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Let's Get Kraken!

Updated on February 5, 2015

Legend of the Infamous Sea Monster

Probably one of the most popular perilous subjects of nautical lore, the kraken is both mysterious and fascinating. Read on to find out the origin of the kraken, the legend, some of it's cousins, and of course, its role in the Pirates of the Caribbean.

48 Meters Giant Squid Found in California? January 10, 2014 (explained)

Squid Curiosities

Squid Curiosities
Squid Curiosities

What is a Kraken?

Gargantuan sea monsters, Kraken reportedly lived off the coasts of Iceland and Norway. They are typically portrayed as enormous octopus-like creatures or giant squid. Earliest descriptions of kraken indicated they were more crab-like as opposed to octopus-like and more closely resembled whales than giant squid. According to Swede Jacob Wallenberg in his book Min son p galejan ("My son on the galley") from 1781, kraken are referred to as crab-fish.

Kraken is the definite article form of krake, a Scandinavian word designating an unhealthy animal, or something twisted. Kraken In modern German, Krake (plural: Kraken) means octopus, but can also refer to the legendary Kraken (Terrell, 1999).

The Norse sagas do not mention the word kraken. However, there are descriptions of similar sea monsters, the hafgufa and lyngbakr, in rvar-Odds saga and the Norwegian text from c. 1250, Konungs skuggsj.

The legend of the kraken is suspected to have originated from sightings of real giant squid. These sea creatures are estimated to grow to 13 meters (46 feet) in length, including the tentacles. They have been described as "the size of a floating island." Although they live at great depths, they have been sometimes seen at the surface and apparently have attacked small ships. While stories of kraken attacking ships abound, the real danger is said to be in the whirlpool it created after descending into the ocean.


Terrell, Peter; et al (Eds.) (1999). German Unabridged Dictionary (4th ed.). Harper Collins

"Cthulhu sketch by Lovecraft" by Howard Phillips Lovecraft (d. 1937) - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
"Cthulhu sketch by Lovecraft" by Howard Phillips Lovecraft (d. 1937) - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Cthulhu and R'lyeh

Cthulhu is a fictional being created by horror author H. P. Lovecraft, and is one of Lovecraft's Great Old Ones. Cthulhu is depicted as having a worldwide cult centered in Arabia, with followers in regions as far-flung as Greenland, Louisiana, and New Zealand (Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu", pp. 133-141, 146). There are leaders of the cult "in the mountains of China" who are said to be immortal. Cthulhu is described by some of these cultists as the "great priest" of "the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky" (Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu", p. 139.)

The cult is noted for chanting its horrid phrase or ritual: "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn", which translates as "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming" (Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu", p. 136). This is often shortened to "Cthulhu fhtagn", which might possibly mean "Cthulhu waits", "Cthulhu dreams"(Will Murray, "Prehuman Language in Lovecraft", in Black Forbidden Things, Robert M. Price, ed., p. 42), or "Cthulhu waits dreaming" (Marsh, Philip "R'lyehian as a Toy Language - on psycholinguistics"). Ostensibly part of a couplet from the Necronomicon, the other line being "yet He shall rise and His kingdom shall cover the Earth."

Image of Cthulhu and R'lyeh by Dominique Signoret. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".


Lovecraft, Howard P. [1928] (1999). "The Call of Cthulhu", in S. T. Joshi (ed.): The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. London, UK; New York, NY: Penguin Books.

The Kraken by Tennyson - Poem about the legendary Sea Monster

Tennyson's poem is based on the legendary sea monsters said to have been seen off the coast of Norway and Iceland. Sailors reported the Kraken were enormous creatures who would attack a ship, wrap their arms around the hull, and capsize it. The legendary Kraken is probably what we know today as the giant squid.

The Kraken by Tennyson:

Below the thunders of the upper deep;

Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,

His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep

The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee

About his shadowy sides; above him swell

Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;

And far away into the sickly light,

From many a wondrous grot and secret cell

Unnumber'd and enormous polypi

Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.

There hath he lain for ages, and will lie

Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,

Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;

Then once by man and angels to be seen,

In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

This image was reportedly based on a creature French sailors said attacked their ship off the coast of Angola. Called "Colossal Octupus", it was painted by Pierre Denys de Montfort in 1820.

In 1802, the French malacologist Pierre Dnys de Montfort recognized the existence of two kinds of giant octopus in Histoire Naturelle Gnrale et Particulire des Mollusques, an encyclopedic description of mollusks. Montfort claimed that the first type, the kraken octopus, had been described by Norwegian sailors and American whalers, as well as ancient writers such as Pliny the Elder. The much larger second type, the colossal octopus (depicted in the above image), was reported to have attacked a sailing vessel from Saint-Malo, off the coast of Angola.

This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.


Photograph of Mollusk by Petr Kratochvil from
Photograph of Mollusk by Petr Kratochvil from


The scientific study of mollusks is called malacology. Mollusks are members of the large and diverse phylum Mollusca, which range from tiny snails and clams to the most neurologically advanced organisms such as squid, cuttlefish, octopus, (and kraken?) There are some 112,000 species within this phylum.

Octopus FAQS

The octopus is a cephalopod of the order Octopoda that inhabits many diverse regions of the ocean, especially coral reefs. The term may also refer to only those creatures in the genus Octopus. There are 289 different octopus species, which is over one-third of the total number of known cephalopod species.

Octopus FAQS:

1. Octopuses have a relatively short life span, and some species live for as little as six months.

2. Reproduction is a cause of death: males can only live for a few months after mating, and females die shortly after their eggs hatch.

3. Octopuses have three hearts.

4. Octopuses are highly intelligent, more so than any other order of invertebrates.

5. When under attack, some octopuses can detach their own limbs, like lizards can detach their tails.

6. Octopuses have keen eyesight and an excellent sense of touch.

7. Octopuses move about by crawling on their arms or swimming.

8. Many species of octopus are eaten as food by human cultures around the world.

9. Sometimes, octopuses are kept as pets, although they do not normally fair well in captivity and have been known to escape from apparently secure enclosures.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this photograph under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.


Squid Captured Alive by Norwegian Fisherman

Squid Captured Alive by Norwegian Fisherman
Squid Captured Alive by Norwegian Fisherman

Giant Squid off the Coast of Norway

Clergymen seemed to have a particular affinity for sea monsters (or perhaps it was vice versa), for the next to write about the monstrous creature is Bishop Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidan of Bergen, author of The Natural History of Norway, published in 1755. The good bishop firmly believed in the kraken, and maintained that the fishermen he spoke to told him it was a mile and a half in circumference. Referring to this beast as "the largest and most surprising of all the animal creation" and "incontestibly the largest Sea-monster in the world," the bishop wrote:

It is called Kraken or Kraxen, or, as some name it, Krabben ... He shows himself sufficiently, although his whole body does not appear, which in all likelihood no human eye ever beheld (excepting the young of this species) its back or upper part, which seems to be in appearance an English mile and a half in circumference, (some say more, but I chuse the least for greater certainty) looks at first like a number of small islands, surrounded with something that floats and fluctuates like sea weeds.... At last several bright points or horns appear, which grow thicker and thicker the higher they rise above the surface of the water, and sometimes they stand as high and large as the masts of middle-siz'd vessels.

By all accounts, what the bishop was describing was a giant squid. "The creature," he added, "does not, like the eel or the land-snake, taper gradually to a point, but the body, which looks to be as big as two hogs-heads, grows remarkably small at once just where the tail begins. The head in all kinds has a high and broad forehead, but in some a pointed snout, though in others it is flat, like that of a cow or a horse, with large nostrils, and several stiff hairs standing out on each side like whiskers."

The nostrils and whiskers are somewhat problematical, but the rest of the portrayal is a remarkably accurate description of Architeuthis--by somebody who has no idea what sort of creature he is looking at. For landlubbers used to animals with a head at one end and a tail at the other, the kraken's tail, with its pointed apex, would have been the head, and the arms trailing behind obviously suggested a tail. Pontoppidan continues: "They add that the eyes of this creature are very large, and of a blue color, and look like a couple of bright pewter plates. The whole animal is of a dark brown color, but it is speckled and variegated with light streaks and spots that shine like tortoise shell." He mentions two places, Amunds Vaagen in Nordfjord and the island of Karmen, where carcasses had been found at high tide.

Excerpt from the Book The Search for the Giant Squid: The Biology and Mythology of the World's Most Elusive Sea Creature


The Lyons Press



Although the kraken is not mentioned in the Norse sagas, another sea monster is. Jrmungandr, also called the Midgard Serpent or World Serpent, is a sea serpent of the Norse mythology, the middle child of Loki and the giantess Angrboa.

Thor goes fishing for the Midgard Serpent in this picture from the 18th century Icelandic manuscript SM 66 in the care of the rni Magnsson Institute in Iceland. As a photograph of a work whose copyright has expired, it is also in the public domain in the United States (see Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.). As a courtesy, the Institute requests to be mentioned as their source and, preferably, that the relevant manuscript registration number be stated as well.

Altuna Picture Stone

The Altuna picture stone, showing Thor and Jrmungandr.

The major sources for myths about Jrmungandr are the Prose Edda, Hsdrpa, Hymiskvia and Vlusp.

Less important sources include kennings in skaldic poetry. For example in rsdrpa, fair lgseims, "father of the sea-thread", is used as a kenning for Loki.

The two-dimensional work of art depicted in this image is in the public domain in the United States and in those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years. This photograph of the work is also in the public domain in the United States (see Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.).


No lens about the kraken would be complete without some mention of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. After all, it is only through these movies that some people will have ever learned about this legendary creature.

The Kraken was difficult to animate as it had no real-life reference, until animation director Hal Hickel instructed the crew to watch King Kong vs. Godzilla which had a real octopus (Oodako) crawling over miniatures. On set, two pipes filled with 30,000 pounds of cement were used to crash and split the Edinburgh Trader: Completing the illusion are miniature masts and falling stuntmen shot on a bluescreen stage. The scene where the Kraken spits at Jack Sparrow does not use computer-generated spit: it was real gunge thrown at Johnny Depp.

All hail to the Kraken!


Voodoo Squiddoodle

Voodoo Squiddoodle
Voodoo Squiddoodle

Team Squid or Team Octopus?

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    • profile image


      9 years ago

      very entertaining indeed 5 stars:)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I love the Hoodoo Squidoo,Voodoo Squiddoodle,and Giant Squiddoodle they're great.

    • CrypticFragment1 profile image

      Tammy Winand 

      10 years ago from McleodGanj HP India

      look! Giant Squids! very nice job

    • Karendelac profile image


      10 years ago

      Great lens.Great and interesting info.5 Stars. I love the pictures of the "Kraken".I made a lens on titanic.Please visit and rate my lens.Click here~~

    • Karendelac profile image


      11 years ago

      I am passionate about the worlds oceans and your lens is a solid 5 stars. I have just completed a State-of-the-Art Titanic Lens ~~ Please click on Karendelac above, to view it.


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