Seram, Indonesia and the sea monsters of the collective unconscious

Of the sea creature in Indonesia, “There is lots of stuff in the ocean that we don’t know about – but there’s nothing that big that remains unknown,” says Bernard Heuvelmans

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The crew of the Nautilus battles a giant squid in Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2017 — Carl Jung viewed the vast ocean as symbolic of what he called the “collective unconscious.” Beneath its waves, lurking in the dark regions of our psyches, swim the sea monsters who make up the “collective shadow of humanity.”

And so, it’s no surprise that when a 50-foot-long, unknown sea creature washed ashore on the Indonesian island of Seram, the dead leviathan garnered worldwide attention.

An unknown sea creature washes ashore on a beach in Indonesia.

The blob-like monstrosity had been decaying for several days, its perforated corpse spilling copious amounts of blood into the surrounding water.

But that didn’t stop the locals from climbing atop the lifeless animal – barefoot! – to pose for pictures.


When it came to sea monsters, there was no doubt in the mind of American Captain Samuel Cabot, who on August 14, 1819 came across such a creature off the Massachusetts coast:

“An object emerging from the water at the distance of about one hundred or one hundred and fifty yards, which gave to my mind at the first glance the idea of a horse’s head… I perceived at a short distance eight or ten regular bunches or protuberances… he could not be less than eighty feet long.”

And in 1977, a Japanese trawler fishing in the waters off New Zealand captured what looked like a sea monster. The dead animal was snagged in the ship’s nets at a depth of 1,000 feet, weighed approximately 4,000 pounds and measured 33 feet long.

A Japanese fishing vessel catches a dead, mysterious sea creature in 1977.

At first glance, the rotting carcass appeared to be that of a long-necked, long-extinct sea reptile, an idea expanded upon by Professor Yoshinori Imaizumi, then director of animal research at the Tokyo National Science Museum.

“It’s not a fish, whale, or any other mammal,” insisted Professor Imaizumi, “It’s a reptile” and it “looks very much like a plesiosaur,” he told the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

The plesiosaur was an aquatic reptile that swam the warm waters of the late Triassic, some 203 million years ago.

The fossilized remains of a plesiosaur.

In 1978, the U.S.S. Stein, a Knox-class destroyer escort, was attacked by an unknown species of giant squid, which left a few of its claws (that surround its grasping suction cups) embedded in the ship’s rubber-coated sonar dome.

The destroyer U.S.S. Stein.

In his 1968 book “In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents,” Frenchman Bernard Heuvelmans (considered the granddaddy of cryptozoology) asked provocatively:

“Are there or are there not in the sea one or more species of giant animals, elongated in shape and still unknown to science?”

Maybe, maybe not.

Of the monster rotting in the waters off the Indonesian island of Seram, biologist Alexander Werth of Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College is convinced it is nothing more than the severely decomposed remains of a blue whale.

“There is lots of stuff in the ocean that we don’t know about – but there’s nothing that big that remains unknown,” he told CBS News.

Maybe, maybe not.

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