We are in the height of the “Silly Season,” the traditional time for stories of sea-serpents, although recently the monsters of summer seem to have been supplanted by photos of Bigfoot as well as Martian flora and fauna. Let us look at a story of a sea-serpent-hunting Prince, which may or may not have been a Silly Season invention.
To Catch the Sea-Serpent
The Prince of Monaco’s Great Yacht, Fitted with a Long Steel Cable and Hook, to Drag the Ocean Depths Off the Norwegian Coast for the Lurking Monster
There is a strongly held theory that the sea serpent, if it exists at all, will be found in the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, not far from the coast of Norway.
It is this theory which has led the Prince of Monaco to plan a great expedition for the discovery of the sea serpent, which will begin operations in Norwegian waters.
The Prince devotes the vast revenues of the Monte Carlo gambling establishment to deep sea exploration. He is beyond question the greatest deep sea explorer in the world. He has discovered a number of remarkable octopuses and devil fish. The Prince has now fitted his new yacht, the Princess Alice II, with special apparatus to catch the sea serpent. He has laid in several miles of two-inch steel cable, which will hold any creature that ever lived. The hook is a contrivance weighing a ton and having four barbed flukes which would take an immovable hold in the jaw of any monster large enough to swallow them. The Princess Alice will carry a score of fat pigs to be used as bait. It is supposed the sea serpent cannot resist this bait. If the pig fails, a porpoise or some other kind of sea food will be tried.
The Princess Alice II is now ready, and she will spend the whole of the coming year in the search. The Prince intends either to find the sea serpent or get to the bottom of the mystery which envelops it.
It is a curious fact that the legend of the Midgard serpent, which is found in Norse mythology, describes this creature as winding its body across the earth and having its head in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Norway. Ancient legends usually have some basis in reality, and it is argued that the most probable origin of the Midgard serpent legend was the appearance of some real sea monster in these waters. It is very significant, moreover, that the most circumstantial modern reports of the appearance of the sea serpent have placed it here.
The scientific explanation of the actual existence of a sea serpent would be that it is a huge marine creature which has survived from an earlier period of the earth’s development. There is nothing impossible in such a theory. Nothing that we know has happened to bring about the extinction of deep sea monsters. There is abundance of space and nourishment for them in the depths.
There are many sea creatures whose remains have been left from earlier geological periods, which are fully as huge and strange in form as the sea serpent is reported to be. There was, for instance, the zeuglodon, a sea creature of the Eocene period allied to the whale. It attained a length of eighty feet and was like a huge snake in form. Besides this, there are scores of sea monsters whose fossil remains have been found which would fulfil the description of a sea serpent very satisfactorily.
If such a creature lingers in the great depths it is not surprising that it is rarely seen, since an animal adapted to life in the depths cannot come to the surface without being torn apart by the expansion of its tissues. Such a creature would only come to the surface as the result of a submarine earthquake, a fight with some other monster, or some other extraordinary accident.
The Prince of Monaco will therefore rake the depths in his search for the monster.
Reports of the appearance of a sea serpent have been made by persons of such good scientific standing that it is impossible to dismiss them as inventions of ignorant and credulous persons. In 1906 Messrs. E.B. Meade, and M.J. Nicoll, of the Royal Zoological Society of London, made a detailed report of a sea serpent viewed from the deck of the Earl of Crawford’s yacht Valhalla, a vessel well known in American waters.
When off Para on December 7, 1905, at 10 a.m., the two naturalists were standing on the deck of the yacht, when their attention was caught by a curious sail-like object some four feet long and two feet high, waving from side to side in the water.
No sooner had they turned their glasses on to this strange object than there appeared a huge, eel-like neck, some six feet long and as thick as a man’s thigh, and this neck was surmounted by a great, turtle-like head with large eyes, now borne high above the sea, which was quite calm. It was dark colored above and silvery white below. After a few moments the head and neck were slowly lowered, and when level with the water were violently lashed from side to side, churning up the sea into a great sheet of foam, and then it vanished.
Adverse winds caused the ship to beat about so that a midnight they were only twenty miles from the scene of the morning. This is noteworthy, because when Mr. Nicoll came on deck after breakfast one of the officers came up and reported that during the night he saw a strange commotion in the water. At first he thought it was a rock “awash,” but a most careful examination showed that it was a beast of some kind, traveling faster than the ship, which was then making only about eight and a half knots. The officer “hailed the deck” and the lookout man, and thus got witnesses to this weird phenomenon.
Though the sea was calm, and there was a bright moon, nothing satisfactory could be made out, owing to the “wash” which the creature was making, but in its movements it resembled a submarine travelling just below the surface.
Most of the sea serpent’s appearances have been reported off the Norwegian coast.
The commander of the Norwegian cruiser Sigurd made the following report to his Government in August, 1908:
“I was standing on the bridge when my attention was direct to a round, dark mass in the water, about 200 yards to port. I took it to be a rock, but, on seeing it move, presumed it was an enormous turtle, four or five yards in diameter.
“Soon afterward it rose out of the water, and by the undulatory movement that followed, I saw that I was in the presence of an enormous sea monster shaped like a flat-bodied serpent of about a hundred feet in length.
“It appeared to have a soft, black skin covered with marble spots, and the head, which rose about sixteen feet out of the water, closely resembled that of an enormous turtle with huge scales. It blew up two jets of water to a height of about fifty feet.
“It moved slowly through the water at a speed of about eight knots and wen about 150 yards from the gunboat plunged beneath it, like a submarine, reappearing on the surface about 400 yards away.
“I had meanwhile given orders for the port barbette gun to be loaded with shrapnel, and when the monster arose we gave him a broadside. This, I thought, would be a surer method of reaching the serpent than with a solid shot.
“Whether or not any of the shrapnel struck the creature I cannot say. It certainly did not appear to have the slightest effect. The serpent merely turned its head at the sound of the report, sent up two great sprays of water from its nostrils and headed for the open sea.
It would have been my intention to overtake and either kill or head off the serpent, driving it in toward shallower water, but that was impossible. Two more broadsides were sent after the serpent, which continued to rapidly increase the distance between it and the Sigurd. These shots did not appear any more effective than the first on, leading me to believe the creature was provided with either scales or skin or such toughness that the pieces of shrapnel which struck it glanced off harmlessly.
“A number of officers and crew also watched the monster, which gradually disappeared from view.”
In the same waters the Russian cruiser Orloff reported the appearance of the remarkable monster in 1909. In his official report the captain states that he sighted two great, swimming creatures, seventy feet long and six or seven in diameter. He could not go into particulars at that time, for, with the instinct of the hunter, he immediately took a shot at them at a range of 1,800 feet, whereupon they sank under water and did not appear again. On the 15th of the following February, however, while again crossing the bay, he saw a pair of the same creatures, possibly the same individuals, and gave chase for an hour and a half, firing at them from time to time. Once, he is sure, one of the creatures was hit, but the ball glanced off harmlessly. The chase was eventually given up for the reason, as Captain Ostrovski explains in his report, that the sea serpent had greater endurance than the Orloff. But he had time to make some observations. The animal was gray in color, and it seemed to him that it had many flippers. On this point scientists agree that probably it had only four, but that they moved too rapidly to be counted. It swam with an undulatory movement in a vertical plane, its body not being rigid like that of a whale, but extremely flexible.
Captain McQuhae, of H.M. S. Daedalus, and his officers, in 1848, created a great sensation in England by a sea serpent story. Briefly, he reported having seen an enormous serpent, with head and shoulders some four feet out of the water and some sixty feet of its body on the surface.
The Prince of Monaco is determined to prove, once for all, whether or not these and countless other reports concerning the sea serpent have any serious basis.
The Denver [CO] Post 2 February 1913: p. 41
The author seems to have assumed that the readers of this piece would know that the Prince of Monaco was His Serene Highness Albert I, world-renowned for his scientific and oceanographic studies. In 1906 he founded the Oceanographic Institute (now the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco) and throughout his life commissioned four research yachts, including Princess Alice II, which was named for his second wife.
The piece above raises many questions. Prince Albert was unquestionably one of the premier marine researchers of his time. But did he really go looking for the sea serpent? Europe was on the brink of war in 1913 and the pacifist Prince tried desperately to dissuade the Kaiser from the inevitable. Surely he was too busy with diplomatic initiatives to go fishing for a legend? He was quoted as saying he “regretted much to have my life’s work stopped for five years” during the First World War, so perhaps he reluctantly mothballed the Princess Alice II. [Source: Richmond (VA) Times, 28 March, 1920: p. 75]. The 1920 article tells of his thrilling discoveries in the deepest seas, where the Prince was dredging for the mysterious, luminous monsters of the abyss. He discovered squid, electric eels, snake-like creatures with needle-teeth in their enormous mouths, and the “camera-eyed” Chimera Deani. A steel net dredge is pictured and a five-mile steel cable is specifically mentioned. But no pigs, “which it is thought no sea serpent can resist.”
Does anyone know if the proposed Norwegian expedition was carried out? Or why pigs are thought to be the perfect bait? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
A little fortean name-game note: Sigurd, son of Ragnar Lodbrok (if we assume the Norwegian cruiser was named for him) was known as “snake-in-the-eye” for an image of a snake biting its tail circling the pupil of his left eye.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.