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The Gloucester Sea Serpent

© 2017 - Stephanie Hoover, All Rights Reserved

Map of Massachusetts Bay New Englanders are wicked smart when it comes to the sea. For many, water has been a way of life for centuries. So, why would anyone doubt Gloucester and Nahant residents when they talk about a sea serpent in the bay...?

Supposedly, the first sighting of the beast occurred in the 1600s. It was not until 1815, however, that the sea serpent got its first real press coverage. Throughout the 1800s, seamen of impecable reputation reported encounters with creatures they could not identify.

So frequent were the sightings, they prompted formation of the Linnaean Society of New England in August 1817. A month later, the society received what it believed to be a young sea serpent, killed on the beach at Cape Ann. They went so far as to give it the scientific name Scolioplus Atlanticus. Unfortunately for the society, the unknown creature from the deep turned out to be nothing more than a common black snake. The group disbanded five years later.

On August 1, 1818, Captain Webber and his crew spotted the sea serpent off the Cape Ann Harbor. Two harpoons and several musket balls glanced off the creature like rain off glass. According to Webber, the animal had 32 "protuberances" along its back, and was between 100 and 140 feet in length. This same creature returned days later. It was once again fired upon. It submerged and appeared farther way, at a safer distance from the weaponry.

In 1834, the Gloucester Telegraph publicly disclaimed belief in the sea serpent. As if offended, the monster disappeared and for some years remained elusive. But the 1880s were once again ripe with sightings. In July 1880 the sea serpent was seen in the Essex River by Captains Burnham and Marks. The men could not see the submerged head, but estimated the body at 100 feet. It was swimming toward the Ipswich Bay. A month later, the Cape Ann Scientific Literary Association held a field meeting at Coffin's Beach. The creature was spotted off shore and viewed by upwards of 50 people. In June 1886, six men witnessed a seal evading a large, snake-like creature. The pursuit ended when the seal got near land.

Drawing of Gloucester Sea Serpent
This drawing is based on sightings of the creature.

After another break, the 1920s were indeed roaring for the Gloucester sea serpent. In 1924, it apparently took a trip north. Three Maine fisherman spotted a creature - with three great arches, and a head like a racehorse - off Goose Rocks. The following year, it was back in Massachusetts. Captain James Doyle reported a 150-foot-long serpent as thick as a barrel, with a white belly and tail fins.

Captain Ray Marden reported a 50-foot monster, with a 5-foot long neck and horse head, to the Boston Fish Bureau in 1931. According to the Gloucester captain, it also had a tail like a shark and swam at speeds of seven to eight knots.

A piano tuner and his three daughters spotted a similarly sized creature in 1947 off Lynn Beach. This serpent, however, had a body comprised of black coils, rising above and falling below the water's surface.

On two separate occasions in 1964, fishing boat crews saw serpents off Gloucester and Manchester. A May sighting involved a monster with a hole in its head, and 50 ridges along its 50-foot body. The creature spotted in July was twenty feet longer than that seen earlier.

The last reported encounter with the Gloucester sea serpent turned out to be more disappointing than entertaining. When a huge, partially decayed sea animal washed ashore in 1970, thousands came to see what many believed was concrete proof of the legend. Their hopes were dashed when the "mystery" creature was identified as the very ordinary basking shark.

The waters around Gloucester have been quiet over the past decades. Is the sea serpent taking a break? Did it move on? Or perhaps it never existed at all. No one knows for sure. But we'll keep looking anyway.