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Contrary to popular belief, the sailors of Columbus's day did not think they would sail right off the edge of the earth. They were, however, apprehensive about what they would find in their travels. Mistakes about marine life have ranged from inaccurate assumptions about the behavior of known species to fanciful depictions of animals that "might" exist.

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Tunnyfish Oct-05-2014
Lobsters Sep-17-2014
Rosmarus Aug-03-2014
 
Iceland map

Year: 1570
Scientist/artist: Abraham Ortelius
Originally published in: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
Now appears in: Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis
This excerpt of a map of Iceland by a Flemish cartographer shows sea monsters that some believed inhabited the surrounding waters. Some speculation about this monster-riddled map, however, is that it aimed to dissuade Europeans from moving to an island that the current settlers preferred to keep to themselves.
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Sirens

Year: 1570
Scientist/artist: Abraham Ortelius
Originally published in: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
Now appears in: "Early Modern Brave New World?" by Ciobanu Estella Antoaneta in The Annals of Ovidius University Constanta
Ortelius didn't confine exotic sea creatures in his maps to the relatively familiar waters of Northern Europe. In the Pacific Ocean, he envisioned big, gluttonous whales attacking passing ships, and preening sirens waiting to seduce the sailors.
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Steipereidur

Year: 1603
Scientist/artist: Abraham Ortelius
Originally published in: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
Now appears in: "A Ketos in Early Athens: An Archaeology of Whales and Sea Monsters in the Greek World" by Papadopoulos and Ruscillo in American Journal of Archaeology
Ortelius issued another version of his famous map in 1603, including this detail of what he identified as the Steipereidur. Despite its fearsome teeth, Ortelius considered this animal the tamest of whales, explaining that it "fights other whales on behalf of fishermen."
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Northern oceans map

Year: 1539
Scientist/artist: Olaus Magnus
Originally published in: Carta Marina
Now appears in: The Book of Fabulous Beasts and Sea Monsters by Joseph Nigg
Many of the creatures in Ortelius's map were inspired by the version released decades earlier by Olaus Magnus, a Catholic priest who left Scandinavia for Rome after the Reformation. Olaus (originally Olaf Mansson) became a significant chronicler of fabulous sea creatures.
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Sea rhino and lobster

Year: 1539
Scientist/artist: Olaus Magnus
Originally published in: Carta Marina
Now appears in: Sea Monsters by Joseph Nigg
Although many of the monsters that decorated Renaissance maps were just that — decorations — Olaus Magnus took great care to label the creatures on his Carta Marina and provide an explanatory key to what they were, which suggests that he depicted animals he believed to be real. And some of the animals on his map can be related to real animals, such as the walrus, the blue whale and the giant squid. But other animals were more fanciful. This sea monster duo includes a lobster, just one described as 12 feet long. The monster dining on lobster is apparently a sea rhinoceros, but unlike most of the other sea monsters on Olaus's map, this one was not named in his key. The sea rhino was likely inspired by a real animal, but not one that ever lived in the ocean.
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Giant lobsters

Year: 1555
Scientist/artist: Olaus Magnus
Originally published in: Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus
Now appears in: Olaus Magnus's Sea Serpent by Joseph Nigg in Public Domain Review
Giant lobsters also made an appearance in a book that Olaus Magnus wrote about the "northern peoples." In this scene, smaller versions, some of them oddly airborne, surround two giant lobsters in the water near a ship. One of the horrifying beasts snatches a sailor out of the ship and into the water. The lobsters look very much like the real animals, but it's hard to say what, besides exaggeration, could account for their size.

 
Sea hog

Year: 1539
Scientist/artist: Olaus Magnus
Originally published in: Carta Marina
Now appears in: Sea Monsters by Joseph Nigg
After pointing out that a "monstrous Fish" appeared off the coast of England in 1532, Olaus Magnus wrote, "Now I shall revive the memory of a monstrous Hog that was found afterwards, Anno 1537, in the same German Ocean, and it was a Monster in every part of it. For it had a Hog's head, and a quarter of a Circle, like the Moon, in the hinder part of its head, four feet like a Dragon's, two eyes on both sides of his Loyns, and a third in his belly inkling toward his Navel; behind he had a Forked-Tail, like to other Fish commonly." Olaus Magnus then went on to compare the beast to heretics who, he believed, lived like swine. The naturalist had been born a Catholic, but his homeland of Sweden, like most of northern Europe, was Protestant by the time he produced his map so rich in sea monsters. Remaining a Catholic, Olaus was evetually named Archbishop of Uppsala, though he had hardly any fellow believers to oversee there; he and his brother had already moved to southern Europe. His Catholic disdain for Protestants was more than reciprocated, with Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon distributing pictures of a "pope-ass" and a "monk-calf." Besides claiming thousands of lives, Europe's religious divisions in the 16th and 17th centuries caused a renewed interest in monsters (sea bishops proliferated) with Christians of both flavors blaming each other for the weird new creatures.

 
Africa map

Year: 1644
Scientist/artist: Willem Janszoon Blaeu
Originally published in: Le Theatre du Monde
Now appears at: Evolution of the Map of Africa from the Princeton University Library
This snippet of sea monsters and ships comes from an expansive map of Africa and the surrounding seas. Made during the "Golden Age" of Dutch mapmaking, Blaeu's map was reprinted multiple times between 1631 and 1667. The water-spouting sea monster in the upper left looks big enough to swallow a ship. The fanciful flying fish in the lower left are hard to identify, though they bear some resemblance to fossil sharks known as Iniopterygiformes.

 
Americas map

Year: 1562
Scientist/artist: Diego Gutiérrez
Originally published in: Americae Sive Qvartae Orbis Partis Nova Et Exactissima Descriptio
Now appears at: Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/)
The winged fish in the upper right does bear a resemblance to a real animal, albeit an extinct one: an Iniopterygian. And the frowning swimmer in the lower right is a pretty recognizable dolphin, even if it's uncharacteristically grumpy for a cetacean. The most interesting creature is the one in the left half of the image carrying a human passenger. That odd animal bears a combination of mismatched features: sea-serpent tail, mammalian face with an almost human expression, winged arms and front flippers. (The humanoid figure with the shell should probably pass without comment.) The ocean was still full of unknowns in the 16th century, and maritime travel would remain perilous for centuries to come. No doubt sailors and their sweethearts worried about sea creatures, but it's also possible that some of these illustrations served as pure decoration.
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Two very strange fish

Year: 1573-1585
Scientists: Guillaume Rondelet and Ambroise Paré
Originally published in: Des Monstres
Now appears in: On Monsters and Marvels by Ambroise Paré, translated by Janis Pallister
In his book on monsters, Paré mentioned two fish described earlier by Rondelet. One was described as a plume because it resembled feathers worn on caps. He went on to say that this fish "shines at night like a star." The other fish was described as "like a bunch of grapes." Perhaps the so-called plume could be explained by a fleeting glimpse of a nudibranch, jellyfish, flatworm, or annelid, and plenty of marine animals are bioluminescent. Explaining the bunch of grapes, however, is harder. Much harder. It looks like the Muppet Gonzo dressed in a floral-print bodystocking, neither of which existed in the 16th century.
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Whale hunting

Year: 1573-1585
Scientist: Ambroise Paré
Originally published in: Des Monstres
Now appears in: On Monsters and Marvels by Ambroise Paré, translated by Janis Pallister
Whatever misconceptions existed about cetaceans in his day, Paré relayed what was likely an accurate account of whale hunting, explaining that whenever a whale was sighted in one seaside city, "all the inhabitants of the town run to the spot with whatever of their equipment is necessary to catch it. . . . and with all their might they throw [their harpoons] upon the whale, and when they perceive that it is wounded — which is recognized by the blood that is issuing from it — they loosen the ropes of their [harpoons], and follow it so as to fatigue it and catch it more easily; and drawing it on board, they rejoice and are merry; and they divide [it] up, each getting his portion according to the duty he will have performed." This woodcut, possibly borrowed from an earlier source, has some hits and misses. The blowhole, issuing a plume, isn't bad. The tail looks like that of a fish, but more conspicuous are the menacing eye and man-sized tusks. Perhaps the tusks served the purpose of making this cetacean-human encounter appear more evenly matched.
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Elephant-fish

Century: 12th
Originally appeared in: Church of Saint Martin in Zillis, Switzerland
Now appears in: Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet Van Duzer
The painted ceiling of the Church of Saint Martin serves as a sort of medieval bestiary. Surrounding the earth on the church ceiling is an ocean populated by an assortment of hybrid creatures, each one a land animal mixed with a fish. The ceiling boasted a horse fish, goat fish, rooster fish, etc. One of the hybrids was an elephant fish. This picture suggests that the painter had some idea of what an elephant trunk looks like — notable since medieval Europeans didn't often see elephants. It also reflects the belief common at the time that every land-dwelling animal had a marine counterpart.

 
Sea cow, sea dog, sea horse

Year: 1491
Originally appeared in: Hortus Sanitatis
Now appears in: Sea Monsters by Joseph Nigg
The common medieval belief that every land animal had its counterpart in the sea didn't just play out on church ceilings; printed bestiaries also highlighted marine versions of familiar animals. This woodcut from Hortus Sanitatis features a sea cow (top), sea dog (middle), and sea horse (bottom). Medieval and Renaissance Europeans also believed the vast ocean held watery counterparts of things they could see in the sky. Remnants of these old beliefs linger in the names of some aquatic and marine animals today, such as catfish and starfish.
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Polypus

Year: 1491
Originally appeared in: Hortus Sanitatis
Now appears in: Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet Van Duzer (also discussed in Sea Monsters by Joseph Nigg)
"Polypus" means multi-legged, but the term didn't tell medieval and Renaissance Europeans very much about any other aspect of the animal's body. Decades after this woodcut appeared in Hortus Sanitatis, Olaus Magnus showed the polyp on his map Carta Marina and discussed the animal in his book Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus. But while the map showed an animal that looked like a big lobster, the book described an animal sounded more like an octopus. This image looks like neither. Instead, it looks like the artist took advice along the lines of, "Well, it's a fish with eight legs."
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Sea monster

Year: 1572
Scientist: Gerard Mercator
Originally published in: Europae Descriptio, Emendata
Now appears in: Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet Van Duzer
The man who gave us the Mercator Projection produced more than a projection. He also produced pictures of sea monsters. This monster looks whimsical, with a face resembling a bird's. Five proboscidian trunks sprout from the sea monster's head, all blowing water, steam or mist. Its back end is a fairly standard-issue coiling sea-serpent tail.
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Harmless sea monster

Year: 1567
Scientist/artist: Giacomo Gastaldi
Originally published in: La Descriptione dela Puglia
Now appears in: Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet Van Duzer
More whimsical than menacing, this marine creature looks like a friendly mammal that just happens to have webbed feet and live in the ocean. Van Duzer notes that some of Gastaldi's 16th-century maps showed creatures such as camels and elephants on the giant landmass assumed to exist in the Southern Hemisphere — even though naturalists of his time knew that cold conditions likely predominated in both polar regions. Van Duzer remarks, "This abundance of geographically inappropriate monsters in the southern continent confirms the impression that the sea monsters give, namely that Gastaldi (or the buyers of his maps) was interested in monsters purely as exotic decoration, rather than as conveying information about what specific creatures lived in specific distant parts of the world."
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Harmless sea monster

Year: 1558
Publisher: Michaelis Tramezini
Originally published in: Septentrionalium Regionum Suetiae, Gothiae, Norvegiae, Daniae et terrarum adjacentium recens exactaque descriptio
Now appears in: Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet Van Duzer
Not only does this sea turtle fly, but it does so in the frigid waters of Northern Europe. This almost-smiling turtle might have been an exaggerated version of a sea turtle with front flippers transformed into wings, but Chet Van Duzer points out that another map published the same year by Arnold Nicolai bore an explanation that it was published "In Antwerp by Arnold Nicolai at the sign of the turtle," and that turtles also appeared around the text that accompanied the map. Van Duzer remarks, "This it seems that in the extravagant flying turtle we are to see a subtle advertisement for the publisher." This cheerful little creature was published by a different individual, but it wasn't the only example of Nicolai's flying turtle being copied; another winged turtle appeared in a map published 20 years later. So a possible advertisement might have been transformed into a creature that at least by some map readers came to regard as real.

 
Ziphius eating a seal

Year: 1560
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: Icones Animalium
Now appears in: "Monk Seals in Post-Classical History" by William Johnson in Mededelingen No. 39
Cherub-faced seals didn't please Mediterranean fishermen, who considered the animals deformed quadrupeds if not monsters. Yet everybody realized that the seals apparently had enemies of their own, such as the fearsome Ziphius. Here a Ziphius, with a face looking like a cross between an owl's and a worried human's, endures a bite from a porcine sea monster while munching on a hapless seal. The Ziphius might have been based on a killer whale or great white shark.

 
Sawfish/swordfish

Century: 13th
Originally published in: Medieval manuscript
Image appears at: A Sawfish Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program
Discussed in: Physiologus translated by Michael Curley and Sea Monsters by Joseph Nigg
In literature and maps from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, creatures known as the swordfish, sawfish and Ziphius "morphed from one animal into another under different names," in the words of Joseph Nigg. Unlike the "rapier-billed" animals known as swordfish and sawfish today, the animals bearing these names during the Renaissance might have been inspired by the orca, or killer whale. And in medieval bestiaries, and the natural-history-as-moral-instruction book Physiologus, the swordfish/sawfish was an entirely different animal. It had wings. "There is an animal in the sea called the swordfish, which has long wings; and, when he sees the ships sailing, he imitates them and raises his wings and strives with the ships as they sail. Growing tired, after racing three or four miles or more, he folds up his wings and the waves carry him back to his former abode where he was at first. The sea is the world, the ships are the prophets and apostles who cross through this world. The swordfish who does not keep pace with the crossing ships represents those who are abstinent for a time but who do not persevere with good pace. These begin with good works but do not persevere to the end because of greed, pride, and love of wicked gain."

 
Tunnyfish

Year: 1580
Scientist/artist: Adriaen Coenen
Originally appeared in: Visboek
Image appears at: Adriaen Coenen's Fish Book (1580) in Public Domain Review
Adriaen Coenen was a fisherman and fish auctioneer living in the Dutch village of Scheveningen who made himself an authority on all things fishy. Respected by academics, he obtained some of the best journals of his day, and he replicated much of this material in his "Fish Book," a handmade book complete with ornate frames drawn around the subjects. But rumors repeated by broadsides and pamphlets also found their way into Coenen's book. One of the dubious creatures he described was the "tunnyfish" reputedly caught in the 1560s in the Mediterranean Sea. The fish's remarkable feature, relayed by the material Coenen consulted, was a set of tattoos or drawings that resembled ships. One can only wonder what tattoo parlor the tunnyfish frequented.

 
Sea monster dousing a seal

Year: 1638
Scientist: Ulisse Aldrovandi
Originally published in: De Piscibus
Now appears in: "Monk Seals in Post-Classical History" by William Johnson in Mededelingen No. 39
Like Conrad Gesner, Aldrovandi passed along his share of misinformation. In published books, misconceptions could multiply because many artists were illiterate. As a result, illustrations didn't always match the written descriptions they accompanied. It's hard to say what's more remarkable about this serpentine sea monster: it's precise aim in dousing a seal with a waterspout from its own head, or its ability to wriggle on the water's surface. Either way, the turtle observing the spectacle appears entertained.

 
Seals and sea cow

Year: 1741
Scientist/artist: Sven Waxell
Originally published in: Bering's Voyages
Now appears in: Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis
This image shows, from left to right, a fur seal, a sea lion and a "sea cow." Although all three marine mammals have vaguely humanlike faces with haughty expressions, the accuracy of the sea cow is as good a rendition as we are likely to get. Hydrodamalis gigas, a giant relative of the manatee, was hunted to extinction in less than three decades after its discovery. With this animal, the real goof was wiping it off the face of the earth.
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Norwegian sea serpent

Year: 1755
Scientist/artist: Bishop Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidan
Originally published in: Natural History of Norway
Now appears in: Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis
Besides believing tales of a "kraken" (an octopus-like creature) 1.5 miles in circumference, Bishop Pontoppidan also believed in sea serpents. In his book on the natural history of Norway, he relayed a description, dating from 1746, of a sea serpent resembling a horse with big black eyes, a long white mane and a body coiled like that of a snake.
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Sea serpent

Year: 1848
Originally published in: Illustrated London News
Now appears in: "Richard Owen and the Sea-Serpent" by Brian Regal in Endeavour
In the mid-19th century, the captain and crew of Daedalus were convinced they had seen a sea serpent. Richard Owen was equally convinced they had not. When pressed for a hypothesis on what they had seen, he ventured a sea lion. Owen didn't dismiss "monsters" out of hand, having named a big group of extinct reptiles "deinos sauros" ("terrible lizard"), but he wanted physical evidence. The insistence on physical evidence — a carcass of a dead sea serpent, or a fossilized bone of an extinct one — was a change in common practice when it came to verifying the validity of sea-serpent stories. Such sightings were considered proven if eyewitness accounts could be assembled before a lawyer, judge, or other government official. When respectable citizens vouched for the existence of such a creature and respectable judges ruled their testimony truthful, challenging the monster's existence was bad form indeed.

 
Sea serpent

Century: 19th
Originally published in: Lithograph engraved by J.H. Bufford and Company
Now appears in: "Cryptozoology in the Medieval and Modern Worlds" by Peter Dendle in Folklore
This sea serpent depiction combined realistic details — the eye, teeth, forked tongue, scales, and color patterns — with fancy. How could a serpent coil on top of the water like that? But the background was equally interesting. This giant serpent slithered over the water in close proximity to ships and a densely populated coast. The apparent intent of this lithograph was to argue that sea serpents not only existed, but that they existed in busy shipping lanes.

 
Marine reptiles

Year: 1872
Scientist/artist: W.E. Webb
Originally published in: Buffalo Land
Now appears in: Oceans of Kansas by Michael J. Everhart
The sea-serpent, snake-like necks on the marine reptiles in this picture have proven implausible. Plesiosaurs might have been able to use their heads as rudders to change direction while swimming, but they couldn't very well swim in a straight line while turning their heads to take in the scenery. But while the curvy necks may have been wrong, the caption accompanying this image about "the sea that once covered the plains" in North America has turned out to be right. Fossil finds of sharks, bony fish, marine reptiles and mollusks have substantiated the hypothesis that a massive, shallow sea once covered the interior of North America.
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Fish-Cow

Year: 1561
Scientist: Gabriel Rebelo
Originally published in: História das Ilhas Maluco
Now appears in: "Secrecy, Ostentation, and the Illustration of Exotic Animals in Sixteenth-Century Portugal" by Palmira Fontes da Costa in Annals of Science
Rebelo's widely circulated manuscript included works by an unknown painter who used a naturalistic style to depict, in this case at least, an unnatural animal. (The artist might have been Rebelo himself.) Rebelo described the fish-cow as a rare specimen that he had only seen once. Although many exotic flora and fauna from Asia were regularly shipped to Lisbon during the 16th century, the Portuguese rarely published descriptions. If news circulated at all, it was usually in manuscript form.

 
Ichthyosaur and Plesiosaur

Year: 1863
Scientist: Louis Figuier
Originally published in: Earth Before the Deluge
Now appears in: Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World by Martin J.S. Rudwick
Another picture of an ancient reptile sporting a whale-like blowhole is from Figuier's rendition. Not long after Darwin published The Origin of Species, scientists were making an uneasy peace with prehistory. Figuier wrote, "We shall see, in examining the curious series of animals of the ancient world, that the organization and physiological functions go on improving unceasingly, and each of the extinct genera which preceded the appearance of man, present for each organ, modifications which always tend towards greater perfection."

 
Beached whale

Year: 1577
Scientist/artist: Jan Wierix
Originally published in: Three Beached Whales
Now appears in: Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis
This 16th-century engraving was actually a pretty good likeness, except for the extra blowhole. Two blowholes emerge from a "nose" that looks like it belongs to a terrestrial mammal. Wierix pictured three stranded whales, several more cetaceans behind them in the ocean and terrified humans fleeing up the beach.

 
Prehistoric sea life

Year: 1843
Scientist: George Richardson
Artist: George Nibbs
Originally published in: Geology for Beginners
Now appears in: Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World by Martin J.S. Rudwick and Fossil Revolution by Douglas Palmer
According to the caption in the original publication, this picture shows "the ichthyosaurus in the act of devouring a fish; the plesiosaurus, which has seized a pterodactyle, or flying reptile, on the wing; together with crocodiles and alligators, which are depicted on the shores. Turtles and tortoises are prowling on the banks, and the waters of this primeval sea are tenanted by corals, shells, crustacea, and fish, appropriate to this peculiar period of the history of nature." Although this image does give the plesiosaur a dragon-like appearance, the scene is much less apocalyptic than other depictions of prehistoric life at the time; this picture looks cheerful, except maybe for the poor creatures becoming meals.

 
Prehistoric sea life

Year: 1851
Scientist: Franz Unger
Artist: Josef Kuwasseg
Originally published in: The Primitive World in Its Different Period of Formation
Now appears in: Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World by Martin J.S. Rudwick
In keeping with the artistic convention of making the prehistoric earth look perpetually apocalyptic, this scene shows moonlight and menacing clouds over a turbulent sea. Using another artistic convention, the scene shows low tide — enabling the reader to see the sea lilies and shells on the sea floor. The reptile is a Nothosaurus. Modern depictions of the animal look less crocodilian, but this image is in keeping with modern interpretations in showing a semiaquatic animal that could live in water or on land.
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Maastricht animal

Year: 1799
Scientist: Barthélemy Faujas de Saint Fond
Originally published in: Montagne de Saint-Pierre
Now appears in: Bursting the Limits of Time by Martin J.S. Rudwick
By the late 18th century, Europe's savants had begun wrapping their brains around the concept of an ancient earth that had both predated humans by an unimaginable time span and crawled with strange creatures. The savants also hired capable artists and engravers to render accurate depictions of the fossils they found. The year 1780 marked the discovery of an enormous fossil reptile in underground quarries near the Dutch town of Maastricht. Nineteen years later, Faujas published a description of the reptile. The excavation picture may be a little dramatic, but the illustration of the fossil itself is pretty accurate (the oval-shaped objects with the skull are fossil sea urchins). Faujas's interpretation wasn't quite as accurate as the pictures. He classified it as a giant crocodile. Today, the fossil is identified as a mosasaur, an extinct marine reptile. Considering how little was then known about prehistoric life, Faujas's mistake is pretty forgivable.
Larger images available: excavation fossil

 
Manatee

Year: 1766-1785
Scientist: Buffon
Originally published in: Histoire Naturelle
Now appears in: Buffon by Jacques Roger
The setting — atop a table, in front of a locked chest — might seem strange to the modern viewer, but the animal likely looks familiar. The gentle-looking creature that seems to sport a smile is a manatee. Buffon's pretty accurate rendition of what was possibly an inspiration for some mermaid myths marked a step forward in marine biology.
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Manatee

Year: 1648
Scientist: Francisco Hernández
Originally published in: Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus
Now appears in: "South American Mammal Diversity and Hernandez's Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus" by Ernesto Capanna in Rendiconti Lincei, April 2009 issue
Pictures like this give the distinct impression that early glimpses of manatees were, indeed, fleeting. This surprised-looking creature — shaped like a stylized seal with muscular cheeks and equine, hoofed legs — actually accompanied a pretty precise, accurate textual description. The illustrator must have employed a great deal of imagination.
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Gloucester Sea Monster

Year: 1817
Now appears in: Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis
"There was seen on Monday and Tuesday morning playing around the harbor between Eastern Point and Ten Pound Island, a SNAKE with his head and body about eight feet out of water, his head is in perfect shape as large as the head of a horse, his body is judged to be about FORTY-FIVE or FIFTY FEET IN LENGTH." So read a broadside published in Boston about a sea monster sighting in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1817. This picture, produced at the time, shows the alleged sea monster. Multiple eye witnesses to sea serpent antics came forward, and a group of boys found what was initially assumed to be the creature's spawn. A naturalist who specialized in reptiles, however, pronounced the baby sea serpent to just be a deformed blacksnake.

 
Assorted sea monsters

Year: 1662
Scientist: Caspar Schott
Originally published in: Physica Curiosa
Now appears in: Visual Cultures of Science edited by Luc Pauwels
Caspar (also known as Gaspar or Kaspar) Schott was a one-time student and long-time collaborator of the German Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher. Besides editing and defending Kircher's works, Schott published some of his own. This page from the second volume of his Physica Curiosa shows a motley assortment of sea monsters, including a fish resembling a monk (upper left), a marine monster looking suspiciously like a bishop (lower right), and two chimerical creatures with long, fishy tails. Similar depictions appeared in numerous works in the 16th and 17th centuries. Religious tensions of the time might have contributed to the strong resemblance between alleged monsters and clerical figures.

 
Contemplative sea monster

Year: 1696
Scientist: Johann Zahn
Originally published in: Specula Physico-Mathematico-Historica
Now appears at: NOAA Photo Library Treasures of the Library (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/library/index.html)
Toward the end of the 17th century, Johann Zahn published a depiction of a sea monster looking vaguely like a cleric. Zahn relayed the information that this creature was fished out of the icy waters of the Baltic Sea in 1531. Although plenty of "sea bishops" looked formidable if not downright horrifying, this one bore a contemplative expression above his beard. The NOAA Photo Library characterizes this as a "relatively benign merman."
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Sea Monster and shipwreck

Year: 1709
Scientist: Franz Reinzer
Originally published in: Meteorologia Philosophico-Politica
Now appears at: NOAA Photo Library Treasures of the Library (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/library/index.html)
Influenced by fellow Jesuit Athanasius Kircher, Reinzer compiled a book with a broad scope, including philosophy, meteorology and astrology. In a single illustration, this philosophical tome managed to neatly encapsulate three varieties of maritime mayhem: a storm, a shipwreck and a sea monster. The sea monster looks slightly furry, vaguely porcine and almost cute. Reinzer didn't get to see his book in print; it was published a year after he died.
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Sea monster

Year: 1662
Scientist: Caspar Schott
Originally published in: Physica Curiosa
Now appears at: NOAA Photo Library Treasures of the Library (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/library/index.html)
In his Physica Curiosa, Schott included scores of illustrations, many of outlandish creatures, some closer to reality. What real-life animal might have inspired this illustration isn't easy to guess. It has gills, fringes, and a long curling tail, but the predominant feature is its gaping mouth lined with sharp teeth. The teeth are shaped like those of a shark.
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Narwhal and shark

Year: 1820
Scientist: W. Scoresby
Originally published in: An Account of the Arctic Regions with a History and Description of the Northern Whale-Fishery
Now appears at: NOAA Photo Library Treasures of the Library (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/library/index.html)
By the 19th century, even the early 19th century, more rational views had taken hold about fish and marine mammals. Scoresby provided a pretty plausible rendition of a Greenland shark (below) and narwhal above. Perhaps in jest, Scoresby described the horned marine mammal as a "Male Narwhal or Unicorn." Indeed, narwhal horns had been mistaken, at least by gullible buyers, as unicorn horns, capable of fending off the effects of poison.
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Whale with young

Year: 1560
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: Icones Animalium
Now appears in: Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis
Gesner was one of the finest naturalists of the 16th century, but he occasionally misfired. In this woodcut, a mother whale and her young look awfully porcine.
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Sea rhino and lobster

Year: 1539
Scientist/artist: Olaus Magnus
Originally published in: Carta Marina
Now appears in: Sea Monsters by Joseph Nigg
The porcine whales in Gesner's books look similar to creatures in Olaus Magnus's map published years earlier. Besides pig-like snouts, they have dual-exhaust-style head spouts. The may key identified them as pristers, and in his book about the region, Olaus warned, "Sea monsters, huge as mountains, capsize the ships if they are not frightened away. . . . The Whirlpool, or Prister, is of the kind of Whales, two hundred Cubits long, and is very cruel." To scare off the monster, Olaus recommended noisy war trumpets or cannons, or pouring lye into the water. He also recommended "casting out huge great Vessels, that hinders this Monsters passage, or for him to play with all." Indeed, the worried sailors in this picture drop big barrels into the sea, perhaps hoping to distract the monsters with playthings. Joseph Nigg surmises that the prister legend might have been inspired by the sperm whale, though sperm whales rarely act as aggressively as Olaus indicated. Whether sperm whales truly measure 200 cubits long depends on how you size a cubit.
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Sea devil

Year: 1558
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: De Piscium & Aquatilium Animantum Natura
Now appears in: "Monk Seals in Post-Classical History" by William Johnson in Mededelingen No. 39 and Curious Woodcuts of Fanciful and Real Beasts by Conrad Gesner
Gesner reproduced this picture of a Sea Devil (also called Triton marinus, Dæmon marinus, Satyrus marinus or Pan marinus) because the artist sending him the picture "had seen the monster alive." Gesner noted that one such creature had been captured in Norway and another in Rome. The Roman Sea Devil, he pointed out, didn't have horns. Gesner was such a prolific natural historian thanks largely to a wide network of associates. Unfortunately, many of them were superstitious mariners. This improbable creature is probably based on the monk seal. Once common in the Mediterranean, the species was decimated by human hunting. Fishermen considered the seals a smelly nuisance. So, apparently, did farmers. As Aristotle had a millennium earlier, both Gesner and fellow naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi passed along accounts of seals raiding orchards.
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Bearded whale

Year: 1558
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: De Piscium & Aquatilium Animantum Natura
Now appears in: Curious Woodcuts of Fanciful and Real Beasts by Conrad Gesner and The Book of Fabulous Beasts by Joseph Nigg
This "bearded whale" was originally reported by Olaus Magnus, who described a horned whale looking like "a tree rooted up by the roots." This fanciful depiction might have been inspired by a partial or fleeting view of a real animal, perhaps a giant squid.
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Sea unicorn and narwhal

Year: 1694
Scientist/artist: Pierre Pomet
Originally published in: Histoire Générale des Drogues
Now appears in: The Unicorn by Nancy Hathaway
Pomet pictured both a sea unicorn (top) and a narwhal (bottom). Unlike the first creature, the second was real, and its horn was often mistaken — or deliberately passed off — as a unicorn horn, believed capable of curing all kinds of diseases and poisonings. As Europe's upper-crust families showed such a fondness for poisoning their own, such antidotes were always in demand. Not long after Pomet's book was published, the narwhal was identified as a "false unicorn."
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yyy

Year: 1560
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: Nomenclator Aquatilium Animantium
Now appears in: Curious Woodcuts of Fanciful and Real Beasts by Conrad Gesner
Equipped with wings, this alleged flying fish was based on an illustration in a work by Olaus Magnus describing the northern seas. The face of this creature resembles that of a human more than a fish, with eyes positioned on the front of the head and the bridge of a nose.

 
Hydra

Year: 1558
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: De Piscium & Aquatilium Animantum Natura
Now appears in: Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis, Merchants and Marvels edited by Smith and Findlen and "Foils and Fakes" by Suzanne Magnanini in Marvels & Tales Magazine
Hercules battled with a hydra in ancient Greek mythology, and this imaginary animal has suffered from a rotten reputation ever since. Unfortunately, the hydra has a living relative, of sorts: the octopus. Even now, misconceptions persist about the octopus (also called the "devil fish"), and it has been doomed to play the villain in more than one B movie. Although this illustration only shows seven heads, the hydra was sometimes said to have nine, and two new ones would appear whenever one was chopped off. This depiction of a hydra was typical of the time, i.e., a picture copied from another picture — probably taken from a publication about the Apocalypse. Though he published this image, however, Gesner was very skeptical about the creature's existence.

 
Walrus

Year: 1558
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: De Piscium & Aquatilium Animantum Natura
Now appears in: The Science of Describing by Brian W. Ogilvie
Contrary to what we might guess today, Renaissance naturalists were plenty skeptical about many of the descriptions and illustrations they encountered. Getting by on a small salary in a landlocked country, however, Gesner couldn't see many sea creatures for himself. He had to rely on the work of others, including a book about the northern European ocean by Olaus Magnus. Of Magnus's sea creatures, Gesner wrote, "It seems that he depicted many according to seafarers' tales rather than from life." Still, Gesner published this picture of a walrus. Gesner had a big reservation about it: "Fish don't have feet." He confessed that fins can resemble feet in large fish skeletons, but thought the artist took too many liberties here (which he did). Why would Gesner think of a walrus as a fish? In the 16th century, naturalists weren't just grappling with unusual animals, but with their own methods of classifying them.
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orss piscis

Year: 1635
Scientist/artist: Juan Eusebio Nieremberg
Originally published in: Historia Naturae
Now appears in: The Science of Describing by Brian W. Ogilvie
Gesner suspected that the walrus (which he called "rosmarus") was the same as another creature known as "morss piscis." That was an accomplishment, considering how different they looked. This especially fuzzy, scrappy picture was likely made from a dried skin. Poorly preserved specimens and confusing illustrations meant that the two animals weren't recognized as the same thing until the end of the 17th century. Nieremberg published this illustration in a book about odd creatures, most of them from the New World. A similar looking animal also appeared in an engraving of the naturalist Ferrante Imperato's museum.
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Rosmarus

Year: 1555
Scientist/artist: Olaus Magnus
Originally published in: Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus
Now appears in: Sea Monsters by Joseph Nigg
More outlandish than the walrus that Conrad Gesner depicted in 1558 were the mountain-sized animals that Olaus Magnus showed a few years earlier, with curving tusks protruding upward from their lower jaws. His accompanying text was a bit less hyperbolic than the picture, merely comparing their size to that of elephants. Olaus employed both terms in use at the time: rosmarus and morss. "The Norway Coast, toward the more Northern parts, hath huge great Fish as big as Elephants, which are called Morsi, or Rosmari, may be they are so from their sharp biting; for if they see any man on the Sea-shore, and can catch him, they come suddenly upon him, and rend him with their Teeth, that they will kill him in a trice . . . They will raise themselves with their Teeth, as by Ladders to the very tops of Rocks, that they may feed on the Dewie Grasse, or fresh Water, and role themselves in it, and then go to the Sea again . . ." Perhaps Olaus Magnus's source of information on the rosmarus had the bad luck to meet the marine mammals during mating season.

 
Birthing dolphin

Year: 1551
Scientist/artist: Pierre Belon
Originally published in: L'histoire naturelle des estranges poissons marins
Now appears in: "Emergence of Vertebrate Zoology During the 1500s" by Frank N. Egerton in Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America October 2003 issue
In fact, this image provides a pretty accurate rendition of cetacean birth, although the cloud surrounding the baby is somewhat mysterious. At a time when naturalists were still puzzling over classifications of broad groups, however, Belon classified all flying vertebrates as birds and all swimming vertebrates as fish, including those that gave live birth.
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Mosaic detail

Century: 4th BC
Originally appeared in: Mosaic at Piazza Armerina, Sicily
Now appears in: Monsters: A Bestiary of the Bizarre by Christopher Dell
This Roman mosaic shows realistic fish and quasi-realistic cetaceans, but they surround two less realistic figures. A putto rides a sea monster, one sporting the head of a jackal, a mouth full of sharp teeth and a protruding tongue and, apparently, mutton chops. The sea monster might have been inspired by tempestuous seas as much as by a glimpse of any actual animal.

 
Hydra

Year: 1734
Scientist: Albertus Seba
Artist: J. Fortuÿn (coloration)
Originally published in: Thesaurus
Now appears in: "A Diverse and Marvelous Collection" by Müsch, Willmann and Rust in Natural History Magazine, April, 2002 issue and A Cabinet of Natural Curiosities by Albertus Seba
Amsterdam apothecary Albertus Seba portrayed another hydra in the 18th century. Seba had his doubts about its authenticity, but more than one "respectable eye witness" vouched for the accuracy of the stuffed specimen, so he published this picture of it. Seba's mistake is understandable in light of the fact that most genuine animals were either preserved in spirits or stuffed by the time they reached him.

 
Cuttlefish

Year: 1758
Scientist: Albertus Seba
Artist: J. Fortuÿn (coloration)
Originally published in: Thesaurus
Now appears in: "A Diverse and Marvelous Collection" by Müsch, Willmann and Rust in Natural History Magazine, April, 2002 issue and A Cabinet of Natural Curiosities by Albertus Seba
Most of Seba's work was more realistic than the hydra. Though some mythological beasts persisted, during the 17th and 18th centuries, scholars began replacing superficial observation of the natural world with more detailed and careful study. Results included this depiction of a cuttlefish, an octopus relative.

 
Shells

Year: 1758
Scientist: Albertus Seba
Artist: J. Fortuÿn (coloration)
Originally published in: Thesaurus
Now appears in: Natural Curiosities from the Cabinet of Albertus Seba by Albertus Seba
This picture doesn't show any egregious errors, only differences between the 18th century and the current day. Most shells are dextral, meaning if you hold the shell so the spire is up and the aperture is facing you, the aperture will usually be on your right side. In these shells, the aperture is flipped. Seba didn't accidentally flip every shell; printing techniques of the time produced mirror images. What's probably more striking is the artistic representation. This circular arrangement was actually part of a larger ornate page of mollusks. In Seba's day, the line between science and art was pretty fuzzy, but it arguably made the science more entertaining.

 
Blowfish

Year: 1605
Scientist: Carolus Clusius
Originally published in: Exoticorum Libri Decem
Now appears in: Merchants and Marvels edited by Smith and Findlen
The trouble with trying to identify exotic species of blowfish from remote regions was that savants had to rely on dried specimens of dubious preservation. Working in the Netherlands, Clusius admitted that he couldn't dissect the fish to see their internal organs. Some of his contemporaries were starting to do just that, recognizing that superficial characteristics didn't tell the whole story. In the case of these blowfish, each woodcut represents what Clusius identified as a distinct species, but they were probably all the same species — preservation problems made them look so different.

 
Fish

Year: 1758
Scientist: Albertus Seba
Artist: J. Fortuÿn (coloration)
Originally published in: Thesaurus
Now appears in: Natural Curiosities from the Cabinet of Albertus Seba by Albertus Seba
Seba portrayed a puffer fish, along with other denizens of the sea in his Thesaurus. Like other naturalists, Seba frequently relied on dried specimens. As in other illustrations he produced, this depiction shows an improvement over work from the previous century, although Seba gave the fish a strangely expressive face.

 
Nudibranch

Year: 1853
Scientist: Edward Forbes
Originally published in: A History of British Mollusca and Their Shells (Vol. 1)
Now appears in: "Deserts on the Sea Floor" by Thomas R. Anderson and Tony Rice in Endeavour Magazine, December, 2006 issue
This "sea monster" depiction is probably pretty accurate. It's of a nudibranch, a mollusk without a shell, but with plenty of elaborate protuberances. (Nudibranch loosely translates as "mollusk with a nudie butt.") Forbes's mistake wasn't in the depiction of any particular sea creature. Instead, it was in the assumption that below a certain depth, the sea was pretty much lifeless. In fact, the assumption didn't seem unreasonable at the time — ocean depths saw little light, intense water pressure, and frigid temperatures. The discovery of sea floor vents teeming with life was a long way off. However, dredging the ocean bottom had brought up a variety of exotic sea creatures starting decades before Forbes advanced his lifeless seabed hypothesis.

 
Sharks and teeth

Year: 1709
Scientists/artists: Athanasius Kircher and Filippo Buonanni
Originally published in: Musæum Kircherianum
Now appears in: The Ecstatic Journey by Ingrid D. Rowland
The 17th-century German Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher established a fabulous museum in Rome, filled with antiquities, speaking tubes, odd animals and fossils. Some of these "wonders" were too fantastic to be true. (Kircher believed every story he ever heard about someone catching a dragon — assuming that someone was a pope.) But much of what he collected was absolutely real. These fish carcasses and shark teeth must have looked outlandish to the visitors to Kircher's museum, but fish like these swim in the sea today. After Kircher died, Buonanni took over his collection and published a catalog in the early 18th century. These images from the catalog show some 18th-century progress in accurately depicting sea life.

 
Shells

Year: 1684
Scientist: Filippo Buonanni
Originally published in: Recreatio Mentis et Oculi
Now appears in: "Contributions to the History of Geological Sciences: Illustrations of the Kircher Museum Naturalistic Collections" by Bruno Accordi in Geol. Rom.
Besides cataloging Kircher's museum, Buonanni (also known as Bonanni) undertook work of his own. While the illustrations were reasonably accurate, his speculations might best be euphemized as colorful. Buonanni avoided definitively saying whether fossil shells had once been living organisms, but he discussed at length whether pearls resulted from dew, why mollusks lack teeth and bones and why — in his own estimation at least — mollusks are lazy and stupid.
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Shark

Year: 1667
Scientist/artist: Niels Stensen
Originally published in: Canis Carchariae Dissectum Caput
Now appears in: Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis and Fossils: Evidence of Vanished Worlds by Yvette Gayrard-Valy
Strange as it looks by today's standards, this picture of a dissected head of a giant white shark actually marked significant progress in marine biology. For years, fossilized shark teeth were believed to be tongues of serpents turned to stone by Saint Paul, and hence were named glossopetrae, or "tongue stones." Niels Stensen correctly identified tongue stones as shark teeth, though he was not the first person in history to do so. In fact, Steno's picture was derived from a 16th-century unpublished work by papal physician Michele Mercati.
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Shark

Year: 1670
Scientist/artist: Agostino Scilla
Originally published in: Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense
Now appears in: "Agostino Scilla: A Baroque Painter in Pursuit of Science" by Paula Findlen in Science in the Age of Baroque
Although Steno's depiction of a dissected shark head was a step forward in scientific accuracy, Scilla felt he could improve upon Steno's work. Scilla was an accomplished painter and a coin collector. He believed — and informed his readers — that his experience in these fields gave him insights into fossils and other natural specimens that others could not. Rare were the ancient coins that depicted the same emperor and came from the same mint. Likewise, rare were the human faces that looked the same. Where others perhaps saw uniformity in sharks and their teeth, Scilla saw individuality. He delivered detailed depictions to different kinds of sharks, including a hammerhead, advancing accuracy even a little further than Steno.
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Shark

Year: c. 1775
Artist: Nicolaus Mettel
Originally published as: The True Picture of a Sea Dragon or Sea Wonder, which has 384 Teeth in its Jaws
Now appears in: Curious Beasts by Alison E. Wright
In contrast to the sober assessments of shark heads by Steno and Scilla from the previous century, this 18th-century etching of a dried shark head was much more sensational, with a name to match. The so-called sea dragon's eye leers at the viewer, perhaps sizing up a potential meal. The title and picture highlighted an accurate feature of the shark's anatomy: multiple rows of sharp teeth. This depiction's sensationalism likely had a shrewd purpose. It might have been an advertisement for the display of this creature at the 1775 Frankfurt Easter Fair.
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Shark teeth

Year: 1648
Scientist/artist: Ulisse Aldrovandi
Originally published in: Musaeum Metallicum
Now appears in: "The Geology Collections in Aldrovandi's Museum" by Carlo Sarti in Four Centuries of the Word Geology
Sixteenth-century naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi correctly rejected the notion that the biblical 40-day flood could embed shells inside the rocks of mountain ranges. He incorrectly endorsed the idea that fossils could grow in place from inorganic processes making crude imitations of living things. He clung to this belief even when he was astonished by the exquisite details of fossil fish. But fossilization was hardly understood in his day. (Aldrovandi lived a century before Stensen; Musaeum Metallicum was published more than 40 years after Aldrovandi's death). He didn't connect glossopetrae to sharks, but instead recommended them as an antidote for snake venom, to be mixed in wine or water.

 
Ketos on Greek pottery

Year: c.520-510 BC
Now appears in: "A Ketos in Early Athens: An Archaeology of Whales and Sea Monsters in the Greek World" by Papadopoulos and Ruscillo in American Journal of Archaeology and "Monk Seals in Antiquity" by Johnson and Lavigne in Mededelingen No. 35
This artifact, photographed from a private collection, shows a Greek hero fighting a creature known as the ketos. Showing some characteristics of sea serpents (frilly back and gaping, toothy mouth) and some of whales (flippers and a whale fin) might have been inspired by a glimpse of an actual whale. The fanciful depiction of this creature, however, contrasts with the accurate renditions of dolphins, an octopus and even a seal. The seal, mostly likely a monk seal, turns out to be a far more accurate rendition than most of the pictures that would follow in succeeding centuries.

 
Striped dolphin

Year: c.1500 BC
Now appears in: "The Most Ancient Explorations of the Mediterranean" by Marco Masseti in Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences
This pretty little dolphin puts to shame some dolphin depictions that follow by more than 2,500 years. It appears as a decoration on a blade from the Late Helladic I period, now on display at the National Museum in Athens. This image suggests that observations of dolphins were more factual than fanciful several centuries before Homer composed his epic poems. In fact, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers likely traveled the Mediterranean Sea some 13,000 years ago, so locals had plenty of time to learn about the region's wildlife. Modern biologists suspect that this cetacean might be the striped dolphin, or Stenella ceruleoalba.

 
Arion on dolphin

Year: 1514
Scientist/artist: Albrecht Dürer
Originally appeared in: Arion
Now appears in: Nature and Its Symbols by Lucia Impelluso, translated by Stephen Sartarelli
According to the Greek legend, the gifted singer Arion was tossed overboard by sailors who wanted to steal his stuff. By the time he was thrown into the sea, however, he had bewitched a dolphin who came to his rescue. This dolphin sports more protuberances than any seen in nature, but in fairness to Dürer, who was known for his realism, the fact that he was illustrating a legend may have given him a greater sense of artistic license.

 
Basking shark

Year: 1868
Originally published in: Harper's Weekly
Now appears in: Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis
This "wonderful fish" described in Harper's Weekly was later identified as a basking shark, and the depiction is reasonably accurate if you ignore the legs. The shark had partially decomposed by the time it was described, and that may have lead to the assumption that it was a sea monster with legs. The colossal size is no mistake. Basking sharks are among the largest fish alive today, and can measure up to 40 feet.

 
Cephalopod

Year: 1802
Scientist/artist: Pierre Denys de Montfort
Originally published in: Historie Naturalle Générale et Particulière des Mollusques
Now appears in: Sketches of Creation by Alexander Winchell and Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis
Denys de Montfort bragged that if this representation were swallowed, he would next represent a cephalopod embracing the Straits of Gibraltar. Seventy years later, Alexander Winchell did two admirable things: He called Denys de Montfort's depiction a sailor's yarn, but also suggested, "the unexplored depths of the ocean conceal the forms of octopods that far surpass in magnitude any of the species known to science." Winchell was right on both counts.
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Cephalopod artwork

Year: 2011
Scientists: Mark and Dianna McMenamin
Appears in: Giant Kraken Lair Discovered (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/gsoa-gkl100611.php)
At the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in October 2011, Mark McMenamin made an unbelievable announcement: A heap of Triassic ichthyosaur bones in Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, Nevada, was the work of a 100-foot-long giant cephalopod, or kraken. The kraken killed the ichthyosaurs, carried them home, munched away their squishy parts then daintily arranged their vertebrae into a self portrait of its own suckers. While horrified fellow paleontologists realized this was not a story from The Onion, breathless journalists whose idea of journalism is repeating press releases of even the most outlandish claims without getting second opinions spread the news of the giant, sadistic, artistic kraken. Skepticism crept into news reports a day or so later, including the headline "Smokin' Kraken" and "Scientist Definitively Proves Existence of Hyper-Intelligent Mythical Octopus." Was McMenamin joking? Could he really be serious? At the GSA's previous two annual meetings, biblical literalists presented talks and led field trips. So maybe this was bound to happen.

 
Jenny Haniver

Year: 1573-1585
Scientist: Ambroise Paré
Originally published in: Des Monstres
Now appears in: Similar depictions appear in Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis and On Monsters and Marvels by Ambroise Paré, translated by Janis Pallister
Called a both sea eagle and a flying fish, this was probably a "Jenny Haniver," a forgery made by mutilating a ray to resemble a winged sea monster with a human head. The trick worked, and Ambroise Paré recounted a second-hand tale of how a live specimen was presented to the lords of the city of Quioze. The origin of the name "Jenny Haniver" is unknown, but the first known illustration of one dates from the 16th century.

 
Sea monks

Year: 1854
Scientist: Japetus Steenstrup
Now appears in: The Search for the Giant Squid by Richard Ellis
In the 16th century, two naturalists, Rondelet and Pierre Belon, produced descriptions of animals they termed the Sea Monk, or monk-fish. (Historian William M. Johnson has noted that the sea monk bears a striking resemblance to Saint Francis of Assisi.) Centuries later, a very talented naturalist, Japetus Steenstrup, gave a presentation in which he compared Rondelet's illustration (on the left) and Belon's illustration (on the right) to the likeness of a squid captured in 1853. He also took into consideration a 16th-century description of the Sea Monk by Conrad Gesner. Steenstrup made an amazing deduction: "Could we, given these bits of information of how the Monk was conceived at that time, come so near to it that we could recognize to which of nature's creatures it should most probably be assigned? The Sea Monk is firstly a cephalopod."
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Stingray

Year: 1642
Scientist/artist: Ulisse Aldrovandi
Originally published in: Monstrorum Historia
Now appears in: Cabinets of Curiosities by Patrick Mauriès
An amazingly prolific Renaissance man, Aldrovandi sometimes exhibited what the 18th-century naturalist Buffon would later describe as "a tendency towards credulity." Of the stingray, Aldrovandi observed, "They love music, the dance and witty remarks." Exactly how stingrays exhibited their affection for these niceties is unknown.

 
Hammerhead and white shark tooth

Year: 1575
Scientist/artist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: Historia Animalium
Now appears in: Shark by Dean Crawford
While Ulisse Aldrovandi devoted an entire volume to sea monsters, Conrad Gesner offered more restrained accounts, even though some of his own depictions were awfully serpent-like. This page from one of his books shows a hammerhead shark and the tooth of a white shark. In Gesner's day, sharks were commonly known as "seadogs" or "dogfish," and of the "sledgedog," he wrote, "It eats all kinds of fish, and will also swallow and tear apart swimming people. When sighted, it is considered a sign of hateful bad luck." Gesner and Aldrovandi continued a Western tradition dating back to Ancient Greece of demonizing sharks. If their legends are any indication, however, Pacific islanders — who spent much more time around the animals — respected sharks more than they loathed them, and deified some sharks. Pacific islanders told stories about shark gods somewhat similar to stories about Greek gods; the deities were fallible and complicated. But shark deities exhibited their worst behavior not as unalloyed sharks, but as shark-human hybrids.

 
Angel shark

Year: 1558
Scientist/artist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: Historia Animalium
Now appears in: Shark: In Peril in the Sea by David Owen
This rendition of an angel shark is not entirely without foundation. Angel sharks have pectoral finds resembling angel wings. This image, however, shows a body resembling a tetrapod and a strangely human face.
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London broadside

Year: 1569
Originally published in: The True Discripcion of this Marueilous Straunge Fishe
Now appears in: Shark: In Peril in the Sea by David Owen
This image of what was likely a thresher shark shows a fish with a tail as long as its body. After fisherman accidentally netted the animal, its skin was stuffed and displayed in London. This broadside followed, explaining that "sertayne English Fissher men" inadvertently captured the odd creature while it was "folowynge after the scooles of Mackrell" that the fishermen also sought.
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Strange fish

Year: 1613
Scientist/artist: Ulisse Aldrovandi
Originally published in: De Piscibus
Now appears in: The Great Naturalists edited by Robert Huxley
Aldrovandi sometimes combined impressive realism (a recognizable shark) with puzzling chimera. The fish on the bottom has a mammal-like face with a saw protruding from the head, dragon-like scales, fishy fins and flippers.
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Scolopendra cetacea

Year: 1638
Scientist/artist: Ulisse Aldrovandi
Originally published in: De Animalibus Insectis Libri Septem
Now appears in: "Ancient Scientific Basis of the 'Great Serpent' from Historical Evidence" by Richard B. Stothers in Isis June 2004 issue
For his portrayal of this beast, Aldrovandi relied on accounts from Antiquity. In the third century, the natural historian Aelian relayed the tale of the Scolopendra cetacea, a creature so fearsome that "if cast up on the shore no one would have the courage to look at it." These sea monsters, he claimed, had "numerous feet in line on either side as though they were rowing themselves." The name for this animal was derived from a common sea scolopendra, a type of centipede, but the creature Aelian described was much larger. It might have been based on observations of a real animal, such as a whale or giant squid. The feet aren't easily explained, but an animal causing ripples on the water's surface might have been assumed to have numerous feet.

 
Ray

Year: 1554-1555
Scientist/artist: Guillaume Rondelet
Originally published in: Libri de Piscibus Marinis
Now appears in: Matters of Exchange by Howard J. Cook
Guillaume Rondelet was one of the most highly regarded naturalists of his day, and his book on marine fishes became famous. Although ornate, this ray didn't appear to possess the same cultural graces as the one Aldrovandi described. Rondelet worked closely with local fishermen who brought him specimens, and he even built tanks and piped water into them to better observe the fish.

 
Spiny dolphin

Century: 17th
Now appears in: The Discovery of Time edited by Stuart McCready
Taken from a 17th-century collection of fossil illustrations, this looks like a cross between a dolphin and a plant.

 
Sea serpent

Year: 1734
Scientist/artist: Hans Egede
Originally published in: Full and Particular Relation of my Voyage to Greenland, as a Missionary, in the year 1734
Now appears in: Dragons, Unicorns, and Sea Serpents by Charles Gould
Egede wrote, "On the 6th of July 1734, when off the south coast of Greenland, a sea-monster appeared to us, whose head, when raised, was on level with our main-top. Its snout was long and sharp, and it blew water almost like a whale; it has large broad paws; its body was covered with scales; its skin was rough and uneven; in other respects it was as a serpent; and when it dived, its tail, which was raised in the air, appeared to be a whole ship's length from its body."

 
Sea serpent with explanation

Year: 1883
Scientist: Henry Lee
Originally published in: Sea Monsters Unmasked
Now appears in: Olaus Magnus's Sea Serpent by Joseph Nigg in Public Domain Review
The sea serpent that Hans Egede thought he glimpsed made another appearance in the late 19th century, along with a possible explanation. The caption for the bottom image reads, "The animal which Egede probably saw." Sea serpent sightings persisted through the 19th century, and Lee wasn't the only one offering level-headed explanations. Antoon Cornelius Oudemans suggested that the sea monster legends could have been the outcome of sightings of marine mammals, sharks, squid or other known species. But whereas Lee suggested that the giant sea serpent described in the 16th century by Olaus Magnus was a probably big squid, Oudemans thought Olaus really intended to depict a big snake.

 
Whale island

Century: 10th
Scientist/artist: Richard Fournival
Originally appeared in: Bestiaire d'Amour of Richard Fournival
Now appears in: The Birth and Development of the Geological Sciences by Frank Dawson Adams
Here two sailors cook their dinner on the back of a whale so big that they have mistaken it for an island and landed on it. Descriptions of island-sized whales were common in Classical times as well as the Middle Ages.

 
Whale luring fish

Century: 13th
Originally appeared in: Beastiary now housed in the Bodleian Library, Oxford
Now appears in: Nature and Its Symbols by Lucia Impelluso and Stephen Sartarelli
One legend about whales circulated by medieval Europeans was that the cetaceans could simply open their mouths and emit a sweet fragrance (sweet to fish, anyway). The hapless fish would swim right into the trap. Never missing a moral of the story, the storytellers pointed out that faithless pleasure-seekers would be trapped by the devil in similar fashion.

 
Whale island

Year: 1558
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: De Piscium & Aquatilium Animantum Natura
Now appears in: Curious Woodcuts of Fanciful and Real Beasts by Conrad Gesner
Naturalist Conrad Gesner also portrayed a whale big enough to be mistaken for an island by hapless sailors. While the sailors cook their meal over a fire on its back, this porcine cetacean messes with their ship. In all likelihood, by the time Gesner described this creature, knowledgeable Europeans no longer believed in whales of such monstrous size, although whales of monstrous appearance still appeared frequently in print.
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Northern oceans map

Year: 1621
Scientist/artist: Honorius Philoponus
Originally published in: Novi Orbis Indiae Occidentalis
Now appears in: The Book of Fabulous Beasts and Sea Monsters by Joseph Nigg
The whale-as-island made another appearance in this 17th-century engraving. It shows the whale, Jasconius, in an account of the voyage of Saint Brendan. Some of the monks were preoccupied with mass when the nature of the island became obvious.
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Chubby whale

Year: 1558
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: De Piscium & Aquatilium Animantum Natura
Now appears in: Curious Woodcuts of Fanciful and Real Beasts by Conrad Gesner
Like other whale depictions from Gesner's era, this may have been based on a glimpse of the real creature, perhaps a small cetacean.

 
True and false seahorses

Year: 1560
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: Nomenclator Aquatilium Animantium
Now appears in: Curious Woodcuts of Fanciful and Real Beasts by Conrad Gesner
In Gesner's time, besides the diminutive fish we know today (left), many Europeans believed in a different kind of "seahorse" (left). These pictures are obviously not on the same scale.

 
Hippocamp

Year: c. 1225-1250
Originally appeared in: Ashmole Bestiary
Now appears in: Abominable Science! by Loxton and Prothero
The fish with a horse's head, the hippocamp, started out as art. Artists of the Classical world apparently thought that hippocamps looked cool pulling Poseidon's chariot. Over the centuries, these horse-fish hybrids came to be regarded as real, appearing in maps by Olaus Magnus and Abraham Ortelius among others. In the Christian moral instruction book Physiologus, the hippocamp, sometimes known as Hydrippus, symbolized Moses. Eventually it was demoted to regular sea creature, sometimes grouped with cetaceans. In this colorful medieval illumination, the hippocamp inhabits a fish-eat-fish world.

 
Sea wolf

Year: 1658
Scientist: Conrad Gesner
Originally published in: The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents
Now appears in: Curious Woodcuts of Fanciful and Real Beasts by Conrad Gesner
One of the beasts rumored to exist in Gesner's day was the sea wolf. According to the lore of the time, the sea wolf "liveth both on sea and land." Whether this woodcut shows the creature on sea or land is not obvious, but perhaps a wolf that could live as easily in the sea as it could on land could also walk on water. (This woodcut was published about a century after some of Gesner's other works by Edward Topsell in London.)

 
Scylla and sirens

Year: c. 1475
Scientist/artist: Vincent of Beauvais
Originally published in: Mirror of History
Now appears in: Beasts: Factual and Fantastic by Elizabeth Morrison © J. Paul Getty Museum
In antiquity, the sea monster Scylla was believed to have a dozen feet and half a dozen heads — each with three rows of teeth. Here, she is simplified, looking perfectly respectable from the neck down. The sirens, in contrast, look normal from the waist up, but sport chicken legs and wings. In both cases these sea monsters touch upon the beastly nature that medieval Europeans often attributed to the fairer sex.

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