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Is the Kraken a Cryptid?
Is the Kraken a Cryptid?
A "cryptid" is an animal that is not proven to exist according to scientific conventions, however there is considerable anecdotal evidence cause some people to believe the animals does exist. The kraken is listed on more inclusive catalogs of cryptids. However it appears there alongside implausible candidates like the jackalope (a modern invention) and the Jersey devil.
So the question remains: how likely is it that there is a kernel of truth to the kraken myth? Where exactly on the scale, from pink pixies elephants to slightly-outside-normal-range mountain lions does the kraken actually fall?
The Kraken in Myth
The kraken is a legendary sea monster depicted as being shaped like an octopus. It was described as being able to engulf a large sailing ship with its arms, and drag it down to the bottom of the ocean. In fact it is known as the largest sea monster ever imagined. Ships were also thought to be destroyed by the whirlpools created by the great creature's movements. The kraken was reputed to live off the shores of Norway and Iceland. In writings from the 12th to 18th century the kraken was one of a several enormous sea monsters described, including the Hafgufa and Lyngbakr.
The kraken persisted until the early scientific era, being including in the first edition of the Systema Naturae by Linneaus (1735). But it was ultimately consigned to the realm of mythology at least by most mainstream scientists. The kraken can be seen as a way of trying to make sense of the disappearance of ships on the open ocean. Something easier to grasp than the many arbitrary acts of man, nature and mechanical failure that ships fall prey to during long sea voyages.
Also known as: giant octopus, krabben, kruken.
The earliest mention of the kraken comes from a natural history of Norway written by Erik Pontoppidan in 1952. His account was based on stories told to him by fishermen. He described it as being so large that it could be mistaken for an island.
In Art and Fiction
The sheer scale and fantastic nature of the kraken have inspired many different artists throughout history.
Tennyson wrote a sonnet on the subject of the kraken: "His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep The Kraken sleepeth..." (1830). Modern commentators suggest that in the poem the kraken symbolizes people's suppressed dreams and desires.
The kraken appears in movies including:
- Clash of the Titans (1981 [pictured] and 2010)
- Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep (2006)
- Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dean Man's Chest
The Real Kraken
Paleontologist Mark McMenamin is convinced that the kraken, or something very like it, really exists. He reasons that piles of ichthyosaur bones are fossilized left-overs from the kraken's meals. McMenamin argues that not only would it take a very large and powerful predator to kill the ichthyosaurs, but that there is evidence of intelligence in the way the bones are deliberately arranged. Most mainstream scientists are, to put it mildly, not convinced. They argue that natural processes are sufficient to explain the arrangement of the bones.
While kraken myths are often based on the 8-armed octupus, the are more likely to be based on the larger and more predatory 10-armed squid, some species of which grow to much larger sizes than any octopus. As such, most scientists reason that the myth of the kraken might be based on exaggerated accounts of large sea creatures like the giant squid (Genus Architeuthis). The giant squid can grow up to 26 feet long.
One of the more "out there" explanations offered for the disappearance of boats in the Bermuda Triangle is that this area might be home to a kraken.
So, is it Real?
It seems likely that the colossal squid is the basis for the kraken myth. However there is no way that these creatures could get anywhere near the size necessary to match the myths of sinking boats or forming living islands in the sea. So it seems that the real animal may have been inflated in conflated with events caused by bad luck and natural disasters. For that reason a giant squid exceeding the sizes documented so far is a plausible crytpid, but anything that really fits the kraken myth is destined to remain safely in the realm of fiction.
- Ellis, R. (2006). Monsters of the Sea. Globe Pequot.
- Rodrigo, B., and Barbara M. Tomotani. "The Kraken: when myth encounters science." História, Ciências, Saúde-Manguinhos 21, no. 3 (2014): 971-994.