Sea Monster stories

by Rich Mallon-Day - 9/29/2017 5:54:03 AM

While doing research into the coastal dolphin net fisheries of the 1880's, I have been coming across several stories about "Sea Monsters" published by numerous Newspapers of the time. Here is perhaps the most lurid one that I've come across. From The Times, (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) June 30, 1890, page 2.




How Tbey Followed the Ship and Were Too Smart to Allow the Sailors to Catch Them With Lines.

Captain Gheen, of the schooner Abby Gheen, now lying at Boston street wharf, Camden, saw strange things oft Cape Hatteras on his voyage to this port. He does not claim to have seen the sea serpent, but he did see a number of monsters of the deep that put all well-credited sea stories in the shade. The captain is a man whose veracity is not doubted. The captain brought his vessel from Rio de Janeiro, and it was when twenty miles off Cape Hatteras that he ran into a school of sea monsters such as he had never before seen.

The monsters were sighted by one of the crew. They were nearly a hundred yards ahead of the vessel and were apparently rushing towards her. When first seen by the sailors they thought the ship was running into a floating island, some of which are often seen at sea. They soon changed their minds, however, when they got closer and saw a school of big fish that no one on board could recognize as having seen before. The school opened to let the ship pass and then at once closed in and followed her. They floated all around her and greatly impeded her progress.


Although the vessel was going at a speed of seven knots an hour, the monsters followed along in its wake and several more daring ones seemed to clutch hold of the vessel's side and let itself be carried along. After they had followed the boat for several honrs the crew began to grow uneasy as to their safety and called upon the captain, who heretofore had not been aware of the chase.

He sent for his glass, and, going aft, made a survey of the school, which he describes as resembling a low, rocky island. He said they were larger than the average-sized sharks, being about ten feet in length and varying from the size of a bucket to a tub in circumference. They seemed to be running a race, and were having a great battle among themselves.


They had four long arms, on the end of which were claws that resembled the hands of an ape. These arm-like things extended from each side of the body. Discovering that they were a new species of fish, he immediately communicated the fact to the first mate with orders to try and capture some of the strange monsters. The mate gave orders to the crew, who were more or less frightened, but were waiting the chance to "skeer" the brutes, and when they were told of the captain's orders they nearly jumped out of their shoes. The boat was searched for weapons, and soon the deck was covered with harpoons, boat hooks, fish hooks and every other kind of implement used in catching fish.


The boat-hooks were first used in their at tempt to catch the fish, but unsuccessfully. The fish seemed to know what was needed of them, and they used their "hands" to protect themselves from being caught. Gronps of two and three of the monsters would grab the rod of the boat-hook and pull them away. Eight of these hooks were taken from the sailors. The arms of the fish were about six feet long, said Captain Gheen.

The sailors became alarmed, thinking that some ill-omen had caused the serpents to follow the ship, and they thonght they wore going to be lost. They told the captain that they thought the ship would never reach port. Some rushed to the forecastle and others to the captain's cabin in their endeavors to escape from the supposed Jonahs."

By this time the fish had become more daring, and would swim alongside the boat and grab the sail tenions and traces. At last tho captain became so exasperated at the men that he ordered them to cast the lines, which they use in catching drum snd sturgeon. This the crew reluctantly did. The lines were baited with huge pieces of codfish and cast over the side. They were handled by the fish the same as they handled the boat hook. They would grab the line with their "hands," and try to tear them apart, and if one was not successful two or three others would come to his aid.


"All the time we were trying to capture one of them," said the captain, "they would keep up a yell that sounded like the bark of coyote. At last the men were successful. They had indeed caught one of the fish and they began to haul him in. When the remaining fish saw their captured brother they made great efforts to rescue him. They grabbed at him while the men were hauling him up along the side of the boat and once or twice one of them succeeded in getting his 'claws' over the fore rail. At last we had him on deck and such a hilarious yell as the crew gave out at that happy moment and the scene on the deck is indescribable.

"The captured monster floundered all over the deck, but his manoeuvres were quickly stopped by the use of an axe; we soon cut his head off. In another hour we had caught two more of the huge monsters, but these must have been young ones, as they were a great deal smaller in size than the rest and probably did not know how to evade the hook."


"This was a strange monster," said Captain Gheen. "The body was round and about the size of a small barrel, and the back was covered with thick scales, resembling the scales of a drumfisb, while the belly resembled the hide of a porpoise. The head was about as large as an ordinary sized bucket and was horrifying to gaze upon. The eyes were as large as a dollar and greenish in color. They made my blood run cold when I saw them.

We all held a consultation and decided to have the fish cooked. One of them was carefully cleaned and cut into huge chunks and I ordered the cook to prepare it for supper, I thought that they would not be fit to eat and ordered the others thrown overboard, which was done. But they weren't in the water ten seconds before the others, which were still following us, began battle over which should have the feast. They grabbed them with their 'hands' and in the battle a number of others were killed, and in their wild attempt to get a meal they chased after one of their dead number and they were lost from our view in a short time and we continued our voyage unmolested.


"But to go back to the eating of the fish. Why, when the pot stew was served up no one could tell it from a mess of boiled codfish, and when boiled by itself it tasted like shad."

Captain Lehman Lake, who for a number of years commanded the pleasure yacbt of W. L. Elkins, of the Atlantic Refining Company, states that three years ago, while cruising in South America, he had a similar experience.