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North of Boston Strange History: The Gloucester Sea Monster

January 3, 2014

Tales of sea monsters have been around for centuries – the most famous being Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster.  But did you know that Cape Ann (specifically, Gloucester) was once said to be the home of it’s very own monstrous sea serpent?

800px-1817_Gloucester_sea_serpentIn August 1817, reports started surfacing of a creature – anywhere from 40 to 100 feet long – with a horned turtle-esque head (around the size of a horse’s) and a long, scaly jointed body swimming around Gloucester Harbor.  This wasn’t New England’s first sea monster sightings: the earliest reports dated back to the mid-1600’s.  For whatever reason, though, Gloucester’s sea monster caught on and was soon the subject of an investigation by General David Humphreys (formerly of George Washington’s staff) and the Linnaean Society of New England.

Humphreys and the Linnaean Society interviewed and questioned eye witnesses about the mystery creature and published a report dubbing the creature Scoliophis atlanticus.  The report was generally scoffed at and became a subject of ridicule.

Sea monster sightings in Massachusetts seemed to have tapered off after this – the most recent being in 1962 off the coast of Marshfield.  The general consensus seems to be that these sightings are a case of mistaken identity (we can’t help but wonder if perhaps these were whale sightings).  Some argue, though, that over-fishing in the region depleted the creature’s food supply, forcing it to migrate elsewhere.

Whether Gloucester’s sea monster was real or fake, it’s a fun legend.  If it is real, we really hope that one (a friendly one, that is) shows up on a whale watch one day.


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