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Encounters at Sea

Undersea Beast: 3D Illustration by Sigurd  TowrieBut although the dead "sea serpents" found on Orkney's shores did not convince scientists, the islands' have witnessed a number of other strange sea-creature sightings over the years.

In most cases, the witnesses have been pragmatic, professional men with no reason to fabricate yarns.

In November 1905, for example, two men fishing off Shapinsay claimed they had encountered a sea-creature.

They described the beast as having a body like a horse, "covered with a scaly surface and spotted."

Click here to view the full newspaper report.

Then, in August 1919, five men fishing off Brims, in Hoy, encountered a creature that led to the idea that a colony of similar beasts inhabited the undersea caves around the island. The boat, carrying the men, had just moved to the area of sea between the headlands of Brimsness and Torness, when the long-necked monster was sighted.

About 25 or 30 yards from the boat, its long neck was described as being "as thick as an elephant's foreleg". On top of the neck was a head that, the witnesses claimed, was "very much smaller in proportion".

Speaking to The Orcadian newspaper at the time, one man exclaimed:

"The neck I should say stuck about five to six feet, possibly more, out of the water. My friends thought it (the creature) would weigh two or three tons, some thinking four to six, If the neck stretched say to eight feet the neck and body would be eighteen to twenty feet long."

Mr John R. Brown, an occasional lightkeeper on the Pentland Skerries, sighted another massive sea creature in August 1937.

Mr Brown told The Orcadian newspaper:

“I never believed much in monsters myself but I saw something today resembling nothing I have ever seen before. It was about noon, when we were working down at the landing at the East End, that on chancing to look out to sea I noticed the sea breaking white as if on a submerged rock.

" As I knew there were no rocks on that particular spot, I watched for a little, and presently a great object rose up out of the water, anything from 20 to 30 feet, and at an angle of 45 degrees. It was round-shaped and there appeared to be a head on it, but as it was about half a mile from the shore, I could not be sure.

“I called the attention of the other two men but, unfortunately, before they got their eyes on the spot, it had disappeared again, although both of them saw the foam it had made. We watched for a considerable time but it never appeared again.”

Mr Brown stressed his sighting was definitely not a killer whale.

A few weeks prior to the Pentland Skerries sighting, workmen on the Fair Isle reported seeing an exceptionally large "monster" approach them. Alarmed for the safety of a colleague, who was in the water, the shocked men were about to issue a warning signal when the creature "sheared off" to deeper water. It remained some distance from the shore, where the witnesses observed it swimming throughout the afternoon.

Henry Stout, of Leagar, Outertown, Stromness, visited the offices of The Orcadian on Tuesday, August 20, 1936.

“About 2pm, on Thursday, August 13, my son Henry, who is 30 years of age, and I were working in a hay field overlooking the sea. The weather was bright and clear and the sea was calm.

“Our attention became drawn to something that was happening less than a mile from the shore. Gradually we made out an object of considerable size. The fastest motor boat in Stromness could not have kept up with the object while it was speeding straight ahead.

“While we watched, the object began to operate nearer the shore. Four sail-like fins became visible. The foremost of the four, I judged, was about five feet high and four feet long at the surface of the sea.

“The other fins, each smaller than the other, were situated at intervals of ten feet. We watched for half an hour and a few minutes, during which I hastened to Breckness for a spyglass. We finally saw it dive beneath the surface altogether.

“For several days we spoke of this to no one. I hesitate to suggest that the object we saw may be a deep-sea monster, but am curious to know if anyone else happened to see what we saw.

“I am definite that the four fin-like objects were members of one unit. In that event, what we watched was something measuring at least forty feet in length. I am sorry we got no glimpse of a head of any kind.

“I have lived at Leagar, Outertown, for forty years, and am familiar with all the aspects of the sea in that area. I formerly engaged in cod fishing and am well acquainted with the habits of basking sharks, porpoises, flights of birds and whales.

"This object we watched was none of these.”

That same month, the compiler of The Orcadian’s nature notes, James Marwick, reported an anonymous “monster” sighting from Rousay.

“It was in the sea about 200 yards off the shore, straight opposite Nethermill, Sourin. Two friends, along with my brother, saw it also. My brother, a friend and I first had a good look with the spyglass at it. All we could see was a big head, with long ears and very long neck. We were not satisfied with that so my brother and I launched a boat and went off to get a better look.

“As we came near, it turned round, head-on towards us about 12 or 14 feet away.

“This is what we saw: A big round head with small black eyes, big drooping ears, long tapered neck and a very heavy-looking thick body, altogether about nine or ten feet long; slate grey in colour and smooth-skinned like a porpoise.”

But not all encounters were particularly pleasant - one angry-looking beast actually attacked the young witness.

On a pleasant summer day, some time in the 1850s, a young boy, Alec Groundwater, was spending a lazy day by the shore in Orphir. The sea was flat calm and young Alec was sitting on a rock, gazing out over Scapa Flow, his legs dangling out over the water.

Then, a short distance from Alec's rocky seat, the once still water began to boil and a strange beast rose from the depths. The boy's description of the beast was vague, but he described a broad, flat head with a wide mouth that contained some wicked-looking teeth, or tusks.

Like the Stronsay beast of 1808, the boy said the animal also had a long mane, similar to that of a horse.

The creature glared fiercely at Alec, with "cold baleful eyes", before rearing up from the water and attempting to seize the lad's dangling legs. Leaping back from its grasp, Alec remained on the rock, watching in terror as the sea-creature made a number of attempts to reach him.

When at last it gave up, it plunged beneath the sea, where it:

"rose once more to shake its head and mane till the water cascaded from it on all sides, then disappeared."

Mermaid Sightings