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Monday, 4 July 2011

Icelandic Sea Monsters

Since the subject of Icelandic Sea Monsters came up again on the regular CFZ blog, I decided to go back and reprint some material which I found whan the matter came up before.

27/06/2010 10:00

Of Monsters and Men

Last summer, I travelled for the first time to the West Fjords, that marvellous cluster of rough and rugged fjords. One of the destinations was Bíldudalur, on the southern side of Arnarfjördur fjord.

This village of 200 is best known for three things. Firstly, green beans – an Icelandic Sunday lamb essential – used to be manufactured here. Secondly, a singer has turned his home into a shrine to Icelandic pop music. Then there's The Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, which funnily enough, is located in the old green bean factory. Arnarfjördur fjord has in fact established a reputation as being the habitat of sea monsters, with more than 200 documented sightings through the centuries.

The museum, which opened its doors last year, is a vast black space, broken up in the centre by a tall glass case containing books, photographs, letters, seashells and other items related to the theme. Plasma screens on the walls show interviews with people describing their monster sightings, mixed in with eerie images of an angry sea.

The museum's pride is a sizeable interactive glass table containing an old style map of the fjord. By moving a glass sphere over the place names, somewhat like playing spirit of the glass, related monster stories pop up.

Visiting Arnarfjördur bore a special significance to me. On a farm in a secluded valley overlooking the fjord, my late grandmother was born and raised. I felt myself getting closer to my roots.

Excited as a child on Christmas Morning, I slid the sphere across the map, placing it over her valley. Sure enough, an account of a monster sighting appears on the screen.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I realized that the eyewitness was her brother. My granduncle.

It was the year 1927 and he was fourteen years old. On a dusky autumn afternoon, he noticed a maroon-coloured beast standing on the beach. It was at least ten feet long and the height of a calf. Its head was large and ugly; it had huge protruding eyes and a tangled mane, resembling that of a lion. The beast appeared to be covered in seashells; its arched back was wide and cylindrical; its large tail narrowed downwards. It was turned away from him, snooping about in the seaweed. But when he threw a rock in its direction, it slowly turned around, raising its ugly head and staring at him.

Beholding its jaws, he panicked and ran all the way home.

When he got home and told the shocking tale, an old man gathered that this had been a malicious sheep-like creature called fjörulalli, infamous for trying to drive humans into the sea.

Luckily enough, my great uncle managed to escape.

Heading towards our next destination, my grandmother's valley, the sea monsters remained on my mind, especially the one that my uncle claimed to have seen. While realizing that these are mythical creatures, deep down inside I can't help believing in their existence.

To me, the West Fjords are a place where anything can happen.

Ásta Andrésdóttir –

[--This is possibly of the same category as the Irish Master-otter, but its coat seems thicker than usual. It also could just possibly be something like the Hoy SS since the ears are not mentioned, but a tail is also mentioned and it is said to be large. It is possible that the ears are folded down as they are sometimes said to be.--Best Wishes, Dale D.]

Reconstruction drawing of the "Scaly Monster" or "Shelly Beast," The Skeljaskrimsli

Here is my reply to Jon Downe's notice of Saturday morning:
Re: [frontiers-of-zoology] SUNDAY AT THE CFZ: Icelandic beast, sea monsters, piasa, anti capitalism, Sidney Sime, conjoined twins, Haunted Skies, Yesterday's News Today

The Icelandic monsters are interesting, I have noted a report of the "Skeljaskrimsli" in this group before and it seems to be a sort of a Master-otter again, the one in the report having shells and beach debris in its fur from wallowing on the beach. And the "Merhorse" creature as described is the Scandinavian (and Scottish) Merhorse all over again.
I might make a blog posting of this. The "Skeljaskrimli" is reportedly about ten feet long and it seems to be another one of those "Scaly otters" with the fur that sticks together in locks. Several features are worth noting: A) the feet are clawed, webbed, and held clomsily for walking on land: B) the snout is elongated and projects foreward a good deal beyond the front teeth, and C) the tail is flattened out and broader at the end (Several reports say the tail is MUCH longer than this illustration shows)

Some reports also give it multiple legs, after the fashion of the Pal-Rai-Yuk. There used to be equivalent reports from Greenland, but not for many years now.

Best Wishes, Dale D.

And I also made up a comparison of the reconstruction with a Pacific Sea Otter, which sometimes has a "Grizzly" effect to the fur and can look "Scaled" when not evenly wetted all over:

The stance and the proportions look similar to me, and the illustrator of the Scaly Monster only had descriptions to go on, he hadn't seen it himself.

...And for the curious, here is a stamp illustrating the NW Coast version of the Sea Wolves:

...And then again something else that also turned up on the photo search, a large otter pretending to be Caddy (Cadborosaurus) Perhaps a Sea Wolf? The head is turned at such an angle that you cannot make out is features very distinctly.

Best Wishes, Dale D.


  1. I'm guessing you have already seen the map in the link below, they are on sale in most Icelandic tourist shops. Two things were of interest to me. The similarity of the animal portrayed in fig.d to the 'sea wolves', and the sea ice with polar bears on the east coast. All the polar bears which reached land during my time living in Iceland were found in the West of the country. Any sea ice reported was also found off the far north west of the West Fjords. Makes me wonder whether there has been a change in ocean currents since the map was drawn up?


  2. Hello, Peter, Good of you to comment!
    Yes, I had seen the map before but I had not thought to take off any individual "Creature" illustrations from it: upon looking it over again, though, I do recognise several vignettes that are reporoduced over and over again in various sources.

    Incidentally, there is also a sea monster reported in Alaska which is veriy similar once again, and in checking over the sources this time around I found it is sometimes also said to be scaly. It is the variation on the "Sea Wolf" known as the Walrus Dog, said to be 12-13 feet long and very dangerous, and unafraid to attack human beings.

    As a matter of fact, there is every reason to believe the currents have altered subtily along with the climate both in times the climate worsened and in the times the climate got better. Therefore it is entirely possible that currents had shifted enough for Icelanders to notice twice since the Viking Age.

    And I suppose other readers will know that Peter shares my interest in "Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings"

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  3. Skrimsl is generic for "Monster" in Icelandic: books on Water-Monsters usually refer to the creature that was supposed to live in Lagarflot. Peter Costello in In Search of Lake Monsters has information on pages 189-192 with a drawing on page 191 which is crude but obviously intended to show a creature in three-humped conformation, and the artist may have meant to convey a creature such as Oudemans' composite. These creatures would be the "Merhorse" Skrimsls, still reported in modern times: but they are not constantly seen in Lagarflot and in fact there is a major break in sightings when weather became moch colder, such as at the time the Greenland colony was abandoned.Unexpectedly, the blog for Merhorses further on at the FOZ blog explains the whiskers. More modern depictions are still "Merhorses" and in fact several remain quite Plesiosaurian-plus-the-mane. See the Unknown Explorers site,

    Best Wishes, Dale D.


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