Wednesday, December 25, 2013

1557 Depiction of A "Sea Serpent" With Erectile Breathing Tubes?

Illustrations of longnecks with breathing tubules compared to the bizarre depiction from a work by Olaus Magnus.
("Inquisitive Longneck" by Thomas Finley at top left; illustration from here at top middle and bottom; )

It's Christmas, so I'm making this the one time of the year that I can be an overly extreme zoological romantic. While surfing the Internet, I found an interesting illustration from Olaus Magnus' 1557 work Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus which shows flensers cutting up a fish-shaped animal. Although it is most certainly a bizarre depiction of a whale, which are common in Magnus' works1, I couldn't help but be intrigued by the tube-like structures illustrated on the animal's head. While they are most likely odd depictions of blowholes (or possibly an attempt to portray the tube-like nasal passages of a whale's blowhole), I couldn't help but be reminded of the breathing tubes on Bernard Heuvelmans' hypothetical Long-Necked sea-serpent.
Heuvelmans hypothesized that the 'little horns' sometimes reported on long-necked "sea serpents" are erectile tubes which arise around the nostrils.2  These tubes would enable a longneck to breath without lifting its head above the surface, or to prevent its field of vision from being obscured when breathing out underwater (as suggested by Ivan T. Sanderson).2 Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe also concluded their study of reports with a similar hypothesis: that the females of their hypothetical "Waterhorse" pinniped species possess biological snorkels.3 Magnus' illustrated animal does not have what would be considered a long neck, but is there the slight possibility that Magnus heard reports of gigantic marine animals with breathing tubes on their head (possible references to longnecks, if such animals exist) and made an attempt to depict one based off of known marine megafauna? While I do wish for viewers to come to their own conclusions, it is much more likely that this was simply another example of  his strange style of depicting whales. Let this conclusion, and the fact that many other ancient maps depict whimsically invented "sea monsters", be an example of a reason to never interpret some of the depicted animals on ancient sea maps literally. Thus, what started as overzealous romanticism on my behalf ended as an important lesson regarding cryptozoological literalism.
The 'Physeter': an actual depiction of a longneck from Olaus Magnus' map illustrations (as suggested by Heuvelmans)?
Meh, it seems that it's best to not interpret such drawings literally.
(Image Source is here)

  1. Van, Duzer Chet. Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps. London: British Library, 2013. Print.
  2. Heuvelmans, Bernard, Richard Garnett, and Alika Watteau. In the Wake of the Sea-serpents. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968. Print.
  3. Coleman, Loren, and Patrick Huyghe. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003. Print.


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