There once was a time when uttering the word Kraken sent chills down a mariner’s spine. The legendary beast was known for dragging whole ships down into the watery depths of Davy Jones’s Locker. Today we see the monster largely as fiction, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have ties to reality.
1. The Kraken comes from Norwegian folklore.
According to 13th century Norse legend, hero Örvar-Oddr and his son came into contact with two threatening creatures from the deep. One of these encounters is later described in detail by Konungs skuggsjá, a Norwegian educational text written in the same century. Kraken comes from the Norwegian word krake, which is probably related to the German krake, which means octopus.
2. The Kraken was originally more crab-like.
While many modern depictions show the Kraken as a giant squid, earlier accounts of the beast described it as having spindly appendages like a crab’s.
3. The Kraken is far, far larger than your boat.
Accounts disagree on exactly how big the Kraken really is, but one thing is certain: It’s huge. Descriptions go from vague (the length of 10 ships) to more specific (a mile and a half long). Some stories say that unlucky sailors would mistake the beast for an island and try to land on it. These foolish sea-goers would then be dragged down into the ocean.
4. You know the Kraken is coming when you see fish rise to the surface.
If sailors saw gurgling bubbles, surfacing fish, or a plethora of jellyfish, they knew something was up down below. While fleeing sea-life always preceded the Kraken’s approach, their appearance unfortunately didn’t give sailors enough time to get out of the way. The monster’s great size and many tentacles make it a difficult predator to evade.
5. Kraken feces works as fish bait.
Bishop Erik Pontoppidan wrote extensively about the Kraken in his 1750s book The Natural History of Norway. In it, he proposed that this great beast ate a great deal of fish, and therefore his waste must also be fairly fishy. This muddy concoction was allegedly so delicious smelling to other fish that they would come and congregate around it. The Kraken could then pounce on its meal and produce more bait, continuing the cycle.
6. Some of the best minds in history have tried to disprove the Kraken myth.
In 1848, the frigate Daedalus encountered a sea monster that the sailors estimated to be at least 60 feet long, which caused a sensation. Sir Richard Owen, the man who invented the word 'dinosaur,' argued that they saw a seal, which led to a longstanding argument between Owen and the captain of the Daedalus, who pointed out that they knew full well what a seal looked like. There were similar observations in 1845 that Owen similarly dismissed—until 1873, when a fisherman caught a giant squid.
7. Carl Von Linné listed the Kraken as a real creature in Systema Naturae.
Zoologist Carl Von Linné (also known as Linnaeus) was a respected scientist who is considered the father of biological systematics. In Systema Naturae (1735), he describes the Kraken as an actual organism.
8. The Kraken might have a natural explanation.
There is no solid evidence of mile-long monsters swimming in our oceans, but we do have giant squids. These deep-sea dwellers can weigh anywhere from 300 to 600 pounds. But, as these immense creatures are not likely to surface, it’s more likely that ancient sailors confused something else in the water for Krakens: Bubbles, dangerous currents, and the appearance of new land are all signs of underwater volcanic activity, something common in Iceland.
9. There may have actually been a Kraken.
Ichthyosaur bones have been discovered in patterns similar to the way that octopuses place the bones of their meals. Even more interestingly, one discovered ribcage shows signs of constriction, as if a large tentacle was wrapped around it. Ichthyosaurs were pretty hefty creatures (some were as long 30 feet), so it would take a very large cephalopod to catch and eat it.
10. One prominent French zoologist insisted the Kraken was real.
Zoologist Pierre Denys de Montfort was studying giant cephalopods in the 1700s after hearing accounts from captains of giant tentacles being discovered. He cited old pieces of artwork and ship disappearances as evidence of these beasts. After 10 ships went missing in 1782, de Montfort made the bold assumption that the Kraken was to blame. The boats were truthfully lost in a hurricane and his reputation was ruined.
11. The Kraken lays low.
Legend says that the sea monster enjoys solitude and resides deep on the ocean floor. It uses its tentacles to stay tethered to the bottom and hunts for food. The beast will only surface in warm weather—or when disrupted.
12. The Kraken has no magic powers.
Despite being a mythical creature, the Kraken doesn’t boast any supernatural abilities. The fearsome nature of the Kraken is its sheer size; sailors do not have to worry about it flying out of the water or putting a curse on them. Some modern-day cartoons suggest that if you defeat the Kraken, it will grant you a wish, but that deviates from Norwegian folklore.
13. Sailors had to worry about the Kraken itself, as well as what it left in its wake.
Because of its sheer size, the Kraken is believed to conjure a whirlpool when diving back into the ocean. The watery suction drags ships to the depths of the sea.
14. Some legends suggest there’s more than one Kraken.
Many tales talk of the Kraken, but sometimes there are stories that mention multiple giant cephalopods. This would make the waters particularly hazardous for those sailing over deep waters.
15. The Kraken has a big pop culture presence.
For a mythical creature, the giant squid gets a lot of attention. From the 13th century to modern times, you can find the monster in poems, novels, television shows, video games, and movies. A number of products and companies also borrow the moniker.
This story has been updated.