A Deep Dive on the Kraken, a Shipwrecking Sea Monster

A Deep Dive on the Kraken, a Shipwrecking Sea Monster

A Kraken attacks a large ship.
The Kraken is an enormous, legendary sea monster that is said to dwell off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. duncan1890 / Getty Images

The deepest parts of the world’s oceans can be mysterious and frightening enough without legendary sea serpents and or a colossal octopus with huge eyes lurking about. That still doesn’t stop our imaginations from running a bit wild.

For centuries, seafarers have spread legends of the Kraken attacking sailing vessels on the high seas. The giant cephalopod, known for its enormous size and strength unheard of in the natural world, has garnered credit for an untold amount of wreckage that has washed ashore, in spite of a distinct lack in concrete proof of it existing as a real animal.

But the giant squid ended up being real — why not a cryptid like the Kraken?

What Is a Kraken?

The Kraken is a legendary sea monster that, in some descriptions, resembles a giant octopus, Architeuthis dux or oversized versions of other squid species.

A giant squid wraps its tentacle around a sperm whale
There are tales of an epic battle between the giant squid and a sperm whale, but the Kraken is so big that it could allegedly conquer sperm whales with a single tentacle.

Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

When we say this is a sea creature of epic proportions, we mean it. Imagine each tentacle being large enough to pass for a sea serpent capable of taking out a sperm whale, then picture teeth on the suckers of each tentacle. All this would be in addition to a mouth ringed with sharp, beak-like structures — similar to those of giant squid.

While no beast in scientifically confirmed natural history has actually measured up to the mythical descriptions, it’s easy to see why early sailors would fear even the possibility of this kind of monster swimming beneath them.

Origins of the Legend

The origins of the Kraken myth can be traced back to ancient Scandinavian folklore. In Old Norse, the term « kraken » is thought to have evolved from the word « krake, » which referred to an unhealthy animal or something twisted or curled.

Kraken attacking a Viking ship. Vintage etching circa late 19th century.
Legends of the Kraken date back to Viking times.

powerofforever / Getty Images

In Norse mythology, tales of the Kraken emerged as part of the rich tapestry of sea monsters that haunted the minds of seafaring Vikings. These legends described a colossal, squid-like creature capable of pulling down entire ships with its powerful tentacles.

Over time, the Kraken became intertwined with maritime superstitions, with Norwegian fishermen purportedly watching the beast attack ships in the distance and conjure up all sorts of other sea mischief.

The Kraken in Historical Accounts

Historical accounts dating back to the 13th century lend some credence to the existence of the Kraken. Stories from mariners of the time described encounters with massive sea creatures that could fit the descriptions of the legendary Kraken.

Sailors reported witnessing terrifying tentacles rising from the depths, capable of crushing ships and dragging them into the abyss. The consistency of these tales varied enough that skepticism has thus far prevailed.

The Giant Squid Theory

One popular theory attempting to explain the existence of the Kraken is that it is based on sightings of giant squids. These deep-sea dwellers can reach astounding sizes, with some measuring up to 43 feet (13 meters) in length.

It is conceivable that encounters with such enormous creatures could have spawned exaggerated tales of the Kraken. The elusive nature of giant squids and their preference for the depths of the ocean may explain why these sightings were sporadic and shrouded in mystery.

According to Edie Widder, an ocean researcher who captured footage of a giant squid, told NPR: « The reason we know giant squids exist is that they happen to float when they die. But we really [have] only explored 5 percent of the ocean, and I think we’ve explored that in the wrong way. I think we’ve scared a lot of animals away. So what about the stuff that doesn’t float when it dies? »

Who knows what could be lurking in the darkness of the deep ocean?

Tectonic Activity and Sightings of Sea Monsters

Another theory attributes Kraken sightings to tectonic activity and seismic events. Some scientists speculate that earthquakes or underwater volcanic eruptions could disturb the ocean’s equilibrium, causing massive creatures to rise from the depths.

This theory suggests that these unusual events might temporarily displace deep-sea dwellers, bringing them closer to the surface and increasing the likelihood of encounters with seafarers.

Psychological Impact of the Open Ocean

Sperm whale cruising along Sierra La Giganta, Baja California, Mexico
Spotting a whale from a boat? Potentially intimidating, likely majestic. Spotting something more than 10 times the size of a whale? Terrifying. Christophe Boisvieux / Getty Images

The vastness and isolation of the open ocean can have a profound psychological impact on those who venture into its depths. Some experts argue that the Kraken legend may be rooted in the fears and anxieties of sailors facing the vast unknown.

The isolation, combined with the ever-present dangers of storms and treacherous waters, could have fueled the imaginations of sailors, leading to tales of monstrous creatures lurking beneath the waves. After all, the power of suggestion makes it a lot easier to see something that has already been planted in your imagination.

An impossibly large cephalopod swims beneath a sailboat.
Out in the open water, no one wants to imagine a beast of this size lurking beneath their boat.

by wildestanimal / Getty Images

The Kraken: Myth or Reality?

The legend of the Kraken continues to captivate our imagination, blurring the lines between myth and reality. While scientific explanations such as giant squids and tectonic activity offer plausible theories, the true nature of the Kraken remains elusive.

However, as we delve deeper into the unexplored realms of our vast oceans, who knows what mysteries may yet be uncovered? Perhaps, just perhaps, the Kraken is more than simple a figment of our collective imagination, waiting to reveal itself to the intrepid explorers of the deep.

This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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