The Kraaken, Giant Sea Worms and a Whirlpool

Date Posted: 22/11/2011

I have just found the following description by the Royal Naval Officer Captain Charles Douglas (the future Rear Admiral) of his search for sea monsters and whirlpools off the coast of Lapland in 1769.This comes from a paper he gave at the Royal Society – after which he was elected as a fellow.

What do we think of this then?!

During my stay in Lapland, I made all the enquiry possible as to the existence of the aquatic animals, called Kraakens, whose dimensions (according to Pontoppidan) appear to me to be far beyond the scale of nature; but I never met with any person who had either talked with, or heard of, any one living, who had seen any such monsters; on the contrary, the most intelligent said, they believed such never existed otherwise than in imagination. But with regard to the Stoor Worms (which I have oftener heard called Sea Worms by the Norwegians), those who totally discredited the existence of the Kraakens told me, they believed them really to exist: and a few days before I left the North Cape, the Danish missionary of Porsanger district did me the favour, closely to interrogate the master of a Norwegian vessel, who appeared to me to be by much the most knowing man in his station I had met with in Lapland, as to those stupendous worms, as they are called. He said, that about six years before, he had seen three of them at once off Bergen, floating upon the surface of the sea, twelve parts of the back of the largest appearing above water; each part being in length about six feet, with the intervals of the same length, so that upon the whole he judged the animal could not be less than twenty-five fathoms long, and about one in thickness. He did not pretend to ascertain the dimensions of the other two, further than their being smaller than the one thus imperfectly described, and added, that four years before he saw those last, he had (near the same coast) seen a large one, but could say nothing particular as to its size. What degree of credit is due to this man’s account, I submit to the judgement of the learned Society.

         After much enquiry, I could learn nothing satisfactory touching the famous Whirlpool (called by the Norwegians and Dutch the Maal Stroom) lying between the islands of Lofoot, until I met with this intelligent person, who gave me some account thereof, in substance as follows; viz. That at high water it is perfectly smooth and safe to pass over; but as the tide, either ebb or flood, gathers strength, it becomes in proportion exceedingly agitated and dangerous, which extreme agitation and whirling, I presume, must be owing to the unevenness of the rocky bottom, over which the current rolls with vast rapidity, being confined in a narrow passage; for this Norwegian told me, that at very low water, sharp pointed rocks, reaching then above the surface, have been seen between the islands above-mentioned. No wonder then, that such vessels may be been turned upside down, as may be been drawn by the tide, in its most rapid state, into this gulph. The simple agitation of the water would sufficiently account indeed for the loss of open boats. Imperfect as it is, in my humble opinion, this account, if true, which I believe it to be, unravels in some measure, the mystery of the Norwegian whirlpool; which I however regret, not having myself, consistently with my orders, had it in my power minutely to examine.