The Bishop Erik Pontopiddian collects eyewitness reports

The Natural History of Norway, is a comprehensive two-volume work published by the Bishop Erik Pontopiddian between 1751 and 1753. It is a study of the animal life and geography of Norway and contains many insights.  There are chapters on Norway’s soils and mountains, sea-vegetables, birds, fish and fisheries among many other topics. Pontopiddian states the care he has taken to assemble the volumes, and there is good reason, as he goes on to say

I foresee that when some readers come to read the contents of the eighth chapter, concerning the Mer-maid, the great Sea-snake, of several hundred feet long and the Krake[n], whose uncommon size seems to exceed belief, they may suspect me of too much credulity.” [ref] The natural history of Norway : containing a particular and accurate account of the temperature of the air,the different soils, waters, vegetables, metals, minerals, stones, beasts, birds, and fishes : together with the dispositions, customs, and manner of living of the inhabitants : interspersed with physiological notes from eminent writers, and transactions of academics : in two parts

by Pontoppidan, Erich, 1698-1764; translated Berthelson, Andreas, b. ca. 1716; 1755  [/ref]

great sea serpent picture

an image of a great sea serpent from the 1755 English translation of The Natural History of Norway, by Pontoppidan, Erik, translated Berthelson, Andreas, from Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Pontopiddian tries to be as scientific as possible, and goes to great lengths to personally speak to the sailors and fishermen of Norway to try and sort tall stories from supposedly their real experience and writes:

when they are seriously asked, whether there be any such creature; they think it as ridiculous as if the question was put to them, whether there be such Fish as Eel or Cod.

His quest for accuracy had Pontipiddian trying to find first hand reports for the existence of such creatures. He includes in his work the sworn statement, made before magistrate, of Captain Lawrence De Ferry who witnessed a great sea serpent in August 1746. De Ferry’s account is as follows:

as I was reading in a book, I heard a kind of a murmuring voice from amongst the men at the oars, who were eight in number, and observed that the man at the helm kept off from the land. Upon this I enquired what was the matter; and was informed that there was a Sea-snake before us. I then ordered the man at the helm to keep to the land again, and to come up with this creature, of which I had heard to many stories. Tho’ the fellows were under some apprehensions, they were obliged to obey my orders. In the mean time this Sea-snake palled by us, and we were obliged to  tack the vessel about, in order to get nearer to it. As the Snake swam faster than we could row, I took my gun, that was ready charged, and fired at it: on this he immediately plunged under the water. We rowed to the place where it sunk down (which in the calm might be easily observed) and lay upon our oars, thinking it would come up again to the surface; however, it did not. When the Snake plunged down, the water appeared thick and red; perhaps some of the {hot might wound it, the distance being very little. The head of this Snake, which it held more than two feet above the surface of the water, resembled that of a horse. It was of a greyish colour, and the mouth was quite black, and very large. It had black eyes, and a long white mane, that hung down from the neck to the surface of the water. Besides the head and neck, we saw seven or eight folds or coil of this Snake, which were very thick, and, as far as we could guess, there was about a fathom distance between each fold.

The Natural History of Norway proved popular in both in the original Danish and in translation, and may have contributed to a willingness for others to describe similar sightings of strange creatures in the ocean in the years following. [ref]’s

Loxton, Daniel; Prothero, Donald R. (2013). Abominable Science! : Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. New York: Columbia University Press [/ref]

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