Friday, July 31, 2015

Having a Kraken good time... or not.

Image Courtesy: Pirates of the Caribean

Ah, the Kraken, recently re-made infamous by the Pirates Of the Caribbean franchise... but how much do you really know about this mythical sea monster? Other than the fact it looks something like a terrifyingly toothy butthole?

Allow me to enlighten you...

Name: Kraken, also known as Krabben, Skykraken.
Origin: Scandinavian Folklore
Description: enormous cephalopod / squid like, with mulitiple tentacles extending from the side of its body.
See also: Leviathan (see blog post here), Fastitocalon, Aspidochlone, Hafgufa
Cryptid status: active.

So what is the history?
 The first possible mention of the Kraken appears to be in the 13th Century Icelandic Saga of  Örvar-Oddr. In this text two immense sea creatures known as Hafgufa and Lyngbakr are described. Researchers believe the Hafgufa may well be the earliest known reference to the Kraken.

The next mention of the beast appears to be in a Norwegian text describing the same Hafgufa as before, but it was not until Carolus Linneaus (an early taxonomist) classified the creature as a cephalopod that that the term Kraken came to popular use. The word krake (plural kraken) in Norwegian and Swedish means something like something twisted or unhealthy animal. In modern German, the word means octopus.

So what about the ship-eating myths?
 Well in Scandinavian traditions,  the kraken has a taste for human flesh, so targeted boats. Its preferred mode of attack was to encircle passing ships with its enormous body, and then create a whirlpool so that no-one and nothing could escape its attack. Legend has it that its hunger for man-flesh was so great that it would easily consume an entire fishing fleet in one sitting (or should that be swimming?).

Interestingly it was believed that the amber that regularly washed up on the shores of the North Sea was in fact Kraken shit... (that pretty amber pendant isn't looking so great right now is it?)

When at rest the Kraken is said to float on the surface of the ocean. There are several myths in which the dried skin of the beast could be mistaken for an island. Legends state that many sailors lost their lives mistaking the slumbering kraken for an island. The sailors would go ashore, light a fire for their tea and upset the mighty beast, and end up being dinner themselves.

Despite the Kraken being a terrifying creature, it is said that large schools of fish would seek harbour around it, and that if you were willing to risk it, you could get a great catch of fish by setting nets around its vicinity.

So what is the Kraken really?

It is most likely a species of giant squid. The largest giant squid ever recorded was 13 metres in length (43feet) long, and they are found all over the world in deep oceans. There are no modern documented giant squid attacks on boats, however squid attacks on humans can, and do happen. Increasing numbers of the Humboldt (or Red Devil squid) in places such as the Sea of Cortez have resulted in an increased number of squid attacks, which can be rather violent - as shown in the video.

Giant Squid
Image Courtesy Smithsonian Ocean Portal

As anyone who regularly visits my blog would know I am a massive fan of "making myths real"  so (much so that I did a series of blogs you can read, here, here and here...) and so I was delighted to receive an email from Christopher Stoll who is in the process of making a mythical creatures compendium... complete *swoon with joy* with anatomical pictures.

He has done some amazing pics, and one of those is of the Kraken.

Christopher's book will explore all kinds of awesome mythical creatures and will be a book I'll be waiting with baited breath for. I've left this post a little to late to help him out on KickStarter, but if you're a die hard mythology / cryptid fan like me, your support to his project would be much appreciated I'm certain. You can check him out HERE.

On that note... enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sharks! Move over Jaws and meet Tumuitearetoka!

Yes, yes, we are all terribly familiar with JAWS and monster sharks lurking in the depths just waiting for your fleshy limbs to flail by before devouring you in a horrific and painful fashion aren't we?

Before you crap yourself about getting back in the water, I think I should introduce you to the amazing Tumuitearetoka, the king of Sharks, who hails from Polynesian Mythology and Kamohoalii of Hawaiian mythology.

image courtesy: Wikia
We are so used seeing the shark depicted as something wicked and evil that some Polynesian mythology may  surprise you. In many of the Polynesian territories the Milky Way is traditionally represented as a shark, and is apparently called the "Long Blue Cloud Eater." This shark spirit can become man, in the form of tribal chiefs. These shape shifting chieftains can been good or evil depending on their personal preferences!

In Hawaiian mythology, Ka-moho-aliʻi is a shark god, and frequently swam the waters of Maui, whenever a boat was lost, the sailors would feed him an alcoholic kava drink and he would guide them back to their home port. It is alleged that Kamohoalii could also take the form of any oceanic fish. It is interesting however that Kamohoalii's son Nanaue's story isn't nearly as nice. Kamohoalii's boy unfortunately got a taste for human flesh... things got a little messy after that... You can read that myth here.

 There is also an interesting myth that I read about in The Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures, by John and Caitlin Matthews. On the American Pacific coast a man and his wife were fishing, and instead of catching halibut they captured an enormous fish like they'd never seen. They cleaned and gutted it, but as she returned to the waters edge the wife was grabbed by Killer Whales. In desperation, the husband asked the Fish Chief where they would have taken his wife. He told the fisherman that his wife would have been taken as a slave because the huge fish they caught was a friend of the Killer Whales. Desperate now, the husband pleaded for anyone to come and help search for his wife. The only one volunteer was Shark. Together the man and Shark travelled to the home of the Killer Whales, where Shark grabbed the woman, throwing her into her husband's arms. He yelled at the humans to hurry away. When the people got to shore, behind them they could see a great fight happening in the water. To this day, Sharks and Killer Whales are still fighting...
Interestingly I could indeed find evidence of this.
© BBC Magazine – Peter Pyle/Oceanic Society
Image Courtesy: Discover Wild Life
I am going to warn you that if you look on youtube you may find some disturbing footage...

Now all this nice mythology is great, but as the story of  Nanaue suggests, not all the Polynesian shark myths are very nice. In fact they can be just as dismal as a Jaws sequel. One in particular is when Tumuitearetoka decided he would eat the Polynesian legendary hero Ngaru. Fortunately for Ngaru and every subsequent surfer, in an effort to out run Tumuitearetoka in the water, Ngaru is said to have created the first surfboard.

Another Fijian myth of the shark deity called Dakuwanga, says that the shark positively delighted in eating fishermen's fish, as well as the fishermen should they fall in. As it happens, the king of the octopus fought with him, and eventually they came to a deal, and Dakuwanga promised not to eat any more fishermen...

So perhaps you could say that despite the sharks scary appearance and nature, even the myths don't peg it as totally malevolent being... which some people (the Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett for example) should take heed of.
Sea Shepherd Australia

As you may know from my Facebook posts last year, am proud supporter of Support Our Sharks and Sea Shepherd Australia, organisations who are trying hard to save our increasingly endangered marine life, especially the top predators, who are suffering at the hands of humans through overfishing, shark finning and general ignorance about their importance in a healthy marine ecosystem.

On that note, I hope you found this post enlightening, I certainly found the research fascinating. Have a wonderful week!
Support Our Sharks Logo
Save Our Sharks

Book Ref:
Knappert, J.,1992, An Encylopedia of myth and Legend Pacific Mythology, HarperCollins.
Matthews, J&C., 2013, The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, HarperCollins.