Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

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Wednesday 19 January 2011


Behemoth (upper creature, depicted as a hipopotamus, its most popular mainstream identity among scholars - see my previous blog post) and Leviathan (lower creature) - illustration by William Blake

Over the years, there have been countless considerations of giant sea monsters, but what about the real, original leviathan? This colossal mystery beast of the Bible - "the piercing serpent...that crooked serpent...the dragon that is in the sea" (Isaiah, 27:1) - is, after all, the creature whose name has ultimately become an umbrella term for large, unidentified water beasts everywhere - as evinced by Tim Dinsdale's classic book on this subject, The Leviathans (1966, 1976).

The Old Testament contains four references to this monstrous sea creature, which provide several important morphological features - including its huge size, extensively scaled body, elongate shape, large plentiful teeth, shining eyes, powerful neck, smoking nostrils, and distinctive fins. Biblical scholars have nominated several different animals as the leviathan's identity, but whereas each possesses some of its characteristics, none has all of them.

The most popular identity is the Nile crocodile Crocodylus niloticus, which is indeed scaly and somewhat elongate, with an abundance of large teeth, a powerful neck, shining eyes, and a sizeable (albeit not enormous) body. However, it possesses neither fins nor smoking nostrils, and is not marine in habitat. Sharks are marine and finned, some are very large and fairly elongate, and many have plenty of large teeth, but not smoking nostrils, shining eyes, or scales.

Whales are also marine, finned, often very large and quite streamlined, and some have many large teeth. Moreover, the spray spouted upwards from around their blow-holes when they exhale could conceivably be distorted into smoke during the telling and retelling of leviathan reports over successive generations - but whales are neither scaly nor shiny-eyed, and their necks are almost invisible.

And so it goes on - even identities as unlikely as the rock python Python sebae have been offered in a desperate attempt to reconcile this exceptional creature with a known type of animal.

Most probably, the leviathan is a non-existent composite, part-myth and part-reality. The latter component comprises a hotchpotch of distinctive features drawn from all of the animals noted above, and possibly one other too - a bona fide sea serpent.

On account of its scaly skin, veteran cryptozoologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans considered the leviathan to be of the 'marine centipede' type. (Thus, according to his belief in what those creatures are, it would have been a modern-day armoured archaeocete - however, we nowadays know that such beasts never existed, as they were merely artefacts caused by archaeocete fossils being fiound in association with scales from other, unrelated creatures.) Conversely, I believe that if the leviathan is either a sea serpent or a myth inspired in part by sightings of one, then it is more likely to be a living mosasaur.

Mosasaur - could a modern-day species explain the leviathan? (Tim Morris)

Indeed, this identity uniquely combines all of the leviathan's features - its scaly body, elongate shape, shining eyes (typical of many large reptiles), powerful neck, fins, great size (as with the tylosaurs), large plentiful teeth, and smoking nostrils (as with the whale identity, no doubt a reference to the spouting of water displaced from around its nostrils when exhaling underwater). Yet only a complete specimen can conclusively test this hypothesis.

"Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?", asks Job (41:1). Judging from science's singular lack of success in securing the carcase of any type of genuine water monster via any of the traditional means utilised in capturing aquatic animals, the answer to this question would appear, quite definitely, to be no! Clearly, then, it is time to develop a different means of obtaining such evidence - one commensurate with the sophisticated technology now available for scientific research - for until such evidence is obtained, all of the leviathans documented by water monster chroniclers down through the ages will continue to remain an abiding mystery.

In 1886, Charles Gould passed the following remarks in his book Mythical Monsters:

"Let the relations of the sea-serpent be what they may; let it be serpent, saurian, or fish, or some form intermediate to them; and even granting that those relations may never be determined, or only at some very distant date; yet, nevertheless, the creature must now be removed from the regions of myth, and credited with having a real existence, and that its name includes not one only, but probably several very distinct gigantic species, allied more or less closely, and constructed to dwell in the depths of the ocean, and which only occasionally exhibit themselves to a fortune-favoured wonder-gazing crew."

It is a sad reflection of zoology's longstanding disinterest in the subject of water monsters that those words are as relevant today as they were more than a century ago.

'Destruction of Leviathan' (Gustave Doré, 1865)

This is an excerpt from one of my books-in-progress, The Creatures That Time Forgot: Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors


  1. When will you need potential illustrations for this? Or should I start experimenting already?

  2. I was all for the idenity of the Leviathan as a really big mosasaur and in fact when I began identifying reports of the largest type of "Marine Saurian", I called it Shuker's Leviathan. However mosasaurs would not have armoured scales and that part would be from a crocodile. Indeed the Marine Saurin category was devised by Heuvelmans to include both reports of crocodiles and mosasaurs, and I think the category does contain reports of both. I have done a good deal of research defining the Leviathan-cryptid and one of the features consistently alleged about it is that it eats small whales by swallowing them whole (Leviathan is said to do that in Jewish Folklore). Since the Monongahela creature was said to have remains of a pilot whale ("Blackfish") and a large shark in its stomach, I take that to be circumstantial evidence that the two cryptids are the same and that the circumstantial evidence goes to confirm either category, both of which are mostly thought of as dubious by researchers.

    I do have artwork of the type, including a photo-montage mockup of a small whale fitting into a big Mosasaur's jaws, to show the scale.

  3. There is Jewish folkore that God destroyed Leviathan and cut his body up strewing it all over the desert,presumably near Sinai.Also,read John Milton`s brilliant account of Leviathan in Paradise Lost

  4. Hi Tim, Yes, I'll definitely be needing some pix for this, so please feel free to come up with whatever you think may be of use and interest, using the original edition as guide to the major cryptids documented in it. Thanks very much! All the best, Karl

    Hi Dale, Shuker's Leviathan - I like that!

  5. I must have missed your reply, Karl. I'll start work on it now.

  6. Thanks very much for your excellent mosasaur illustration, Tim. I've just received it and have inserted it here in this blog - looks great!!

  7. Hi Karl,
    I did repost my blog on the Monongahela monster and I was going to repost your blog here along with my further info on The Whale Eater to go along with it as companion pieces. I made mention of the useful information both Lindsay Selby and Marcus Hemmler have also provided to form a better understanding of such creatures. This one reposting will have your name in the title to draw attention to the fact that I consider your opinion on the matter to be of the utmost importance in the quest to have this particular creature recognised by science.

    I do intend to use Tim's illustration, with credit, as you have it posted here, if that is all right with you. As usual, I have no intention of trying to do anybody out of credit.

    Watch for the series, it should be coming out any day now.
    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  8. Hi Dale, Yes, that's fine, and I'm sure that Tim won't mind his illustration being used to accompany my blog, just as it does here, as long as he is credited. All the best, Karl

  9. Liked the piece so far.

  10. Supposing there is such a creature as the sea serpent, I believe it is actually several different animals and that "sea serpent" is an umbrella category for all of them. The various creatures may include mistaken giant squid sightings, plesiosaurs, mosasaurs (both probably extinct by now but alive when man created the sea serpent of legend) and perhaps a giant eel or sea snake. Of course, it could just be fictional, the imagination of a sailor conjuring up beasts from the sudden splash of a nearby wave. Or maybe it was just mistaken sightings of Trunko lol!

  11. There is an apparently scaleless crocodile-like animal shown swimming here :


  12. Apparently, there have been numerous sightings of mosasaurs off the coast of New Zealand, including Wellington Harbour: http://nzcryptozoology.ucoz.com/index/0-9

    Best -

    Burnaby, B.C.

  13. Hi Gloria,

    Yes, I've documented some of these NZ reports in a forthcoming cryptozoology book of mine entitled Mirabilis, due for publication next year.

    All the best, Karl

    1. Hi Mr Shuker,

      I have purchased Mirabilis and it was a good reading, especially the part dealing with crocodilians monsters.Speaking of them, why do you think those NZ reports belong to a crocodilian species ? The Saurian previous identity was more convincing IMO, especially referring to the Monongahela's fantastic account.

    2. Hi Bos, Glad you enjoyed my book Mirabilis. I felt that the NZ sightings were plausibly explained by crocodilian sightings, rather than requiring anything more exotic to explain them, based at least upon the descriptions given by eyewitnesses. The Monongahela account is one that I've always viewed with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity as there is nothing to substantiate it independently - even the ship itself vanished, with the supposed monster head on board.

    3. Thanks, Karl.I think you're right because there is an aztec divinity known as Cipactli which corresponds with what you wrote and whose body was said to be made up of "joints". Regards.

  14. The Leviathan was a submarine volcano...


  15. Hey Karl,
    I have a Google Earth screen shot that I want you to see. I can't email you using your link, so if you could post your actual email address or explain how to upload a photo to the comment section that would be cool. So I found what looks like a giant sea snake breaching trying to bite the sky or swallowing a big meal. It looks like the Asian kind with the horn on the nose or multiple horns around the top of the mouth. It's front teeth top and bottom are spaced like a snakes teeth except they're merged into one flat and thick tooth on top and bottom forming a vice. These teeth are so long, if it bit down the rest of the mouth wouldn't close all the way. It looks like it has a thin long tongue coming out of its mouth. It's flat and thick, the neck and tail are like a snake, but it really widens out in the middle like a weight lifter's belt. It looks like it coils it's wide sections and then forms a giant coil of 5 or 6 smaller coils forming a giant underwater wheel that looks like a slice of an orange from the side. Anyway, I found it a year ago in a chain of islands in the Pacific, but I've searched for a year and haven't found it again maybe new eyes will help.
    Thanks, Scott

  16. Similarly on the topic of Mosasaurian Sea Serpents, here's a recent incident from a few years ago that I'd like your opinion on: https://www.kronosrising.com/killer-whale-survives-an-attack-from-a-living-mosasaur/