbed that he would have to do something with the annoying human brat that stumbled in to his kingdom.
The whole vision lasted maybe a second at most. In hindsight I am not sure which amazes me more, the creativity and clarity of my vision or the seeming nonchalance I felt towards what at the time I was sure was my pending doom. The truth is my father was never too far away and he grabbed my by swimming trunks and pulled me upright. The receding water was only up to my knees. My dad had robed the dreaded fish king of his air breathing slave or possibly his mid afternoon snack.
The second sea monster, I encountered, was a mixture of both reality and my fervent imagination I was twelve when my father, uncle, cousin and I were on a twenty foot boat fishing in the Pacific. The adults saw something floating on the deep blue ocean. It was a curious color almost a mixture of gray and beige. To me it looked a large rectangle just floating on the surface. But what was it? My uncle said it was probably a sunfish, he explained that the fish had gotten its name from its habit of floating on the surface absorbing the rays of the sun.
In my mind I again imagined a fish like humanoid floating on the surface, soaking in the sun’s rays like its beach bound human kin. (By this time I probably had read some stories by Lovecraft The Outsider and The Dunwhich Horror but I am sure I hadn’t yet read The Shadow Over Innsmouth) Whatever it was it dove under the water before we got close enough to positively identify it. But I have no doubt that it was a sunfish. Years later when I saw a sunfish at Sea World I marveled at it incredible form and grateful that I could have seen one even form a distance in nature
My third encounter with a sea monster is by the far the scariest. I think it was the same fishing trip that we had spotted the Sunfish, but I can’t be sure. After a few hours of no bites my father had hooked something big, as he reeled it in the form of a five foot blue shark rose form the depth. Now that may not seem like a very big shark but remember I wasn’t bigger than five feet myself.
My father, uncle and cousin where excited about catching the beast. I was in a state of utter panic. I had never before been nor have I ever sense been as afraid as I was then of that shark. Jaws was still fresh in my childhood psyche and I had heard tales that a shark’s jaws could clamp shut and bite a human’s hand off even after it had been dead for over twenty-four hours. I imagined the shark eating the boat from the inside out.
My uncle pulled out a baseball bat to brain the creature as I shouted at the top of my lungs that we need to cut the line. But as the shark came closer to the surface it did something that to this day strikes as intelligence at a nearly human level. It seemed to know that it was being pulled up by a line hooked to its mouth, and sensed that there was another line coming down from the same boat it was being pulled up to. It circled around the boat’s anchor line and pulled back snapping my dad’s fifteen pound test line. I was relieved as I saw it swim back in the brimey deep.
These stories of sea monsters both real and imagined laid in my memory for decades until something recently pulled them to the surface. The release of footage of a healthy eight foot oarfish.(1) The oarfish some times called the ribbonfish is a snake like fish of the Regalecidae family and is believed to be able to grow to over fifty-five feet in length. (2) No one is sure what the origins of its name are but it’s possible that it’s name comes from its long flat shape or the erroneous idea that its oar shaped pelvic fins propelled it through the water.(3) It is easy to see how such a fish could be confused as monster, in fact when an eighteen foot long oarfish washed ashore in Jamaica in 1890 it described as a sea serpent.(4)
But could there relay be sea monsters out there in the ocean?
I am willing to put my skeptism and doubt aside when it comes to sea monsters. I mean the sea if so vast and so little of it has been explored. Come on even the Bible talks about sea monsters.
Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?
2 Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn?
3 Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee?
4 Will he make a covenant with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever?
5 Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?
6 Shall the companions make a banquet of him? shall they part him among the merchants? 7 Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish spears?
8 Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more.
9 Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? 10 None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me?
11 Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine
12 I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his comely proportion.
13 Who can discover the face of his garment? or who can come to him with his double bridle?
14 Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about.
15 His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal. 16 One is so near to another, that no air can come between them.
17 They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered.
18 By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. 19 Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out.
20 Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron.
21 His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.
22 In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him.
23 The flakes of his flesh are joined together: they are firm in themselves; they cannot be moved.
24 His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone.
25 When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid: by reason of breakings they purify themselves.
26 The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon.
27 He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood.
28 The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble.
29 Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.
30 Sharp stones are under him: he spreadeth sharp pointed things upon the mire.
31 He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the sea like a pot of ointment
.32 He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary.
33 Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear.
34 He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride. (5)
Ok, I admit that is probably symbolic, but it does sound pretty scary. Anyways I am more likely to accept the possibility of sea monster as being real than say the possibility of the existence of a lake monster why, you ask? One simple answer, Math.
The Pacific Ocean is over sixty three million square miles.(6) Where Loch Ness is only fifteen square miles.(7) That gives you over sixty three million miles more to hide something. I am not saying that there are mythical undersea castles with mere-folk and sea dragons but if there were it was be a lot easier to hide them in sixty three million unexamined miles of ocean than it would be to hide a couple of breading pairs of dinosaurs in a comparatively speaking shallow and short lake.
Knowing that there chances are pretty high that there are some pretty weird stuff on the bottom of the ocean you would think that proof of creatures that look like sailors have been seeing since the Mesopotamians first put out to sea would make me overjoyed. Well in reality it kind of makes me a little sad.
I am sure there are creatures out there in the depths of the ocean we don’t know about. I think that is pretty much a given. And well some of those things are more than likely pretty monstrous looking. Take the giant squid or the coelacanth for instance. But somehow knowing their phylum and family makes them less wondrous, at least to me.
It’s the classic nautical story corundum. Does knowing that Moby Dick was based on a real albino sperm whale that Attacked at least three boats (8) take away form the surealness of Melville’s tale? Or that Peter Benchley based the Shark in Jaws on the 1916 New Jersey attacks, make the story any less scary? (9)To me answer is yes at least little bit.
As I grow older I realize that the universe is much more mundane and pedestrian than I use to believe it was. Much more ordinary than I would want it to be. When I look out at the far reaching horizon of the ocean, I see my last chance of finding something mystical and supernatural. A greater chance than even when I look up in to a star lit night sky. I realize I want the sea to keeps it mysteries. I don’t ant to know what really happen to Emilia Earhart, I don’t want to find the wreckage of the USS Cyclopes, I just want a good mystery to remain mysterious.
If someday a fisherman hulls up the great and Dreadful Cuthluhu and scientist poor over his slimy hide and pronounce him as some exotic but mundane aquatic creature. I will be a very sad boy indeed.
(5) Job 41: 1-34 KJV