Tales of sea serpents and other ‘monsters’ still fascinate today
Tuna and swordfish angler Carl Roby saw something three years ago while on a multi-week fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico. Roby has fished in Florida and Texas, among other areas, since 1979 and lives in Galveston.
“Tuna guys, we go way out,” Roby said.
Roby’s boat, the Cynthia Renee, has a lot of light, so even though it was late at night, Roby is sure what he saw was either a sea serpent or mermaid, he said.
“The head was like a big snake swimming at you,” Roby said. “It was slick calm.”
As Roby looked at the water, he saw at least five porpoises with golden stripes and snowflake patterns along their skin, he said. He also noticed the porpoises were purple, he said.
“It was almost like a royal guard,” Roby said. “Who knows if they were a royal guard protecting Poseidon?”
As the porpoises left, a different creature came toward Roby with a head shaped like a football and a long neck flowing back to a larger, elongated body, he said.
“Even though I saw no reflection of eyes in the light, I knew in the core of my soul that he was looking at me as I was him,” Roby said.
Galveston is known for its aquatic fauna of fish, birds and turtles, but historic records and some tales speak of bigger, more mysterious creatures that lurk between Gulf waves and ocean depths.
Old copies of The Galveston Daily News and other newspapers reported sightings of sea serpents and other monster fish in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, describing in great detail the colors and features of the creatures.
One such instance was reported in the July 1, 1908, edition of The Daily News, when the newspaper noted the first sea serpent sighting of the season, according to Rosenberg Library archives.
Capt. G. A. Olsen of the steamship Livingston told Galvestonians about the 200-foot creature he spotted near Mexico after arriving in the Galveston port, according to the article.
“It was oval in shape, dark brown in color and had large rings around its tail,” Olsen told the newspaper.
The article the serpent was discovered “not off Atlantic City, where it could be used as a summer resort advertisement.”
The find also was reported in various Texas newspapers and The New York Times, according to library archives.
Another article published in 1872 noted sailors on the St. Olive spotted a “veritable” sea serpent about three days off Galveston’s shore, according to Galveston Historical Foundation archives.
The article is from Flake’s Bulletin, a small paper published from 1861 to 1872, run by Ferdinand Flake, a German immigrant to Galveston.
“The monster was discovered about two lengths distant from the vessel, and appeared to be fully 70 feet in length, with a broad snake-like head, large eyes and a long and narrow neck,” the article reported.
The reporter at the time pointed out the best naturalists thought the existence of sea serpents “is possibly a verity which will yet come under scientific examination.”
Even when an aquatic sighting didn’t reach quite the level of a sea serpent, newspapers at the time recorded other monstrous fish spotted by anglers.
An Aug. 21, 1910, copy of The Daily News reported C.D. Swan, captain of the Emily, caught a ray fish “thought to be an uncommon species,” according to historical foundation archives.
The article reported the fish was 14 feet long, had a 2.5-foot tall mouth and weighed an estimated 2,000 pounds, “being one of the largest of its species ever landed on Galveston Island,” according to the article.
Sea serpent sightings could be of any number of real creatures, according to the Galveston Bay Foundation.
Cutlassfish or ribbonfish, alligators or dolphins all could be mistaken for something larger, said Claire Everett, communications and marketing manager for the Galveston Bay Foundation.
A very large alligator gar also might look like a strange creature, she said. The big, dinosaur-looking fish can grow up to 8 feet long and 300 pounds, according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
“I could see how that would be mistaken for a sea serpent,” Everett said.
One Galveston Bay Foundation employee has fielded a sea serpent call before, she said.
As for Roby, he’s certain of what he saw, he said.
“I do not know what I saw that night,” Roby said. “But I know that I did see it and by God’s grace, will remember it until the day I pass from this earthly realm.”