Why Are Sea Monsters so Common in Ancient Myths?

Why Are Sea Monsters so Common in Ancient Myths?

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People have been fascinated by the weather patterns of the sea for as long as there have been people. Some scientists believe that human evolution was moving us toward being shore-dwelling, aquatic apes before our upright posture allowed for the use of tools and the creation of technology like spears, hammers, and, eventually, all of the wonderful inventions that make modern life possible.

One thing hasn’t changed, though: humans like to live by the ocean. The sea carries a lot of importance for many civilizations. For one thing, the ocean is full of food! For another, humanity spent the last several thousand years with travel by boat as the most efficient, swift way to get from one place to another.

As such, the weather on the ocean has been a point of fascination and even obsession for humans for thousands of years. Some of the most fascinating myths ever dreamed up by storytellers center on the monsters that dwell beneath the waves, and how those creatures could be responsible for rough seas and bad weather.

Sea Monsters Around the World

Sea monsters are present in the myths of nearly every civilization from around the world, assuming those civilizations share a border with an ocean or a big enough lake. Typically, these creatures take on a shape that most people would recognize as a serpent, though some myths present gargantuan whales, giant squid-like beasts called Krakens, or even, in some tales, strange hybrid creatures that are made up of parts of other animals.

Often, maps of the world created in antiquity show illustrations of dragons and other monstrous creatures in the far-flung corners of the known world. This is usually accompanied by a warning, “here be dragons”. This was shorthand among cartographers used to indicate that an area was either unexplored or simply too far away to have any bearing on the map.

Sightings Persist

Many sailors throughout history have claimed to see sea monsters while traveling from shore to shore. Many of these sightings have described giant creatures with the power to sink ships and create massive waves. Some historians believe these stories were partially used to explain bizarre weather phenomena, like hurricanes or waterspouts. Notably, historic sightings include an eyewitness sighting of a giant octopus by Pliny the Elder, the “sea monk” of New Zealand, and numerous lake monsters, like the infamous Loch Ness Monster.

Some cryptozoological enthusiasts hold that some of these monsters might be ancient aquatic dinosaur species that have survived into the modern day. Scientists tend to disregard these theories, as such massive sea creatures wouldn’t be able to evade detection by humans for the entirety of human history.


Some sightings of sea monsters might have been ancient misinterpretations of normal sea animals like whales, sharks, and giant squid. Notably, giant squid have only recently been confirmed to actually exist! Their discovery has led to many scientists ascribing Kraken sightings throughout history to some intrepid giant squid that got too close to the surface of the ocean.

Other explanations could be more meteorological in nature. The ancient myths of Scylla and Charybdis in Greek tales, for instance, could be an attempt to explain the unusually strong currents in the Strait of Messina, which caused a whirlpool very close to a rock shoal.

While stories and myths helped ancient humans understand the world around them, modern-day humans are left with fascinating stories about a world we once found huge and intimidating. Now, armed with science and technology, we know that the seas are nothing to be feared!