Guest bloggers are coming out of the woodwork. It seems that young Max had no idea what he started with his guest blog from the other day, because the idea has taken off mightily. Links to the guest blogs are proliferating wildly with the latest being from our good friends at The Anomalist.
Now, for the second time, its the turn of Oll Lewis, the CFZ ecologist (who also happens to be the bloke living in my spare room) with an interesting concept that everything we knew about Krakens might be wrong...
There’s one fact nearly everyone knows about Kraken; it’s a giant squid.
But is it?
The Kraken, like many other cryptids, has suffered from an identity crisis similar in some ways to that of the Afanc (Welsh lake monsters that due to a mistranslation into English were thought to be beavers, never mind how absurd this made legends of afanc being pulled out of lakes by horses and chains) and the chupacabra (which no longer just describes the Puerto Rican goat sucker but is used as a catch all term for legged cryptids in the Americas whether they suck goats or not). Legends and myths about Kraken have been intertwined with misidentified whales, giant squid, turtles and Jörmungandr (the Midgard serpent).
One of the most well known descriptions of Kraken is that of Jacob Wallenberg, who described the creature in modest terms as being no larger than the width of the Swedish island of Öland. Sadly as Öland is 16 km wide this is not really the best size description he could have given for an animal particularly due to the fact that no animal could ever become that big. However, Wallenberg also described the Kraken as the ‘crab fish’ a description more evocative of a gigantic crustacean than of the gigantic cephalopods they have become synonymous with in modern day mythology.
When viewed in conjunction with other aspects of what the Krakens of legend, the earlier crab-fish description makes a lot more sense than trying to shoe-horn them in with the same description as giant squid (as fascinating as giant squid are). The bulk of Kraken tales told in the Middle Ages though to the 19th century concerned sailors or fishermen who would land on an uncharted floating island, settle down and light a fire only to witness the island sink beneath the waves. Often this would wreck their boat leaving the hapless mariners helpless and stranded. It would be very difficult to walk on a gigantic squid, no matter how large due to the consistency of the mantle.
According to legend Kraken were docile creatures and did not actively seek to destroy ships, but ships would be wrecked by the currents and whirlpools caused by their diving and surfacing. Other legends state that fish would feed on the excrement produced by a Kraken so if fishermen fished near to where one of these gigantic crab-fish was known to inhabit, provided they were careful and their boat did not get sunk by the animal, their haul would be much larger than normal.
Looking at the evidence afresh one can put together a quite plausible theory as to what Kraken may be, interestingly kraken are still with us today, and it may be possible to see one. Kraken are small rocky islands only viable at the extreme low tides caused by spring tides, which explains how such islands would have been uncharted. The illusion of sinking is caused by the tide coming in and covering the island which also causes whirlpools, currents and eddies the same way an incoming tide does on rocky beaches. The abundance of fish also supports this theory because the submerged island would provide a reef and a nursery for fish.
The Kraken of legend is most likely not a real animal, but the creatures it was lumped in with by unimaginative artists and later retellings of the tales are. Several cephalopod species, particularly squid can grow to gigantic sizes, although none approaching the legendary size of Kraken. The giant squid, Architeuthis dux, is found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and can be as long as 13 m from the tip of the mantle to the end of its longest tentacles, and is the second largest known cephalopod (the colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, of the Southern Ocean being the largest).