American Oceans

Sea Serpent Mythology

With more than 80% of the world’s water unexplored, it’s not surprising to learn that the sea serpent is one of the most mysterious and alluring of our planet’s mythological creatures.

a rendering of a diver coming face to face with a sea serpent

Stories of sea serpents or snake-like monsters have circulated across multiple cultures for thousands of years. 

These mysterious creatures were first described in folklore in 1028 AD when the story of Saint Olaf slaying a giant sea serpent surfaced in Norway.

The mythical beasts have fascinated and terrified sailors and fishermen across the world ever since.


a rendering of hydra sea serpent

The story of the Hydra comes from Greek mythology. The Hydra was said to be a giant water snake with multiple heads, and one of those heads was considered immortal.

The Hydra became a legend by terrorizing the marshlands or Lerna near Árgos. 

The legend tells stories of several men attempting to slay the beast. However, each time the creature lost one head, two more would grow.

Thus, killing the Hydra became one of the 12 labors of Hercules. 

Hercules enlisted the help of his nephew Lolaus, as he did during many of the other labors he faced.

For every head Hercules removed from the Hydra, Lolaus would quickly cauterize the wound, preventing the Hydra from growing more heads in their place. Hercules then cut off the immortal head and buried it under a rock.


The story of Jörmungandr comes from Norse mythology. Jörmungandr, one of three offspring of Loki and the giantess Angrboda, was said to be an enormous serpentine-like creature that could wrap the length of its body around the entire world and bite its tail. 

The Norse believed that if Jörmungandr stopped biting its tail, it would bring about Ragnarok or the destruction of the cosmos.

Thor was terrified of this fate and set out to slay the creature. Two battles occurred between Thor and Jörmungandr.

The first battle occurred when Thor tried to fish Jörmungandr out of the ocean on a fishing trip with giant Hymir.

In this story, Hymir severs the fishing line sending Jörmungandr back to the deep sea

The second battle with Jörmungandr occurs after Ragnarok. This battle is where the Norse believed Thor and Jörmungandr were fated to slay each other.


The mythical Leviathan made several appearances throughout the Hebrew Bible. This creature seemed to take on many forms of marine animals.

a drawing of the leviathan sea monster

The Leviathan descriptions include a monstrous snake-like, whale-like, crocodile-like, or dragon-like creature. 

The Leviathan has significance in several stories in the old testament. One tells of a multiheaded sea serpent killed by God to feed the Hebrews.

Another uses Leviathan as a symbol for Isreal’s enemies. 

Every reference to the Leviathan in the old testament depicts the creature as a giant marine-like animal God created as a symbol of mystery and power.


a rendering of tiamat the mythical sea dragon

Several legends describe Tiamat as a deity personification of the primordial sea. Tiamat’s origin is in ancient Mesopotamian mythology.

Throughout the stories, Tiamat takes on several forms, including a body of water, a human-like creature, and a dragon or serpent-like creature.

The story of Tiamat follows the goddess mating with Abzu to bring younger gods to life. After birthing several young gods, Ea believed Abzu to be planning on killing the young gods.

Ea then captured Abzu and held him prisoner. Tiamat began building an army of beasts to avenge Abzu.

Tiamat was eventually slain by Marduk, who split her body in two, creating heaven and earth.


The Tizheruk legend comes from sightings of a marine-like creature off the coast of Alaska.

Many report sightings of only a snake-like head and a flippered tail with little to no description of the creature’s body. Those who have seen the creature’s body describe it as worm-like or snake-like.

The Inuit people describe the Tizheruk as a terrifying monster capable of snatching locals off piers, leaping up to eight feet out of the water, and capsizing fishing boats.

Most accounts of this animal come from the local Inuit tribes telling tales of hunters and fishermen dying in encounters with the creature across the coast.

Yamata no Orochi

a drawing of yamato no orochi, a mythical sea serpent/dragon in japanese folklore

The legend of Yamata no Orochi comes from the earliest Japanese documents. However, the story dates back further into prehistory before documentation existed. 

Yamata no Orochi is a massive serpent-like creature with eight heads and eight tails. The creature also has bright red eyes and a red belly. Its body is said to span the size of eight valleys and eight hills.

The story of Yamata no Orochi follows the storm god, Susanoo, who was thrown out of heaven and landed on earth, where he met an elderly couple crying.

When he asked why they were crying, the couple explained that Yamata no Orochi demanded one of their eight daughters as a sacrifice each year and that they were down to their last daughter. 

Susanoo explained to the couple that he was the brother of the goddess Amaterasu and promised to slay the terrible beast for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Susanoo then lured the beast in with a strong sake.

Once Yamata no Orochi had fallen into a drunken slumber, Susanoo sliced the beast into tiny pieces with his sword.


a depiction of ryujin a japanese mythical sea serpent

Ryujin is a massive dragon sea deity in Japanese mythology, also known as the master of serpents. Ryujin is also closely associated with the water deity Watatsumi.

Ryujin is said to hold magic jewels that control the tides. The dragon represents both the peril and bounty of the waves. 

Ryujin also is said to have an immense knowledge of medicine, allowing the creature to help provide aid for injured seamen.

Various stories about Ryujin exist that depict the god as both evil and good, including one showing Ruujin as a savior and another showing him as a thief.

Sea Serpent Sightings

an old illustration of a sea serpent following men to their boat

Sea serpent sightings are not limited to myths and legends. People have made claims of spotting these creatures modern day.

Olaus Magnus

Olaus Magnus was a Swedish writer and cartographer born in 1490. In 1523 he published the Carta Marina, the first detailed map of Scandinavia. 

The Carta Marina was a detailed map with various illustrations, of which one shows a giant red sea serpent attacking a ship just off the coast of the northern part of the map.

Norse Sea Serpent

The only account of a Norse sea serpent would be the legend of Jörmungandr, a long snake-like beast that wrapped its body around the entire world.

This legend says that Jörmungandr will bring about the apocalypse or the destruction of the cosmos itself if it ever stops biting its own tail.

Norse mythology fates Jörmungandr and the god Thor to battle each other to death after Ragnarok.

Cape Ann 

The first sea serpent sighting reported in Cape Ann was in 1638 by John Josselyn.

The creature was named the Gloucester serpent due to the location of the 1817-1819 sightings when reports were most common.

Law enforcement conducted several interviews, where locals described the creature as a long, brown or black, snake-like animal.

Locals later found a smaller black snack with humps washed up on the shore, which was later claimed to be the monster’s offspring.

HMS Daedalus

In August 1848, the crew aboard the royal navy ship, the HMS Daedalus, claimed to have seen a long serpentine-like creature swimming alongside their ship.

Several crew members spotted the creature and described it as snake-like or reptile-like in nature.

This serpent sighting became famous as this is the only account reported of this specific creature. 

Silver Lake Sea Serpent

The Silver Lake sea serpent was a creature spotted in 1855 off the coast of Silver Lake, NY, where a group of fishermen first spotted the creature at night. 

The group described the creature as a massive dragon-like animal with a fin on its tail. Several other people have made claims about a similar creature in that area since.

Loch Ness Monster

The Loch Ness monster is one of the most famous accounts of a sea serpent story. The Loch Ness monster comes from sightings of a reptilian-like creature living in Loch Ness, Scotland.

One iconic photo of the creature surfaced in 1934. The photo shows only the head and neck of the creature and leads many scientists to speculate that the creature was a Plesiosaur or a related type of animal from prehistoric times.

Do Sea Serpents Exist?

a sea serpent emerging from the waves

Technically, sea snakes or serpents are real animals that can grow up to nine feet in length. It is incredibly possible to mistake one of these impressive snakes for something of a myth. 

Many other sea animals exist that could be easily mistaken for one of these monstrous beasts, including sharks, oarfish, whales, giant squids, and even sea leopards in some instances.

The spiritual and cultural beliefs of the areas where these beasts have appeared shaped the legends and myths that make sea serpents what they are today.

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