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The sea is an unknown, scary place for those who walk on land. Perhaps the most terrifying attribute is that we truly do not know what lurks in the depths of the ocean in its entirety. The ocean makes up over 90 percent of the world's water and covers 71 percent of the Earth. Of that percentage, only about 20 percent of the world’s oceans have been explored.
This astonishing sentiment drives home just how little we know about the organisms taking up the majority of Earth’s environment. Due to our lack of knowledge, sea monsters have taken a role in myths about the ocean since the beginning of time. Thanks to Earth’s extreme biodiversity, it is not hard to imagine something horrifying swimming beneath the dark depths of the sea. From mermaids to sea serpents, the creatures of the ocean run a full spectrum. However, there is no other legend more famed and feared than the Kraken.
What is the Kraken?
The Kraken first originated in Scandinavian folklore and is described to be a cephalopod creature. The tentacled giant was depicted as so powerful it could swallow entire ships whole. The Kraken is said to haunt the seas from Norway and Iceland, and the way to Greenland. Legend has it that when sailors encountered the beast, it would take down the ship with its arms or “extensions.” If that strategy did not work, it would swim circles around the ship to create a whirlpool to drag the ship under.
The Nordic sea monster is also said to be many miles in length, and when it surfaced, it would seem to take up the entire sea with its body. While we know now that this is hardly true, people still can’t seem to refrain from progressing the legend of the Kraken.
The Legend of the Kraken
The world is no stranger to numerous legends and myths. A lot of myths are based on actual science, like Greek mythology, which is taught at many universities. Due to Vikings and medieval people in Scandinavia spending much of their time on the sea, Nordic mythology is home to many sea myths.
Sea creatures were a big part of Nordic folklore because of their experience on the water. The average person during medieval times would know a lot about their environment, including the ocean. 13th-century Scandinavian texts describe different versions of the Kraken and are the foundation for the myth. Some use the name “Hafgufa” which describes a large sea creature that resides at the bottom of the ocean. In these ancient texts, it does not describe the Kraken as a monster that sinks ships, but as a large sea creature with a hunting tactic that resembles a whale.
Another Scandinavian text describes a sea monster that looks like an island for refuge, but as soon as sailors step onto its back it drowns them to the depths of the ocean. These kinds of renditions were extremely popular in Europe, as many medieval people loved to embellish their adventures to high fantasy.
Aside from these 13th-century texts, many other notable scripts mention the Kraken, or something resembling it. The Voyages of St. Brendan, The Odyssey, and the Christian text Physiologus all have Kraken appearances that made the legends carry on. Whether or not these appearances were based on actual evidence or stories heard, we don’t know.
Myth vs. Science
The strength of the legend of the Kraken became so prominent in the 18th century that it can be found in Europe's first scientific surveys. However, the true transition from myth to science came about in the mid-1800s with Architeuthis. This is a result of the sighting of a giant squid, up to 40 feet long that had washed up on the surface of the ocean. This sighting officially transitions the Kraken into the records of science.
The Architeuthis Dux is known as the largest cephalopod and invertebrate creature on this Earth. They have frequently been recorded to be up to 18 meters long and inhibit waters up to 2,000 meters deep. These squids have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom and can detect even bioluminescent light. Like other squid species, they have extremely sophisticated nervous systems and complex brains, making them a wonder to us humans.
Due to the Architeuthis Dux's uncanny resemblance to the myths of the Kraken, it’s not surprising that those who may have seen this aquatic creature in medieval times were horrified. To see a giant squid is very rare, and they have only been seen a handful of times.
Why the Kraken is so Fascinating
The images of a large, horrifying sea monster tearing sailors apart have been an interesting part of popular culture. Stories about the Kraken have been endured over the years because it’s the epitome of the unknown. Bodies of octopus and squid-like creatures are an anomaly to what we humans know today. Their complex organs and fluid momentum seem to stimulate fear and generate great stories.
Such strange and large creatures that are rarely sighted by the human eye make it easy to conjure myths and legends. Although we know now that these are not just legends, the myth of the Kraken is still alive and popular thanks to modern films and literature. Popular movies like Clash of the Titans and Pirates of the Caribbean put an image to the legend, making it that much more popular.
Regardless of the legend being debunked, the ocean is still vastly undiscovered and holds the world's strangest creatures. You truly never know what could be lurking right underneath you.