Friday, December 28, 2012

Royal Navy 'does not keep sea monster sighting archive'

The Carta marina (Latin "map of the sea" or "sea map"), created by Olaus Magnus in the 16th century, is the earliest map of the Nordic countries that gives details and placenames.
It is about 500 years old, depicts the North of Europe and includes sea monsters.
The monsters are seen attacking the ships and each other.

(with zoom possibilities) 

From TheTelegraph

Sailors can note unusual sightings on the ocean waves in their ship's logs, the Navy said.
But they are not required to do so and none of the information is assembled in a central archive devoted to sea monsters.
Any sightings of strange marine animals reported to the Navy by the public are passed on to the UK Hydrographic Office, which provides charts and other navigational services for mariners.
Details of the Navy's policy on giant creatures of the deep emerged in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Map of Canada (Pierre Desceliers' World Map 1550)

A marine biologist inquired whether the Ministry of Defence held records about ''abnormally large or dangerous sea monsters hundreds of metres under the sea'' that had not been revealed to the public.
In reply an official wrote: ''The RN (Royal Navy), and MoD in general, does not maintain any form of central repository of information purely devoted to sea monsters.

 Sebastian Munster's Famous Chart of Sea Monsters
Remarkable chart of mythical land and sea monsters and other creatures, from Munster's Cosmographia, one of the most influential works of the 16th Century.
Munster's plate of mythical creatures is taken from Olaus Magnus' Carta Marina of 1539 and includes abundant tusks, horns and twin-spouts.
One vignette shows a galleon trying to outrun one monster by throwing their cargo overboard, while one sailor takes sight with a musket. 
Ortelius also adapted many of the monsters for use on his map of Iceland in 1587.
One of the most sought-after of all 16th Century curiosities. 

''Personnel might be inclined to record unusual sightings in ship's logs but there is, as far as we know, no actual requirement for them to do so, and it would be beyond the resource constraints of an FOI request to check every line of every RN log book for any such references since 2005.
''However, the RN does invite people to report sightings of marine mammals, and it's possible this could include unusual sightings.
''These are forwarded to the UK Hydrographic Office at Taunton.''
The MoD's stance on sea monsters contrasts with the policy on UFOs it maintained for more than 50 years.
Thousands of reports of strange sights in the skies were recorded by the military's UFO investigation unit until it was shut down on December 1 2009.

The "Great Sea Serpent" according to Hans Egede. (1734 illustration)

Old maps often included illustrations of fearsome sea dragons and serpents and there are many tales of mariners' encounters with weird creatures.
Dr David Clarke, an expert in unexplained phenomena, said the Navy showed an interest in sea monsters in the 19th century.
The National Archives in Kew, west London, contain several historic Royal Navy files about strange sightings on the oceans, he said.

These include an 1830 report sent to the Admiralty in London by the captain of the ship Rob Roy about a ''great thundering big sea snake'' measuring about 129ft long seen by his crew in the waters near the remote island of St Helena in the South Atlantic.

The documentation at issue details the remarkable encounter with a sea-serpent that was seen on May 9, 1830 by the crew of the Rob Roy: a British Royal Navy ship that was homeward bound after a lengthy sea-journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
As the ship sailed by the island of St. Helena, something remarkable occurred, as the Rob Roy’s captain, James Stockdale, recorded in his official log the following:
“About five p.m. all at once while I was walking on the poop my attention was drawn to the water on the port bow by a scuffling noise. Likewise all the watch on deck were drawn to it. Judge my amazement when what should stare us all in the face as if not knowing whether to come over the deck or to go around the stern – but the great big sea snake! Now I have heard of the fellow before – and I have killed snakes twenty-four feet long in the straits of Malacca, but they would go in his mouth.
“I think he must have been asleep for we were going along very softly two knots an hour, and he seemed as much alarmed as we were – and all taken aback for about fifteen seconds. But he soon was underway and, when fairly off, his head was square with our topsail and his tail was square with the foremast.”
Captain Stockdale continued: “My ship is 171 feet long overall – and the foremast is 42 feet from the stern which would make the monster about 129 feet long. If I had not seen it I could not have believed it but there was no mistake or doubt of its length – for the brute was so close I could even smell his nasty fishy smell.
“When underway he carried his head about six feet out of water – with a fin between the shoulders about two feet long. I think he was swimming about five miles an hour – for I watched him from the topsail yard till I lost sight of him in about fifty minutes. I hope never to see him more. It is enough to frighten the strong at heart.”

Another file records how Commander George Harrington, captain of the Castilian, saw ''a monster of extraordinary length'' rear its head out of the sea, again near St Helena, in 1857.

A second report of a sea-monster sighting has been declassified at an official level by the British Government and describes an extraordinary December 13, 1857 encounter that also occurred in the vicinity of the island of St. Helena.
A statement prepared by Commander George Henry Harrington revealed the facts:
“While myself and officers were standing on the lee side of the poop – looking toward the island – we were startled by the sight of a huge marine animal which reared its head out of the water within twenty yards of the ship – when it suddenly disappeared for about half a minute and then made a reappearance in the same manner again – showing us its neck and head about ten or twenty feet out of the water.
“Its head was shaped like a long buoy – and I should suppose the diameter to have been seven or eight feet in the largest part with a kind of scroll or ruff encircling it about two feet from the top. The water was discolored for several hundred feet from the head, so much so that on its first appearance my impression was that the ship was in broken waters, produced, as I supposed, by some volcanic agency, since I passed the island before.”
And Captain Harrington had far more to impart:
“But the second appearance completely dispelled those fears and assured us that it was a monster of extraordinary length and appeared to be moving slowly towards the land. The ship was going too fast to enable us to reach the masthead in time to form a correct estimate of this extreme length – but from what we saw from the deck we conclude that he must have been over two hundred feet long. The Boatswain and several of the crew, who observed it from the forecastle, state that it was more than double the length of the ship, in which case it must have been five hundred feet.”
The captain concluded in his official report: “I am convinced that it belonged to the serpent tribe.”

Dr Clarke, a lecturer in journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, said: ''At this time they were exploring areas of the world where they thought there may well have been such creatures living.
''I have looked at some of the ship's logs in the National Archives, and there are instructions about what people should record.
''Any unusual observations of any kind should be recorded in the ship's log.''

He said the MoD would argue that it was only funded for defence and not to investigate strange phenomena.
''They should be recording those kind of things, but I don't think anybody is recording them,'' he said.
''It's short-sightedness – but that's bureaucracy.''

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