All Things Maine
All Things Maine

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Sea Serpents of Mount Desert Island

It is unfortunate for the tourism industry that the sea serpents have stopped visiting Mount Desert Island.

On the morning of June 20, 1793, Captain Crabtree encountered such a beast while returning from the West Indies.
[H]aving just made Mount Desert island, distant nearly ten leagues, I suddenly got sight of a serpent, of an enormous size, swimming on the surface of the ocean, its head elevated about six or eight feet out of the water, rather prone forward. That part of the body which was out of the water I judged to be about the size of a barrel in circumference, but the head larger, having some resemblance of a horse's head. According to the most accurate computation which I made in my mind, of his length, I think it could not be less than from 55 to 60 feet in length, and perhaps longer. That part of the body which was not elevated, but of which I had a distinct view several times, was larger than the part out of the water; the body of a dark brown. I was within 200 yards of it near an hour, during which time, as it discovered no inclination to molest us, myself and the whole crew observed it with the minutest attention; nor was its attention less fixed on us. The eye was perfectly black, sharp and piercing. I was so near it as to observe clearly that there were no fins or external appendages to the body, but that its motion was by writhing of the body like other serpents. During the time it was with us, several flocks of birds flew near, which it eyed very closely; I observed in it the greatest agility and quickness of motion.

There is no doubt but this is one of the two which have been seen in these parts. All accounts agree respecting their size and appearance. Two of them, perhaps the same, were seen on the shore of the Cranberry islands, but immediately took to the water on being discovered. These are the first ever seen in our seas, that we may have any account of, though they have been seen on the coast of Norway more than 100 feet in length. [Herald of the United States, Aug. 31, 1793]
Perhaps this serpent was the same reported in 1819 to have been found dead on a Mount Desert beach.
A Skeleton, it is confidently stated, of a strange Fish at least 100 feet long has been preserved at Mount Desert, on the sea coast of the District of Maine, which was destroyed there many years ago, in all probability by fire. The skeleton extended from the shore into some woods upon its borders, and the head is supposed to have been burned off. At all events the bones are in the possession of a gentleman of respectability there and effectual arrangements have been made to transport them to Boston, in the hope that upon examination, they will elucidate the fact of the existence of a Sea Serpent. [The Farmers' Cabinet, Aug. 28, 1819]
The closest encounter might be credited to Capt. David Thurlo, Jr., of the Schooner Lydia out of Deer Isle. He was fishing for mackerel six leagues ESE of Mount Desert Rock on July 24, 1827, when a "monster of the serpent kind appeared and came long side his boat."
[H]e having a harpoon in his boat threw it at him, which took effect, and he ran off with the boat in tow; after running a short distance he stopped and raised his head out of the water 6 or 7 feet, he started again, the warp parted, and the serpent made off with the harpoon in his body. Capt. Thurlo then resumed his fishing, when all at once the serpent came up again very near them; Captain Thurlo then rowed for his vessel, which was about three miles distant, the serpent then raised his head out of the water as before and continued following them at about the same distance from the boat till they reached the vessel. Capt. Thurlo thinks there were two of them, and that the one he harpooned was not the one that followed him to the vessel. They were 70 or 80 feet long, dark colored, and had large scales. Capt. Thurlo had the most perfect view of his head when he rose out of the water, and states that it resembled exactly that of a shark. [Boston Courier, Aug. 9, 1827]
On Aug. 19, 1836, a serpent was seen off of Southwest Harbor, measuring "about 40 or 45 feet in length, and about the circumference of a five gallon keg." A wag at the Boston Journal surmised that "He must have met with tough fare lately, to be thus suddenly reduced in his fair proportions, or perhaps he confines himself strictly to vegetable diet."

Always the harbingers of good vacation spots, serpents once also visited Boothbay Harbor regularly.

Anyone spotting a sea serpent will want to consult Maine resident Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe's Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep, or perhaps visit his website. And remember next weekend's Cryptozoology Symposium at Bates College in Lewiston.
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